easy recipe

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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Chicken Bacon Ranch Pasta Bake

If y’all have been around the blog a day or two, you know I love the chicken, bacon, and ranch combo. They’re flavors that were just made for each other! So, when it came time to make dinner the other night and I had no idea what to make, I needed to see what I had in my pantry and fridge. I came up with a few items that made a big impact, and it all started with the chicken, bacon, and ranch I had on hand.

Start with what’s pictured above. A lot of the ingredients are delicious, common, and you may even have them on hand.

Cook your pasta– I always do about half a cup for each family member, plus an extra half cup (so we have leftovers). While it’s cooking, dice your chicken and begin cooking it in a skillet. Again, I do one chicken tender piece (smaller than a breast) per family member, plus one extra.

Once the chicken is cooked, place it in a bowl and set it aside, then put your peppers and onions in the skillet. The bell peppers can be whatever you have on hand or on sale. I happened to have already cut 4 different colors of bell peppers for pizza night the night before and had leftovers.

Saute the peppers in a little bit of olive oil until the peppers and onions are tender and the onions are translucent. Remove them from the skillet and set aside.

Add a little bit of butter to the skillet and saute your mushrooms. I like to use sliced baby bellas, but you can use any kind of mushroom you prefer. You’ll want them tender and cooked.

Now, you’ll make your sauce. Take your alfredo sauce (it’s a 15 oz container of Bertolli) and one packet of Hidden Valley Ranch mix, and pour the ranch into the alfredo sauce. I give it a quick stir with a knife before I put the lid back on and shake-shake-shake until it’s well mixed.

In a casserole dish, combine your bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, pasta, chicken, and the package of bacon pieces, stirring in the alfredo ranch sauce.

Add mozzarella cheese and Italian seasoned breadcrumbs on top, then bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes to get the cheese melted and the top crispy. It’s all fully cooked beforehand, so the bake is just to help those flavors meld together a bit more.

The best thing about this recipe is that it’s less recipe, more idea… you can make just enough servings for one person (half a cup of pasta, a chicken tenderloin, a small handful of veggies, baked in the dish), or you can double or triple it for a family. I use a full jar of sauce to make dinner for 6 in a 9×13 pan, but you can use more sauce or less sauce to taste. It would be very easy for me to say “This is how you make it,” but this recipe is so flexible that giving a recipe does it a disservice. Follow the steps, eyeball the ingredients, and I promise, it’ll be perfect every time.

My favorite way to serve it is with homemade garlic knots. And the best part? You can serve it with homemade garlic knots, too! I’ll be sharing the recipe later today on Facebook, so be sure to go over and like me on facebook so you can see the recipe!

 

Do you love the chicken, bacon, ranch combo? You’ll love my chicken bacon ranch foil packets!

What’s your favorite flavor combo for dinner?

 

Blueberry Peach Coffee Cake

Mother’s Day is right around the corner. I feel like I hear two things from two different sets of people… a lot of moms saying “I just want to feel appreciated for mother’s day,” “The one bad thing about everyone making me ‘breakfast in bed’ is that it usually means I have to help, or at least clean up,” “Is it really that much to ask?” and a lot of dads saying, “I guess I’ll just go and grab something at the store. You really think I’ll be able to help the kids cook?” “I’m sure a card is plenty,” or “Can’t it just be easy?”

Guess what? I’ve found a recipe that satisfies moms AND dads. Easy, very little cleanup, and tastes like there was a ton of effort put into it.

I test a lot of recipes for the blog. I know that I’ve found a true winner when my family asks for me to make it again. And again. And again. This coffee cake went fast, and I know you’re going to love it for Mother’s Day. Or any other day of the year.

This one gets bonus points for being a great option to take for a Mother’s Day Brunch.

