Easy Family Meals: How to Make Three Dinners Out of Ground Beef, Rice and Tomatoes

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Want to save time cooking dinner? Cook one base for three different meals. This flexible game plan allows for ample substitutions along the way, offering more chances to cook what you have or swap ingredients when needed. These three dishes are sure to please the whole family.

Zucchini casserole with feta cheese, stuffed peppers and fresh ravioli with meat and tomato sauce.
(Foodlets.com)

Things You'll Need

  • 1 pound of meat (use ground beef or sweet Italian sausage)
  • 3 x 14 ounce cans of tomatoes
  • 2 ½ cups cooked rice (about the amount of 1 cup rice before cooking)
  • 1 package of fresh ravioli
  • ¼ cup fresh basil
  • 2 fresh bell peppers
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ¼ cup any fresh herbs you like, such as thyme or basil
  • 2 medium sized zucchini
  • ½ cup feta cheese
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper
Step 1

Cook rice according to package instructions or from scratch. (1 cup of rice per 2 cups of boiling water. Bring water to a boil, add rice, reduce heat to low and cover pot. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes.) In a separate sauté pan, brown the meat. Use ground beef, ground turkey or try sweet sausage for a punch of instant flavor. Add a pinch of salt and pepper to the meat as you cook.

Tip: use prepared rice or instant rice to save time.
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Step 2

Once the meat is browned, add tomatoes and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes until the liquid begins to evaporate. (Optional: If there are any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, pour in half a cup of white or red wine and scrape up all the flavor from the pan.) Add salt and pepper to taste. When the sauce is done simmering, reserve 2 cups, which you'll use for the pasta.

Tip: Use your favorite marinara sauce in place of canned tomatoes for even more flavor.
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Step 3

When the rice is done, combine it with the remaining meat and tomato sauce. Then set aside.

Use brown rice or a blend of quinoa and rice for a nutritional boost.
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Step 1

Fresh pasta cooks quickly and has a delicate flavor that pairs well with this basic but hearty sauce, though any pasta from a box would work too.

Got picky eaters? Four cheese ravioli is always a crowd pleaser.
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Step 2

Boil water and cook pasta according to package instructions minus one minute. Drain.

Tip: Always add 2 tablespoons kosher salt to your cooking water for better pasta flavor.
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Step 3

Work quickly to avoid sticky pasta. Back into the same pasta pot, immediately add the reserved meat and tomato sauce plus the drained ravioli, stirring very gently. Be sure to coat each piece of ravioli in sauce which will continue to cook the pasta for another couple of minutes. To plate, sprinkle with salt and freshly cracked pepper, plus finely chopped basil.

Tip: Add a sprinkle of parmesan cheese for a big flavor boost.
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Step 1

Paired with a loaf of hearty crusty bread and soft salted butter, this is the kind of dinner you can throw in the oven to cook, never once touching the stove. To make four stuffed peppers, you'll need two bell peppers (any color you like), ½ cup of mozzarella cheese (or any kind you like) and ¼ fresh herbs (any kind you like.)

Basil was used in this recipe; you could use thyme, oregano or even mint.
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Step 2

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the peppers lengthwise and remove the stems, seeds and tendons from inside.

Be sure not to tear the skin of the peppers because they'll become bowls for the rice mixture.
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Step 3

Prepare a baking sheet with olive oil and place peppers cut side down. Bake for 10 minutes.

Putting the cut side down steams the peppers to ensure even cooking.
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Step 4

Combine 2 cups of the rice, meat and tomato mixture with the fresh herbs and most of the cheese, but hold back about 2 tablespoons to sprinkle on top for garnish.

Add a bit of salt and pepper to the mix as well.
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Step 5

Fill each pepper half with about ½ cup of rice, meat and tomato mixture. There's a little pocket of space at the top of each pepper where the stem was; gently pull on the pepper and fill that up too. Cook for another 10 minutes.

Don't worry if your peppers don't lay completely flat. They'll get softer during the baking process and sink down a little.
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Step 6

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and bake for 10 minutes, for a total of 30 minutes.

Serve with freshly cracked pepper, a sprinkle of salt and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
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Step 1

Start with shredded zucchini (about 3 cups), ½ cup feta cheese, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano plus salt and pepper.

Don't like feta? Try mozzarella or an Italian blend.
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Step 2

Reserve about a tablespoon of cheese. In a greased 9x9 baking pan, add a thin layer of the rice, meat and tomato mixture. Top it with a thick layer of zucchini, followed by cheese, herbs and spices. Repeat. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and cover the whole pan with foil.

The layers will disappear during the cooking process, leaving a rich taste and texture throughout.
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Step 3

Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes, then remove foil and bake for an additional 15 minutes. The finished casserole should be bubbling on the bottom and browned on the top. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving. Not for tonight? Cool completely and store in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, or in the freezer for one month.

This one-pot meal pairs perfectly with whole wheat rolls or soft breadsticks to dip in olive oil.
Foodlets.com

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