Sunday, May 19, 2013

Sunday Dinner- Cheeserific Stuffed Shells, and sweet Brussels sprouts

Except, er, we're not actually having these tonight. See, I cook almost everything from scratch, and this means I do a lot of prep for later. A LOT. OF. PREP. So this meal's actually for later this week- but here's some "baby pictures", before the main event:

Sometime this week, we'll be having my special stuffed shells, and Brussels sprouts. Want to try the best stuffed shell you've ever had, plus score a couple of convenient meals for any night of the week? 
Bonus: Brussels sprouts can be a delight that your family will look forward to...honest!
Here we go!

Heather's Cheeserific Stuffed Shells
1 box large pasta shells
1 large shallot, diced, or 1/2 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 16 oz. container cottage cheese
1-2 c. grated mozzarella
1/4 c. parmesan- the shelf-stable kind from a jar is preferred
1 egg
1/2 c. finely chopped Italian parsley
dash of thyme or Italian seasoning
dash of nutmeg (optional)
1 or 2 T. dried bread crumbs, for texture
dash of garlic salt
plenty of fresh ground black pepper

Boil the pasta shells according to package directions, until done-ish, but still very firm. Rinse, or place them into a bowl of cold water, and set aside.

In a small skillet, saute the shallots in a little bit of olive oil until they're turning golden- add the garlic, and stir until fragrant, but not burnt smelling (a little under a minute). Add the lemon juice to the pan, stir, and scrape the contents into a medium mixing bowl. Add all of the other ingredients, and blend well. If the texture of your cheese mix is about like a soft cookie dough, it's perfect- if not, add a little bit more of the breadcrumbs to firm it up. Note: the mixture will not be Osmond-teeth white. That's OK. It will taste better than any shell you've ever had before, guaranteed- no one will complain!

Take a pasta shell in one hand, and scoop about 2 heaping tablespoons of the cheese mixture into it, pressing it in to avoid air pockets. (A cookie scoop can help you do this quickly and neatly.) Now, take another shell, and make it "eat" the other one, so that you have something that looks like this:

Double-wrapped pasta shell

This double-wrapping is how stuffed shells arrive for restaurants, from food service- it makes them extra-sturdy, and holds the filling in. Bonus: any shells that have tears can be used for the inner shell- the outer shell will provide enough structure to the thing that it won't matter. Continue to stuff and double up the rest of your shells, until you're out of cheese mixture. If you like, you can do what I did (and what food service does)- freeze 'em. (I make a double batch, which gives me about 42 shells- enough for 3 small or two large panfuls, later on down the road.) Place a layer of waxed paper, foil, or plastic on a large cookie sheet. Place your shells on the sheet, and stick 'em in the freezer. In a couple of hours, you'll be able to bag them up, and you've got a handy homemade convenience food!

Frozen stuffed shells- homemade convenience!

The day before you're planning to serve them:
Assemble a cooking dish, some cooking spray, a jar of tomato-based spaghetti sauce, and a couple more cups of mozzarella.

Spray your cooking dish with cooking spray, and dump in some sauce. Roll your shells in the sauce to cover, and place 'em all pretty in the pan...

Dump more sauce on them, and then add the cheese. Wrap it up until tomorrow or whenever, and stick 'em in the 'fridge. Bake at 375 F for an hour, let set for about 10 minutes, and become an instant heroine to your starving family!

Now, about our Brussels- when the Big Guy and I got together, one of the first things I surprised him with was my Brussels sprouts. He claimed to hate Brussels sprouts, but said he'd give mine a try. He loves them now. So do our kids. Here's how to make them wonderful, even when it's not the peak of the season!

Select sprouts of about the same size, so they'll cook more evenly. Check for blemishes or insect activity- if it has holes in it, do NOT bring it home! Find a container that you can keep them in for a couple of days. Fill it halfway with cold water, and dissolve a couple of tablespoons of white sugar in it. Trim the butt-ends off of your sprouts, and remove a couple of the outer leaves. Cut the stem end in a cross pattern, like so- just a couple of stabs with the knife will do it...

...and drop 'em into the sugar water. Push them around so that as many as possible are submerged, and so that the top layer of sprouts are stem-end down. You want them to suck up some sugar, to cut any bitterness. Chill.

Give them at least one day in the 'fridge (or better yet, 2-3), and when it's time to cook them, set up your steamer, plunk them in, and steam for 15-20 minutes, or until crisp-tender. Check often- overcooked Brussels sprouts are the reason that most people think they're icky! Serve with butter and salt- yum! You'll be amazed at what a little sugar can do.

Aside from prepping these, this weekend I've made tacos, five homemade pizzas (hellooo, weekday lunches!), and we're having burgers tonight. I think I'm pretty much set for the first part of the week, don't you? *Wink*

Have a happy rest-o'-the-weekend, everybody! I'm gonna rest now....

Linking up to Craft-O-Maniac Monday!


  1. Mmmmm I think I know what's for dinner. :)

    1. Very, very soon! :) Come visit again- maybe I'll have some on hand!


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