Monday, April 26, 2010

Stuffed Shells (High Tech Style)

Confession: After seven years, I finally figured out what some of the buttons on my oven are for! When we got the stove, I really liked all of the features that it had to offer. But somewhere along the way I got overwhelmed with other things and forgot all about them.

With my husband out of town and me left to my own devices, I've had to get creative in the evenings when it comes to fitting in baseball/swimming/guitar and dinner. Last night I left work at 5 pm and had to pick up both kids and be on the baseball field by 6 pm. What is a mom to do?

This mom packed some snacks for the kids to eat so that they weren't starving through baseball practice and then she came home to a meal that was ready to eat as she walked in the door. How did I do it? I prepped the meal the night before, stuck it in the oven as we left for practice, programmed my oven to start at a certain time (the "Start Time" button) and then programmed it to bake for 40 minutes ("Cook Time" button). It was so easy! Why hadn't I thought of this before?!?!?!?

I adapted this recipe from The Full Table. I loved the recipe because you do not have to cook the shells before you stuff them! They soak in the pasta sauce overnight and soften enough to be perfectly cooked after 40 minutes in the oven the next day. The recipe made 20 stuffed shells. I served 10 last night and then froze 10 for a later meal.

Make Ahead Stuffed Shells:


1 lb large shell pasta
2 8 ounce blocks of cream cheese
1 small package of chopped spinach (I bought the frozen kind, defrosted it in the microwave, and pressed it through a cheesecloth to get rid of the excess liquid)
1 or 2 cloves of chopped garlic (I added 2, but my daughter thought it was too much)
1 egg
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
Pepper to taste
2 jars spaghetti sauce


1. Mix cream cheese, spinach, garlic, egg, mozzarella cheese and pepper thoroughly.
2. Spoon mixture into uncooked shells. Alternatively, you can place the mixture in a ziploc, cut off a corner of the bag, and pipe the mixture into the shells. I started this way, but it didn't work well with the shells that had only a small opening. I found that in those instances, a fork worked best.

If Cooking The Next Day:
Place stuffed shells in a baking dish (8x8 for half of the batch or 9 x 13 for the whole batch).
Pour spaghetti sauce over the top - be sure to cover all shells as this is how they will soften. (1 jar for half of the batch; 2 jars for the entire batch).
Cover baking dish and place in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. (I put the shells in the oven before we left for practice and set my start and bake times so that they were just finishing up as we arrived home).

If Freezing:
Place stuffed shells on a cookie sheet in the freezer until they are fully frozen. Then transfer to a freezer bag for storage.
When ready to eat shells, remove from freezer the night before.
Pour spaghetti sauce over the top - be sure to cover all shells as this is how they will soften. (1 jar for half of the batch; 2 jars for the entire batch).
Cover baking dish and place in refrigerator overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350 and bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

At first the proportion of sauce to noodles seemed wrong to me. I thought that there was way too much sauce. But after the shells soaked overnight, they absorbed quite a bit which gave them great flavor and made the sauce to shell ratio perfect. This is a dish that I will put on my go to list!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Menu Plan for Week of 03/28/10

Here's our menu for this week. We've added guitar and swimming lessons to three of the five week nights, so I try to either plan something fast or a crockpot meal on those nights.

Brunch of sausage patties, Belgian waffles with strawberry sauce (I simmer frozen strawberries with sugar to taste and a tablespoon of water), scrambled eggs, and fresh pineapple

Dinner of seafood etouffe (spicy cajun stew).

Monday: Crockpot Cheesy Chicken with broccoli and egg noodles

Tuesday: Open faced roast beef and provolone sandwiches, veggie dippers and ranch dressing

Wednesday: Fried Rice

Thursday: Mandarin Chicken Roll Ups and green salad

Friday: Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup (from a can - I'm tired by the time Friday rolls around!)

Saturday: No Clue!

Crockpot Cheesey Chicken

Winner winner chicken dinner! We really liked this recipe, which I found on allrecipes of course!

6 chicken breasts
2 cans condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon garlic powder
frozen broccoli

1. Add the chicken breasts to your crockpot.
2. Dump the soup, milk and garlic powder into crockpot over chicken.
3. Cook on low 6 to 8 hours.
4. 30 minutes before you're ready to serve, add the frozen broccoli to the crockpot.
5. Serve over rice or egg noodles and enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Weekly Menu Plan - Week of 3/21/10

I've been a longtime blog lurker. I lurked long before I ventured into composing any posts of my own. When I first saw women posting their weekly menus, I didn't get it. Do I really care what they're eating? My conclusion is - yes, I do care. Not because I want to make sure that they are following the food pyramid or getting their five a day, but because their meal plans help me to break out of my rut.

We all have those meals that are regulars on our menus. For us it would be: fried rice, Italian Wedding Soup, Steaks, and baked fish with a green salad. Sometimes I love those foods and other times I'm not sure if I can stand to eat them ever again. My husband feels the same way. His phrase is "What should we eat when we're sick of everything?". Other families menus help me answer that question.

