Recipes for Meal Gifts

My good friend is pregnant. She has wanted this baby for so long and I am ridiculously happy for her. When she found out, she waited a few weeks to tell anyone because she and her husband had been trying for awhile.

She told me at about 9 weeks.

At 11 weeks, she called and said her mother had been acting funny for a few days. She wasn’t sure what to do. I have had a bit of training in Behavioral and Mental Health Issues and she thought maybe I would recognize some of the symptoms. I did but they were inconsistent with her history. She decided to force the issue and make her mom go to the Dr.

Three days later she called and said her mother had a brain tumor.

Three days after that they found out it was operable but would only “prolong her quality of life.”

Devastated seems like too small a word for how her family feels currently. The word needs more syllables and more sharp turns. It’s too small. Too simple. Too soft.

As her friend, I searched for some way to help.

My family lost my older brother when I was 16 and if it had not been for our extended family and friends supporting us, I’m not sure how we would have fed ourselves, cleaned our home or even gotten dressed on a daily basis.

Since then I have felt the deep need to go above and beyond in my support of anyone who is suffering. That need is probably the reason I have found myself in civil service…that never occurred to me until now.

I thought about flowers and a card but decided it was too “doomy” and useless. I wanted something that would help them now. I remembered how my extended family descended on our home and how much food it took to feed everyone. I remembered the casserole dishes and platters that magically appeared to feed the army of family.

It occurred to me that the simplest way to help, but probably the one with the most impact, would be to deliver meals. Lots of meals. I realize this is an old tradition, but usually people wait until a death or a birth to help out like this. I didn’t want to wait.

I spoke to my friend and she mentioned she had not been eating since she found out about the tumor. I lectured her about the safety of her baby and realized easy meals were more needed than I had thought. Not only did her parents need enough food to feed the family members now stopping by daily, but my friend needed small meals just to keep her going. Just to make her days of being pregnant and supporting her family just a little bit easier.

I scanned Pinterest for recipes I thought would freeze and reheat easily. What I ended up making on my first round of cooking I will list below. I intend on packing up more food on my next couple days off. I will likely post those recipes as well.

The reason I have decided to document this horrible struggle is because I feel alot of people out there want to help ailing families, but do not always know how. These are easy, no brainer ways. You don’t have to think about it or really plan for anything. Just pick up the ingredients and do a bit of cooking. Pack everything up and be a life-saver. The money you spend on the ingredients is probably half to a third of the amount you would spend on decent flowers. Be practical and it will be much more appreciated.

Since dropping the food off at her family’s home, I have received text after call after Facebook message about the simple gift. They have all said that you don’t realize how wonderful it is to not have to think about something like food when you have so many other more complicated issues to deal with.

The recipes I used are below. Along with the “Emergency Pregnant Lady Kit” I created for my friend to have in her car or at work. I also listed below each recipe how I packaged everything for easy reheating.

Please pray for my friend and her family.

Cheese and Chicken Filled Pasta Shells: Original recipe can be found here. I tweaked it a bit and my version of the recipe is below.

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44 uncooked jumbo pasta shells (I used two 12-oz boxes)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken (I used 1 lb of chicken breast but would recommend 1.5 lbs or 3 large chicken breasts)
2 cups fresh chopped spinach (Spinach cooks down alot so don’t worry about cutting it too finely)
1 onion, minced
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15oz) container ricotta cheese
2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (5oz) package shredded Parmesan cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 Tblspoon dried parsley flakes (I used dried basil from our garden)
1 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
2-3 large jars of garlic/basil tomato sauce (stay away from meat sauces, they tend to clash with the chicken)

Cook shells according to package directions; drain and set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease 2 13×9″ baking dishes.
In a large bowl, combine chicken and all the rest of the ingredients except mozzarella and spaghetti sauce. Stir in 1 cup mozzarella. Fill the shells carefully as the pasta will rip easily. I found the best way was just too dive right in with my hands. Spoons and spatulas tore the shells too easily.

Spread half the spaghetti sauce into prepared baking dishes. Arrange shells over sauce; top with remaining sauce. Cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake, covered, for 40 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.
Makes 8-10 servings.

*The recipe says it makes 8-10 servings, but I found this recipe to be huge. It easily made 13-15 servings. I had bought a 9×13 tin casserole dish from Walmart and packed it full of the pasta shells. I then baked the casserole in the pan and popped the lid on when it was done. I labeled the container and wrote on the top that they could reheat the entire pan for 10 minutes at 350°. I then took the second pan of pasta and divided it into two large tupperware containers and then two smaller tupperware containers. The two larger containers were packed with two servings of pasta. The smaller ones were for single servings. The four smaller containers I gave to my pregnant friend to keep at her house for herself and her husband. The large casserole tin I had sent to her parents’ home for the entire family. It fed everyone.*

Mashed potatoes, Roasted Turkey and Corn: Turkey recipe found here.

