Tuesday, July 21, 2015

in the freezer/on the table: ricotta and spinach stuffed pasta shells.

With Mark and I both working full time now, scheduling, planning, and prepping have now become more important than ever (I just got the "Hub" app for us and it's about to work wonders. I can feel it). The last thing we want to do after a long day of work is cook dinner, especially when all we really want to do is hang out with Makai and just eat ice cream. But, you know, #adultlife.

This is why meals that I can make for now and freeze for later are my favorite meals to make on the weekends. I get something delicious now while I have a little extra time to put in, AND I prep myself for something delicious again later without all the work! One of my favorite recipes for this is my ricotta and spinach stuffed pasta shells.

The original recipe I based this off of can be found here, but I did make a few adjustments.

  • 1 (12 oz) package of jumbo pasta shells
  • SAUCE: 
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
    • 1 lb ground turkey meat 
    • 2 tsp fennel seed
    • 1 large tomato, diced
    • 1 (28 oz) jar of pasta sauce
    • 2 (8 oz) cans of low sodium tomato sauce
    • 3 sprigs of fresh basil, stemmed and sliced (optional)
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 (32 oz) container of ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz package of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 lb fresh Mozzerella, sliced or shredded, divided into 1/3 and 2/3
  • 8 oz package of shredded Parmesan cheese, divided in half
  • 1 tbsp dried Parsley
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 3 handfuls of fresh spinach, sliced

  1. Pre-heat over to 350 degrees F
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 minutes or until al dente (Remember, you will be cooking these again in the oven. So firm is still good!) and drain. 
  3. In a saucepan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Saute onion and garlic until tender. Add in ground turkey and fennel seed. Mix and cook until evenly browned. Drain. Toss in diced tomato and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Add pasta sauce, tomato sauce and fresh basil. Lower heat to a simmer, mixing regularly until ready to pour.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, ricotta, packaged shredded mozzarella, 1/3 fresh mozzerella, 1/2 package shredded Parmesan, dried parsley, and pepper until well combined. Fold in 2 handfuls of sliced spinach until well combined (it may feel like the spinach is taking over, but remember it will wilt when baked). 
  5. Spoon ricotta mixture into cooked shells and place into dishes. 
    • I safely fit 9 upright shells in each loaf pan (to freeze), and had the rest lay down in the 9x13 baking dish (for now)
  6. Sprinkle remaining fresh mozzarella and sliced spinach over shells. 
  7. Pour pasta sauce over cheese and shells 
    • I love me some meat sauce, so I make sure to completely cover, however, this doesn't make for the prettiest presentation (see here for examples of average sauce coverage). You can make this call and omit the 2 extra cans of tomato sauce, but I do recommend completely covering your frozen pasta shells. 
  8. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan over sauce
  9. Place all dishes in pre-heated oven to bake
    • Remove 3 foil pans after 30 minutes and allow to completely cool. Cover and wrap in heavy duty foil, label, and freeze.
    • Remove baking dish after 45-60 minutes, until edges are bubbly and pasta shells are set. Cool slightly and serve!
To re-heat my frozen guys, I usually pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F and bake for about 60-80 minutes. Since everything is already cooked in this dish, you just need to make sure everything is nice and hot all the way through.

While my end result might not look that magical and appetizing, I will say that it tasted delicious! (Oh, and that green thing in the back is just some pesto toast.) The best part is the stringiness you get from the fresh mozzarella. yuummmm...  But what makes this dish my favorite, is that I get to set myself up for 3 extra homemade meals of non-cooking. As an exhausted mama, I should tell you that that feeling is almost irreplaceable (and also explanatory of why I don't care what it looks like). Each loaf pan of 9 is good for a small dinner for 2 or an indulgent meal for 1. I found these incredibly helpful for when I'm home late from work and don't have time to cook, unbelievably lazy, out of town and Mark is left to fend for himself, or when I have a sitter all day and don't want to just leave a $20 for delivery pizza. And if you keep a loaf of frozen garlic bread in there too, you're set up for something fancy later on!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

#tbt to my early days of parenting.

**DISCLAIMER: This post is rife with personal/too much information. I'm lightweight baring my soul and personal experience here, but my hope is not to over share, but to let you in on my parenting journey. I hope that somewhere in the midst of this post, you can find something relatable or comforting.

Now that Makai's 4th year has crept up on me, and the dawn of preschool is now upon us, I find myself reminiscing about my first and early years of parenthood. The days before the tantrums, before the throwing, before the hitting, before the screaming, and before becoming "that" parent in the store with the unruly child. And while I want to say those early days were filled with magic, smiles, and ease, I remind myself that every stage of parenthood has been a journey in it's own right. Makai didn't have the typical babyhood and looking back on it now, it's amazing what we, and even more so, HE, have/has been through. 

