Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cooking Day Extravaganza

At the beginning of the month my husband and I sat down and evaluated our budget. We determined that our already tight budget needed to be trimmed down even further. I set a goal to cut our grocery budget by $80 every month. With this in mind, we planned a Cooking Day Extravaganza, one day to prepare all of our dinners for the month. This month we won't trim the budget, but I'm hoping that if we continue to do this, we'll be able to find our Cooking Day things on sale beforehand and we won't have to buy all of our ingredients every month, they'll become standards in our pantry.

The Cooking Day has two budget-conscious purposes. 1) We're able to buy more in bulk and 2) By planning ahead, we can avoid impulse buying & eating out. It also has a time-management purpose: by working ahead, we save A TON of time on late nights when we don't have the energy to prepare a healthy, satisfying meal.

We had some help planning from my REAL SIMPLE magazine. Last month they ran an article called "The Great Dinner Swap" thinking that a few families could coordinate so that each family makes a large quantity of one meal then they all swap what they make. We decided to make all of them on our own & we modified some of them since we don't eat commercially processed meat.

We made Baked Penne with Spinach & Sun-dried Tomatoes, Mushroom & Spinach Calzones, Enchiladas, and Chili. We also soaked & prepared garbanzo beans (chickpeas) and black beans so that they'd be ready to mix in with Pasta Salad that we can make on the spot if we need to (we also planned for homemade pizza and/or shrimp & veggie stir-fry). Today I'll share the Baked Penne recipe :)

Baked Penne with Spinach & Sun-dried Tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, chopped (or 2 tbsp. minced garlic)
1 cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (we used some that were packed dry but we chopped them & threw them in the food processor with some olive oil)
2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
4 28-oz cans whole tomatoes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt & black pepper
3 lbs penne
4 5-oz packages fresh baby spinach
2 lbs mozzarella, grated (about 8 cups)
4 oz Parmesan (about 1 cup)

1) Divide the oil between two large saucepans and heat over medium heat. Divide the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes between the saucepans and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Divide the crushed tomatoes between the saucepans.
2) Break up the whole tomatoes by cutting them up with scissors (while in the can) or by crushing them with your hands. Divide the tomatoes and vinegar between the saucepans; season each with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, 20 to 25 minutes.
3) Meanwhile, bring 2 large pots of water to a boil; add 1 tbsp. salt to each. Divide the pasta between the pots; cook for half the recommended time on the package directions (the pasta will continue to cook when it is baked). Drain the pasta; return it to the pots.
4) Divide the spinach between the saucepans of sauce and cook, stirring, until the spinach begins to wilt, about 1 minute. Pour a saucepan of tomato sauce into each of the pasta pots and toss to combine.
5) Divide one of the pots of the pasta mixture among four 8-inch square baking dishes (the dishes will be halfway full). Sprinkle each with 1 cup of the mozzarella. Divide evenly among the dishes, top with the remaining pot of pasta mixture. Sprinkle each with 1 cup of the remaining mozzarella and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.

To Eat Tonight:
Bake the pasta on a rimmed baking sheet at 400F until bubbling and beginning to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.

To Freeze & Cook Later:
Freeze the unbaked pasta, tightly sealed, for up to 3 months. To cook, thaw the pasta and bake, uncovered, on a rimmed baking sheet at 400F until heated through, bubbling, and beginning to brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

1 comment:

  1. By the way, this recipe is meant to prepare 4 meals (4 servings each)but we didn't have 4 8-in square pans. We bought 3 slightly larger aluminum foil pans and we're trying to make each pan last for 2 dinners for 2 plus 1 lunch for 2 (total of 4 dinner & 2 lunch servings). We're hoping to re-use the foil pans, but I'm not sure how long they'll last.