Stuffed Shells and Stocking Up on Freezer Meals

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I haven’t had a chance to photograph this recipe yet, so how about a random picture of an onion instead? Aren’t vegetables beautiful? So, any-hoo… my husband calls this recipe amazing. I usually get comments like, “Whoa. How do you make this? It’s SO GOOD!” My shells aren’t mushy in texture and hold their shape well. Another mark in their favor is that Stuffed Shells is one of those recipes that makes more than we can possibly eat at once so I always have an extra pan for the freezer. Bonus! Doubling something I’m already cooking is pretty much my approach to building up a stash of freezer meals. There are also a few things I like to cook ahead and freeze for faster meal prep later like:

  • Rice: Next time you make rice, do a double batch. To reheat, just add 2 tablespoons of liquid for each cup of rice; microwave or cook in a saucepan (on the stove) until heated through. Will keep in the freezer for up to 6 months.
  • Ground Beef: I buy beef on sale and usually come home with 5 to 10 pounds at a time. The trick is to process the meat ASAP to preserve and get it ready for quick dinners later. I brown some and make burger patties or meatballs out of the rest. See my recipe for ground beef mix here.
  • Tomato Sauce: I like to buy a giant can of peeled, whole tomatoes and make up a bunch of spaghetti sauce for the freezer. On Italian night I go to my freezer for a package of pre-cooked ground beef, a jar of sauce and some Texas Toast. Boil noodles and toss a quick salad and dinner is done in under 30 minutes.
  • Shredded Cheese: Once in a while I get a really good deal on cheese and buy a lot of it. To freeze cheese grate it and package in airtight freezer bags with as little air inside as possible. Whole bricks of cheese will crumble upon thawing but shredding it eliminates that particular issue. Thawed cheese melts just fine so I pull it out to make cheese sauce, top casseroles, quesadillas and even sprinkle on sandwiches.

I don’t have to put aside a special time to do freezer cooking since things like homemade sauce, casseroles or soup can be made in larger quantities with very little added time & effort and stashed for a night when I just really need a break.

Stuffed Shells

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, cubed
  • 1 sweet onion, minced
  • 1 C mayo
  • 3 C shredded cheddar
  • 3 C shredded mozzarella
  • 1 lb. ground beef, browned & drained
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1/4 t Salt & 1/2 t pepper
  • 1T Italian seasoning
  • 2 jars of spaghetti sauce
  • 1 12 oz. box jumbo pasta shells

Boil shells according to package instructions. Be sure to salt the water to help reduce sticky pasta. You can also add a little oil. Stir gently & frequently to avoid clumping. Remove shells to a single layer on wax paper. Brown beef with garlic & onion, drain.  In a large glass mixing bowl and microwave 30 seconds to soften. Stir in mayo, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper completely. Then add shredded cheese and ground beef and to create your filling. I skip this step and pull pre-cooked ground beef ready to use from the freezer. Prepare your baking pans with a little sauce to cover the bottom of each. Spoon filling into shells being careful not to over-stuff them, about 1 1/2 T. Arrange shells in your baking dish then ladle sauce to cover and top with more cheese if desired. I like to use a little cheddar on top. Cover with foil, bake 35 minutes until hot and bubbly.

To make ahead: Prepare but don’t bake. Cover tightly with plastic wrap then foil and refrigerate for up to 24 hours or freeze for up to 2 months. Remove the plastic and replace foil to bake- refrigerated 40-50 minutes, frozen 2 hours.

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