Three days after I graduated high school, I moved in with my then boyfriend (now husband). We spent the summer working and living in his aunt’s house. I moved to the dorms, and I really never had to make “meals.” I was never taught basic cooking skills, never took a foods class or watched the Food Network. My mother, ironically, gave me my first cook book that first Christmas after I moved out, but I didn’t even know what half of the ingredients were. I grew up in home where both parents worked full time jobs, and dinner was usually a Hamburger Helper or some variation of a quick meal from a box. I felt in over my head.
A lot of my stay-at-home time has been spent trying to teach myself how to cook. Being able to feed my children and husband healthy, tasty, easy and fast-to-create meals is something that I believe is a part of my job as mom, something I desperately want to accomplish. I am thankful for three things when it comes to my self-taught cooking abilities: 1. My slow cooker!!! Makes the juiciest meals withe least amount of ingredients and you don’t have to stand over the stove watching the food. The cooker does the work for you and is very difficult to mess up. (Although I have not had success with adding frozen meat to the cooker. Someone I know swears this is fine, but I think it creates a dry meat instead of juicy.) 2. You Tube cooking tutorials. Thank you internet! You showed me how to cook chicken and mushrooms, how to cook fish, how to fry zucchini. Recipes can be hard to follow in print. I like the visual of a cooking show and the specificity I can find using the internet and HOW-TO videos. 3. Being a teaching aide in a high school cooking class. I supported three students in the beginners class, and I found that I was learning more than the students.
The following recipe is the first one I really mastered after moving out, the first I truly know by heart because I have made it so many times. Adapted from my mother-in-law…
7 manicotti noodles (pkg comes with 14)
1/2-3/4 LB hamburger and/or italian sausage (I really eyeball the meat amount because 1 LB meat is always too much
for any of our family meals… use all hamburger or all sausage, but I like a mixture the most…)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz jar pasta sauce (give or take, eyeball it again)
1 1/2 – 2 cups mozzarella cheese, divided
1. In large pot, start water to boil for the noodles; in a separate skillet, brown the meat and onion and garlic. Once water is boiling, add noodles and boil for 7 minutes. Drain the water and, using small tongs, place noodles on foil to cool but not stick. Noodles may rip, so be gentle. Pre Heat Oven for 350 degrees.
2. Drain grease from meat and transfer to large mixing bowl. Add 1 c. cheese and stir until cheese begins to melt.
3. Fill the bottom of an oven-safe casserole dish with some of the pasta sauce. Stuff noodles with the meat/cheese mixture and place in dish until filled. Add more sauce over the top of the noodles. (If there is any leftover meat, add into sauce before pouring over.) Cover dish with lid or foil; bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.
4. Remove dish from oven, uncover. Add remaining cheese over top and bake additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted. (photo doesn’t do the cheese justice… i didn’t quite have enough cheese to cover the pasta… this dish needs cheese so sprinkle freely!)
Dish does well with salad, green beans, homemade garlic cheese bread are all family favorites. ENJOY!