easy meal

Meat Lovers Pasta Bake

Do you like meat? And easy recipes? And recipes that can be made with leftovers and ingredients you have on hand?

If you answered yes, then you’re going to absolutely love this meat lovers pasta bake. If you answered no to the meat question, stick around… you can make this dish with veggies instead. But the meat part? Oh-so-good.

If you have pasta, cheese, diced tomatoes, and some leftover meat (pretty much any kind will work), then you’ve got dinner. Bonus points if you have pasta-friendly veggies like mushrooms and onions.

Start with a can of diced tomatoes. You earn some bonus credit if they’re Italian seasoned, but just use what’s in your pantry, or dice up some garden tomatoes. If they’re canned, don’t drain them. Just pour 1/3 of the can in the bottom of your casserole dish.

Now, make a pot of pasta. I use an entire box of Barilla Rotini, but you use whatever pasta you have. I like the rotini for this dish because it holds up nicely, but so does literally any other pasta you have. Drain it, and put half of it on top of your tomatoes.

Now it’s time to get creative. Throw some meat on there. We like to make this dish a couple of days after pizza or calzone night because there’s always leftover meats. For this time around, we used sausage, hamburger, pepperoni, and prosciutto, but you can use anything you have in your fridge. Chicken? Yes. Ham? Totally. Sausage? Do it. We only had a little bit of each meat, but you can pile it as high as you’d like or add as little as you want. Make sure your meat is already cooked or that you cook it beforehand. If you’re using leftover pizza toppings, it should all be cooked, but if you’re pulling it out of your freezer, you’ll want to cook it yourself. Once you’ve layered on your meats, add any veggies you’d like. We had leftover mushrooms and onions from pizza night, but put whatever you like on a pizza in this dish. If you like eggplant and pineapple, go for it. If you prefer onions and bell pepper, try that. Want to go veg-free like my dad? Sure. That works, too. This is the most customize-able pasta dish ever.

Top that with a layer of cheese, then a layer of tomatoes, then pasta, meat, and veggies. Finish with one more layer of tomatoes and another layer of cheese.

Cooking for one? Make a little bit in a small baking dish. Cooking for 50? Make multiple pans. This recipe stretches or downsizes. I use a 3 quart baking dish for my family of 5, but seriously, this meal is so flexible. Bake it at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is nice and melty. I used mozzarella and parmesan from Crystal Farms on mine, but use whatever Italian style cheeses you have (or try cheddar, or whatever you want). I’m telling you, this is a ridiculously easy to customize meal. It’s perfect for any family.

Once it’s all melty, dig in and serve. Because of the layers, almost any scoop you take will have a little bit of everything! Yum.

I highly recommend serving this pasta with the Garlic Knots that I shared recently on my Facebook page. You can find them by going to “albums” and you’ll see the recipe!

Do you love easy meals? Try my chicken bacon ranch pasta bake, southwest chicken and rice, or crockpot cashew chicken!

What’s your go-to meal to use up leftovers?

 

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Crockpot Cashew Chicken

In our area, back to school is coming up fast. Today, we took our exchange student school supply shopping and just days ago, the last of Zach’s curriculum arrived for the year. There’s no shortage of planning and preparing for the school year, and that means a whole lot of busy days ahead, both as we soak up the last days of summer and prepare for the school year, and in the days ahead where we’re going to be teaching, working, and keeping the house clean.

Luckily, I have a crock pot. And trust me, I use it and use it often. I love being able to use my crock pot to keep meals easy, and starting a meal early means I get to work on other things and not worry about dinner.

I love this recipe that my grandmother gave me. She said she found it online, and, after doing a little searching, it looks like it is modified from Campbell’s themselves. Start with 5-6 chicken breasts, a can of Campbell’s cream of chicken soup, some onion, some green onion, a little soy sauce, and the cashews and chow mein noodles. Cook the chicken breasts first. Even better, you can pre-cook these another night and refrigerate. I try to make a chicken dish a day or two before this one, then refrigerate the cooked chicken until the day of this meal. Then, you have even less day-of prep!