I may have touched on this in my very first post, but I started off as a NICU momma. After an epidural and 3 hours of pushing (26 hours of labor), my tiny 5lb 12oz Makai Apollo was born. Everything went amazingly! He passed his tests, we filled out paperwork, we gave the kiddo his name, and on the 3rd day (there was day and there was night. Ha! Some Bible humor for ya), the doctors decided we were ready to go home. As the nurses left to draw up our discharge paper work, I took the opportunity to put Makai in his super cute onesie that I specifically chose to take him home in and changed one last diaper. That's when I figured out that something was not quite right. (Keeping you non-parents in mind, I won't get too detailed here)

Immediately, we called over the nurse, who then called over the doctors, who then rushed us to the NICU and told us they were calling for an ambulance to have Makai transferred to UCSF for emergency surgery. I can tell you right now that it was as much of a blur as it sounds. Thank God that I changed that last diaper when I did (does that count as mother's intuition?). We sat in that NICU, not knowing what was happening, with nurses and doctors running around us to call the ambulance, the receiving hospital, other doctors, surgeons, etc. And of course this is when my milk came in (which is actually pretty painful) and I had no baby to feed. So after my very first and most terrifying/longest ambulance ride of my life, holding ice packs to my chest, tears in my eyes, and a 3 day old Makai in a chamber in the back, we made it to another NICU where we were greeted by the most amazing pediatric surgeon, Dr. Hirose (pictured a little further below). I'm sure at this point in his career, he'd been used to dealing with traumatized/emotionally charged parents (not to mention incredibly hormonal new mothers) because he was the calm that we needed. He explained what was going on, why we were there, what was going to happen, and what to expect - basically everything we needed to know to not be the sack of tears and fear that we were. 

As it turns out, Makai was born with small defect called an imperforate anus (I'll spare you the details and just let you read the medical link instead). So when he was 3 days old and rushed to UCSF, he received an emergency surgery giving him a tiny colostomy bag that he would continue to use through his first year (you can see it in the picture directly below). It was all scary and tough to get through. The highs and lows of thinking I was going to take my newborn home and then being rushed by ambulance for an emergency surgery is nuts!

But one thing that can't go without mentioning, was that our saving grace during this whirlwind of a time were our NICU nurses. We would have been completely lost without them. Not only did they help us deal with what one could argue was the most difficult time in our lives, but they really taught us what we needed to know to feel ready at home. It'd be easy to leave the hospital completely clueless and scared of how to deal with a new child, let alone one with special needs. But with their help and guidance, we felt so prepared. To this day, I sometimes wonder if we would have ever really known how to burp Makai the right way, breastfeed, pump, deal with throw up, know the difference between spit up and vomit, or how to accurately perform the Heimlich on an infant without their help. Without a doubt, they helped us become better parents. (quick NICU tip: Give your nurses free food and desserts whenever possible. They'll love you for it. And you WANT nurses to love you.)


Then, finally, after about a month in the NICU, sleepless nights full of crying, pumping in a room full of other NICU moms, colostomy training, and visits from specialists/medical students/social workers, we finally got to take our little munchkin and his new poop bag home. As scary/weird as that may sound, I will say that I sometimes found it much easier dealing with poop that I got to squeeze out of an odor blocking bag. No stinky diaper surprises for me! Unfortunately, leaky and exploding bags were totally a thing and as gross as you'd expect.

And before we knew it, we were infant colostomy experts! (It might be a weird thing to gloat about) 


But as time progressed, and the appointments/testing kept going, we had also found that Makai was born with Hypospadias and a tethered chord (somewhat common in children with an imperforate anus). So by his 2nd year, Makai had already been through 6 surgeries, countless appointments, 1 MRI, a handful of doctors, 2 specialists, 2 NICUs, 1 PICU, 1 nutritionist, 2 trips to the ER, 2 hospitals, and a cabinet of prescriptions. It's been a wild ride! I keep saying it, but it was all very tough. We cried a lot as a family. But I think that's what's key. We did together as a family. And we used to get a lot of "Oh no.. for you're FIRST child? That's so tragic." But I often think we're better off this way. This is our normal. And I am confident in saying that we wouldn't be the strong parents we are today (at least, I think we're strong parents) without having gone through it.

Sometimes, I see Makai's little scars and very seriously wonder how we did it all. I've never even broken a bone before, and Makai had already been through more than I could imagine before the time he could walk. But you know, I am always reminded of how lucky we are. I am so thankful that all of these things were completely correctable. I mean, really, if I didn't just tell you all of this, you would have absolutely NO idea that he was any different than any other child. And at the heart of it... he isn't! Sure, potty training is a little different and we have laxative and fiber regimens to follow, but it's hardly anything. For as long as we were in the NICU (which felt like forever), there were still many more parents and children in it for a much longer haul. Then I see Makai running around and just feel blessed knowing that we have the luxury of forgetting that there was anything ever wrong with him.

So again I say, every stage of parenthood is a journey. Yes, my last few posts have been a giant rant of how insane my (now) 4 year old is, but it's part of the journey. And yes, I legitimately wonder if my son is possessed at times, but there are good times too. Every once in a while, Makai will be feeling just sweet enough to randomly tell me he loves me and kiss me or just reach over to hold my hand. So while I do often say that "I can't wait until..." the truth is, I probably can. As tough as each part of my parenting journey gets, I know that this time is going to be gone before I know it. One day, I'll reminisce about these days when I thought my stomping and yelling kid was as tough as it got - just like now, I've been reminiscing of the days when Makai would poop into a bag. 

Parenting is a very weird thing. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...