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!

 

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.

 

Vegetarian Lasagna

vegetarian lasagna with vegetables and cheese

This vegetarian lasagna is healthy and delicious. The recipe allows you to make ahead an extra one to freeze. Feel free to add any other favorite veggies you like.

Healthy Alfredo Cauliflower Sauce

Ingredients

• 10 large minced garlic cloves
• 2 Tablespoons butter
• 10 cups cauliflower florets
• 13 cups water or vegetable broth
• 2 teaspoons salt
• 1 teaspoon pepper
• 1 cup milk
• Parmesan cheese (to taste)

Directions

Saute garlic and butter on low heat until soft. Boil cauliflower in broth until tender; seven minutes. Do not drain. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cauliflower and place in a blender. Add one cup broth, garlic, butter, salt, pepper, and milk. Blend until smooth.

Make Ahead Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients

• 2 packages frozen spinach, chopped (20 ounces)
• Alfredo cauliflower sauce (recipe above)
• 1 cup skim milk
• 2 packages of lasagna noodles (16 ounces)
• 2 pints cauliflower puree
• 2 eggs
• 16 ounces shredded carrots
• 16 ounces fresh sliced zucchini
• 2 cups shredded mozzarella

Directions

1. Spray two 10 x 15 inch pans with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Put spinach in large bowl. Microwave on high for four minutes uncovered. Mix in the cauliflower puree. Beat the eggs with whisk and then add. Stir until well blended.

3. Combine Alfredo Cauliflower Sauce with milk in separate bowl. Mix well.

4. Spread ½ cup of Cauliflower Sauce mixture on the bottom of each pan. Place three uncooked noodles over sauce. Spread ¼ of the spinach mixture over each pan. Sprinkle each with ¼ of the carrots and ¼ of the zucchini. Place three more noodles on top of each. Cover both with more sauce. Divide the remaining spinach mixture between the two pans and spread evenly. Do the same with the remaining carrots and zucchini. Add three more noodles to each. Reserve a small amount of sauce and divide the remaining between the two lasagnas and spread evenly over the top. Sprinkle both dishes with mozzarella cheese. Spray two sheets of aluminum foil with cooking spray. Place one sheet over each pan with the sprayed side down. Tightly cover.

5. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Uncover and spread the last of the sauce over exposed top noodles. With the oven off, return the lasagnas to the warm oven uncovered for 15 minutes. Serve one vegetarian lasagna for dinner (allow to set up 30 minutes) and freeze the other for another evening. All left overs can also be frozen for later.

 

Stuffed Manicotti

Manicotti

Easy Stuffed Manicotti - Double Recipe

Are you looking for a classic Italian dinner recipe that’s simple to prepare and one everyone will enjoy? Italian Stuffed Manicotti is the answer. Though it sounds complicated to prepare, you’ll be surprised how easy it really is. Stuffed manicotti is very nutritious and freezes very well. Just pop it in the microwave when hungry guests unexpectedly arrive at your door or when your night is running extra long. Make your dinner time a special time with the goodness of manicotti (or large shells) and everyone will love you for it. 

Manicotti Sauce
2 pound ground meat, such as beef, sausage, veal or turkey
4 tablespoons butter

Pasta Sauce
4 tablespoons salad oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
4 15-ounce cans tomato sauce
2 12-ounce cans tomato paste
4 teaspoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons oregano leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper
1 bay leaf

1.  Cook onion and garlic in hot salad oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat until tender, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.
2.  Over high heat, add tomato sauce and the rest of the ingredients over and boil.
3.  Reduce the heat to a simmer over medium-low and partially cover, cooking for 30 minutes. Throw out the bay leaf when done.

Manicotti Shells  (OR purchase pre-made pasta)
2 cup all-purpose flour
8 eggs
2 tablespoon salad oil
2 teaspoon salt
2 cup water

Filling
4 cups ricotta cheese
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 eggs
2 8-ounce packages coarsely shredded mozzarella cheese

Prepare the pasta sauce and set aside. Then on low speed, use a mixer to blend pasta shell ingredients and finish by blending for one minute on medium speed.

Lightly coat a large skillet with salad oil and heat over medium-high heat. Slowly pour a large ladle of the pasta batter into the skillet and tilt pan to cover it evenly with the batter. Let it cook only until the top is set and dry and the underside looks lightly browned, about 30 seconds. Remove it to a piece of waxed paper and repeat until all the shells are complete.

In a large skillet, cook the ground meat with the butter over medium-high heat until the meat is browned. Then slowly add in the prepared pasta sauce and heat through.

Gently pour 1/3 of the hot sauce evenly among two large roasting pans about 15 inches by 10 inches or in one larger pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix together all the filling ingredients, except the mozzarella cheese, until well blended. Drop a heaping tablespoon of the filling in the center of each shell and then add some mozzarella cheese. Carefully fold edges over cheese and place each shell in pan(s) with seam side down. Top with remaining sauce and bake for 30 minutes. This mouth-watering dish will produce 16 main-dish servings.