Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Longest Time, Part I

I have been waiting for spring for the longest time. I think it is finally starting to make an appearance, which isn't to say that we won't still have snow and ten degree temperatures at night for the next month or so--this is central New York. My first clue was seeing a bunch of ducks in the creek one morning this week:

I don't like to be close to ducks, so it is good that the creek is much lower than my yard because they stay in the water or on the opposite bank. These ducks were having a very good time splashing around and playing, even though it was pretty early in the morning.

This has been one of those weeks that started crazy and got progressively worse with things to do and demands on my time, none of which I mind, but by the time the end of the week came, I was ready for some comfort food.

When we were in college, my friend Tricia's mom used to send baked ziti back with her for us to eat on Sunday nights. I have fond memories of devouring baked ziti in the third floor lounge of Coblentz Hall with my friends, knowing that everyone else was suffering through the Sunday night offerings in the dining hall downstairs. Since I don't eat meat on Fridays during Lent, I decided that baked penne would be the perfect thing for dinner.

Earlier in my college career, before I became friends with Tricia, I started a cooking club with some friends who lived in my dorm. Mother of Ken sent me placemats and napkins and Grambi sent money for slow cooker and we were set. We used to make all kinds of crazy things for dinner on Saturday nights using pots and pans and kitchen implements that we all contributed. Some of the girls' mothers lived close enough to send ingredients, so we would work with what we had and also go to the grocery store behind our dorm as well as raid the dining hall for things like salad dressing and vegetables from the salad bar. We often made red sauce using the vegetables that we gathered from the dining hall and the sauce that I made last night reminded me of my college cooking club days.

I chopped some carrot, onion, baby brown button mushrooms, and zucchini:

And sauteed the vegetables in a little olive oil for five minutes or so--until they were tender.

Then I added grape tomatoes and one clove of minced garlic and cooked for another few minutes.

When everything cooked down a little, it looked like this:

At that point, I added jarred marinara sauce (I ran out of homemade) and heated everything through:

In the meantime, I cooked Barilla Plus penne (not ziti) just slightly less than the recommended time. When it was almost done, I drained the pasta and divided it into two oven safe dishes:

I added sauce to each dish and mixed it with the pasta:

And then I added shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese to the tops of both dishes.

I wrapped one of these in foil and put it in the refrigerator for later and baked the other at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes, until the cheese was melted and browned:

While the baked penne was in the oven, I made a Cosmopolitan. When I worked in retail, I would often be so frazzled by the time I was done working on Saturdays that I would come home and make one of these. It is a really nice way to end the week and start your weekend.

I use the cap of my shaker to measure, starting with one cap full of vodka:

Two caps full of cranberry juice:

The juice of one lime:

A splash of Cointreau:

And a splash (or a little more) of grenadine:

Shake everything with a lot of ice and then pour it into a chilled martini glass:

This made enough for the equivalent of about two Cosmopolitans, but I put it all into my glass immediately. You just have to be a little careful as you start to drink that you don't spill too much. I really needed this:

On Saturday mornings, I usually try to make something special for breakfast. I am always excited when I start to see strawberries in the stores because I know that I can make one of my favorite spring/early summer creations--fresh strawberry muffins.

This is a recipe that I got from Grambi several years ago:

1/2 c. butter, softened
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. milk (this time, I used 1/4 c. milk and 1/4 c. lemon juice)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 c. chopped strawberries
I started with the butter, sugar, and egg:

Cream the butter and sugar together for about 5 minutes:

Then add the egg and beat until the mixture is smooth:

The dry ingredients are next:

Add about a third of the dry ingredients at a time, alternating with the milk and lemon juice (the vanilla goes it at the very end):

Last, fold in the strawberries:

Here, they are ready to go into the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Just out of the oven:

This was a very nice breakfast, along with my Puerto Rican coffee and orange juice:

These muffins taste like strawberry shortcake--they are so good. Try them and you won't be disappointed. I really liked the substitution of lemon juice for half of the milk, too.

Kenna and I were out in the yard this morning and noticed that our very first flower of the spring has arrived:

Finally, spring is here. In our neighborhood, it is like people have come alive again after six months of hibernating. My neighbors are mowing their lawns, trimming trees, and taking walks in the sun. Kenna and I are headed out for a walk later today, too--pictures to come soon...


Leah said...

WOO Billy Joel song as the title!

And I want a strawberry muffin!

Melissa said...

I most definitely want to try those muffins, they look fabulous. And strawberries are my favorite food, by far.