The coffee cake is simple: the ingredients pictured (blueberry muffin mix, canned peaches, sugar, butter, flour, and cinnamon), plus whatever ingredients are listed on the back of your muffin mix of choice. I love the Betty Crocker Wild Blueberry Muffin and Quick Bread Mix, which required two eggs and some oil, but your mix may vary, so don’t forget to pick up those items at the store or grab them from your pantry.

Drain the peaches and the blueberries that come with the muffin mix, rinse the blueberries, and place them on paper towels to dry. I also blotted them off with a paper towel to make sure they were as dry as possible. Set these aside for later to air dry.

This easy crumble topping is perfect for coffee cake, and the best part about the crumble topping is that it’s quick to whip up for anytime you’re making muffins or quick bread. But it is the perfect touch on this coffee cake, too.

You’ll need 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, and 1/2 a teaspoon cinnamon to start out with. Mix those together in a small bowl, then cut in 2 tablespoons of butter until it’s all nice and crumbly… like this:

Nice and crumbly. Set that aside, too.

Mix the muffin mix according to the package directions, omitting the blueberries, since you’re holding those back for the topping. Pour the batter into a greased 9×9 pan.

Now for the fun part. Put your peaches on top of the batter. I decided to dice mine, but you can definitely just put them sliced if you’d like, or purchase pre-diced ones.

Evenly sprinkle the blueberries over the peaches on the batter.

Then finish with your delicious, buttery crumble topping!

Bake the coffee cake at 400 for 25-27 minutes. Dads, if you’re making this with little helpers, this gives you 25-27 minutes to clean up the kitchen!

Check out that delicious goodness… but don’t dig in for about 10-15 minutes.

Serve it with coffee however mom takes it, right there in bed. Delicious!

 

Do you do anything special for your mom for mother’s day? Do your kids do anything for you? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Linking up over at Do Tell Tuesday!

Salsa De Mayo Easy Fruit Salsa

Holy cow. It’s almost May. Seriously? How did it become May already? Just yesterday I was singing Christmas carols, it seemed like.

No. Wait. I literally WAS singing Christmas carols yesterday because I had Spotify on shuffle and couldn’t resist. But maybe it’s the April snowshowers or the Spotify confusion, or maybe it’s just my unwillingness to admit that summer is right around the corner and I still don’t have a bikini body, but it really is May and I’m really, really unprepared.

So, I decided I needed a festive treat for Cinco de Mayo to help get me in the mood for May.

I started by going to the store and buying any fresh fruit that was on sale and could add some color and texture to my special Cinco de Mayo fruit salsa. My picks were strawberries, plums, kiwifruit, and mangoes, but you pick whatever your family likes. Personally, I thought these tasted really great together and looked a lot like ACTUAL pico de gallo when chopped up.

So growing up, we were always pretty convinced that Cinco de Mayo was the Mexican Independence Day (or if you’re my dad, it’s the day the Titanic sank carrying a big load of Mayonnaise meant for the Mexicans, and they were so upset over the loss, that they mourned with a holiday– the Sink-o de Mayo).  However, it’s not either of those things. Cinco de Mayo, which is actually more of an American holiday than a Mexican one, is the commemoration of the cause of freedom during the early years of the Civil War in America for Mexican-American communities in the West, a way of celebrating Mexican heritage and pride, and a way to celebrate Mexico beating the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862, on, you guessed it…. May 5.

To start a good fruit salsa, just peel and dice your first fruit really finely. I decided to start with a mango. I used 1, but you just add as many of them as you want for the amount of fruit salsa you plan on eating. You’ll know a mango is ripe when it gets that pretty red color on the outside, and when it’s firm, but not squishy (overripe). You’ll want to make the dices very small– the same way you would want your pieces if you were eating a regular salsa, so you can fit a lot onto a chip. Unless you’re a dipper and not a scooper, in which case, you are salsa-ing all wrong.

