Make Ahead Stuffed Shells

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Great news everyone: we crushed 100 comments on last night’s post, and secured the $500 donation to the American Heart Association! Thank you all SO much for your help! Your Nourish What Counts ideas were totally great too, and I really enjoyed reading them all. Very motivating. :)

Also, congrats to the winners of the Quaker Whole Hearts cereal:

Mia: I am working out with a friend each morning and drinking green smoothies to get extra veggies!

Sarah H.P.: My hubby and I are going to hike as many trails as we can find as soon as the weather warms up a bit!

Stephanie B: I nourish what counts by working with Brainfood, a non-profit in DC, and teaching kids how to cook healthy foods or make standard meals healthier! Passing on the message of good health!!

Dawn @ Making Home: My sister and I have commited to running a 5K together this summer. I also make sure I get at least 5 servings of fruit and veggies.

Lauren: I’m going to nourish what counts by getting up from my desk for a walk at lunch time every day.

Email your full mailing address to iowagirleats@gmail.com and we’ll get that right out to you. Here’s to healthy hearts! :D

Speaking of hearts, mine almost burst after I opened Ben’s Valentine’s Day card last night. Every year I try and get him a funny card that is representative of our relationship. Last year I found a HIGHlarious one depicting a wife smothering her husband with love before he could change out of his work clothes, which is something I tend to do cough everyday.

This year I picked one with a guy who romantically shaped his dirty laundry into the shape of a heart to please his lady, which is so something Ben would do. It has stink lines and everything.

This year he decided to play along and search for a card that would sweep me off my feet. A card that would say more than he ever could about how he felt about his wife. His best friend. His soul mate. A card that featured…EDWARD!!!!!

With “Sorry I’m not a vampire” scrawled inside.

BAHAHAHA! I die! I seriously do. I laughed ’til I could laugh no more. I think I’ll keep him around. ;)

Sorry, we are weird…

Vampire or not, we both sank our teeth into one of our favorite dinners tonight – Stuffed Shells!

It’s been exactly one year and one day since I last made these, which is exactly one year too long. They are so dang delish.

Surprisingly easy AND make ahead too!

Start by adding a box of jumbo shells to a large pot of salted, boiling water. You’ll need 25 shells.

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Stir the shells often as they tend to stick to the bottom of the pot more than regular pasta. They also like to snuggle up all into each other, so separate with a fork if you find any frisky couples. Reserve 1/3 cup cooking water, then drain the shells and return to the pot.

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Meanwhile, brown 1lb lean ground beef in a pot next door. Tip: I use a potato masher to get my ground beef uniformly crumbled. Works every time!

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After draining the beef, return it to the pot and add in parmesan cheese, an egg, seasonings,

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mozzarella cheese and the reserved pasta cooking water. Stir everything up until it’s well combined.

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Next, turn your attention to zee marinara sauce. Per usual, I used Gino’s. (I seriously need to do a giveaway for non-locals – this stuff is in my Top 5 fave foods, no kidding!)

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Layer about 1/3 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 baking pan.

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Next, take a shell and spoon in enough ground beef mixture to fill about 3/4 of the way full.

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Line it up in the baking dish.

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Repeat with the remaining ground beef filling and shells. I got a total of 24 shells.

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Top the shells with the remaining marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese. At this point, you could cover the dish with foil, place it in the refrigerator and bake a day later, or cover and bake immediately for 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

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Before and after! :)

Stuffed Shells are the epitome of comfort food, and the fact that they can be made ahead of time makes ‘em that much better.

Click here for the recipe! >

On the side I served a salad tossed with Brianna’s Asiago Caesar salad dressing. It’s pretty high in calories, at 80 calories per Tablespoon, but totallyworthitineverysingleway. SO savory and yummy. Luckily a little goes a long way!

In other news…

Sugar Free Jebruary Update

That high pitched squeal you heard yesterday around 5:00pm? That was me – “wheeeeeeee!!!!”ing as Sugar Free Jebruary finally came to an end! :)

One month ago I gave up all non-natural sweets (cookies, CANDY, and the like) during the week, saving my splurges for the weekend instead. At the time I was belligerently eating way too much sugar and wanted to practice some self control.

It was a long, hard road, but a completely worthwhile journey.

I can’t say I feel “better” overall as a result of giving up sugar during the week, as there are dozens of variables that make one feel “good” or “bad” everyday – sleep, exercise, stress, etc. What I’ve learned though, is that it’s not necessarily how great I feel when I DON’T eat sugar, rather, it’s how crappy I feel when I DO eat eat sugar.

Over the past month I have become acutely aware of how sugar from “foods” like candy and cookies effect my body. Almost immediately (no exaggeration) my stomach becomes bloated and gurgly. I often get a headache later and, worst of all, the next day I am extremely slow and sluggish. (Case in point I almost fell asleep standing at my desk today after eating way too much sweet stuff last night.)

So why am I so excited that SFJ is coming to an end?

Basically I used the weekends to make up for what I couldn’t have during the week and overdid it, which only made the feelings I had after eating sugar worse. During the week my self control was impeccable, but it really didn’t matter when it flew out the window and I’d have dessert after every meal on Saturday and Sunday.

That said, learning and pinpointing exactly how sugar makes me feel has been my key takeaway from this whole experience. That and I am ABLE to practice self control if I set my mind to it. I just need to be WILLING. ;)

My taste buds have also changed. Naturally sweet foods like clementines, pineapple and apples taste so PURE, while foods like Skittles and Starbursts leave a tinny tang in my mouth.

I’m going to continue to save sugary splurges for the weekend knowing that if I really want something during the week I can have it. Hopefully that will lessen the temptation for sugary treats in my life altogether, and will undoubtedly lessen the tendency to overdo it on the weekends.

Did anyone else make it through Sugar Free January? How did you feel at the end? Will you keep going?

Wishing you a fantastic night!

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