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Baked Ziti

December 29, 2011
By Wendy Monro , Simply Food

What an amazing beautiful Christmas week we are having here in southern Minnesota. I can't believe how remarkable it can be without any snow blanketing the ground and rooftops. A brown Christmas and the scenery is still stunning. Remarkable! It feels like fall but it doesn't look like it. There are no leaves in sight. The different shades of brown set against the blue sky is wonderful and picturesque. The sun shines down on the icy lake. All of Lake Hanska looks like a gigantic magical ice rink. It has been for Jack as he skates around shooting his puck over the slippery ice. I took all of the torn up and ravaged wrapping paper out to the dumpster and did not even need a coat. It's just crazy! Sure, the wind coming off the lake, once you get around the house is chilling; but, this is nothing like our usual December days. I am so blessed to be experiencing all of this with everyone here.

I really wanted to have a white Christmas with all of my family visiting. The thought of coming all of the way up here and not getting any snow whatsoever never entered my mind. Nobody in my group imagined this. I have never been here for Christmas and not had any snow. I didn't think I would like it here without snow in the winter. I was wrong. I love it here like this too. Everyone I know who lives here year round seems to be happy with this weather. Of course, there are a few who wish there was snow too. Snow is lovely. But, the ones who like it snow free are so joyful. I love to see the smiles on their faces as they speak of this unusually warm weather. The roads are safe and the heating is cheaper.

Let's face it, it's wonderful to be in Hanska for any kind of weather. Most importantly, it's Christmastime and I have my mom and Doug here with Claud, Daphne, Jack and me. I am writing this on Christmas day. Today, it doesn't matter what is happening outside, my day revolves around food.

Article Photos

Two pans of baked ziti, enough to feed a dinner party

This morning, we made a traditional English breakfast with fried eggs, bacon, toast, beans, onions, tomatoes and sausage. Yes, all diets are off for this special day. The kids have some friends over right now and I can hear them in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies. They have made chocolate chip cookies four times since we arrived. They never clean up after their baking sessions. Oh well. I really don't care. Everyone is always so pleased to have hot chewy gooey cookies to eat. Nobody is thinking about calories here.

Soon, we plan on watching "Love Actually" (a Monro Christmas tradition) and I will make tons of buttery popcorn to eat while I laugh and cry. Oh, how I love that movie, especially the scene when everyone is hugging in the airport. I have watched the people arrive at Heathrow airport and felt the same experience. It's amazing to watch simple acts of love when people see each other again. So much love! Later, we are having sandwiches for lunch. I know, that's a bit boring but we have tons of lunchmeat and cheeses that need to be eaten before we leave. Finally, for Christmas dinner, we plan to make a ten-pound prime rib, dauphinoise potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and a chocolate cake. I will remain in my elastic waist pants all day long. I'll have to or else I will be miserable in anything with a limited waist size. I need room to expand. I want to spend the day bloated and happy. I will! This is going to be the best day ever. This whole trip has been about not much more than eating and visiting with loved ones, which has been so wonderful.

A couple of nights ago we were able to throw together a little dinner party at our place. It really was so easy to do. My mom and I made baked ziti. This isn't what you would think of as a traditional Christmas party meal. With this weather, I believe anything goes. So, I went for something different. I wanted to make a meal that was simple and one that I could prepare ahead of time and not have to be busy while everyone was here. If you plan on having people over for New Year's Eve, this would be a great dinner to make. It's easy and affordable and everyone will like it. Who doesn't like pasta and cheese? Oh yeah, my son Jack doesn't. Lately, all he likes is scrambled eggs. I keep him nourished with a plate of scrambled eggs, a glass of orange juice and some vitamins. That's all he's eating lately. I guess it's better than hamburgers and hot dogs. Who knows? Most people will like the baked ziti. I made some buttery garlic bread and a salad to go with it. I put the ziti into the oven an hour before and the bread in ten minutes before we were going to eat and I didn't need to spend more than ten minutes getting it all together while everyone was here. Instead of spending most of the time getting everything ready in the kitchen, I was able to drink wine and mingle. Perfect!

Fact Box

Baked Ziti

Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Serves: 15 20

3 16 ounce boxes of ziti noodles (cooked according to package)

2 32 ounce jar of Ragu pasta sauce

6 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3 cups shredded Parmesan cheese

1 container ricotta cheese

basil leaves for garnish, cut into ribbons

In a large casserole dish, layer the sauce, noodles, Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses. Then place dollops of the ricotta cheese on top. Keep layering like this until you can't get any more layers in the dish. Make sure the top layer is with cheese and some basil ribbons. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for one hour.

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