While making the salsa, I got curious. What was the Battle of Puebla? I mean, Cinco de Mayo NOT being Mexican Independence Day (which is actually on September 16) kind of blew my mind, and I wanted to find out more info. Basically, after the Mexican-American war in 1846-48… AND the MExican Civil War of 1858… AND the 1860 Reform Wars… the Mexican Treasury was super broke. Like bankrupt broke. The president of Mexico at the time decided to just suspend all of the payments on debt that was owed to other countries. Because hey, no money. So France, Britain, and Spain were VERY much not cool with getting no money. I mean, it’s the equivalent of loaning your kid brother lunch money day after day after day, and him giving it away, and then when it’s time for him to pay you back, he says “Uh… yeah, maybe in 2 years, bro.” You’d totally want to beat him up, right? Well, Britain and Spain talked to Mexico, negotiated, and left, figuring things out. But Napoleon III of France was like, “No way, dude.” He wanted a Mexico that would be favorable to France, and moved his troops right in, storming Veracruz.

Taking a break from the very intense history lesson I was getting, I started dicing my plum. To add a little color and texture, I left the skin on this one… you do what you like, and remove that skin if you’d prefer. To me, it was easier, and looked way prettier in the finished product.

Again, you want really small dices!

After the plum dicing, I realized I wanted to know more. I mean, they stormed Veracruz… but then what? Turns out that the French force was so intense that the president of Mexico, and his government, took off and retreated, basically letting the French gain a lot of ground. However, the Mexicans near Puebla were not cool with this, and said “No! You’re not getting in here, dudes.” The French army was big, strong, and had 8,000 people. It was literally considered THE best army. In the world. Anywhere. The Mexicans really didn’t stand a chance… there were 4,500 of them, and they were poorly equipped. No way they’d be able to beat France’s best army ever… things just didn’t look good for the Mexicans.

I was plagued with the feeling of impeding doom for the Mexican army… or, as impending as something that happened like 150 years ago could be… so I decided to take another break from my history lesson to dice up the kiwifruit. Tossing it into the fruit salad, it was almost done… but it looks like it needs something else, yeah? This isn’t quite enough like pico de gallo in looks to me…

Then, I just had to keep reading to see what happened next for the Mexicans vs. the French.

Somehow, against all odds, the Mexicans CRUSHED the French in the battle on May 5, 1862! It was a great morale boost, and the Mexicans celebrated! Call it stereotypical of me, but I get mental images of that taco shell commercial where they’re all lifting the girl on their shoulders and cheering. The Puebla victory was a huge deal! Not only was the battle the first time that the French army had been defeated in more than 50 years, but it was also the last time that a country in the Americas was invaded by European military force.

I cheered for the Mexican Army as I sliced strawberries to add to my festive fruit salsa. It would add the perfect red color to it as a finishing touch!

However, I was pretty dismayed to find out that not long after the great victory, the French defeated the Mexicans, winning the war, and establishing Emperor Maximilian I as the ruler in Mexico. Luckily for my love of underdog stories, that was a short-lived victory. The French were in power only 3 years before the US started giving more help politically and militarily so Mexico could get rid of the French. When the United States finished their own Civil War, they had the opportunity to give that money to Mexico, and it scared the French, who decided to give up and let the Mexican president return and re-organize his government once again.

My fruit salsa was finally complete, and the Mexicans were back in power after the French invasion. Thank goodness.

But then I started finding out that, had the Civil War not ended, or had the French gotten the chance, they would have pushed farther into the States, backing the Confederacy, and quite possibly changing the United States as we know it! Can you imagine what might have happened had France won the battle, defeating Mexico at Puebla, and then marching their way into the South? The United States may have stayed divided! That’s what makes Cinco de Mayo such an important holiday in the United States, as well. In fact, the Mexicans barely even celebrate it, with it being an official holiday in Puebla and Veracruz, but not in the rest of Mexico! Today, though, Cinco de Mayo celebrations can be found around the world, in Canada, the Caribbean, Australia, Japan, and ironically, even France.

