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Three Cheese Manicotti

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Do you want to make a casserole without a bowl, a spoon or a pot? You do? Then this is the casserole for you. I make this often and double to have extra in my freezer to give away.

You DO NOT cook the manicotti prior to filling and freezing. That’s what makes this recipe so easy. The other easy part is the method to mix the filling ingredients. You mix the filling in a freezer bag by kneading it.

You start by preparing your pans with sauce in the bottom.

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You dump the filling into a gallon size FREEZER bag and gently knead until it is mixed up.

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Then you cut a small corner of the bag; about  1/2″. You want the filling to flow easily through the opening, but you don’t want it to pour out too quickly.  Don’t cut it too small because there will be too much pressure and the bag could burst. Once you do it a couple of times, you will get the feel of piping cheese into the shells. I fill one side horizontally and then turn the shell and fill the other.

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Fill all the shells dividing between two 8×8 pans or one 9×13.

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Cover all the shells with the marinara sauce. I use Hunts when I don’t have time to make homemade marinara.

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Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top.

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Cover the pans with heavy duty foil labeled with thawing and cooking instructions. This is the most important part when you’re giving a casserole away. It’s handy for people to have the instructions right at their fingertips.

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Shells are $1.50 at Wal-mart and the sauce is $1. Cheese prices range. I leave out the parmesan cheese sometimes and it’s still great. You can substitute ricotta, but try the cottage cheese. It makes a terrific ministry meal to give away to someone in need and it’s easy because there’s “no cooking” involved. P.S. Your family is a ministry too, so be sure to double this recipe to have enough for them and others in need.

Three Cheese Manicotti

Filling Ingredients (gallon bag)

2 cups cottage cheese

1 ½ cups mozzarella cheese

Add:  1 ½ teaspoons Italian Seasoning

¼ teaspoons salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Remaining Ingredients:

1-8oz. package manicotti

½ cup mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese

Jar or can of favorite marinara sauce (I use the $1 can Hunts marinara)

Cooking spray

Directions:  Combine filling ingredients in a gallon size freezer bag and knead until thoroughly mixed. Clip a small corner, about 1/2”, of the bag and proceed to fill manicotti according to tray size.

2-8×8 pans:  Spread ¼ cup sauce into each pan if making 2-8×8 pans Pipe ½ of your cheese filling into each tray of manicotti.  Top each pan with ¼ cup mozzarella and 1/8 Parmesan cheese (half of bag)

1-9×13 pan:  Spread about ½ cup of marinara on bottom of pan.  Pipe all cheese into both trays.  Pour about 1 ½ cups of marinara on top.  Spread with ½ cup mozzarella cheese and ¼ Parmesan cheese

**Cover manicotti shells entirely with marinara sauce.

Label foil and spray with cooking spray to prevent cheese from sticking.  Cover pan(s) completely.

Baking Day: Thaw completely for 24 hours. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 1 hour or until shells are tender. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Printable three cheese manicotti recipe

Weekly Menu 3/13-3/19

Nearly every meal I prepare consists of foods I have doubled and frozen. I thaw items in a plastic shoe box to prevent condensation dripping onto my shelves (I’ve learned from experience). I shop my freezer to see what goodies I can thaw and serve to my family. I write these items down on a seven-day menu plan and post it on my refrigerator as a reminder to thaw my food 24 hours ahead of time. Typically right after dinner, I will glance at my menu plan and put new items into my thawing box. Here’s what I’m thawing this week…

Chuck E. Jesus

 

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Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

“Where’s Chuck E. Jesus?” asks one of the girls at my son’s three year-old party.  Her interpretation of a kid’s theme restaurant is a place where she might see Jesus. The motto for this celebratory place is, “Where a kid can be a kid.” Sure enough, it’s crammed with kids elbow to elbow. The lights, games, cotton candy, rides, pizza, sounds, tokens, tickets and prizes are a bit overwhelming to the average adult. It’s no wonder a newbie child at Chuck E. might associate Jesus.

Our everyday busyness is portrayed much like the land of Chuck E. Cheese. It’s jam packed with events, food, children’s activities, working motions to produce the sound of coins falling into a piggy bank, and the lights don’t turn out until we’re fully overwhelmed with a day’s worth of activities. Where does Jesus fit into the portrayal of Chuck E. Cheese? Jesus modeled it for us. He got up very early in the morning, while it was still dark and went off to a solitary place where he prayed.

You may go to Chuck E. Cheese one day. You’ll be thankful you modeled after Jesus and prayed yourself up for such an event. Jesus knows our busyness and what lies ahead. Have you encountered the land of Chuck E. and asked, “Where’s Chuck E. Jesus? He wants to be included in the first part of our day—early. Have you put Jesus first in your day?

Freezer Italian Chicken Marinade

Whenever there’s a warm day, I’m thinking GRILL. Okay, I think  of other things besides cooking,  like picnics, bike rides, camping and swimming. Have you ever bought the marinated chicken in the grocery store? Guess what? You can make your own for a fraction of the cost if you buy your chicken on sale and choose your favorite homemade marinade.

