I FOUND MYSELF staring into the freezer, waiting for a dinner idea to pop into my brain. But then I spied three packages of ground beef tucked away on a shelf behind bags of frozen vegetables.

I keep ground beef on hand so I can throw together a quick pasta sauce or shepherd’s pie, which my kids love. But honestly, I wasn’t in the mood to make either.

So I defrosted the ground beef, and vowed to come up with a few interesting new — and easy — ways to use it.

One of the dishes I had to try was a homemade “hamburger helper.”

One of my friends has been raving about this dish because you can throw it together in about 20 minutes. She gave me general instructions, but I put my own spin on it by adding sour cream to create a rich sauce. It was so good that my kids ate the entire thing. I had to make another batch so my husband, who was out of town when I made it the first time, could try it.

Another easy and quick way to use ground beef is to sauté the beef with onions and garlic, then add canned tomatoes, rice and broth. The rice gets nice and tender and the dish can be seasoned however you’d like. You can add whatever vegetables you have on hand, too, so it’s a great way to use that stray bag of frozen peas.

Pearl mozzarella balls are the secret to my Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs. I bake the meatballs in the oven, but you can also set them in tomato sauce to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or use a slow cooker.

The mozzarella melts to add a delicious surprise to dinner. Try them in a meatball sub or use them to give your standard spaghetti and meatballs a boost.

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

2 pounds ground beef

3/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

1 egg, beaten

8-ounce package mozzarella ‘pearls’ (BelGioioso, for example)

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Add ground beef to a large bowl and set aside.

Add breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, basil, salt and pepper to a separate bowl and stir to combine.

Use your hands to mix the ground beef, breadcrumb mixture and egg together. Use about 1/4 cup of the beef mixture to form a meatball (about the size of a golf ball).

Stuff one mini-mozzarella ball into the center of the meatball and re-shape the meatball so the cheese is covered and the meatball is round.

Place meatball on the baking sheet and repeat with remaining beef mixture and mozzarella. Set the baking sheet in an oven preheated to 350 degrees and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the outside of the meatballs is browned.

Easy Ground Beef, Mushroom & Rice Dinner

1 pound ground beef

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, diced

2 cups mushrooms, chopped

14-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 cup rice

1 1/2 cups vegetable or beef broth

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon umami mushroom seasoning (optional)

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, if desired, for seasoning

Fresh grated Parmesan cheese for serving, if desired

Add ground beef, onion and garlic to a deep skillet and set over medium-high heat.

Saute meat until it is no longer pink and the onions are softened. Drain any excess fat from the dish.

Add mushrooms, tomatoes, rice, broth, garlic salt, mushroom seasoning and black pepper. Stir to combine.

Cover dish and lower the heat to medium. Simmer for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed (check occasionally; if the liquid is absorbed before the rice is tender, add a little broth or water as needed).

Serve with fresh parsley and grated Parmesan cheese for garnish, if desired.

Homemade ‘Hamburger Helper’

1 pound ground beef

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped

14-ounce can diced tomatoes

16-ounce package macaroni

2 1/2 cups beef broth

1 teaspoon seasoned salt, such as Lowry’s

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup sour cream

2 cups cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish if desired

Add ground beef, garlic and onion to a deep skillet and set over medium-high heat.

Saute until the beef is browned and the onions are translucent and softened. Drain any excess fat from the dish and return to heat.

Add diced tomatoes, macaroni, beef broth, seasoned salt, cumin, paprika and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to medium. Cover the dish and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the noodles are softened.

Add sour cream and cheddar cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and a creamy sauce forms. Remove from heat, adjust seasonings to taste and garnish with fresh parsley before serving.