Stretch 1-2 Pounds of Ground Beef to Make Two Tasty Dinners: Italian Stuffed Shells and Tamale Bake
Beef prices are way up, but these two beef meals are a great way to stretch the beef you buy. No, the meals aren't light on protein and nutrition. In fact, stretching the beef is good health-wise and better for the planet in the longer run. The stretching isn't something new, weird, and different, either. It's something our mothers and grandmothers did routinely during the Great Depression (and beyond) so that they could feed their families well. How to stretch the ground beef? Well, the easiest way is to add vegetables, grains, and other proteins, like beans and cheese. The good news is that, when you do, you get better, more complex flavor as well as added nutrition. No, you don't have to make casseroles, but you can. They're good. Get over the internet and Instagram dislike of them. People have been eating casseroles for years in public and in secret, where they enjoy them without any judging. You can also stretch the meat with sauces, like in your favorite spaghetti sauce. Or try meatloaf in all its many variations. Lots of options exist.
Below are recipes for a couple of my favorite stretch meals using one pan to make two different sauces and two different meals. Yes, that's right! I don't like to wash dishes, what can I say? I also like to save time and eat well. The first sauce goes on a pasta bake that is semi-homemade. I make the sauce and put it on top of store-bought stuffed pasta shells (usually an Aldi special I can't pass up!). The second sauce, which is based on half of the first sauce, goes into the filling for a tamale bake. How does the stretching go? Pretty well. I use 1 1/4 pounds of ground beef for two different meals (not counting left overs). Both meals are different--i.e., they don't seem like left overs--and both are quite tasty. Try them for your next stretch meals!
Italian Stuffed Shells and Beef and Bean Tamale Bake -- Basic Sauce
1-2 teaspoons of canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef (93 percent)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
Heat the oil in a large chef's pan or skillet until hot. Add the chopped onion and saute it for 5-10 minutes or until it has softened. Add the ground beef, breaking or crumbling it up. Sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Saute the beef and onions for 5-10 minutes until the beef is no longer pink and has browned a bit. Add the chopped garlic and saute it with the beef mixture for a minute or so. Add the crushed tomatoes and about 1/2 cup of water to the pan (rinse out the crushed tomatoes can). Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes to blend the flavors.
Remove half of the basic sauce and set it aside for meal number 2, Beef and Bean Tamale Bake. Continue on with the sauce in the pan for meal number 1, Italian Stuffed Shells.
Meal 1: Italian Stuffed Shells -- Serves 4+
To 1/2 of the basic sauce, add:
2 teaspoons of Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon of dried basil
1 14-15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Stir the ingredients listed above into the sauce, partially cover it, and let it simmer on medium-low for about 15 minutes. While the sauce is simmering, spray a deep casserole dish (9-inches or 2-3 quarts) with non-stick cooking spray.
1 16-22 ounce bag of frozen stuffed shells (the kind stuffed with ricotta, but you can also
substitute ricotta-stuffed ravioli, if you can't find the shells)
1-2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese (optional, but good)
1 cup of shredded Italian blend cheese
When the sauce is ready, pour half of it in the bottom of the prepared dish. Place the frozen stuffed shells evenly over the sauce and then top them with the remaining sauce (it may not cover them completely--i.e., some may poke out). Sprinkle on the Parmesan, if you're using it. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the shells for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees or until bubbly. Remove the foil, sprinkle on the shredded Italian blend cheese, and bake the shells, uncovered, for about 10 minutes more or until the cheese has browned a bit. Let the shells sit for 5-10 minutes before serving them.
Meal 2: Beef and Bean Tamale Bake -- Serves 4+
Note: You can make the filling for the Beef and Bean Tamale Bake and refrigerate the filling for another night. Then make the tamale part of the bake, warm the filling, and assemble and bake.
To half of the basic sauce, add:
1-2 teaspoons of chili powder (depending on how spicy you like your food)
2 teaspoons of cumin
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon of ancho chili powder (if you have it, if not, up the regular chili powder by
1 tablespoon of dried cilantro
1/4 cup of diced green chiles (mild or spicy, you choose)
1 14-15-ounce can of black or pinto beans, undrained
1 14-15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
Stir everything into the half-portion of basic sauce and simmer the mixture over medium-low heat for about 15 minutes or until the sauce thickens to a thick chili consistency. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if necessary (you may not need to add salt, as the beans have a fair amount, so taste first!). You can reserve the sauce, after it cooks, in a container, and refrigerate it for another night, if you'd like.
2 cups of instant corn masa flour (like Maseca)
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 cups of water
1/4 cup of canola oil
1 1/2 cups of Colby-Jack or Monterey-Jack cheese
When you're ready to proceed with making the tamale bake, coat a 3 quart dish with non-stick cooking spray. Make the tamale dough. In a large bowl, mix together the masa, baking powder, salt, water, and canola oil. Let the dough mixture sit, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Spread have of the tamale dough into the prepared dish. On top of the dough, spread the prepared filling (warm the filling first in the microwave, if you refrigerated the filling). Sprinkle the filling with half of the cheese. Spread the remaining tamale dough on top of the cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the tamale bake at 350 degrees for about 40-45 minutes. Some of the filling will bubble up and through the masa. That's fine. Remove the foil, sprinkle on the remaining cheese, and return the dish to the oven for 5-10 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Let the tamale bake cool for 5-10 minutes before serving it.