Freezer meals: Half a day yields dozens of dinners
For the month of April, and in light of this terrbile economic crisis, I give you a collection of recipes that serves many purposes:
1. dinner, fast
2. very little after-dinner cleanup
3. budget friendly
4. readily available (no dining out/ going to the drive-thru)
I spent just a few hours, over the course of two days, and have a freezer full of more than a dozen dinners. I made spinach stuffed jumbo shells with marinara, chicken stuffed manicotti with creamy tomatoe sauce, ziti with ground turkey (some in marinara, some in creamy tomato) and cauliflower mac and cheese.
On the first day, I made the two sauces (creamy tomato and marinara) and fillings (ricotta and fresh spinach; ricotta and roasted chicken from the deli) and I browned my ground turkey. On day two, I cooked the pastas and stuffed or assembled them. The mac and cheese is pretty quick and easy, so I did that one all at once.
I used disposable trays (I recycle) and labeled each dinner. This could be even quicker if you bought your sauces, but really, there's nothing to it. The recipes can easily be varied with the type of noodle and fillings. Just use the jumbo shell recipe as a guide. I did this, switching the noodle to manicotti and adding shredded chicken to the cheese mixture. Easy to get creative.
Your future self will thank your past self. Good luck!
Creamy tomato sauce
½ C. butter
1 small onion, diced
2, 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
1 pint heavy cream
Saute onion in butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes. Add cream and cook for another 30 minutes.
For a nice homemade marinara, just cook a little minced garlic on the stove top in some olive oil, and add a can of diced tomatoes. I usually use the ones pre-seasoned with Italian herbs. Then add a can of crushed tomatoes. Add your own fresh herbs to taste, letting the sauce simmer until thickened.
Stuffed Pasta Shells
1, 12-ounce package jumbo pasta shells
4 C. ricotta cheese
3 C. shredded mozzarella
2 Tbsp. fresh Italian parsley
¾ tsp. dried oregano
3-4 C. marinara sauce
Directions: Cook pasta shells in boiling water for about 12 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water. Spread out on foil lightly coated with cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix ingredients for filling. Stuff shells with about two spoonfuls. Spread a thin layer of marinara in a 9-by 13-inch pan. Place shells in pan and cover with remaining sauce. Sprinkle cheese on top (parmesan or mozzarella), if desired. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes.
1 lb. dry ziti pasta
1/2 onion, chopped
1 lb. lean ground turkey
2, 26-ounce jars spaghetti sauce or homemade marinara
6 ounces provolone cheese, sliced
1 C. sour cream
1 C. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, shredded
Cook ziti pasta according to package directions (al dente). In a large skillet, brown onion and ground turkey in a little olive oil over medium heat. Add spaghetti sauce and simmer.
Meanwhile, spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Layer half the ziti, Provolone cheese and sour cream and some sauce. Add remaining ziti, mozarella and remaining sauce. Top with Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, or until cheeses are melted, at 350 degrees.
Cauliflower mac and cheese
2 C. cauliflower
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
2 ¼ C. milk
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
2 C. shredded cheddar cheese, divided, plus more for sprinkling on top
1 package (about 7 C.) firmly cooked pasta (macaroni, spirals, mini shells, etc.)
Microwave cauliflower florets with ¼ C. water until tender (about 8-9 minutes). Then, puree until completely smooth. Set aside. Next, melt butter in large pan, adding milk, then flour and salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add 1 ½ C. cheese, stirring until smooth. Add cauliflower puree; stir until well blended. Add cooked pasta; stir until well coated. Transfer mixture into a sprayed baking dish, while intermittently adding the remaining ½ C. cheese. Sprinkle desired amount of cheese on top. Cover and bake at 350 degrees, 25-30 minutes, or until top is slightly browned.