School is back in session! And with it, extracurricular activities. Our eldest, A, auditioned for a Junior Dance Company at her current studio and was invited to participate! This is super exciting as I was never a dancer, but now I’m like officially a “DANCE MOM”. (Um, wait. I think there’s a reality show about dance moms… I don’t think they have a good rep. So, I’m just a dance mom. Not one of THOSE dance moms. Glad we cleared that up.)
My struggle with extracurriculars is scheduling them at a time that works with school and meals and bedtimes. Last year I learned that 4pm is the WORST time to have an hour long class, because everyone is so hungry during and right after, and by the time we got home it was already 30 minutes past our normal dinner time – that’s if we were lucky and didn’t hit a whole lot of rush hour traffic. Not the ideal way to make a meal. It makes that witching hour in the kitchen just a little bit worse.
But today I tried something that I will absolutely be doing again. A’s class is from 5-6pm, so I knew I had to have something at least half-way prepped before I took her. Today we had to run a few errands after picking her up from school, so we didn’t go home in between the end school and the start of class. Commence early major meal prep!
If you have a similar situation and don’t want to do take out, fast food, or frozen TV dinners every week, try this:
Several hours before dinner – about 5 is good, but schedule it however works for you – start on this Homemade Pasta Sauce. I started about 1:30, knowing I had to leave to pick A up from school between 2:45-3, and wouldn’t be back until after class, about 6:30. Once that has simmered for about an hour, blend it up and turn it down as low as possible. Pop a lid on it, and leave it to simmer for another few hours while you’re gone. My hubby was home on this particular day, so I informed him of what was going on – but if you’re uncomfortable leaving a burner on while you’re not there, just transfer it to a crock pot after blending, and leave on low (or even just the “keep warm” setting) until you return.
*Side Note: If you don’t have time or don’t want to attempt making the homemade sauce, I SUPPOSE you can use jarred sauce. It won’t have the same effect when you get home and walk in the door though. 😉
About an hour and 15 minutes before you have to leave, prep a spaghetti squash for the oven. The ones I’ve purchased at the store are generally VERY LARGE, and difficult to cut. One tip is to cut it on a damp kitchen towel so it doesn’t roll around. If you’ve never used spaghetti squash before, here is a picture:
All you do with this awesome squash is cut it in half lengthwise and put it cut-side-down on a foil-covered baking sheet drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with S&P. I have heard of people doing it the opposite way – cut side up – and then of course you’d put the olive oil, S&P on the inside/top. The large ones need about an hour at 400ºF. I had 2 small ones fresh from our visit at Frederick Family Farm (possibly it’s own future post – we had a blast!), so I baked them at 350ºF for 45 minutes. *Note: I also cut the stems off. It makes it easier to cut in half lengthwise and also, since ours were fresh from the garden, they were very long and would’ve been more difficult to handle if I left the stems on.
Right before you leave, pull that baby out of the oven and let it rest on the stove until you return. It needs to be at least room temperature for you to handle it, regardless of when you cook it.
The other thing you’ll need for this make-ahead meal is some pre-cooked ground sausage. I had some in my fridge from a few days prior when I made biscuits and gravy. (Do you remember my posts on Second Meal sausage pasta & this one sharing other Second Meal ideas?) I use half the chub for the biscuits and gravy, and save the other half for a dinner in the next day or two.
So. Before you leave you have:
1. Cooked ground sausage in the fridge
2. Spaghetti squash cooling on the stove
3. Sauce simmering in the pot
When you return home, follow these simple steps:
1. Turn the heat up on the sauce just to medium-low. Leave lid off. Stir.
2. Add the sausage and stir.
3. Holding the squash by the outside, use a fork to remove the seeds (I just pile them up on my baking sheet with tin foil) and then use the tines of the fork to scrape along the squash from top to bottom to remove the good stuff:
That’s the stuff!
Once I have the majority of it out, I scrape along the inside with the side of my fork to remove whatever is stubbornly clinging to the inside of the rind. (Peel? Crust?)
4. You can scrape that good stuff right into your pot with the sauce simmering. Once you’ve finished that, stir again. *If you’re not sure that you made enough sauce, or think you made TOO much, you can scrape the squash onto a cutting board or into a different pan and then add the sauce after the fact.
5. Sprinkle some cheese on top, and VOILA! You have successfully completed a healthy, home-cooked, filling, delicious make-ahead meal that will be ready to serve your family in 10 minutes within arriving home. (I think fresh grated Parmesan would be amazing here, but all I had was shredded mozzarella and some Kraft grated parm. So that’s what I used. OHI, right?!)
Any questions? 🙂