quick and easy

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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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!

Southwest Chicken and Rice Bake

I like easy dinners. I mean really easy dinners. With Jeffrey playing soccer non-stop, Zach having a great Music and Movement class, and all of the other day-to-day life, sometimes it is almost dinner time and I’ve forgotten to even think about dinner. It has nothing to do with me having trouble putting down the book I’m reading or anything. It’s totally everyone’s schedules. I swear.

Anyway, this dinner is so ridiculously easy that I can’t believe I didn’t make it sooner.

Start out with three-ish chicken breasts. It’s not an exact science. I used 3 because I had 3 thawed, but if they’re really big, use two. If they’re tiny, use more. You’ll also need 3 bags of Birds Eye Steamfresh Specially Seasoned Southwestern Style Rice. It is seasoned, and has bell peppers, onions, and corn already in it. You’ll also want to check into Campbell’s Great for Cooking Soups– a can of Cream of Chicken and a can of Cheddar Cheese soup are perfect. Add in a drained can of Rotel and you’re golden. I used Mild Rotel because my family just can’t take the spice, but if your family is able to handle it, by all means, load that puppy up with some Hot Rotel (or at least Original).

Cook the chicken fully, then shred it into bite-sized pieces.

Pour the still-frozen rice in and break it up. Yes, it will be a little bit icy– that’s part of how it steams. This will cook into the food when you bake the dish. Now, mix in your chicken.

You’re on the home stretch now with this dish… stir in the two great for cooking soups and the drained Rotel, then pop the casserole in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes, until the casserole is hot and bubbly.

It serves 6-8 people, and it’s so quick and easy to make that you’ll be out of the kitchen and back to reading… I mean, uh, driving the kids around to all of their stuff… in a heartbeat.

Love easy recipes? Try my Tuscan Sausage and Bean Soup, Pollo Magnifico Freezer Meal, or Hearty Cheeseburger Soup!

What’s your go-to “I forgot to cook dinner!” recipe? Share it in the comments below!