Made with mashed butternut squash and a simple white cheese sauce, this Butternut Squash Ziti is comforting, freezes great, and simple to make!
There’s a thing I need to tell you about this easy butternut squash baked ziti.
But first, let’s gaze at its beauty a bit:
There’s the white cheddar and mozzarella layer on top that’s sharp and smooth and pulls away in delicious cheese strands of YES PLEASE I WANT SECONDS:
There’s the creamy butternut squash white sauce mixed in around the chunky ziti noodles.
And the pretty smattering of chopped parsley, natch.
But hey mama, guess what? Guess what’s the best part about it?
This butternut squash baked ziti freezes like a BOSS.
Make it. Put it in the freezer. Then pull it out, get the chill off the glass dish if you’re using one (otherwise it might shatter in a hot oven which would be no bueno), and bake that baby up.
Got a friend who just had a baby? Make her this baked ziti and she’ll love you forever. I mean, forever more than she probably already does.
Got a busy season coming up: your kids is in soccer finals, your husband’s working a big project and coming home late for a week, your calendar is stacked to the nines?
Make a batch of this butternut squash baked ziti in a quiet 20 minute window, and pat yo’self on the back the day you pull it out of the freezer.
Ooh! You know what else you could do? Make this butternut squash baked ziti from fresh and then stand over the stove eating it and burning your mouth while doing so because it’s so creamy and cheesy and delicious and simple to make.
Because if I know anything, I know exactly what that is like. I’ve got the mouth burns to prove it.
Roast the squash beforehand to make this even easier to pull together on the day you’ll be cooking. You can also buy pre-mashed butternut squash in some grocery stores’ prepared produce section; check to see if yours has it ready for you!
1 large butternut squash (about 5 pounds)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons white flour
1 cup milk (2% or whole is perfect)
2 garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 pound penne noodles
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 400*F.
Prepare the vegetables:
Slice the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the squash in oil and lay the halves, skin side down, on a sheet pan. Place the pan in the oven and roast until the squash is soft all the way through, about 20 minutes. When the squash is done roasting, turn the oven down to 350*F.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, then add the penne noodles and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain but do not rinse, then set aside until needed.
Peel and mince the garlic.
Strip away the inner stems from the parsley leaves, then mince the parsley
While the squash is roasting, make the cheese sauce:
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth and combined.
Cook the roux (butter and flour mix), stirring often, until it has turned a light golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Whisk in the milk until smooth, then add the garlic and salt.
Stir in the parmesan cheese until smooth and combined, then add the mashed butternut squash.
Stir to combine, then pour the sauce into the cooked penne noodles and stir to coat.
Pour the penne and cheese sauce into an 9×13” baking dish.
Top the ziti with the shredded white cheddar and place the baking dish in the oven. .
Bake until the white cheddar has melted and begun to brown, about 8-10 minutes.
Follow steps 1 through 16, then wrap the ziti and freeze. Thaw overnight before cooking
A simple green Thai curry that you can throw together faster than the delivery guy can roll up to your home.
Stop calling for takeout! This quick chicken curry recipe is packed with Thai flavors, including green curry paste, creamy coconut milk, bell peppers, eggplant, and carrots, all served over steaming long grain rice.
I love ordering Thai food for delivery. It’s my favorite style of takeout food, especially since our neighborhood here in NYC boasts some of the best Thai restaurants in the city.
But making a quick chicken curry at home is actually faster than waiting on my local takeout guy! Plus, I can make twice the amount of food and eat the leftovers for lunch for like, 3 days. As a work at home mom, having something like a quick chicken curry that I can just grab and go is so helpful.
In Thai cooking, curries are named after the color of the curry paste that is used as a base: red, yellow, and green.
I’ve always had a soft spot for green curry paste; made with cilantro, lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal (an Asian member of the ginger family), it’s the sweetest and freshest flavor of the Thai curry trio.
For this quick chicken curry, the sauce includes coconut milk (creamy), lime juice (sour), curry paste (spicy) and a dash of white sugar (sweet). Balance each of these flavors together and you’re rocking at this curry business.
