Sunday, March 10, 2013

Bulk cooking: Step by Step Veggie Stuffed Shells

First off, I'm very sad because all of my photos for this step-by-step recipe were accidentally erased from my phone.  So I will walk through this recipe without photos.  I plan to post another recipe and step-by-step guide soon.

This recipe was one I wasn't really sure the whole family would end up liking.  It has no meat, which was attractive to me, but it also meant that there were veggies instead (also attractive to me, but usually not to the children).  There is some yummy cheese in it, though, and the veggies are hidden inside.  Of course, the spaghetti sauce is over everything, so the actual veggie content is well-masked.  (Mwahhahaha!!!)  I decided I would make 6 meals' worth and hope they liked it!!  I enlisted the help of my 11-year-old daughter, who thought stuffing each shell was super fun, and we got things rolling.

Each recipe is supposed to feed 4-6, but we had enough for our whole family, sometimes with leftovers, and I made 6 meals' worth (plus some extra which I divided up among all the bags.  The day I made this, we ate it for dinner and then froze 5 meals' worth.

Veggie-Stuffed Shells*
144 Jumbo Pasta Shells (I always make more just in case)
84 oz. Chicken Broth
3 cups Carrots, shredded
6 cups Potatoes, diced
6 cups Onions, chopped
12 cups Cottage Cheese (I use fat free)
6 cups Mozzarella Cheese, shredded (use part-skim for lower fat)
12 Eggs
4 cups Parmesan Cheese, grated
4 T Italian Seasoning
24 cups Spaghetti Sauce (optional recipe below)

When I make something in bulk like this, I either chop everything the night before or in the morning.  Then when I'm going to assemble, it's already done and saves me time.  

Assembly Directions:
Cook pasta shells for half the recommended time.  Do not overcook (the pasta will be softened when the frozen dish is thawed and baked later).  Drain. IMMEDIATELY spread in a single layer over cooling racks, waxed paper,nor even just paper towels to cool and drain completely.  If you leave the shells in the pot for too long after draining. especially large quantities of shells, they will stick together and break when you try to separate them for filling.  I might know this from experience... Maybe... :)

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth to boiling in a large saucepan (I have really HUGE stock pots I use for this kind of thing, and I actually also mix together in the large stock pots because they are the only thing the entire recipe can fit in).  Here is a picture of one of my huge pots full of one of my bulk recipes:

Stir in carrots, potatoes, and onions. Cook for 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender-crisp (again, because you are freezing this, you don't want things to get soft or they will be mushy when they are thawed).  Drain well.

Mix all the ingredients except shells together in a large bowl (or a giant stock pot, which is what I do).  Fill each shell with about 2 T. of cheese mixture (this was my 11-year-old's job).  If you have any extra cheese, fill any extra shells you may have boiled, or you can freeze it for later recipes (great for lasagna).

Place shells in rigid freezer container OR you can fit about 24 in a gallon-size freezer bag.  I use the freezer bags so I can lay them flat in the freezer (next recipe I will post a photo of the bags stacked in my freezer).  This is a lot more space-saving.

Freezing and Cooking Directions:
Package the shells and sauce in separate bags or rigid freezer containers.  Tape the bags or containers together or place them in a 2-gallon freezer bag.  Label and freeze.  If you don't use homemade sauce, you can just purchase your jars of sauce and label them to keep in your pantry.  The last time I made this, I just used jars, and it was super convenient.  I had all 6 jars and saved them to use with the recipe.

To serve:  TWO OPTIONS
1. Thaw. Place shells in a 9x13 casserole dish,  cover with sauce.  Bake covered at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with crusty garlic bread and a salad.  


2. Super easy method!!  I recently discovered this, and it is so easy I wanna do a happy dance!  Take bag of shells out of the freezer, and thaw only slightly to separate shells enough to fit in crock pot.  Place frozen shells in crock pot, cover with sauce, and cook on high about 3 hours or on low 6-8 hours.  If you would like, you can add a can of French-style green beans before covering with sauce.  I've done this before, and the kids loved it.

Marie's Spaghetti Sauce (for 6 recipes, this is easy to double and freeze for 12 meals!!)
3 lb. Ground beef (optional--I used meatless sauce)
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups Onion, chopped
36 oz. Tomato Paste
36 oz. Water
90 oz. Stewed Tomatoes (any of the following seasonings:pasta style, basil, garlic and onion, or oregano style)
3 t. Basil
2 T. Oregano

I wish I could post the adorable pictures of my kids' reaction to this recipe.  They LOVED it!!  It is yummy and healthy!  I hope your family tries it and enjoys!  I just used up the last of my frozen shells, so it's time to make a new batch!  This time I will do a photo journal and just post the pictures.

*This recipe is from a friend of mine, Marie Cole's, cookbook, Freezer Pleasers.  She and a close friend had a freezer cooking business, but they are no longer doing that, and the book is no longer available.  I use it all the time, though, so I will share recipes here on my blog.  Thanks, Marie!!