Meatballs Galore

Earlier this week we talked about freezing anything.  I make these meatballs from Budget Bytes on a regular basis. In the past, I have made a double or triple batch, cooking them, and freezing the cooked meatballs in smaller portions. But honestly, cooking all those meatballs is a pain and sometimes I think they come out a bit drier that way too, so I’ve been searching for a new way to cook all those meatballs (see below) .

Most often we use them to make spaghetti and meatballs, but I’ve used them for several different dishes, including meatball subs and Salisbury steak meatballs. This recipe calls for ground beef and Italian sausage, but I have used Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage, and substitute tiny diced mushrooms for some of the meat. You could also substitute ground turkey for the beef. If you cook according to the meatballs according to the recipes, there are 9 Weight Watcher Smart Points for a serving of 4 meatballs, but if you substitute ground turkey and turkey Italian sausage and skip frying the meatballs before baking,which I often do for convenience anyway, it is only 6 points per serving of 4 meatballs. (This is assuming you get 40 meatballs per recipe as called for in the recipe.)  Frying the meatballs helps provide more texture, but doesn’t really change the flavor. There is literally no difference in taste when using turkey and, of course, the point count would be even lower if you substitute  mushrooms for some of the meat. 

The original recipe calls for tossing the meatballs in flour, searing in oil on the stove, then baking in the oven. You can cook them this way. This removes much of the grease. My personal preference is to place them on drying racks, to keep them up out of the grease.

To freeze the uncooked meatballs, follow the recipe, coat in flour and put on baking pan in the freezer. Freeze for approx 4 hours, then remove and quickly place in a freezer safe container.

To cook, you can stack in a slow-cooker with sauce and cook on low for 6-8 hours until done. Unfortunately, this results in a really greasy sauce. I cook in half or a quarter of the amount of sauce I would serve it with. Once cooked, I remove the meatballs and put in some fresh sauce.

You can also bake from frozen. Bake at the same temperature, for approximately 1.5 the normal amount of time. (I baked mine for 1hr and 15min). I cooked them on a broiler pan. They were perfect! This pan drips off all the grease, and is super easy to clean.

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Roasting Vegetables


An easy way to add veggies into your family’s diet is to try roasting them.  It is amazing how different they taste than when fixed any other way.  This is also a great way to use up small amounts of raw vegetables by combining several at a time.  One of my favorite vegetables to roast is brussel sprouts. They completely lose the bitterness and actually taste almost nutty.  About a year ago, one of my grandsons, who absolutely will not eat any kind of vegetable, was at my house at lunchtime one day and for some reason helped himself to a roasted brussel sprout.  His eyes got big and he said, “That’s really good!”. I knew he was sincere when he asked me to bring roasted brussel sprouts to Thanksgiving dinner.  (Yes, Kyle, I’m talking about you.)

Ready for some good eating!
source: Sean Dreilinger
Just about any kind of veggie can be roasted, although the time may need to be adjusted.  The most important thing is to be sure everything is cut into bite-sized pieces that are all roughly the same size. Unless the brussel sprouts are really small, I cut them in half.  This is also a great time to experiment with different flavors – use coconut oil and cinnamon for carrots or sweet potatoes, add some rosemary with regular potatoes, try out any other favorite seasonings with appropriate veggies.


Ingredients:
  • Raw vegetables – brussel sprouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes – let your imagination be your guide!   
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (or melted coconut oil, depending on what you are roasting)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic (optional)
  • Salt (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  (A lower temperature can be used, just adjust the time accordingly.)
  2. Cut your vegetables into bite-sized pieces (important to keep the sizes roughly the same).  Put oil, garlic and cut veggies into a plastic bag and shake to coat all the pieces.  I like a mixture, so I start off with the things that take the longest – brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, etc.- and put them in to roast about 10-15 minutes before adding the quicker-cooking items – mushrooms (cut in half), cherry tomatoes, onion wedges, etc.  
  3. Pour onto a heavy cookie sheet or oven-proof pan large enough to let everything spread out in a single layer without being crowded.  Roast for 15-20 minutes, take out and turn to other side, then return to oven for another 15-20 minutes or until tender and browned.  
  4. Sprinkle with a little salt and dig in!