I can’t talk about making a quick chicken curry without making a shout out to our go-to rice. With kids running under my feet as I cook most evenings, I’m not always in the mood to cook rice on the stovetop or by hauling out the Instant Pot (which doubles as a rice cooker).
I like that the rice can be made in just 2 minutes in the microwave and comes out tasting exactly the same as the rice I used to spend 20 minutes babysitting at the stove; it’s perfectly cooked through and seasoned.
So, I’ve joined with VeeTee Rice to give you a three-part blog series of my all-time favorite rice dishes! This quick chicken curry is the first, and I’ve got one recipe coming in August and another coming in October.
VeeTee has saved our weeknight dinner making on more than one occasion. So I’m thrilled to be able to bring you some recipes in the next few months that highlight some of our favorite VeeTee flavors!
Busy parents need all the help they can get in the evenings, which is why having a few DIY Freezer Meal Kits packed away will make your freezer your new BFF.
Having a freezer filled with ready-to-go freezer meal kits as a backup on busy nights means you can rest easy no matter what the week throws at you!
What’s a DIY Freezer Meal Kit, exactly? Think of it as though a freezer meal and a delivery meal kit had a baby. In your kitchen.
It’s way more awesome than it even sounds, trust me.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of delivery meal kits, like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, here’s how they work:
Once a week, a box arrives on your front step containing a recipe and all the ingredients you need to cook a few simple meals. Many of the ingredients are already broken down or at least have been packaged in a way that preparing them for cooking is a snap.
Cooking dinner from a meal kit may not look like less work from the outside – after all, you still have to cook, right?- but the energy it saves is huge!
This is energy saved not only in the physical labor of grocery shopping and much of the ingredient prep, but mental energy as well; deciding what to make, finding a recipe, seeking out the ingredients, figuring out what to do with leftover ingredients and leftovers from the meal, etc.
It’s a formula that works, and that’s why meal delivery kits are all the rage with busy parents.
But they’re expensive. You don’t get to choose the individual recipes. And sometimes, you dont get a chance to make the recipe, meaning you’ve got to figure out what to do with those leftover ingredients!
That’s where DIY Freezer Meal Kits come in. You choose the price point that works for you. You choose the individual recipes. And you choose when to make the dish, so you’re not on anyone’s time clock but your own.
How exactly do you create a DIY Freezer Meal Kit, though? Can you just throw the ingredients of any dish in the freezer and call it good?
Well, kind of. While it’s true that not every dish is amenable to being made into a freezer meal kit, the fact is that yes- you can freeze just about any ingredient.
Here are a few unexpected ingredients you can totally freeze:
Eggs? Sure, if they’re out of the shell and raw.
Sour cream? Yep!
Breadcrumbs? Of course!
Cheese? Yes- especially if it’s been shredded and cubed to cut down on moisture.
And while most of these items won’t thaw and revert back to their original state prior to freezing, they will cook up perfectly fine- which is why DIY Freezer Meal Kits lend a ton of flexibility.
Let’s take the example of Chicken Enchiladas, one of my favorite meals to make into a freezer meal kit.
Step One: Look at the recipe and see what happens right before it gets put in the oven. You’re looking for what components, if any, are prepared in a separate way before everything gets combined and cooked. So, with Chicken Enchiladas, you’ve got shredded chicken, cooked and seasoned black beans, and salsa verde, all made (or purchased!) and then it’s all rolled up in tortillas and topped with cheese before baking.
Shredded chicken, salsa verde, seasoned black beans, tortillas and shredded cheese are the components of Chicken Enchiladas, so that’s what gets frozen in separate bags or containers.
