Today began like any other. Emails, peruse the blogroll, Master’s project, water the plants, breakfast and iced coffee the crossword puzzle, quiz him on procedures [and thus vicariously learn to fly], clean and prep for lunch. He was scheduled for a mid-day flight, which means the afternoon was all mine.

Normally I don’t mind a little alone time to work on my project; today being our anniversary, I wish he could’ve been home. But he was back for supper, and I all the time in the world to create two of his favorites: a lavish baked pasta with béchamel, plus a dark chocolate-flecked angel food cake served with fresh strawberries.

Several years ago I was gifted Biba Caggiano’s Trattoria Cooking On the inside cover my uncle wrote: “For when you become the next Julia.” I don’t think I’ve quite yet reached her status [and I’m about 2′ too short], but I certainly try to do my best in the kitchen, flubs and all.

Biba’s Pasta al Forno con la Besciamella is a simple, inexpensive dish to prepare. Baking the already al dente penne creates a golden and crisped top, postively oozing béchamel, butter and melted Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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This hearty dish is really a grown-up riff on macoroni and cheese! No flight tomorrow meant we could enjoy voluminous glasses of a smooth, jammy 2005 Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico we bought on our trip last month.

Oh, and that angel food cake! I started out strictly anti-angel food, especially irked every fourth of July when my aunt would request it as her birthday dessert. “Again?! Yuck.” I’ve since put aside my differences with the airy cake, learning to love and appreciate the magic that transforms a cartonful of whipped egg whites into a fluffy masterpiece. My favorite is the harrowing moment when you upend it, praying it comes out in one piece without deflating. It never ceases to amaze me.

This was my first time making Ina’s black and white angel food cake The first of many yet to come. [Never again in a bundt pan, however.] What a treat with the strawberries, so pretty to cut into.

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