Chop your chicken, onion, and green onion. You could also choose to do this before the day you’re cooking to eliminate your day-of prep.

Spray your crock pot with some non-stick cooking spray, then load in all of the ingredients except the rice and the chow mein noodles. I typically leave out one of the cans of cashews in order to reserve them for a topping at the end.

Stir in the soup and soy sauce, coating the ingredients. It might look a little strange, but I promise, it’s so delicious! Turn your crock pot on low for 5-9 hours, or set it on high for 2-3 hours. It’s just long enough to get the kids through the day on low, or enough to take care of those “oh, shoot! I just got home and realized I forgot to turn on the crock pot!” moments on high.

Finish your meal with a little cooked rice and some crunchy chow mein noodles, along with the rest of the cashews.

 

Crock Pot Cashew Chicken

5-6 breasts cooked chicken, diced
1/2 Cup diced onion
1/2 Cup diced green onion
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 can cream of chicken soup
Cashews
Chow mein noodles
Rice
Non-stick cooking spray

Spray the inside of the crock pot with non-stick cooking spray.
Combine all ingredients except chow mein noodles in crock pot.
Cook 5-9 hours on low, or on high for 2-3 hours.
Serve over rice, with chow mein noodles and additional cashews for crunch.

In the mood for Asian food? Check out more dishes inspired by the far East by looking at my Ramen Slaw or my Dipped Almond Cookies.

 

Are you a crock pot fan? Do you use yours year-round or in winter? Let me know your crock pot habits in the comments below!

Campfire Favorites: Beef and Veggie Hobo Packs

Not too long ago, a rule was made that my brother had to pitch in with dinner sometimes. Now, my brother is a pretty good cook, but like all of us, he likes easy, and a lot of times, he sticks to the tried-and-true. So much so that we quickly realized that any nights where it was Jeffrey’s turn to cook, we either got waffles, or we got hobo packs. I started watching him making the hobo packs (as we affectionately call them, but apparently foil packet meal or foil packet dinner also works), and realized why he loved making them so much. They were easy. They were delicious. And most of all, they were versatile. With a family full of picky people, versatile is important.

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Pollo Magnifico–For the Freezer!

I love going out to eat. I think a lot of that is because we just so rarely do go out, so when we do, it’s a real treat. Almost every time that I get to pick where we go, I ask to go to Jose Peppers, because I’m addicted to a certain item on their menu… Pollo Magnifico. It makes sense why they’d call it that. It really is a magnificent chicken dish. At Jose Peppers, they’re sharing seasoned shredded chicken wrapped in a tortilla, then slathered with a jalapeno cream cheese, sprinkled with cheese, and then baked. I love the flavor, but I needed something that would freeze well, and I knew individually sauced tops wouldn’t. For me, that can only mean one thing… it was time to get creative. So, I made this Pollo Magnifico copycat that tastes just like the real thing, but freezes well with no sauce on top.

Start with everything pictured… 3 chicken breasts, 8 burrito-sized tortillas, 2 packages of Cream Cheese (I like Philadelphia), a package of Mexican Blend Cheese (I like Kraft), and tomato and lettuce to garnish. Because I was serving it to people who just didn’t love spice, I left out one jalapeno, so you’ll want to add a finely diced jalapeno in. If you’re still not a fan of spice, you can nix the jalapeno and use taco seasoning instead, or you can do without either and dip it in salsa. It’s your choice, and all of the options will have a great result.

Start by shredding and seasoning your cooked chicken breasts. If you have jalapenos, now is the time to add them in.

Now, mix in the two packages cream cheese and one cup of the shredded cheese. You’ll reserve the other half for a garnish later. Once the mixture is thoroughly blended together, I like to smooth it out and use a knife to make lines so I know about how much to put in each tortilla. But you can totally eyeball it. I’m just really obsessed with filling them all exactly the same.

Spoon your filling onto your burrito-sized tortilla. There’s just enough filling for the 8 tortillas that come in the package Great Value sells, but if you have more or less tortillas, it’s easy to adjust the recipe. Because these freeze very well, you could bake a month’s worth for lunches and then seal them in an airtight bag or container.