When looking for the perfect vessel to get the yummy fruit salsa into my tummy, I knew that these Taco Bell Cinnamon Nacho chips from the Cinnamon Nacho Dessert kit would be perfect! Intended to be served with ice cream, I decided to shake it up, set the included caramel aside to enjoy at a later date, and just enjoy the chips with my fruit salsa. I even sprinkled the included toffee bits over the top as I indulged in the delicious Fruit Salsa with Cinnamon Chips.

It is the PERFECT snack for Cinco de Mayo, no matter what country you’re celebrating from!

 

Do you want some helpful tips on easy cleanup from all your peels and pits while making the fruit salsa, and a fun way to use up and leftover fruit salsa? Don’t forget to follow @jengerbread88 on Instagram to find these two great tips appearing later today! Not an Instagram user? That’s okay, they’ll be on the DigitalEraMom facebook page, too, which you can access by “liking” it in the sidebar!

 

Do you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Let me know how you celebrate in the comments below!

 

Pigs In a Blanket: 3 New Twists!

It seems like we have a ton of cool holidays that we celebrate… I mean, Easter, Fourth of July, Christmas, National Pigs in a Blanket Day….

…yes, you heard me right. It’s a thing. In fact, it’s coming up this week, April 24! Who doesn’t love pigs in a blanket? Well, except maybe the vegetarian/vegan crowd… Those delicious hot dogs, rolled up in a perfect Pillsbury crescent roll, baked until golden… just perfection right there!

So, I started off with some crescent rolls, and in honor of Pigs In a Blanket Day, I decided it’s time to get creative.

I like the Pillsbury ones because they always seem to bake perfectly every time. Save the package, because your baking instructions for each of these pigs in a blanket are right there on the package– you bake them just like you would crescent rolls by themselves.

First up, Piglets in Blankies! These are going to be the most similar to what you know and love about pigs in a blanket, just smaller and a little snazzier. These are adorable, and, while of course they’re great for dinner, these would also be a delicious appetizer for a big game, a great party snack, or an easy lunch.

Start by cutting your crescent rolls in half lengthwise. Because you’ll be using Lil Smokies instead of a full-length hot dog, you’ll want a smaller crescent roll, basically.

Spread your crescent roll with some honey barbecue (or your favorite barbecue sauce of choice), and then a drizzle of mustard. Even if you aren’t a mustard fan, I promise it adds an amazing tang that can’t be beat! Roll up your Lil Smokie in the crescent.

Get your finger just barely wet with water, wet the top of the crescent, then sprinkle some sesame seeds on top. In the same way that a Sesame Seed Bun just makes a burger better, these delicious piglets get an extra snappy beat from the sesame seeds on top. They’re just that extra cute touch that makes these even better.

Bake these according to the package directions on the crescent rolls, and serve.

Yum! And oh-so-cute!

Aren’t chili dogs just the best? I love them so much; in fact, I’m hard-pressed to eat a hot dog unless it’s in a pig in a blanket or a chili dog. This is the best of both worlds by being equally chili dog AND pig in a blanket, and since the chili was so nice and messy, I decided to call them Pigs in Muddy Blankets. What pig doesn’t love mud to cool off?

Now, I’ll just say it here. If you’d rather use your own homemade chili here, you absolutely can. To make it easier on myself, I decided to use a can of Hormel Chili with beans and meat.

Start by cutting your hotdog in half lengthwise. Not only will you get more pigs in a blanket using fewer dogs, but it’ll help keep the chili from squeezing out. Next to it, place a generous spoonful of chili.

Sprinkle with cheese. I used a cheddar and Monterrey jack blend. Roll the muddy blankets up and bake according to the crescent roll package directions.

Before you serve them, top them like you would any chili dog. I personally love diced onions and even more cheese!

Finally, I have to share my personal favorite, pigs in sombreros. Now, I might blow your mind just a little bit because, well… there’s no hot dog in this one. But that’s okay! They’re delicious nonetheless.