Without further ado, here is our menu for this week:

Sunday: Cabbage Roll Casserole, applesauce (out of a jar - unsweetened of course), and bread with butter

Monday: Steaks (we make them under the broiler), Green Salad, Sauteed mushrooms and onions (just some sliced mushrooms and onions cooked in a bit of olive oil), Barrett's yummy horseradish spread (mayo mixed with horseradish to taste)

Tuesday: Ham Steaks, Au Gratin Potatoes (ala Betty Crocker - out of a box), Glazed Carrots (recipe to come later)

Wednesday: Pizza Night (sometimes I follow this recipe and sometimes we stop at Papa Murphy's and get a crust for $3.00); kiddos eat only cheese and parents eat turkey pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers

Thursday: Fettuccine Alfredo with shrimp and broccoli (using jarred Classico sauce and whole wheat noodles)

Friday: Leftover buffet or on your own (kiddos usually end up with either chicken nuggets or oatmeal while the parents eat the leftovers)

Saturday: Go out for dinner or over to mother in law's for game night

If you still need further menu inspiration, head on over to Menu Plan Monday at

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Turkey Meatballs in Garlic Sauce

We tried this recipe last night with steamed rice and veggies. As usual, the recipe is adapted from
Photo Courtesy of


  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 drops hot pepper sauce
  • 1/2 cup finely crushed butter-flavored crackers (I used Ritz)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 pound lean ground turkey
  • 1 cup V-8 juice
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced


  1. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Crumble turkey over mixture and mix well. Shape into six meatballs. Place in a greased 9-in. pie plate. Bake, uncovered, at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the V8 juice, broth and garlic. Turn meatballs; spoon sauce over top. Reduce heat to 350 degrees F. Bake 20 minutes longer, basting every 5 minutes. Serve over rice.

The verdict: We thought that the recipe was so/so. The sauce needed a little something extra - hot sauce maybe? I would definitely add more garlic to both the meatballs and the sauce. I'll try this again sometime, but it won't go into the regular rotation.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tuna Melts

Just when activities seemed to be winding down, I went and signed the kids up for more. Brady will be starting his second round of swimming lessons and Madeline will be starting guitar lessons. To top it off, Madeline's t-ball season starts soon with Barrett as her coach. This translates to fast dinners that can be made mostly ahead of time.

This recipe certainly fits the bill, plus it's perfect for lent. Of course the recipe is adapted from this one at

Photo courtesy of


  • 2 cans tuna , drained
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 3/4 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 slices bread
  • 8 slices ripe tomato
  • 8 slices Swiss cheese
  • paprika, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven broiler.
  2. In a bowl, mix the tuna, mayonnaise, celery, onion, parsley, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Place the rye bread slices on a baking sheet, and broil 1 minute in the preheated oven, until lightly toasted. Turn bread over and toast other side for 1 minutes. Remove from heat, and spread with the tuna salad. Place 1 cheese slice over the tuna salad on each piece of bread, layer with a tomato slice, and top with remaining cheese slices.
  4. Return layered bread to the preheated oven, and broil 3 to 5 minutes, until cheese is melted.

These were really good and very versatile. We actually used shredded cheddar cheese on some of the melts and I thought they were even better than the slices of swiss. Some of us had rye bread while other had wheat. Use whatever you have. We also decided that this recipe was a good start for other kinds of open face melts. I think that I may have a new go to meal!

I made the tuna mixture the evening before, so for dinner all I had to do were steps 3 and 4 which took about 5 minutes. I topped off the dinner with pre-cut veggies and ranch dip.

I've linked this recipe to The Ultimate Recipe Swap at Life As Mom.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Favorite Healthy Snacks

So, I live in a household of snackers. My kids graze all day long. As long as the snacks are healthy and they cover all of the food groups, I'm happy to let them graze. What they love: popcorn (recipe below for make your own microwave popcorn), homemade chex mix, fruit/yogurt smoothies, string cheese.

I'm not going to give you the recipe for Chex Mix; you can find it right on any box of Chex cereal. I highly recommend following the instructions for microwave prep as it takes 6 minutes instead of the 1 hr 15 minute oven method. My daughter and I made a big batch this past weekend. We only had two of the three kinds of cereal called for in the recipe so we improvised and added some Cheerios as a substitution. It turned out great!

We love us some popcorn in our house! I am way too cheap (and health conscious) to buy microwave popcorn. I buy the popcorn seeds in bulk at Winco and store them in the fridge. I used to cook the popcorn the old fashioned way by standing over the stove and shaking the pan until I thought that my arms would fall off. The kids do like to watch the kernels pop, but I don't like putting forth the effort. Instead, I make it in the microwave and here's how:

Make Your Own Microwave Popcorn:

1/2 cup popcorn seeds
1 teaspoon vegetable oil or olive oil or butter
salt to taste

In a bowl mix the seeds, oil and salt until the seeds are well coated.
Pour into a small brown paper bag.
Place bag into microwave (right side up - do NOT place the bag on it's side).
Microwave popcorn for 2:30 to 3:00 minutes or until the popping sound is longer than two seconds apart.
Open the paper bag slowly as the steam will be hot.

If you want to be a bit naughty, check out A Thrifty Mom's recipe for microwave caramel corn! I could marry this caramel corn and live happily ever after - it's that good.

Smoothies: My son would love to have a smoothie every day for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I don't have a "recipe", but rather a method to my madness. Here are the key components: juice, yogurt, frozen fruit. In my blender I pour about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of whatever fruit juice I have on hand, I then add about 1 cup of whatever yogurt I have on hand, then add frozen fruit. The amount of fruit varies by how much I have on hand. I usually add 2 to 3 frozen bananas and half a bag of frozen strawberries. I've also added fruit from a can or jar. I just freeze the fruit on a cookie sheet the night before I'm going to make smoothies. It's a great way to use up odds and ends of fresh and canned fruit. Once you have everything in the blender, pulse it a few times to get the "juices" flowing and then blend on high until it is smooth. I'm getting pretty good at getting the right consistency so that they can be drank through a straw. If they turn out too thick, I just add some additional juice.

Do you have any favorite fast healthy snack recipes to share? Does anybody have a good one for granola or granola bars?