Sorry, no Martha pictures yet… My friend Halley took all the photos (she’s a professional, so I knew they’d turn out better than if I took them), so when she gets them to me, you’ll be the first to know! But I will tell you that we showed up for the 999th show (missed the big 1000 by ONE DAY!) & Jason Priestly was the guest, if you’re looking for it on Hallmark Channel. More details to come later!
The following recipe is probably my most-requested by dinner guests. It’s also one of The Munchkin’s favorite dinners, if not her absolute favorite, & one of my husband’s favorites too.
Oddly enough, it came out of a Pillsbury cookbook mini-magazine — you know, the ones in the checkout aisle at the grocery store. (It happened to be the only worthwhile recipe in the whole $3.99 thing, but it was worth it.)
You see, when I was first married, I was the queen of semi-homemade. Not like Sandra Lee — I didn’t even know who she was back then — but as a full-time student, part-time employee, & new wife, my version of cooking a balanced meal was adding a chicken breast & some frozen broccoli to a box of Pasta-Roni. (I think we’re all glad those days are over.) Fortunately for everyone involved, this semi-homemade recipe has enough different flavors that it doesn’t taste like you opened a jar of this & a box of that & mixed it all together.
These shells freeze well, reheat well for leftovers, & are just a great comfort-food dish that looks like you put more work into it than you did! I also like taking it, unbaked, in foil pans, with cooking instructions, to new moms so they can just heat it up when they want.
- 24+ jumbo pasta shells (in case of breakage, add a couple more. Also, some brands of “jumbo” shells are less “jumbo” than others. You may need as many as 30-32 if you’re shopping at, say, Kroger in, say, Indiana. Just saying.)
- 1 lb. lean ground beef
- 1 jar (26 oz.) chunky pasta sauce (I like the Ragu tomato & basil)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 container (8 oz.) chive & onion cream cheese spread
- 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 1 egg
- 1-2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, if desired
- Preheat oven to 350. Cook shells, as directed on package, to al dente. A couple minutes before they’re done, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Rinse shells with cold water & drain (you may need to do this a couple times) to stop cooking & make them cool enough to handle.
- While shells are cooking, brown ground beef in a skillet over medium-high heat. Season with a little garlic salt & Italian seasoning. Drain & let cool slightly.
- Pour a little of the pasta sauce (about down to the top of the label on the jar) into the bottom of a 9×13 baking dish. (I usually split the recipe in half, using a smaller dish for the half I’m making now & using foil cake pans for the half I’m freezing until later.) Add a little of the water & spread it evenly on the bottom of the dish. Add the rest of the water to the jar, screw the lid back on, & shake to incorporate.
- In a medium bowl, combine cheese spread, 1 cup of the mozzarella, the parmesan, egg, & cooked ground beef.
- Spoon a heaping tablespoon of the mixture (I actually use a table spoon, like from your silverware set) into each shell & arrange the shells over the sauce in the baking dish. (This is the most time-consuming part.)
- Pour the remaining sauce over the shells, making sure to cover the shells completely.
- Cover with foil & bake 40 minutes or until bubbly & filling is set. Remove foil; sprinkle shells with remaining mozzarella. Bake 5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with parsley if desired.
If you choose to freeze part of your batch, use the foil pans for easy cleanup, cover with foil, & put the whole thing in a freezer storage Ziploc bag. Store it flat in the freezer. The night before you’re planning on making it, put the whole thing, bag & all, into the fridge to defrost. Then bake as usual (you may need to add 5 minutes). The filling will be a little less firm than the fresh batch, but otherwise, it tastes the same & you only had to do the work once for two meals!