adventures in freezer cooking – manicotti, chili and french dip edition

Take it from me – you’re going to want to freeze your stuffed manicotti individually and then stack them… or your freezer will end up looking like a crime scene.  I stacked all the pretty little foil packages immediately, which just smooshed the bottom one, leaking sauce everywhere.

Then it was a mad dash, flinging popsicles to the left and frozen pork tenderloins to the right, making room for all the casseroles to lay flat (and to clean everything up).  Good times.

I’ve never made manicotti before, but they were actually ridiculously easy, because you stuff them without cooking them first. Genius!

Have you ever tried to stuff a wet, limp, slippery little noodle before?  I have (shells), and it’s and exercise in frustration and burned fingers.  Keeping the manicotti uncooked makes quick work of it.  I used a teaspoon to get the filling in, but if you’re a hands-on kinda gal, you could use your fingers (half of it will end up on your fingers anyway, which is why there are no pictures of the stuffed manicotti).  Each package of manicotti comes in two trays of 7 each, and each 8 x 8″ pan fits 7, so it worked out perfectly.  There was a bit of extra filling left over at the end, which I just spooned in between the filled pasta, dividing evenly between the pans.

Ingredients (makes 4 entrees, 4 servings each)

  • 1 (48-ounce) or 3 (16-ounce) containers cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (about 12-ounces)
  • 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese *I used grated
  • [1/2 teaspoon salt] *I rarely add extra salt, but I’ll include it for those of you who do
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg – this wasn’t in the recipe, but it’s a trick I picked up from an Italian friend to accent the creaminess of the cheese filling
  • 2 (8-ounce) boxes manicotti, uncooked
  • 12 cups Basic Red Sauce (see yesterday’s blog post)
  • four 8-inch square baking dishes
  • plastic wrap
  • aluminum foil

After the manicotti had been stuffed and put into the freezer, I moved on to the Classic Chili.

You really haven’t lived until you’ve tried to brown 6 pounds of ground meat in a large stockpot.  Draining the fat off alone is a thrill I won’t soon forget – six pounds of steaming hotness up in the air, trying to hold it steady without burning myself, starting a fire or losing anything.  I’m still not sure how I managed that.  I ended up with almost 15 full ounces of liquid/fat (!), and I’d recommend making four separate batches next time rather than combining it all in one big pan.  Lessons learned.

Ingredients (makes 4 entrees, 4-8 servings each)

  • 6 pounds ground beef *I used half beef and half turkey
  • 4 cups chopped onion (about 4 medium) *I used 3
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 9 cloves) *I used 2 teaspoons, because the Basic Red Sauce is kinda garlicky
  • 12 cups Basic Red Sauce
  • 8 (15-ounce) cans kidney beans *I used 4 dark red and 4 light red (one of each in each freezer bag)
  • 4 (15-ounce) cans pork and beans *I used a large (53-ounce) can of pinto beans instead
  • 4 tablespoons chili powder
  • 4 tablespoons hot pepper sauce
  • 4 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 4 teaspoons black pepper
  • 4 one-gallon freezer bags

chili

The hardest thing about this (beside draining that big ol’ pan) was waiting for the meat mixture to cool before it could be added to the freezer bags.  Also, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  I thought that we had a nice new bottle of hot sauce, but it turned out to be hot wing sauce!

Was I going to run to the store in the middle of this mess to buy the right stuff?  Ha.  You’re funny.  That’s why I like you.  No, I used the hot wing sauce… and it was great.

We had this for dinner last night, and you’d never know it wasn’t plain ol’ hot sauce in there.  Wing sauce is just hot sauce and butter, so worst case scenario is that I added a little bit of extra fat.  Your taste buds will not mind.  (Your butt might have another opinion on the matter, but I find that if you chew loudly enough, you can drown her out.)

I wrapped up the day with a nice, easy Slow Cooker Roast Beef French Dip that was not taken from the same cookbook as the other recipes.  As we were lying in bed that night after all this cooking, The Greek and I were pondering the difference between a French Dip and au jus.  We don’t think there is a difference.  They just came  up with the name “French dip” to avoid intimidating people with a furrin language…. that’s our theory, at least.

Ingredients (makes 2 entrees)

  • 1 3-4 lb boneless beef roast (chuck or round roast)
  • 2 cans beef consumme

french dip

  1. Place beef into slow cooker.
  2. Pour beef consumme over beef.
  3. Cook on high 4 hours or low 6-8 hours.
  4. Once roast beef has cooked, remove from slow cooker with tongs.  Break apart lightly with two forks.
  5. Separate fat from beef au jus leftover in crockpot.
  6. Serve with buns, dipping sandwiches in au jus.

I cut the roast into quarters and put two sections into a freezer bag with one can of beef consumme.  I left the other half in the fridge overnight and made it for dinner the next day.  Honestly, it was a little dry… I’d cut the sections thinner next time so that more of the roast is under the liquid as it cooks.

Stay tuned for Day Two of the great freezer cooking adventure…

Note: The “Print and PDF” button below will allow you to delete as much of the text and pictures  as you like prior to printing, so you’ll save on ink and paper.

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