Friday, March 7, 2014

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew Part 1

I seem to be full of grandiose ideas that seem great at the time and totally attainable. Like my idea to build four American Girl beds and sew the bedding for my daughters and my niece for Christmas. I did get the bedding made but ended up buying four beds from IKEA. Or when I decided to knit scarves for my four kids and two nieces, also for Christmas. I got three out of the five done. The fourth is still on the loom. 

Well, last weekend was no exception. While scrolling through Facebook on my phone on Saturday morning, I came across a post for some make ahead meals. Light bulb! Hubs just got paid so we actually had money for groceries. I started Googling freezer meals and came up with the following; Creamy Chicken Taquitos, Stuffed Shells with Rotisserie Chicken and Spinach, Mini Meatloaves, Breakfast Burritos, Mac and cheese and Ziti with Italian Sausage and Ricotta.

I am going to share all the recipes but I will be splitting them up into two separate posts. I will review each recipe as we try them and update the posts with the reviews. For this first post I am sharing the Mac and Cheese, Taquitos and Stuffed Shells recipes.

With list in-hand, I left for the grocery store. It was just after 4 pm and I was all by myself. Almost like a little vacation! It took me roughly 1 1/2 hours to gather everything I needed. I decided I would share the recipes and write a little about my experience with each recipe.

First I tackled the macaroni and cheese.  I found this recipe on Make Ahead Meals For Busy Moms. The only things I did differently was I didn't use microwave safe baking dishes. I will probably take them out the morning we plan on using them and let them defrost during the day. I also didn't make the breadcrumb topping - hubs isn't a fan of that. This recipe was really pretty easy. I think using the chicken stock in place of milk for the cheese sauce really gave it some great flavor. 

This recipe filled two 8x8 baking dishes to the brim.
2 microwave-safe 8-inch square baking dishes for this recipe
4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into pieces
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
Salt and Pepper
1 lb. elbow macaroni
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
4-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
4 cups shredded colby cheese
2 cups shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese

Process topping: Pulse bread, Parmesan, garlic and 2 Tbsp. butter in food processor until coarsely ground. Divide crumb mixture between 2 zip-lock freezer bags and freeze.

Cook pasta: Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot over high heat. Add 1 Tbsp. salt and macaroni and cook until barely softened, about 3 minutes (important to avoid mushy blown-out macaroni). Drain pasta, then spread out on rimmed baking sheet and let cool.

Make sauce: Heat remaining butter, flour, mustard and cayenne (if using) in empty pot over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until golden and fragrant; about 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in broth and cream and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Off heat, whisk in colby, cheddar, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper until smooth.

Freeze: Stir cooled pasta into sauce, breaking up any clumps until well combined. Divide pasta mixture between two 8-inch square baking dishes. Cool to room temperature. Wrap dishes tightly with plastic, cover with foil, and freeze for up to 2 months.

Bake: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove foil from casserole and reserve. Microwave casserole until mixture is thawed and beginning to bubble around edges, 7 to 12 minutes, stirring and replacing plastic halfway through cooking. Discard plastic and cover pan with reserved foil. Bake 20 minutes, then remove foil and sprinkle with 1 bag frozen bread crumbs. Continue to bake until crumbs are golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes longer. Let cool 10 minutes.

Review: This was delicious! It had such great, sharp cheese flavor. The kids loved it, the hubs loved it. I will definitely be making it again! I didn't microwave it as it was in a foil dish, I just put it in the oven for about 20 minutes longer than the directions state. 

Next up were the Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos, also from Make Ahead Meals For Busy Moms. These were pretty easy and not very time consuming as you don't actually bake them when you assemble them. You can literally pull them right out of the freezer as you want them and bake them from frozen. The most time-consuming thing was having to unroll them all because I forgot to mix the Mexican cheese in with the chicken mixture and them re-roll them. I doubled the recipe and made 24.

The ingredients (minus the rotisserie chicken. 
Hubs was pulling all the meat off it for me.)

24 taquitos ready to freeze.