Step Two: Divide those components into separate, freezer-safe containers or ziplock bags. No matter whether you’re purchasing ready-made salsa verde or making it from scratch, put it in a freezer-safe container or ziplock bag and label it with the date. Do the same with each component. Then, place each wrapped component in the final baking dish (a casserole dish, either reusable or disposable) and wrap tightly. You can also pack everything together in a big gallon ziplock bag, if it’s big enough to hold everything. Clearly write the name of the recipe and the date on top with a Sharpie, and place it in the freezer
Step Three: When you’re ready to cook, pull the whole dish out, thaw the items (here’s a primer for thawing) and then assemble and cook as directed.
So what do you think? Are DIY Freezer Meal Kits a great backup option for your family?
Try the Chicken Enchilada recipe below as a DIY Freezer Meal Kit, and let me know how it turns out for you!
This simple weeknight dish of chicken enchiladas, packed with shredded chicken and black beans and smothered in salsa verde and melty cheese, also makes a perfect DIY Freezer Meal Kit. Simply freeze each component of the dish in separate containers and store together in the freezer. The ingredients thaw faster this way, and the dish tastes like it’s made from fresh- with less of the work on the night of!
I usually cook big batches of chicken breasts all at once in the crockpot, then shred and store for recipes like these. If you’re starting from scratch, poach the chicken in water until cooked thoroughly, then shred using two forks or a hand mixer on low.
I really recommend using flour tortillas in this recipe as opposed to corn; they’re more durable and hold up to cooking much better, meaning there’s fewer enchiladas falling apart while you’re trying to serve.
for the salsa verde:
2 tablespoons olive oil
8-10 large tomatillos (papery shells discarded and rinsed)
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (optional if you’re a cilantro hater )
Make the salsa verde: Halve the tomatillos. Heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering, then add the tomatillos and cook, stirring occasionally, until they have started to brown and soften. Add the lime juice and cilantro and stir to combine. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until smooth, then set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400*F.
Roll the enchiladas: In a large bowl, combine the shredded chicken, black beans, salt, and cumin. Stir to mix.
Place 1/2 cup of chicken and black bean mixture in the center of a flour tortilla and roll the tortilla around the mixture in a long cylinder. Transfer the tortilla cylinders to a 9″x13″ baking dish, nestling them next to each other in one long row.
Once all the tortillas have been rolled and placed in the dish, pour the salsa verde over the tortillas, using a spoon to smooth the salsa verde into any cracks and crevices.
Sprinkle the enchiladas evenly with cheese and place the dish in the oven.
Bake until the cheese has melted and is bubbly, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.
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I’ve spoken to no less than 5 people in the last week who have never even heard of sheet pan meals. To which I whip out this incredibly easy chicken sheet pan dish, raise my arms to the heavens, and sing the praises of a dish that literally goes from cutting board to tabletop in like, 20 minutes. Tops.
All that to say if you’re not on the sheet pan meal train yet then choo-choo, mama. Because finding a simple chicken sheet pan meal – or any sheet pan meal, really- is gonna suddenly make your weeknight cooking so much easier.
The beauty of a sheet pan meal is threefold:
It has to be simple, or else it won’t cook right
The best sheet pan meals contain a veggie, a protein, and a sauce (that’s it!)
You have one pan to wash at the end of it all. And if you line your sheet pan with tin foil, you have no pans to wash at the end of it all.
Here’s me, after successfully cooking this Greek chicken sheet pan meal the other night, and discovering it only took 20 total minutes from start to finish:
It’s that easy.
Of course, you can’t just throw a bunch of ingredients on a sheet pan and hope for the best. There are a handful of rules that should be followed for maximum quality:
✅Make sure your ingredients are all cut or prepared in a way that makes them cook in the same amount of time.
Case in point: This Greek Chicken Sheet Pan Meal I’m highlighting in the recipe at the bottom of this post. I took one of those gargantuan chicken breasts and sliced it in half, so each piece was about the same size- this ensures even cooking.
Then I paired the chicken with eggplant, a veggie that roasts well but not super quickly. By chopping the eggplant into ½” slices, it ensured they were the right size to roast to a perfect texture alongside the chicken. Bigger, or thinner, or smaller slices would have cooked differently. So until you’re comfortable with cooking times of various ingredients, make sure you find recipes from people you trust and follow their recommendations.
