Baked Ziti & A Tree Trimming Party?

Apparently Tree Trimming parties are all the rage this season. Though there are a few left in cold, stumped as to what a tree trimming exactly is. No, a tree trimming is not a brazilian waxing or the actual cutting of the tree’s branches. A tree trimming is the decorating of a Christmas tree.

Though I do not celebrate Christmas, I gleefully await this time every year so that I can spend some quality time with some of my old Renegade co-workers. Ironically only one of them still actually works at Renegade, but those are minor details. Being the token Jew at every tree trimming (keep in mind this was only my 2nd one) I try to spread some of my own holiday cheer by either bringing Chanukah paraphernalia or by placing a blue ornament at the top of the tree. Hebrews re-pre-sent! I later dropped and broke an ornament but hey, it’s the thought that counts. Of course my kind friends make me feel at home by playing famous Chanukah songs like Southpark’s “The Dreidel Song” and Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song”. So many fond memories of past Chanukah’s singing those songs. Ohhh, that’s what those gentiles think (dare I snicker).

But all jokes a side, a tree trimming is a wonderful reason to have a party and celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season, Jew or Gentile alike. And an even better reason to consume massive quantities of deliciously cheap red wine. Thanks to leftovers from the Nielsen Potluck Holiday Party, I was able to provide some extra goodies like store bought 5 layer dip, tortilla chips, and Entemann’s chocolate covered donuts. But the culinary highlight of the night, was Neil’s Baked Ziti. Though the Baked Ziti Recipe was taken from the Food Network Test Kitchens, it was a great one and especially made for beginner cooks like Neil. Being the carnivore Neil is, he decided to include some sausage and ground beef, yum, yum! And being the nice guy that he is, made a special dairy-free version for our lactose friend Rody. Below you’ll find an easy to follow recipe that you should try out for your next tree trimming or holiday affair.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

NEIL’S BAKED ZITI

Ingredients


1 pound dried ziti pasta
Kosher salt
5 cups Tomato Sauce
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
8 oz Ricotta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound sweet and or spicy Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
Preparation

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously.
2. While the pasta boils, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage and beef until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
3. Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
5. When the large pot of water reaches a boil, cook the pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain.
6. Toss the cooked pasta with the marinara sauce, ricotta, meat mixture, half the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and pepper flakes.
7. Transfer the pasta to an oiled 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Cover the top of the pasta with the sliced mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan.
8. Bake until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Baked Ziti on Foodista

My Trip to the Food Network

Jacob Schiffman, Jessica Levine, & Mike Baru

Jacob Schiffman, Jessica Levine, & Mike Baru. And Yes I’m holding Edible Flowers!

As many of you already know, it has always been my dream to work for the Food Network. And although I previously worked in the same building as the Food Network, let alone the same elevator shaft for two and a half years, I had yet to take the grand tour. Luckily, my friends Jacob Schiffman and Mike Baru were able to give me an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the infamous Food Network test kitchen.

Of course the day I came to visit 95% of the chefs were out shooting in other locations. But despite the lack of chefs, this tour was just as exciting. As I rode the elevator up to their floor, I could hardly contain myself. To most people this trip would seem like any other day, but to me it was like taking a trip to Jerusalem!

First, I was taken through their corporate office. After walking past a handful of cubicles, I noticed the offices of Bob Tuschman (Senior VP of Programming & Production) and Susie Fogelson (VP of Marketing). These names would not resonate with most people, but I knew and appreciated their hard work and dedication in making the Food Network what it is today. And then out of nowhere, came Bob Tuschman himself! I must admit that I was slightly starstruck though I kept it to myself. And for those of you who don’t know Bob Tuschman, he is the man behind “The Next Food Network Star” as well as one of the judges.

So we kept walking and eventually made our way up to the test kitchen and live studio. And oh were they glorious. I definitely would have like to see some cooking, but I figured I’d take what I could get. The chefs that were in the kitchen that day were certainly getting a kick out of me taking pictures of an empty kitchen. But I clearly didn’t let them bother me and went on snapping pictures.

They certainly have EVERYTHING in that kitchen. I’d be curious to see what they didn’t have. My favorite part was Jacob’s “office” which you can see in the picture below. I think he had EVERY condiment anyone could ever want. And condiments are my favorite, so clearly this made me very excited; excited enough to take a picture of him and Mike in front of them.

After visiting the test kitchens Jacob took me back to the studio where they film Emeril Live and Iron Chef America. The studio definitely seemed smaller than I had imagined. And again, to my disappointment, there was nothing too exciting going on there, except for a bunch of kids getting their own little tour.

Next came the Food Network Library. I wish that I had access to that library. It was incredible how many books they had on various types of cuisines from locations all over the world. I’m sure if I had access to these books my recipes would be A LOT more interesting.

So after the library, my tour came to an end. Hopefully I’ll be able to make a second trip over there and see some of the magic that happens behind the scenes. But until then, feast your eyes on some of these shots:

Food Network Test Kitchen

Food Network Test Kitchen

More of the Food Network Test Kitchen

More of the Food Network Test Kitchen

Mike Baru & Jacob Schiffman

Mike Baru & Jacob Schiffman

The Food Network Library

The Food Network Library

Production Equipment for Emeril Live

Production Equipment for Emeril Live