Friday, March 2, 2012

Stuffed Full of Goodness

After getting home from Blissdom last weekend, I took a me-day on Monday off from work. While I had initially planned on doing frivolous things (like go for a long run or go shopping), I was not feeling great (and still am not today - silly cold) and so I instead spent the day playing pretend-homemaker. I did laundry (mine), cleared up clutter (mostly mine), went food shopping and even cooked dinner! Wow, listing all of those things out makes it seem like I had a lot of energy that day. I really didn't. I just pressed through. It's a thing called OCD.

Since I had the extra time in the afternoon to cook a "nice" dinner sans crock-pot, I decided to do a little "Sunday Cooking" ... on Monday instead. Not only did I cook one meal, I cooked enough of it to freeze some for later AND doubled the recipe to use the base for Wednesday's meal, too! Woot woot! Look at me, I am like a regular June Cleaver.

Some of you may not be comfortable with amending and "winging" recipes, but honestly, it's the practice that will make it perfect. Just try some things and see how they turn out. I looked at both of these recipes I had picked out and decided that their bases were similar enough to combine a few steps. So I amended them and went two-for-one. I must have been on an Italian kick or something this week, I realize now, but then again, Italian is a basic menu staple for us so it's not too surprising it made up most of the week's menu :)

Here were the two menu ideas with their initial ingredients... 

Stuffed Shells with Spinach and Sausage, served with salad
Filling: pork sausage, spinach, diced tomatoes, ricotta cheese

Italian Pie, served with salad
Filling: Beef/pork meatloaf blend, spinach, bruschetta spread, mozzerella, pepperoni, salami, pimentos

All it took for me to realize the potential of the two-for-one was the recipe for the pie -- it said at the bottom, "This meat filling can be used to top a pre-cooked pizza crust, stuff pasta shells, or layer between lasagna noodles." Voila. Done.

Instead of meatloaf blend, I doubled up the recipe of the first, the shells. I mixed together the pork sausages (squeeze the meat out of the sausage casing), browned up the meat, and added double the spinach and canned diced tomatoes originally called for. Then, I did a clean split of the resulting mix. Half went into the fridge for Wednesday's pie, and half I used immediately to finish up the shells. For Wednesday, I then didn't need the original bruschetta spread, since tomatoes were already in the mix. That saved me a nice $6 (that spread is pricey!)

The results? Amazingness. The pie tasted like a pizza under a soft crust, and while salty from the meats, it was exactly what I (and the man, a bona-fide meat-lover) was hoping for. The shells also were tasty, and made enough to serve us for two nights + a freezer stock of them for later. Both meals cost me probably $40 in total, but turned out a total of five meals.

Freezer hint from my mom: Put together the dish but do not bake. Instead, cover tightly and freeze. When ready to bake, take out of freezer and put directly into oven, THEN turn the oven on. This will help acclimate the dish from the cold. The dish will bake a little longer than originally called for. When you can smell it, it's about done. Thanks, Mom!

I have included both recipes below, amended how I used them, along with the recipe for the filling base. I hope you enjoy!

Sausage Filling
2 lbs. (2 packages) Italian sausages - one package spicy, one sweet
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 36oz. can of diced tomatoes
2 frozen packages chopped spinach, defrosted and drained

Slice open ends of sausages and squeeze out meat, mixing to blend. Brown in dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir to avoid garlic burning. Cook two minutes. Drain excess oil. Add tomatoes and spinach, mixing to blend. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Stuffed Shells with Sausage and Spinach
Amended from Inspired Taste; serves 4 plus a freezer meal for 2

Half of Sausage Filling (above)
1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup part-skim shredded mozzerella cheese
One box jumbo pasta shells, cooked and cooled in ice bath
One jar Italian pasta sauce

Mix together meat and cheeses, blending well. Pour 1/4 cup of sauce onto bottom of 9x13 casserole dish and spread to cover. Stuff shells with filling and place into dish, lining up closely. Pour remaining sauce over shells. Optional: Sprinkle with more shredded cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

Italian Pie
Amended from a Publix Apron recipe; serves 4

Half of Sausage Filling (above)
6 slices salami, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small jar diced pimientos, drained
1/4 cup turkey pepperoni
2 eggs (or 1/2 cup egg substitute)
2 cups shredded mozzerella
1 ready-to-bake rolled pie crust
Blend all ingredients except crust. Spread in 8x11 baking dish. Cover with pie crust, crimping edges to side of dish. Cut two slices in top of crust to vent. Bake in 425 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.