ultimate comfort food.

so halloween is over. {i'm actually glad that it is. i really wasn't into it this year...till the day before though!}
it was awesome but it also seemed to be the last warm-ish day. my goodness did the temperature ever dip after that! so much so that when tony was off last week he took care of a couple of things around the house to get us ready for the upcoming snow.
now in our life around here - we are guaranteed snow.
now we have to be ready.

on the list:
patio furniture away - check.
outdoor pots emptied & put away - check.
bushes trimmed, bagged and curbed - check.
rink shell & viewing area set up - check.
snow tires on car - check.
snow suits, gloves and hats ready - check.
christmas lights....ready and waiting.
new thermostats....bought and waiting to be installed.
potential ski schools for the kids...researched.
december daily prep work...FAIL.

i guess i couldn't do everything!

this week i feel like i am in limbo. not yet christmas, not yet time to plan cooper's birthday party, halloween and fall are wrapping up. it's the week i can catch up on MY things but there are so many things i want to catch up on i find myself getting overwhelmed with that AND daily chores that i find myself surfing pinterest and working on new things rather than the old. will i ever learn?

also big on my winter list is too get out all my comfort food recipes, look them over and stock up on the pantry staples for said dishes. i LOVE these kinds of dishes. for this winter my goal is to brush up on my soups and curries {sorry tony!} so i have a few back pocket recipes. something i can whip up without fail when an impromptu skating party presents itself or when friends are met at the sledding hill and invited back to warm up their bones and toes.

now this is a project i can get behind.

one of my all time favorites is pasta bake. i could eat this forever! i always make 1 and a half of his because i inevitably eat a large portion while cooking. i love meat sauce {i eat it sometimes just between two slices of bread!}, i love pasta shapes and baked together with cheese on top...comfort food perfection.

jen's pasta bake.
this recipe has evolved over the last 5 years, changing every time i made it in the hopes to get it just right. i think i have done just that. you can make this a day head if you want and re-heat the next day. if you do this, stop at the potting stage and place in fridge. take out of the fridge about an hour before you want to bake it, to get everything close to room temp, now sprinkle on the cheese and bake!

1 pound dry pasta shapes
1 pound ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil
2 tablespoons of italian spice
ground black pepper
1/2 pound vegetables...i use mushrooms but you can also go with zucchini or asparagus, or a mix, in my opinion {optional}
680ml crushed tomatoes
28oz can whole tomatoes {optional...if you have them - i don't always and that doesn't stop me!}
340ml of your favorite sauce {i think it adds something special but if you taste yours before this point and like it by all means leave it out!}
3/4 cup pasta water...i'll explain later.

some shreeded cheese - i used marble but feel free to use your favorite or combine a few to make a blend...just don't use pre-shredded, please!!!

get your pasta going according to the box instructions.
pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F - if cooking straight away.

on the other element over medium-high, heat a deep sautee pan with a little olive oil in it. dice up your onion and add to pan adding some fresh ground black pepper over top to season. sautee till onion are a little translucent, a couple of minutes. add your beef and cook till no longer pink. drain out the fat and place back on stove. add your garlic, italian spice and, if using, vegetables. sautee for a couple minutes till veg is soft. add in your crushed tomatoes and whole, if using. stir in all your ingredients and let bubble for a bit till it gets all saucy. now taste it...do you like it? do you think that extra bit of store-bought sauce will make it better? if you said yes then add your sauce, stir it in and pour yourself a glass of wine. if you said no, pour yourself a glass of wine and stare at the sauce till i tell you to carry on.

check your pasta. if done reserve one cup of the water before draining. drain your pasta. set aside.

check your sauce. taste it. do you like it? does it need anything? salt? pepper? more spice? remember anytime you add anything you need to wait about 3 to 5 minutes to check the seasoning again {classic mistake performed by jennifer on top chef which cost her the title that she was CLEARLY going to win.....poor her.} so now that you like your sauce and have waited awhile for the completion - is your sauce a little thick? a little too reduced? this is where the magic of the pasta water comes in handy. add some, a little at a time, to your sauce while stirring till the desired consistency is achieved. magic! now add your pasta, mix it all together and place in a large casserole dish. sprinkle with cheese and place in the oven for 35 minutes. when done and the cheese is all melty and golden, let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving - it will be piping hot! once cooled, serve it up and enjoy!

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