Fab Frugal Friday: Cooking with Friends – "Dinner Divas" Cooking Club makes Easy Freezer Dinner Recipes

October 2, 2009 in Entrees, Healthy Fare, Vegetarian Entrees

Cooking Club Members making freezer dinners

Cooking Club Members making Ricotta Filled Manicotti

Enjoying the company of friends cooking

Enjoying the company of friends cooking Hawaiian Chicken

Prepping vegetables for freezer dinners

 Prepping vegetables for freezer dinners

Sometimes “frugal” can mean “fun” – the first meeting of our neighborhood cooking club “Dinner Divas” was a huge success, combining easy freezer dinners with hanging out with a group of friends!

I have always loved cooking with friends, and my kitchen is designed for having lots of folks cooking at one time. So, I decided to start a cooking group in my neighborhood. Our goal was to go home with a few dinners ready to freeze while having fun with friends. What could be better than that?!

I am very excited for the future of our little group – we plan to cook together once a month and each take home freezer-ready dinners. Last night I had 15 women in my kitchen and family room all chattering and chopping away. We made Ricotta Filled Manicotti, Hawaiian Chicken (see recipes below) and my Multi Grain Pancake Mix (see my previous post).

I am happy to report that the evening was a huge success! Everyone was finished in 90 minutes or less, and cleanup was a snap with just a few women staying late and helping me. The best part for me was having fun and getting better acquainted with my neighbors – such fabulous women! I am also looking forward to the future when we will all be taking turns hosting the group and planning the dishes.

For October, we are doing fall casserole dishes. For November, we are having a neighbor who is an outstanding baker help us perfect the art of pie crust. For December, we are having a cookie exchange party. Can’t wait!

In case you want to explore starting your own cooking group, there are several sites that I found helpful: Cooking Light Magazine,   Bon Appetit Magazine,  Nicole of Baking Bites.


Ricotta Stuffed Baked Manicotti – Dinner Divas Group 9-29-09
Serves 6 to 8.

2 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
1 can (16 ounces) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons minced basil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups (16 ounces) low fat ricotta cheese
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
4 ounces Mozzarella cheese, grated (2 cups)
2 large eggs
1 box (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and pressed dry
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
16 no-boil lasagna noodles

Cook garlic in oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil and vinegar (and salt and pepper to taste) and simmer slowly while assembling remainder of dish.

Pour boiling water in a 9 by 13 pan, filling halfway, and add a tablespoon of oil. Add in noodles one at a time. Let steep for 5 minutes, then remove noodles and lay in a single layer on a large kitchen towel. Discard water in pan.

Mix together all cheeses, eggs, spinach and nutmeg.

Place a little sauce in bottom of pan. On each noodle, spread out 1/3 cup of cheese mixture, leaving top 2 inches bare. Roll up like a jellyroll. Place noodle bundles in pan. Pour over remaining sauce. Cover and freeze.

To Serve: Remove casserole from freezer. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours. (Alternate thawing method: Uncover and let come to room temperature – about 1 hour.) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, until bubbly. Serve warm.


Hawaiian Chicken – Dinner Divas Group 9-29-09
Serves 6 to 8.

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon each ginger, smoked paprika and salt
8 skinless chicken pieces
1 large yellow onion
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
2 cups pineapple chunks
1 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
A few dashes Tabasco sauce

Heat oil in a large skillet to medium high heat. Mix flour, ginger, paprika and salt and spread on a plate. Dredge chicken thighs in flour mixture and cook in skillet in batches, being careful not to crowd pan, until browned on both sides. Turn off heat and remove chicken thighs.

Cut all vegetables into 1 inch chunks. Spread vegetables and pineapple in a 9 by 13 pan.

Pour all remaining ingredients into skillet. Whisk and cook for 2 to 3 minutes over medium high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes. Pour half of skillet sauce mixture over vegetables. Place chicken pieces on top and pour remaining sauce over chicken. Cover with foil and freeze.

To Serve: Remove casserole from freezer. Place in refrigerator for 24 hours. (Alternate thawing method: Uncover and let come to room temperature – about 1 hour.) Bake at 375 degrees covered for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake another 30 minutes, until vegetables are softened and a thick sauce is in pan. Serve vegetables and sauce over rice, sprinkled with sliced almonds and thinly sliced green onions, if desired.

– posted by Donna