Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Organizing Meals

I have a new favorite website: foodtidings.com It helps organize meals for people in need. Having been the recipient of meals twice, I know how important the food is: it is a sheer relief not to have to worry about shopping, cooking, or cleaning; it is comforting to know that people are thinking of you; it's actually fun to try new and different dishes. For about a year and a half, I've organized meals for my playgroup members and I'm starting to organize meals for my church. While email has made it pretty easy, this website streamlines the whole process by noting allergies, likes/dislike, delivery location and good times, even setting particular dates. People are invited to sign up, note what they are cooking, and the date is saved--no double-booking or repeated foods or extra email! You can even include the recipient so she or he can keep track of meal deliveries. Just as I've been writing this post, three people have signed up for my current meal request and the recipient has checked the invitation and had me amend likes/dislikes. I LOVE this website.

However, the website doesn't offer tips for people who provide meals. I've seen several pages from both moms' clubs and the LDS's Relief Society noting best practices for delivering meals to others, even best recipes. Here are mine:
  • Deliver meals in disposable containers. Do not send dishes you want back.
  • Label everything with the name of the dish and reheating instructions (you might even note if leftovers freeze).
  • Store-bought meals and even take-out/delivery are just fine.
  • I try to include a note or card, depending on the reason for the meal.
  • Be prepared to drop off the meal without a visit; pack everything in a bag or box.
  • If you are invited in for a visit, keep it brief.
  • Remember to deliver the meal in time for an early dinner or with enough time to reheat the dish (I usually suggest 3-5 pm as a drop-off window for our group, so that each deliverer doesn't have to make an arrangement with the recipient. And they always know where to drop it off if no one answers the door).
As for recipes, I usually make stuffed shells with spinach, which will feed several adults, reheats quickly, and freezes beautifully; it's also quick to make and popular with children, even if it's kind of predictable and boring. I also include a bag salad and some kind of dessert (usually cookies, often Oreos. Who doesn't like Oreos?). I like to email them the recipe, too, mainly because I'm a recipe junkie and like to share.
Lastly, it is particularly kind if you let the meal recipient know that they need not write a thank-you note. That is the second-best gift you can give.
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Stuffed Shells

1 package manicotti
2-27 oz. jars spaghetti sauce
2 eggs
1-15 oz. container ricotta cheese
4 cups (16 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 cup (4 oz) grate parmesan cheese, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley (1 tablespoon dried)

Cook manicotti according to package directions; drain. Preheat oven to 35O°F. Spray bottom of 15 x 10 x 2 inch glass baking dish with no stick cooking spray. In large bowl, beat eggs; stir in ricotta, 3 cups of the mozzarella, ¾ cup of parmesan, and parsley.

Spread 1 jar of sauce on bottom of baking dish. Fill each cooked manicotti with ricotta mixture. Arrange filled manicotti in baking dish. Top with second jar of sauce and remaining cheese.

Bake, covered with foil, until bubbly, about 45 minutes. Uncover and continue until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Note: one-10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, water squeezed out, may be added to the ricotta mixture. I imagine you could also add browned ground beef to the spaghetti sauce, too.

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UPDATE:  Since this post in November 2008, I've explored other meals to bring to people in need.  They're all variations on baked pasta, with ease of cooking and reheating key.


Easy Ravioli Bake


9 oz refrigerated low fat cheese ravioli
24 oz marinara sauce
2-10 oz packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed ry
1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese



Preheat oven to 375F. Cook the ravioli according to package directions, omitting oil and salt if desired.

Spray at 2 quart baking dish with nonstick spray. Spread half the marinara sauce in the dish. Add half of the ravioli, then top with half of the spinach and half of the mozzarella. Repeat layering once. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until the cheese is melted and slightly golden, 6-8 minutes longer.

Comfort Classics (7 pts a serving, which is 1/4 of the casserole)

Alternate:  Easier Ravioli Bake
Here it goes:

1. Boil one package of refrigerated ravioli with two packages of frozen spinach until ravioli are tender (see their package for instructions). Drain well in colander.

2. In baking dish sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, layer marinara sauce (half of 1 jar), half of ravioli/spinach mixture, and 1 cup mozzarella cheese. Repeat once.

3. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes covered, then uncover and bake until cheese melts.

Easier!


Baked Ziti (with penne!)


1 box whole wheat penne
1-10 oz. package frozen chopped spinach
1-27 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
1 egg
appx. 8 oz. container ricotta cheese
2 cups (8 oz) shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1/2 cup (2 oz) grate parmesan cheese, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley (1 tablespoon dried) or other Italian seasonings



Cook pasta according to package directions, along with frozen spinach (in the same pot!); drain. Preheat oven to 35O°F. Spray bottom of 15 x 10 x 2 inch glass baking dish with no stick cooking spray. In large bowl, beat eggs; stir in ricotta, 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella, 1/3 cup of parmesan, and seasonings. Pour hot pasta/spinach mixture into egg-cheese mixture and stir.

Spread 1/2 jar of sauce on bottom of baking dish. Spread pasta mixture into baking dish. Top with second half of sauce and remaining cheese.

Bake, covered with foil sprayed with cooking spray, until bubbly, about 45 minutes. Uncover and continue until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Note: I imagine you could also add browned ground beef to the spaghetti sauce, too.


Spaghetti Pie


4 cups cooked spaghetti (about 1/2 pound uncooked)--I'm using whole wheat
1-10 oz package frozen chopped broccoli, thaed and squeezed dry
1 cup shredded smoked mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 cups marinara sauce, warmed in the microwave
chopped parsley leaves



Preheat oven to 350F and coat 9" springform pan (I'm using a foil pie plate) with nonstick spray.  Stir the spaghetti, broccoli, cheeses, egg, and Italian seasonings together in large bowl. Scrape in pan and level the top.  Bake 30 minutes or until golden. Cool about 5 minutes and then remove sides of springform pan. Cut into 6 wedges. Serve with marinara and parsley.

Weight Watchers Eat! Play! Move!

Alternate:  Fettucine Pie
Substitute 1/2 lb cooked fettuccine for spaghetti, add 5 oz of green peas, and chopped ham or bacon.  Season generously because this won't be served with a marinara.  Bake as usual.  

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