✅ While the pan’s in the oven, make a quick side.
I like serving my sheet pan meals with something starchy on the side, like boiled potatoes, or cheesy grits. While the sheet pan is in the oven, I make the starch quickly on the stovetop.
Or I just, you know, don’t do any extra cooking and use the time to chillax with my family and start unwinding at the end of a long ass day. You totally have permission to do that as well, mama.
Kimchi Fried Rice is super easy to whip up on a weeknight for dinner, and it’s a great way to use up leftover ingredients hanging around in the fridge.
The spicy, umami flavor of kimchi tossed in fried rice elevates the dish and perks it up, while being good for your gut health at the same time!
And using VeeTee Rice is a super easy way to make fried rice, which is always best when made with slightly old, dried out rice. Since VeeTee is a parcooked, microwaveable rice, it’s cooked just enough and dry just enough to toast and caramelize the rice, making this dish a perfect “I’m in the mood for fried rice” option that you don’t have to think ahead for.
I’ll also confess that I have a major soft spot for kimchi, which is a Korean style of spicy pickle.
Koreans add kimchi to tons of different dishes, and it’s so good for you. If you’re thinking about hopping on the fermented foods bandwagon, kimchi is a great place to start.
Where we live in New York City, kimchi is really easy to find. You can even grab a jar in our local bodega/deli!
If you’re used to getting your fermented goodness from things like sauerkraut or kombucha but you haven’t given kimchi a try, I really recommend it. It’s a cool, pickle-y, spicy flavor that adds so much to any recipe. My favorite way is on the side of my scrambled eggs in the morning!
Remember the secret I just told you, about how the perfect fried rice, kimchi fried rice or otherwise, starts with slightly old and dried out rice?
It’s by losing its moisture that puts rice in its best position to be fried, so VeeTee’s pre-cooked Heat and Eat Single Flavor packages are a great pantry option to keep on hand for nights when you’re in the mood to whip up a batch of fried rice.
A ground chicken burger that’s mixed with green olives and topped with melty swiss? Heck yes.
Ok, let’s get a little weirder up in here with our chicken burger: top that baby with black pepper mayo.
I KNOW. It’s a little offbeat but it so works.
The green olives add briny moisture to the ground chicken burger mix, and the melty cheese holds it together, and the black pepper mayo on top is just the kick you need to kill it at making easy dinner on the grill on a weeknight.
The thing with ground chicken burgers is that they often come out a little dry. There’s not nearly enough fat in the mix to keep things nice and moist, the way a great burger should be.
So adding chopped green olives to the mix is a slightly different, totally tasty way to change things up and at the same time make that burger patty the best it can be.
The idea behind this ground chicken burger with green olives came to me at a diner in Northern Michigan last fall.
I was visiting my parents in my hometown and we grabbed a bite to eat at a local restaurant. I ordered the chicken burger topped with sliced green olives and swiss, and it was… underwhelming.
It’s a common sandwich in the Midwest: grilled chicken breast topped with sliced green olives, topped with melted swiss cheese. It’s served in a bun like a hamburger would be, but most of the time that’s where the similarities end.
What if, I wondered, slathering on more mayo to cover up the dryness of my chicken sandwich, you could make a better chicken burger by blending the green olives into a ground chicken mix?
Drumroll….. it works! So well. Those olives up the moisture and the flavor. The melted swiss gives it more of a “burger” feel. And that black pepper mayo is just because I’m obsessed with the stuff and it goes well with everything.
Things to remember when making these ground chicken burgers:
Make sure to oil up the grill pan or grates before you add the patties. Despite the olives adding moisture, chicken burgers still don’t have a ton of fat in them. That means they lack grease, which means they have a tendency to stick to the grill. Adding oil will help when you flip halfway through.
Other than that, I love these easy ground chicken burgers as a changeup from the usual. It’s a healthier version of my beloved hamburger, and the extra additions make it better than most. Enjoy!