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

To Better Health and Beyond-Part 2

Cooking and Bike Riding

Portrait of a teenage girl on a bicycle in summer park outdoors Stock Photo - 3858541

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.”

Portrait of a teenage girl riding a bicycle in summer park outdoors Stock Photo - 3903189

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?

Grilled Burgers on Homemade Sandwich Thins

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Do you really think I pat and season six burgers, grill, bake potatoes and make homemade buns all on the same day? I don’t think so. I’ve done my cooking homework and worked smarter, not harder. I made 24 seasoned burgers at one setting last month and I made a dozen sandwich thins several days ago and froze them in a gallon size bag.

Tonight, we had a 15-minute meal. Burgers were grilling, prebaked potatoes were frying for homefries and dinner was served in less than thirty minute. I love freezer cooking when I can eat a healthy meal like this with my family. We sit down and enjoy the fruit of my labor from last month. We talk about what’s going on in school, listen to the baby cackle and coo and try to understand everything  our three year-old is saying. It’s a Brown family moment.

If only the dishes could clean themselves in 15-minutes or less, I’d have it made. We’re working on that one, too, with a family team effort.

How about you? Are you able to enjoy your family? 15-minute meals are a lifesaver. That’s why I freezer cook. What is something you’d like to try to freezer cook? Or what have you cooked and stored in the freezer lately?

This post linked to Frugal Friday and Finer Things Friday.

To Better Health and Beyond, Part 1

polar ice shelf

I watched a startling movie that kept me on the edge of my seat. It’s been out a while and I’ve thought about seeing it before, but never made it. Last night, I watched Food, Inc. and it opened my eyes to the realities of food production and how our government is involved. It  prompted me to research our local meat prices.

I’ve been toying with the idea of buying local meat the past few years, but I just couldn’t bring it to myself to pay the outlandish prices. It’s nearly two and half times the amount of conventional meat on sale. However, this movie changed my mind and re-opened the thoughts of buying as much as local foods as my pocketbook can afford.

As the movie shared, the prices of local meats are well worth the cost because of the health factors. Grassfed animals, verses conventional animals, are not tainted with dangerous hormones, antibiotics, and fed genetically modified corn. God made cows to eat grass, not corn. The movie didn’t state that, it was my thought. I nearly cried when a mom shared her story about her son dying from a hamburger with e-coli. No wonder she’s an advocate for passing important laws and fought for Kevin’s Law.

Let’s face it, local meat and produce costs more. You can check out your local foods in your area by googling it the city you live in. WNC has an online local food guide, called ASAP.

I’ve done some research for our local meat at Hickory Nut Gap, in Fairview, NC. It  runs $5 to $6.50 per pound depending on what cut you’re buying. Obviously tenderloin is much more. However, when you buy a box of various meats, which includes, ground beef, roasts and steaks, you get that overall price. I’m going to try the 20# box for $130. A 60# box runs $360 and a quarter cow which ranges 70 to 90# runs $500. My suggestion for buying in bulk is finding a friend or neighbor and split. They also have a CSA, which includes meat, pork and chicken, beginning in June. 15# is $600 for 6 months and 10# is $420, made in 2 installments. This info may help you compare your local town.

Warren Wilson College also sells local meat. Their spring sale has started. It looks like it is $6.25 per pound for steaks, roasts, ground, burgers and kabobs. Check out their order form and WWC Farm. They also sell country breakfast sausage, which sounds good. Several of you could go in together and split. Make comments below if you’re looking for someone to split with.

Will I still freezer cook with bulk local meat? You bet I will. The packages are Krylon sealed so I can take my sweet time cooking and prepping the meat. I will thaw the raw meat in bulk and refreeze the cooked meat. I will still make cooked taco meat and meatballs for convenience. I’m organizing my side by side freezer and my chest freezer to accommodate this meat. Later, I’ll see if we have the space to buy in bigger quantities, perhaps a quarter of a cow or share with someone, hint, hint.

I’ve been making homemade bread for a number of years and I cut out most processed foods, except crackers and cereals. I’m finally trying cracker recipes this year-I’ll keep you posted. This was a small step for us and now taking a more expensive plunge is another step in our journey toward better health.

Freezer cooking is a way for me to implement healthy, homemade foods without preservatives for my family. It began in small ways beginning with muffins and bread, then moved on to casseroles,  snacks and now local meats. Freezer cooking can be a small or big part of your life. Everything you freeze helps in the future. It’s a small way of making your family healthier and saving money.

How could you make your family healthier? What baby step could you take to make this happen TODAY? Please share your ideas, we could all benefit from them.

Post linked to Gratituesday.

Weekly Menu 2/27-3/5

What’s Thawing?   

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…

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