Friday, August 30, 2013

Foodie Friday – Beef Pasta Bake

I am having a great time in California so far (and I’ve been here less than 12 hours by the time this posts!) Today’s Foodie Friday is a guest post by one of my local BRF’s (Best Running Friends), Jill!!
I love to cook and bake, but I don't always have plenty of time. I'm a mom to a very active 4yo daughter, and it wasn't long after she turned 1yo that I realized everything had to be stream lined. I like to be efficient and have the least bit of dishes to wash after I'm finished. When I was introduced to the "Don't Panic Dinner's in the Freezer" books I was thrilled.

If you're not familiar with these cook books, they offer delicious recipes you can make in bulk quantities to freeze and have on hand later. All the complication is removed! You don't have to do any math for doubling/tripling measurements. There are explanations on how to freeze your meals and how long to keep meals frozen. These recipes are great if both husband and wife work full-time leaving minimal time for dinner preparation and great for families, so cooking can be done in advance leaving more quality family time. I have made a few of my favorite recipes enough to tweak them from the original.

This Beef Pasta Bake has become one of my favorites to make. It is an easy recipe to multiply so I can make a lot at once and it stacks nicely in my freezer. It is my "go to" meal when I want to deliver a meal to a family transitioning to a new baby or such. Honestly, this would be something great to make ahead in bulk and be a staple to throw into your menu planning every other week. When I deliver it to a new or new again mom, I tell them it's similar to a Stouffer's Lasagna except that it's homemade and you can personalize it a bit to your preference (examples: possibly organic vegetables or whole grain pasta). Since all the ingredients are listed in different quantities, you can also take advantage of bulk shopping at Costco or Sam's Club.


I always start out chopping the vegetables. Onion first, so it can start to sauté in a bit of olive oil with the garlic. Depending on your preference, I think you can go heavy or light on the onion or garlic (we usually are heavier on the garlic).
I add the ground beef to the onion/garlic pan and cook until the beef is no longer pink. I usually by the leaner ground beef so I have less fat to drain off. As the ground beef cooks, I have some time to chop up the green pepper and start the pasta.
Once your ground meat is fully cooked, you'll want to drain off all the excess fat. Return the ground meat mixture to your original pan then add the spaghetti sauce and garlic salt - let it all simmer for at least 10 minutes. If time is a bit tight, I have paused here and put the entire cooled mixture into the refrigerator overnight. (If you do decide to split up your cooking days, chop your bell pepper and cook the pasta on the following day.)
I pay close attention to the bowtie pasta as it cooks, as I like to keep them al dente (slightly under cooked because they will cook more when they bake). As soon as they are ready I'll strain the pasta and stir in some olive oil so it doesn't end up a sticky mess. (I round up when it comes to the pasta, I do not measure it but will round up based on how the pasta is sold. The recipe calls for 2 cups uncooked bowtie pasta which is 16oz if you're preparing the basic recipe.)

In a separate bowl, combine the cream cheese and milk and microwave for 1-2min. Personally, I love to use Pampered Chef's small micro cooker for this.  While the recipe only calls for 6oz of cream cheese, it is sold in 8oz blocks, so I use the entire 8oz when I prepare this recipe. Since I usual make the X3 recipe, I will microwave in three rounds so the cream cheese and milk can heat evenly then I'll pour into a larger bowl to then combine with sour cream and Parmesan cheese. Once all your cheesy mixture is well combined, add the green pepper in.
There are options when it comes to the green pepper. First, you can mix in the chopped green pepper as the recipe suggests. Second, you can leave out the green pepper. Or third, you can sauté the chopped green pepper in some olive oil before combining it with the cheesy mixture. This is completely up to you and your family!

I use disposable aluminum 8x8 pans since this is my go-to delivery meal for other families. I don’t have to worry about getting my Pyrex dishes back and the family doesn't have to worry about clean-up. Whether disposable or not, spoon the cheesy mixture into the bottom of your casserole dish. I use a smaller ladle for this so I can make sure to get an equal amount of cheesiness to each pan. Once all the cheesy mixture is evenly distributed, I'll do the same with the bowtie pasta making sure to evenly cover. I'll then use a larger ladle to cover the pasta with the meat sauce. Top off with a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese (this is also not something I measure).
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As you can see, if you make the X3 recipe amounts you'll end up with SIX 8x8 pans. This Beef Pasta Bake is delicious and while this recipe is a bit labor intensive with a good bit of clean up, it is completely worth it for the amount of food I can prepare at one time. I cover each aluminum pan with foil, then slide into a gallon Ziploc bag (label the bag using a Sharpie while it's still empty with the name of the meal and the date so you don't forget what's in your freezer or how long it's been in there).
When you're ready to cook your Beef Pasta Bake, you have two options. You can let the frozen Beef Pasta Bake thaw overnight in the refrigerator before cooking at 350 for 25-30 minutes, covered. Uncover and bake for 5-10 more minutes, until bubbly. If you're busy and frazzled like me, you can also toss it straight into the oven completely frozen! I drop the oven temperature to 300 and bake the frozen Beef Pasta Bake covered for 60-90 minutes - think "low and slow". 

I hope you'll consider adding this recipe to your menu planning, it might just become your favorite "go to" meal on busy days as the temperatures start to drop over the next month or so. Let me know what you think!
Thanks so much for guest posting on my blog, Jill!!  I will definitely be giving this a try!
Jill is training for runDisney’s inaugural Dopey Challenge.  If you haven’t heard about it, it’s 48.6 miles over 4 days!  She’s also raising money for St. Jude’s.  Check out her blog and other social media outlets!

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Tomorrow morning is the first half to completing the Dumbo Double Dare….the Disneyland 10k!  Make sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as I will be updating along the course!

Until next time,
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