Fold the tortilla envelope-style around the mixture, as shown in the steps above. You’ll be placing the tortilla envelopes seam-side down on a pam-sprayed cookie sheet.

Spraying the tops lightly with the cooking spray will also help them brown nicely. Preheat the oven to 350, and bake them for 15 minutes on one side.

Turn them over and you’ll see that they’re browning nicely and the tortillas will now stay shut. Bake another 15 minutes. This allows the cheese inside to melt, as well as the cream cheese, which will ensure that these get the same flavor as that delicious Jose Peppers recipe, but without the mess of a sauced top.

Once they’re done baking, allow any that you’re freezing to cool so they can be frozen and microwaved later. For those that you’re eating immediately, sprinkle the hot tops with cheese so it’ll melt.

Dinner is served. And lunch. And every day you want these after that. They’re so easy to prepare and they’re delicious, restaurant-style stuff. Plus, they pack nicely in a lunch and can be eaten cold or hot. You can’t lose with these.

Of course, making this Pollo Magnifico copycat doesn’t change my choice when we go out to eat. I’ll still be going to Jose Peppers for dinner… maybe I’ll even branch out and order something different! (I wouldn’t bet on it, though…)

 

 

Looking for more easy dinners? Try out my Southwest Chicken and Rice Bake or 3 Different Twists on Pigs in a Blanket! Want to get your family chatting around the table? I have some ideas for opening up dinnertime conversation, too.

What’s your favorite meal to eat when you have the chance to go out to eat? Do you always eat the same thing, or pick something different each time? Let me know in the comments below!

Mississippi Mud Potatoes

Bacon? Check. Cheese? Check. Tons of flavor? Absolutely. See, these are the easiest potatoes I think I’ve ever made, and they’re a hit with everyone. I mean, who doesn’t love cheese and bacon?

One of the many recipes that came from the family recipe box, this handwritten recipe with an unknown source simply stated “They’re named for the famous river because they’re LONG on taste and MIGHTY good!” Well, they didn’t disappoint, anyway!

Start with some ingredients you may already have– 8 to 10 cups of potatoes, diced, 1 cup of Mayonnaise (the real deal, not salad dressing), about a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, a 16 ounce block of cheddar, diced, 1/2 a cup of green onions, chopped, and a package of bacon. You can add half a cup of olives if you’d like to, but why ruin perfectly good potatoes? (Unless you’re an olive fan, in which case, you probably don’t see that as ruining them).

Start by slicing your bacon into pieces. Don’t look at me with that shocked face that I get every time someone sees me do this… you can TOTALLY bacon your bits instead of bitting your bacon. This method gets a lot less grease on your hands because there’s no tearing it up post-fry… if you do the cutting first, your bacon will be in perfect bite sized bits when you’re done. I promise. Just trust me– cutting bacon is NOT bacon blasphemy, no matter what anyone tells you.

Put that in a pan and cook it, trying not to eat too much bacon as the smell fills the air. Seriously, bacon is so hard to resist. That’s why there is bacon everything. While the bacon cooks, start peeling and dicing your potatoes, dicing your cheese, and chopping your green onions.

Delicious! Finish getting your other ingredients chopped and ready.

Place your potatoes in a 9×13 pan.

Spoon the mayonnaise onto the potatoes evenly. This will make stirring them easier. The mayo will add flavor, plus it will help those potatoes get extra tender.

Stir the potatoes to combine evenly with the mayonnaise.

Stir in the diced green onions and cheese. Make sure that there is some intermixed with the potatoes, with more topping the potatoes.

Sprinkle that generously with bacon. If you’re going to add some olives, now is the time to do that, as well.

Bake for an hour and a half, or until the potatoes are tender, in a 325 degree oven.

Enjoy that bubbly, cheesy, bacon-y side dish. You could even add in some hamburger meat or chicken and make it a main dish, if you wanted to.

This is so easy and a great thing to take to a potluck or perfect for Easter Dinner this year!