Friday, July 27, 2012

From My Binder: Italian Birthday (Week)Night

I mentioned in my post on hospitality that I keep a binder for meal planning.  I am a sucker for food blogs and Pinterest, and I love to plan a meals with a theme. 

Unless it's just Matthew and I: then cereal, leftover salami, and string cheese are a meal. 

Themes give me a structure to work in and make me feel like my meal is complete.  They can also give me a headache and make me want to take on way too much work.  But I'm getting better at keeping my expectations real even if it means adapting what I see in food magazines.
As I've mentioned (just a couple times), I work a lot, and if I'm going to pull off hospitality on a weeknight the food has to be mostly make-ahead. 

Last week, Matthew invited his parents over for a birthday dinner for his mom.  When my mother-in-law offered to bring a cake, Matt said, "Don't worry about it.  Liz wants to make you a cake!"

Which..I did...but I might not have said no.  But, because it was important and last minute, I turned to two favorite staples and adapted a new recipe.

Baked Ziti
Tossed Salad
Lemon Masarpone Cream Cake

total prep/cooking time (day of): 30 minutes
Night before:
Boil ziti in a pot of salted water according to directions
mix with sauce

Day of:
Move prepared ziti to a baking dish - I like mine in my cast-iron skillet (who am I kidding?  I like everything in a cast-iron skillet).  Top with mozzarella cheese.  Bake on 375 for 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is browned.

Make it work:
I use high quality jar sauce, sliced spicy Italian chicken sausage, and then top the dish with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella.


Night before: prepare salad dressing.

Day of: cut veggies, rinse lettuce, toss.

Make it work:
This is vegetables' time to shine: so I let them!  I used produce from our garden with some romaine lettuce.  Then I served the whole thing with a couple of our favorite store-bought dressings.


My mother-in-law has been making me cake as long I've known her.  I wanted to make her something special like she does for me, and I know she loves lemon.  I saw a recipe for lemon mascarpone cream cake, made a few adjustments to fit my schedule (we're leading up to a box cake here, folks) and went with it.  This cake ended up being really special.  Even with my changes.
Up to six months before: prepare and freeze lemon curd (the filling of that recipe). You can also buy lemon curd at most grocery stores.

Night before: bake cake and make mascarpone cream frosting; assemble cake and apply crumb coat of frosting.  And make lemon curd if you didn't buy any and don't have some handy in your freezer (let's keep this real).

Day of: finish frosting and decorate if you so desire (hint: I didn't).

Make it work:
 In this case, I really wanted to make this cake, but I knew I didn't realistically have time to take all those chances with an untried recipe.  I used:
* a boxed white cake mix
* a lemon curd recipe I'd tried before
* the original marscarpone frosting recipe

Total time for meal: if you make the salad and frost the cake while the ziti is in the oven it takes a total of 25 minutes; add 5 minutes to throw all the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and you're at just 30 minutes!

I wish I had more pictures, but I barely had time to frost the cake, much less take pictures.  I'm sure you understand.

**I'm going to be doing a series of meal plans "From My Binder."  I'm always interested in time-saving, successful meal combinations.  If you have one you'd like to share, please contact me! **

More ways to make it work:

Baked Ziti:

*ricotta - dolloped in the middle or mixed into the sauce
*Parmesan - grated and mixed in the sauce
*ground sausage browned and mixed in
*grated mozzarella sprinkled on top.
*homemade jarred sauce - for all you canners out there!

Tossed salad:
If you don't have time to make salad dressing (I didn't!), dress your greens with a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some sea salt and cracked black pepper.  Or do what I did and set out the store-bought stuff. 


  1. I love your blog! I've been a closet reader for a long time. =) Keep the posts coming!

    Whitney Pendell

  2. I had a lurker?! Thanks so much for reading and the encouraging words!


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