Fall Routine is in Full Swing

At the end of yoga class this morning, the instructor talked about new beginnings. It got me thinking about this blog. I have been trying to figure out how to fit this into my days and what I want the blog to really be about. A friend keeps asking me... "What have you written lately?".... "When was the last time you wrote in your blog?". I always have the same answer. "I know!"... "I will!"... "I just can't find the time!". I have finally realized that finding the time to write is not the problem.

The problem is finding the time to cook. The thing about writing a food/cooking blog is that you have to actually cook (or at least eat something interesting) to have something to write about. With the school year and all that comes with it back in full swing, I've found myself challenged to manage getting dinner on the table with getting my son to all his after-school activities. It seems like there is something almost every evening and always right around dinner time. I either have to have it ready before said activity (meaning Dad is often not home yet to join us) or after (which means we are all starving and rushing to get through homework, bath etc.). Now I love a slow cooker as much as the next girl, but sometimes you just want to change it up a little

And then I had an epiphany.... casseroles! With a casserole you get the best of both worlds. You can get it done for an early dinner and it's still yummy for anyone who gets home a little later. I was inspired to start with a Baked Ziti so I went to one of my favorites, Smitten Kitchen, to see what I could find. I also used a few tricks I recalled from baked ziti's past (and maybe a lasagna or two). I even

incorporated some mini meatballs made from hot Italian sausage. Why, you ask? Because I had some sausage in the fridge that I needed to use and, in this case, availability is the mother of invention (that and my kid loves hot Italian sausage). Enjoy!

Baked Ziti with sausage mini meatballs (adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Old-School Baked Ziti)

Olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped small 3 garlic cloves, minced 1 pound ground beef

2 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes 1 teaspoon dried oregano Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste 1 pound pasta, cooked al dente and drained

1 egg

15 ounces ricotta

1 T dried parsley 3/4 pound mozzarella, coarsely grated 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese 6 ounces baby spinach

To make the meatballs, remove the casing from two links of hot italian sausage and roll into mini meatballs about a 3/4 inch in diameter. Brown the meatballs in a little olive oil and set aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente. Make sure it is a little undercooked as it will keep cooking in the oven and you want to make sure it retains its bite. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a large sauté pan, large enough for all the ingredients including the cooked pasta, over medium heat. Coat the pan with a swirl of olive oil and heat the oil. Add the ground beef, onion, garlic, oregano, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper, and cook over med-high heat until the meat is browned. 6-8 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture becomes too think add a little of the reserved pasta water. Add spinach and cook until wilted.

While the sauce simmers, mix the hot pasta with ricotta, parsley, egg, and parmesan or pecorino. Add the pasta mixture to the sauce heat together for one minute.

Pour half the pasta/sauce mixture into a 9x13 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Pour in the remaining pasta/sauce and cover with remaining cheese. Bake a 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

Delish!