Mac & Cheese Spirals

Gratin with macaroni, meat and cheese

Mac and cheese is a simple, yet satisfying main dish for family members of all ages. The perfect comfort food on a chilly day, or a quick meal after your children's after school activities. This is an ideal casserole for moms who always seem to be on the go. If you have some of your children's friends or relatives show up for a surprise visit, this recipe doubles very efficiently without compromising taste and appeal. With added butternut squash, this recipe adds a vegetable into this dish to boost both nutrition and taste. Cook this casserole in your crock pot for perfect make ahead meal goodness. Be sure to prepare and freeze an extra batch of this delightful dish, so you can have an easy, effortless make ahead meal.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs Ground beef
2 boxes spiral pasta
2 boxes of frozen butternut squash, thawed
1 lb sharp cheddar cheese
1 lb other cheese- Monterey jack, muenster, Swiss...your choice
(or a combination of cheeses)
1 1/2 cups milk
2 tbs. cornstarch
tsp. water
Tbsp. butter or margarine
Optional:  goldfish crackers, any flavor, crushed for topping

Directions: 

-Cook ground beef in skillet on stove.
-Cook pasta on stovetop until tender.
-Drain grease from ground beef. Also, drain water from pasta.
-Add both to crock pot. Mix them together.
-Put milk and butter into a pan.
-In a small dish, mix cornstarch and water. Be sure to stir until cornstarch is completely dissolved into water.
-Grate cheese and set aside (this is good to do a day or two ahead, to save time - or buy shredded cheese)
-Thaw butternut squash in the  microwave or on stovetop in a separate pan.
-Turn on burner and heat milk and butter mixture on low.
-Stir. Add grated cheese and thawed butternut squash.
-Turn up heat. Stir continuously as you add cornstarch and water mixture.
-Cook until sauce begins to thicken.
-Add completed sauce to crock pot with ground beef and pasta. Stir to combine all ingredients.
-Cook on low for 3-4 hours.
-Keep on warm for as many hours as you need to.
-Scoop out a portion to cool and then freeze in freezer-proof container for a second meal. For your second meal, when ready, add to crock pot to warm and you will be ready for quick goodness on another night.
-Serve casserole with crushed goldfish crackers on each individual portion for your family members who like a little topping on their Mac and cheese. Enjoy!

 

Morning Oatmeal Muffins

Apple Cinnamon Muffin Topped With Granola

If you’re a busy parent looking for a quick, nutritional and tasty morning snack that everyone will enjoy, consider these fantastic oatmeal muffins. Besides being a breeze to prepare, these tantalizing and filling muffins freeze well and thaw out quickly, so they are readily available whenever you need them.

Since this particular recipe yields 8 large or 16 small muffins, consider doubling this recipe to keep plenty on hand. If you don’t, you may regret it! You can make your muffins even more exciting by adding optional ingredients such as nuts and dried or fresh fruit. So say goodbye to expensive granola bars, donuts and other sugary breakfast foods that don’t give your children the energy they need, and show them you care with these fun and delicious treats. You’ll be glad you gave these morning oatmeal muffins a try.

Morning Oatmeal Muffins

Ingredients:
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (this can also be made by adding 1 tablespoon vinegar to regular milk)
1 cup quick oats or old fashioned uncooked oats
¼ cup sugar
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 beaten egg
3 Tablespoons melted shortening
¾ cup raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
¼ cup nuts, such as chopped pecans or sliced almonds (optional)
1 cup chopped fruit, such as apples or peaches (optional)

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees and grease muffin tins or use parchment backing cups. Pour buttermilk over rolled oats and let stand a few minutes.

In the meantime, sift together the dry ingredients and add to the rolled oats mixture with the optional ingredients such as the raisins, nuts and/or other dried fruit.

Then add in the beaten egg, stirring lightly and fold into melted shortening.

Fill the greased muffin pans 2/3 full (or use paper liners) and put in the preheated oven for 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the muffins. Top with additional chopped nuts, oats and/or fruit, if desired.

To save the leftover muffins for the week, you can store them in a sealed container on the countertop or in the refrigerator. To freeze, place them into separate freezer bags or containers, and keep in the freezer for up to three months. To thaw frozen muffins, just reheat each one individually for about 20 seconds in the microwave, or simply let them sit out overnight on the counter top or in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

 

Braided Easter Bread

Sweet braided easter bread

Nothing smells or tastes better than freshly baked bread, and it is a sure way to win over your friends and family at a gathering. It can be, however, a long and tedious process and, as a busy mother, it can be hard to find the time. This recipe for traditional braided Easter bread only takes 30 minutes of active prep time, making it easy to fit into any busy schedule!

Recipe yields one 1 pound loaf of bread

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
2/3 cup milk
2 Tablespoons butter
2 eggs
5 whole eggs, dyed if desired (for in the braid)
2 Tablespoons butter, melted

1. Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan until milk is warm and butter is soft (but not melted). Combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast in a large mixing bowl, stirring well.

2. Slowly add the butter and milk mixture to the flour, constantly stirring. Add 1/2 cup flour and two eggs. Beat well. Add the rest of your flour in 1/2 cup intervals, stirring well after each. Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead until elastic and smooth. This will take about 8 minutes.