1 Bag of Yukon Gold potatoes

1 Stick of unsalted butter

1 Bone-in Whole Turkey breast (4.5 to 5 lbs)

1/2 Cup butter or margarine, melted

1/4 Cup dry white wine or apple juice
 
2 Tblspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme leaves

1 Tspn salt

1 Tspn paprika
 
2 Cloves garlic, finely chopped
 
2 Tspns cornstarch
 
2 Tblspns cold water

1 Bag of steamed corn

Heat oven to 325ºF. Place turkey, skin side up, on rack in large shallow roasting pan. Insert ovenproof meat thermometer so tip is in thickest part of breast and does not touch bone. Roast uncovered 1 hour.

Mix butter, wine, thyme, salt, paprika and garlic. Brush turkey with half of the butter mixture. Roast 30 minutes; brush with remaining butter mixture. Roast about 1 hour longer or until thermometer reads 165ºF.

Remove turkey from oven and let stand 15 minutes for easier carving.

Meanwhile, pour pan drippings into measuring cup; skim fat from drippings. Add enough water to drippings to measure 2 cups. Heat drippings to boiling in 1-quart saucepan. Mix cornstarch and 2 tablespoons cold water; stir into drippings. Boil and stir 1 minute.

While your turkey is cooking, peel the whole bag of potatoes. Cut them into 1/4’s or consistent size pieces so they cook evenly. Place all the potatoes in boiling water. Cook until you can insert a fork easily and without resistance. Smash. While the potatoes are still warm, mix in a stick of butter (or less if you’re all healthy). Set aside.

Steam corn. Done.

*I placed all the mashed potatoes in another 9×13 tin casserole dish. Placed the turkey breast on top with all its juices. Filled the side of the dish with the steamed corn. Popped the top of the container back on and labeled it with reheating directions again. 10-15 minutes at 350°.*

Cream Cheese Monkey Bread: Original Recipe found on Pinterest

2/3 cup Brown sugar

2/3 cup Sugar

1 Tablespoon cinnamon

2 Tubes flaky biscuits

8 Oz Cream cheese

1/2 cup Unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350º. Spray your bundt pan. Combine the sugars. Slice 10 discs of dough from each tube and set on a flat surface. Divide the cream cheese into 10 equal pieces. Set the cream cheese cubes in the center of each dough disc. Wrap the edges of dough up around cheese but do not complete cover the cheese. Leave the top of the disc open.

Place 1/2 of the dough-wrapped cubes, cheese-side-up, in the bottom of the pan. Top with 1/2 of sugar mix and 1/2 of the butter. Top with remaining dough, cheese-side-down. Top with the remaining sugar and butter.

Bake 40 minutes. Invert. Let cool before eating.

*I cut the butter in the above recipe by half, it was originally a cup of butter. When I used the original recipe and took the pan out at the end of the 40 minutes, the butter was pooled and soaking over the top of the pan. It was gross. I amended the recipe above to reflect half the butter. Also, I was in a hurry and did not let the dough cool enough before flipping the pan. Everything collapsed. The good thing was that no one gave a shit because the cream cheese and sugar combination was just what the doctor ordered. I then packaged two to three rolls to a container and sent them to the various family homes.*

The Emergency Pregnant Lady Kit:

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1 Plastic box with a handle (For easy carrying by big fat, sweaty ladies)

4 bags of Annie’s All Natural Graham Crackers

1 Small, Pop-Top Spaghettios can (Pregnant lady staple and immediately made my pregnant lady cry)

3 Small packages of Kleenex

4 Packages of Ritz Peanut Butter crackers

2 Packages of Dried Fruit

1 Package of Applesauce

4 Packages of Fruit strips

1 Large bag of Trail mix (divided into three smaller bags)

1  Microwaveable bag of Cheesy Rice

1 Granola bar

1 Bag of Cheetos

1 Small container of Purell

1 Bag of chocolate covered acai berries

*If I had more room in the container I would have also put some of those Preggo Pops, Tylenol and hard candies inside as well. Hard candies help immensely with morning sickness. I also put colored labels on the box with a list of what was in it. I learned this trick from a First Aid class in college. That way you can always refill…*

My friend cried when I brought all the boxes to the house. She told me I was an angel and I could see what a relief it was for her. Just something simple like spending a day exploring new recipes in the kitchen can make such a difference in a family’s life. And they always remember your kindness.

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