Stuffed Bell Peppers

This is a family favorite and I am happy to say a (somewhat) toddler approved meal. I started making this at least five years ago, and have lost the original recipe. Regardless, I’ve made many changes over the years. The current version has to be the most satisfying, and its very busy-mom/OAMC/freezer friendly!
When I first started making this recipe, I cut the bell peppers length wise, and made little boats. I baked them in a casserole dish. Later I begun doubling our recipe, and freezing a second tray. More recently I discovered that it was possible to make these in the crock pot! Not only does this require significantly less active cooking time, it requires quite a bit less prep. The recipe below makes approximately 10 peppers. I cooked 5 the other day (enough for dinner and left overs) and then froze the remaining peppers. As they are individually freezable, you can choose how many you want to freeze and/or cook in the future. Lastly, I included some suggestions, these are quite customizable to your taste.

Taco Stuffed Bell Peppers

Ingredients
  • 1 lb ground beef (or ground turkey)
  • 1 med onion, chopped
  • 1 can black beans*
  • 1 can pinto beans*
  • 2 packages taco seasoning**
  • 1/2 cup water (per taco seasoning directions)
  • 10 bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup salsa (or Rotel)
  • 1 block cream cheese
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican/taco cheese
Optional ingredients & toppings
  • additional shredded Mexican/taco cheese
  • sour cream
  • hot sauce
  • crushed tortilla chips
  • Jalapenos
*You can substitute cooked dry beans, I just didn’t know how to make them until recently. Check out Mary’s post for more info. 

**I purchase this ingredient in bulk at Costco. I know some people make their own. (Another project for the future!). Use enough seasoning for 2-2.5 lbs worth of meat.

Directions:

  1. Drain and rinse beans. Set aside.
  2. Brown the ground beef.
  3. Add onions, beans, taco seasoning, and water to the pan.
  4. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until onions begin to soften (approx 5 minutes)
  5. This is a good time to cut the tops off the bell peppers, and clean out the seeds/insides. Set aside for later.
  6. Stir in 1/4 C salsa or Rotel
  7. Add in cream cheese – I slice mine up into chunks to make it easier to blend
  8. Stir in 1/4 to 1/2 cup shredded cheese based on your preferences
  9. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  10. Scoop the mixture into the bell peppers. Top with shredded cheese
To Freeze: Place peppers upright on a pan or plate. Freeze over night. Wrap individually or put in bag or container.
To Cook (in slow cooker) Place peppers in slow cooker with 1/4 C salsa + 1/4 C water. Cook on low for 4 to 6 hours. You can also use taco sauce in the slow cooker instead of salsa and water.
To cook (in oven): This requires an additional step. Before stuffing, boil bell peppers for approximately 5 minutes to soften and start the cooking process. Then follow the steps listed above. When complete, cover the bottom of a casserole dish with salsa, or taco sauce, place peppers and bake covered for 20 minutes at 350. When cooking this way, I slice the tops of the peppers, then length wise to make boats, so a cover can fit on my dish. You can fit 4 upright peppers in a square casserole dish, or 4 pepper boats (2 whole peppers). They could be frozen this way as well. 
To Serve: Eat each pepper as is or topped with crushed tortilla chips, hot sauce, jalapenos, or whatever other topping you may enjoy.  

Variations & notes: 
  • While it was not part of the first recipe I used, many versions of this include cooked rice. I’ve never made it with rice, but you could add it. In addition to onions, you can add bell pepper (I was left with an entire bowl of diced bell pepper from the tops), mushrooms, or other veggies (like corn).
  • We used salsa since my toddler cannot eat spicy foods, but prior we usually used Rotel. I’d probably add some chipotle peppers in adobo if we could eat spicy now. 
  • I like this combo of beans and meat, but you could double the meat, or use only one type of beans, or do all beans or beans and rice for a vegetarian version. I’ve never tried it, but I bet this would taste good with chicken or pork also. 
  • I’ve seen versions of this made with raw meat. As 6 hours on low in a slow cooker is more than enough time to cook raw ground beef, this would cut way down on prep time, but I’m not sure how mixing all the ingredients (spices) together raw would work. 
  • Finally, we’ve used pretty much this same filling with some additional taco sauce to make taco stuffed pasta shells…. another recipe which is delicious as well as easily prepared and frozen.