3. Place dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and coat the dough with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This will take about 1 hour.

4. Punch down the tough and turn onto floured surface. Divide the dough into equal halves and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Roll each piece of dough into a long roll, roughly 36 inches longer, 1 1/2 inches wide. Use these pieces to loosely braid a ring. This is when you should leave room for whole eggs, if you are using them. Pinch the dough together at the ends to form a seal. Optional:  Use your fingers to slide in the whole (uncooked!) eggs into your braid where desired.

5. Place loaf on an oiled baking sheet and cover loosely with a damp towel. Allow to rise until doubled in size in a warm place, about 45 minutes. Lightly brush with melted butter after doubled in size.

6. Bake in a 350 degree oven until golden, 50-55 minutes.

The traditional way to make this braided Easter bread is with the five whole eggs in the braid, but this is not required. For added fun you may use colored eggs in your braid!

This bread can be made a day or two in advance to your gathering. Store loosely wrapped at room temperature. Once baked, this bread can be frozen. Thaw on the counter for 8 hours, then reheat in a 350 degree oven when ready to serve.

 

Start Easter Dinner Now

Serving Easter table with tasty dishes close-up

With Easter quickly approaching, even the most astounding chef is beginning to feel the stress. Instead of racing to get everything prepared the Saturday before, try some recipes that can be made ahead of time, frozen and then defrosted on Easter Sunday.

Gather Your Appetizers

Before diving into the main meal, your guests like to enjoy appetizers. Purchasing ones that are already frozen is one way to cut down the amount of cooking you have to do. For this holiday, you could also make some meatballs in cranberry sauce or Easter bread in advance. If you opt for the braided Easter bread, don't make the eggs until the day before, or on, the holiday.

Warm Soup

As we go more and more into the spring, you are less likely to crave soup, so this holiday might be one of your last chances to enjoy a warm bowl of it. Whether you want to have one last round of butternut squash soup or you'd prefer something lighter like chicken vegetable, soups tend to freeze very well, so you just need to reheat after the appetizers.

Have Some Pizza

On Easter Sunday, many families like to eat a variety of breads, and pizza may be on that your family enjoys. You could make an Easter pizza by rolling the dough into the shape of an Easter basket, an Easter wreath or, if you are really creative in the kitchen, an Easter bunny. You'll have to consider which toppings you want to decide if that portion is make ahead or not. Try to keep it lighter since this is not the main course, and make the crust thin.

Any Italian Dish

Depending on the cultural background of your family, having a full course of Italian food before the leg of lamb may be traditional. Fortunately, most Italian food is make ahead friendly. Baked ziti, lasanga, stuffed shells, meatballs and sausage in sauce, ravioli and manicotti are just a few of the ideas. Sauce freezes well too, so you can make a big tub of it.

Main Course Ideas

Cooking the lamb or ham before and then reheating it is a possibility, but you are unlikely to have as flavorful of a piece. Instead, prepare the lamb/ham the night before, so you just need to pop it into the oven on Easter. It will need time to cool and rest a bit, so you can bake side dishes then. Look for side dishes that are easy to make such as vegetable casseroles, mashed potatoes and pre-made rolls.

Infusing at least some of these ideas into your Easter dinner recipe will make for less of a hassle this year.

 

Cornbread with Flair

slices of fresh cornbread with blueberry on cutting board

Cornbread is one of those side dishes that can easily compliment any meal. However, this make ahead recipe is not your usual plain cornbread recipe. It uses whole corn and herbs to give it certain flair. What is so great about this recipe is that it makes two square pans filled with a delicious corn bread in about 30 minutes. Use one pan tonight for dinner and freeze the second pan to use for a later time. This make ahead recipe can also be used as the cornbread in your stuffing for the holidays.

Double recipe ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups cornmeal
2 Tbsp sugar - more sugar may be added if sweeter bread is desired
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 ½ cups cold buttermilk
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 tsp chives
3 Tbsp thyme
1 cup corn  (if using frozen corn, thaw prior to use)

Step one
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare the two 8 X8 pans with cooking spray.

Step two
In a large bowl combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, salt and pepper.

Step three
In another bowl combine the buttermilk, vegetable oil, and eggs.

Step four
Once the wet ingredients are combined, add the mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir until the batter is moist. The batter will still be lumpy.

Step five
Fold the corn and the herbs into the batter.

Step six
Divide the batter equally between the two square pans. Use a spatula to spread the batter out evenly in the pan.

Step 7
Bake the cornbread for 25 to 30 minutes. The top of the bread will be light brown in color and it will begin to pull away from the side of the pans. Use a toothpick to check the center of the bread if you are unsure that it is baked completely through. Overbaking will make for a drier cornbread.

Step 8
Allow to cool and serve or freeze to use at a later time. Cornbread will last about 6 weeks in the freezer.

This is an easy make ahead recipe that can easily be frozen to use for a future dinner. The herbs and the corn give it a certain flair that most corn breads do not have. It would be easy to change the herbs, add sharp cheddar cheese or even substitute chopped broccoli or shredded carrots for a different variation. Add blueberries and more sugar for a sweeter treat.