Thursday, November 15, 2012

Food Stamp Challenge Day 4 & Baked Ziti

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We are in the midst of day four of the Food Stamp Challenge and I have to admit, I am getting tired of oatmeal.  Breakfast is generally not my most exciting meal of the day, but today I was craving a huge omelet, home fries, and toast.  Oh, and a Bloody Mary of course.  No great breakfast meal is complete without a Bloody Mary.  That being said, this challenge has truly brought me a great sense of perspective on how challenging it is to consume good food for low cost.  In talking with a friend, I admitted that I would have loved to buy 7 frozen pizzas for dinner to spread across the week.  I mean, come on, I am not going to get tired of pizza.  On a budget, (and in my opinion) it's simply much easier to get more unhealthy food for your buck. 

As I write, I'm seriously in a hunger induced daze.  I've been trying to stretch out my meals as long as possible into the day so that I don't go to bed hungry.  I've been eating breakfast at 11 am, lunch at 1:30 pm and dinner around 7:30 pm.  Still, my stomach is growling by the time I crawl under the covers.  Not being able to eat what I want, when I want, has proven to be much more challenging that I originally thought.  The Goldfish in my pantry have been calling my name.  But, I would not trade this experience for anything. 

One of the meals I've been using to get me through the week is Baked Ziti.  This is a go-to recipe for large group meals, or when I know I'm going to have a busy week and no time to cook.  I've made this for a friend studying for law school finals, dinner parties, and various other events, and have always gotten rave reviews.  Simple and budget friendly.  Are those two of my favorite themes?  I thought you would never notice.

To make this deliciously simple meal you will need:

  • 1 box Ziti (or whatever kind of tubular pasta you prefer)
  • 2 jars of Tomato Sauce 
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 container part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 pound - 1 pound of ground beef, shredded chicken, or ground turkey (feel free to go veg if you prefer) - we used 1/3 lb of ground beef to save money.
  • Parmesan cheese 
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil leaf
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

To begin, preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta around 8 or 9 minutes.  

Depending on your choice of meat, you should cook that while the pasta is on the stove.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add ground beef or ground turkey along with the spices and cook until no longer pink.  This should be done by the time the pasta is done cooking.  If you choose to use chicken as your meat, that may take a bit longer to cook on the stove depending on thickness.  Ensure that you have cooked the chicken and shredded it by the time the pasta is done cooking.

Strain the pasta and return to it to the pot.  Then, add half the container of ricotta cheese and a little more than 1/2 the jar of sauce to the pot.  Stir together until pasta is blended with cheese and sauce.  Add the meat to the pot and mix well. (Note: Because we used such a small amount of meat, I chose not to mix in the meat directly, but rather layered it on top of the pasta.)

Next, spread just enough sauce to cover the bottom of an 11 x 13 glass baking pan.   Spread half the pasta mixture in the pan.  Top with another layer of sauce, then mozzarella cheese and a few shakes of Parmesan cheese.  Repeat process for top layer.

Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake in oven for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil, then bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.  Once the ziti has cooled, serve topped with additional sauce and ricotta cheese if you desire.

Do you have any go to recipes for busy weeks? I love this one because it tastes great all week long.  Do you prefer meat in your pasta?  If so, what kind?  Have you ever tried any more exotic meat like venison or bison (those are exotic to me!)? Let us know in the comments section.

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