Yields 12

3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup green salsa
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice (juice from half a lime)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp sliced green onions
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup shredded Mexican flavored cheese
small flour or corn tortillas
kosher salt
cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, ground cumin, chili powder, onion powder and garlic. Once combined, stir in the cilantro and green onions. Add the chicken and cheese; mix thoroughly.

(If you decided to prep this in advance, refrigerate the mixture at this point until ready to continue.)

Working with a few tortillas at a time, heat them in the microwave between two paper towels until they are soft enough to roll (about 20 – 30 seconds).

Spoon 2-3 Tablespoons of the chicken mixture onto the lower third of a tortilla. Roll the tortilla as tightly as you can.

Place the rolled tortilla seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas until the mixture is gone. Make sure the taquitos are not touching each other. Spray the tops lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Serve with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.

**To freeze: Before baking, flash freeze the taquitos in a single layer on a baking sheet then place in a labeled freezer bag and store up to 3 months. To bake a frozen taquito (no need to thaw first): Preheat oven to 425˚F and bake for 20 minutes.

At this point we stopped and went to Firehouse for lunch on our way to the Model Train Expo that was in town over the weekend. No, we are not model train collectors. No, I didn't know what to expect. No, it wasn't what I thought it would be. I was under the impression that there would be tons of model train displays set up. There weren't. There was a pretty cool Lego city scene and a couple of other model train set-ups, but mostly it was just a bunch of old and antique train sets and accessories for sale. Oh, and it smelled like mothballs.

Once we returned home I decided to tackle the Stuffed Shells with Rotiserie Chicken and Spinach, again from Make Ahead Meals for Busy Moms.

It kind of looks like a big old mess
but it was fantastic! Definitely not
figure friendly, though!

10 oz. bag spinach
1 or 2 rotisserie chickens
12 oz. jumbo shells

Cheese Filling
2 lbs. ricotta cheese, part-skim
2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black ground pepper

2 pints heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon chicken bouillion powder
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Italian cheese, shredded
salt & pepper, to taste
¼ – ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated (for the topping)


1. Cover and boil the spinach in one inch of water until completely wilted. Drain well and set aside.

2. Remove the meat from the chicken(s) and set aside.

3. Cook the jumbo shells according to the directions. (Be sure to remove them before they split.) Drain the shells and place them on wax paper to dry.

4. In a large bowl, combine the cheese filling ingredients. Fill the shells with the cheese filling using a decorating bag or spoon. Place the stuffed shells in two 13 x 9-inch baking dishes. Add the chicken and spinach to the dish, so that it is evenly distributed around the shells. Set aside.

5. Heat the cream in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the boullion powder, garlic, Italian cheese, and salt & pepper. Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is heated through.

6. Pour the sauce evenly over the shells, chicken and spinach. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese on top.

7. Bake at 350 degrees F until bubbly and the cheese is golden brown about 30 – 40 minutes.

Serves 8 – 9.

Freezing Directions
I recommend freezing this meal in disposable aluminum baking tins. Prepare this recipe through step # 6; cover and cool in the refrigerator. When completely cool, cover and wrap in plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Label the meal and include the cooking directions. Freeze up to 2 months.

To reheat, simply remove the foil and plastic wrap and place in the oven (frozen). Bake for about 1 hour at 350 degrees F until bubbly and heated through.

Review: We ate this last night. It was a HUGE hit! So much so, that the kids asked me to take it to have lunch with them today and bring the leftovers for them to eat. They originally asked for Subway (gag) so I'm really glad they wanted these leftovers instead. 

Two things to keep in mind with this one; 

1) You will have to let it thaw out in the fridge the day you plan on eating it. I let it sit out on the counter for a couple of hours before I put it in the oven and it took almost 2 hours to heat through and I bumped the heat from 350 to 375 to 400 degrees. We ended up eating the edges of it first as that was cooked but the middle stayed frozen for quite a while. 

2) It is EXTREMELY rich. I think there was too much ricotta mixture in each shell. I will definitely be making this again, however I will experiment with cutting the ricotta mixture down and mixing it with the chicken a spinach and stuffing the shells with that.

No comments:

Post a Comment