Instead, the traditional hot dog is replaced entirely by taco meat! So, start by browning some hamburger and seasoning it the way you would for tacos. I personally like to go easy and use the Old El Paso packet and just follow the directions on the back, because hey, easy!

Place a large spoonful of taco meat on the wide part of your crescent roll.

Then, add diced onions and your favorite taco blend, Mexican blend, or pepper jack cheese. I personally like Kraft’s Mexican Blend.

Now, form the sombrero. You wrap the two wide corners in towards the middle, overlapping a bit and covering the taco meat and cheese. Then, take the long point and wrap it up and over the overlapped part, tucking it under the top edge of the crescent roll.

It’ll form a cute little pocket like this! Bake it according to the crescent roll package directions until golden brown.

Before serving, deck out your pigs in sombreros with typical taco toppings– lettuce, tomato, sour cream, extra cheese, salsa, whatever you’d like!

There you have it! 3 delicious ways to try a new take on Pigs in a Blanket to celebrate Pigs in a Blanket Day this week!

 

Do you do Pigs in a Blanket a certain way at your house? What sides do you like with it? And which of the above three ways do you most want to try? Let me know in the comments below! Have a great Pigs in a Blanket Day!

Watermelon Quick Bread (Or How To Make a Sweet Bread out of ANY Cake Mix!)

I’ve mentioned a lot lately how much I love spring. It’s that 70 degree weather and the delicious seasonal foods that appear in stores about this time, for sure. So the other day, I was shopping at Target, wandering the store the way I do… you know how you go into Target for one thing and there’s that unspoken law that you can’t leave without spending $50 even if you went in for just one $5 item? Yeah, so, I was wandering. And stumbled upon a Target exclusive.

Oh my goodness, Target, you kill me with those exclusives…

Betty Crocker got sneaky and made a WATERMELON cake mix. And frosting to go with it. And oh my goodness, this cake mix, it’s just like a watermelon. But like, in cake form. Psht, like I needed another excuse to eat cake!

So I gathered my Betty Crocker Watermelon Cake mix, a box of Jello Instant Vanilla Pudding, 4 eggs, 1 cup of water, and 1/2 cup oil, then preheated my oven to 350.

Now, I want to tell you here, I used the Watermelon Cake mix because I really wanted to have that amazing watermelon bread flavor. The vanilla pudding compliments that well, but you can use literally any flavor of pudding and cake mix. Want chocolate bread? Try chocolate cake and chocolate pudding. Want chocolate covered strawberry? Use a strawberry mix and chocolate pudding. Want lemon? Use lemon cake mix and lemon pudding and add some poppyseeds… or, use lemon cake and vanilla pudding for a lighter flavor. The sky is the limit!

But for today– Watermelon Cake Mix, Vanilla pudding. Everybody still tracking along?

Put your dry ingredients in the bowl, then add in your wet ingredients while mixing.

Aww, look at all of the fun “seeds” in the watermelon mix! This is a good time to mention that, while these great black seed bits came in the mix, you CAN add in mix-ins like chocolate chips or poppyseeds when making a cake mix quick bread. Use your imagination!

 

I divided my batter among 4 mini loaf pans, but you can make two regular loaves instead. I like mini loaves because they’re so cute, and great for sharing! The baking time should stay the same or increase just slightly if you’re using the regular loaf pans. Always insert a toothpick or use your method of choice to check for doneness!

Bake at 350 for 35 minutes, or until edges are golden. Then, cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes to an hour before slicing and serving. See, breads will continue to bake just slightly after removed from the oven, so cooling them before slicing allows that soft center to get fully cooked.

Cake mix quick breads are great because they use ingredients people usually keep on hand, and they’re so easy to take to friends or family, serve as a breakfast or dessert, and are just a great treat.

The best thing about the Watermelon quick bread is it’s delicious watermelon flavor that tastes so true to the actual fruit. This is the moistest sweet bread you’ll ever taste!

 

What cake mix/pudding combo would you try in your Cake Mix Quick Bread? 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!