I love a tender piece of chicken grilled to perfection, especially if the flavor is infused throughout. I like to marinate fresh chicken first, and freeze it. When I place it in my thawing box the night before I plan to grill, it has time to slowly thaw in the herbs and spices and gives it a terrific flavor. Plus, it’s so easy to have the chicken marinating while  it’s thawing.

I use this marinade often because it uses easy pantry staples. I mix all the ingredients in a glass measuring cup and divide into two-quart size bags. I slip 4 to 5 chicken breasts inside each labeled bag, gently squeezing excess air out and  freeze flat. You can see freezer prep photos at my chicken fajita marinade post.

Italian Chicken Marinade

Yield: Marinade for 8-10 breasts

6 Tablespoons canola oil

2 Tablespoons lemon juice

2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning

2 tsp. garlic salt

1/2  ground black pepper

8-10 boneless , skinless chicken breasts ( I butterfly all the way through if they are extra-large)

Combine all the ingredients in a glass measuring bowl. Divide in half between two quart size freezer bags. Place 4-5 chicken breasts inside each bag. Freeze.

Thaw for 24 hours. Heat grill to medium high heat. Grill 6 to 8 minutes per side or until juices run clear. Don’t overcook, especially if you’re going to freeze. I cover my plate with aluminum foil to seal in the juices and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Thaw and grill several bags and make convenience chicken. Follow this post to see how I slice and dice cooled chicken for the freezer for future meals.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Try grilled convenience chicken on homemade naan topped with a Greek salad or wrapped in a whole wheat pita with Greek dressing.
  • Lay sliced chicken  on a salad bed with feta cheese, black olives, peperoncini.
  • Serve with freezer twice baked potatoes.
  • Dice it and make a homemade chicken braid with broccoli, mozzarella and grated lemon rind using freezer brioche dough.

To Better Health and Beyond-Part 2

Cooking and Bike Riding

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Cooking is like riding a bike. You’re thinking, “What?” Remember the first time you got on a bike? It felt uneasy and shaky-you probably had someone hold on the back of the seat while you kept your balance. Different commands were coming full force. “Hold on to the bars, keep steady, don’t shake so much, turn, you’re leaning in too far, stop!” It was overwhelming and then you fell. Did you get back up? Sure, most of us got right back up and tried again. 

That’s the way it with cooking. You fall and you get right back up. The first time I made graham crackers, I messed up royally. I altered the recipe, which is usually a “no-no” for a first timer, and then I didn’t read all the directions, which stated: leave the crackers on the parchment paper. So mine stuck to my pan and where’s a bulldozer when you need one? Thankfully, they tasted great and we gobbled the crumbs. I’m not giving up. I’ve got visions for my next batch.

Remember once you learned to ride a bike, you saw someone doing cool bike tricks and that was the next step. New tricks take patience, persistence and practice and they don’t happen overnight. My best freezer cooking tricks didn’t happen overnight either. In fact, it’s taken me eight years to perfect some of the best ways to freeze items.

Bicycle Trick : young biker riding a bmx bicycle Stock Photo

Eventually you learned great new moves on your bike, but it didn’t happen by sitting around watching. You had to get your head in the game. You probably asked friends, adults and long time riders how to do a special move.

The same is for cooking, a little investigation and research goes a long way. Visiting blogs and trying new recipes expands your knowledge and skills.

Okay, you learned to ride a bike when you were a kid, but can you still ride a bike as an adult? Sure, we haven’t been on one in maybe ten to twenty years (I’m just throwing out a numbers-humor me), but with prodding and encouragement we’ll gain the skills back.

Perhaps you haven’t really “home-cooked” in a long while. You may start shaky, but you’ll find your groove again. Did you know you have a hidden niche in cooking? Everyone has something they prefer to cook or bake and they’re good at it. Yes, you have a secret recipe or two up your sleeve, I know you do. Discover what your good at and aim high. Duplicate your culinary masterpiece and freeze it. Triple or quadruple it.  Keep it on hand to shine for others. Give it away. Indulge and have fun in the kitchen.

Soon, you’re coasting on your bike without hands. Remember those days? “Look Mom, no hands.” You take your eye of the road and hit a pebble and fall flat on your face. You know how easy it is to get up and try again because you’ve done it as a child.

Bicycle With No Hands : confident child riding bike or bicycle

When you fail a new recipe or your freezer meal doesn’t taste exactly right, don’t give up. Remember, like bike riding, new tricks require practice, practice, practice. Freezer cooking requires the same kind of persistence and the end result is better health. Your food is freshly frozen without preservatives, you’re controlling the quality ingredients you ‘re cooking with (like whole wheat flour or organic) and you’re eating out less because “dinner’s in the fridge thawing.”

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What attempts have you made toward freezer cooking? Were some of them failures or success? How can you encourage others with your mistakes? Remember my first graham crackers. Are you on a journey to better health?

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