Thursday, June 14, 2018

Easy Meals and Remembering to Plan

I often don't think to menu plan.  More often than not I find myself on a giant trip to the store- often rushed and frantically crammed in between the end of class and picking kids up from school- restocking things I need and buying whatever meats happen to be on sale that week and then backtracking from there to figure out what I can make with them once I get home.

The problem with that is that while it's great to have a freezer full of meat I often find myself having to make multiple small trips to the store for whatever other ingredients I need to go with it.

Do you ever feel like you live at the grocery store?
I do.  I'm there way too often.  They know me.

When I actually stop to think ahead and plan out menus and shopping lists life gets much easier.  I may not know exactly what I'm making each night but I do have a set of recipes for the week to choose from and already know that all of my ingredients are on hand.  I should really do that more often than I do!

One thing that I have noticed about myself and my menus is that I often overestimate the amount of food my family is willing and able to eat and plan for a few too many meals without taking into account the number of leftovers we will need to work through.
It's because of this that I've learned to make sure that a couple of the meals I plan for the week consist entirely of dry and freezer goods.  That way if I don't happen to get to them like I thought I would I still have the ingredients on hand for the next week and I'm not fishing mushy produce out of the fridge and grumbling about the waste.

This Ham and Broccoli Bake found its way onto my menu a couple of weeks ago.  It caught my eye since it was made entirely of some of my daughter's favorite foods- Alfredo sauce (remember that Peppered Shrimp Alfredo I wrote about last month?), ham, pasta, and broccoli.

Super simple and absolutely nothing she could complain about.
It was definitely a bonus that, with the exception of the ham, which I could slip in the freezer until I was ready for it, this was one of those recipes that would be ok if I didn't get around to making it in a timely manner.
Which- big shock!- I did not.
So, one busy weeknight when I was scrambling for a simple meal, I already had all of these ingredients on hand!

This really is a super simple recipe.  I didn't change much other than switching out cavatappi for the rotini (because as we already know, cavatappi is the world's best pasta shape, right?) and upping the creamy factor a little.  It went over so well.

Happy family, happy Nora.

14 oz whole wheat rotini pasta (or whatever pasta you prefer)
1 (10 oz) package frozen broccoli
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 C diced fully cooked ham
1 (15 ounce) jar Alfredo sauce
1 1/2 C milk
1 C Velveeta, cubed
1 C shredded Colby-Monterey Jack cheese
Ground black pepper to taste
1/4 C grated or shaved parmesan
1/4 C panko

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish.

2. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil; cook the pasta in the boiling water, stirring occasionally, until tender but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Drain.
3. Thaw the broccoli in a microwave oven until you can break it apart into small pieces.
4. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook and stir the diced ham in the hot oil until the edges start to brown, about 10 minutes.  Add broccoli and warm through, discard any excess water from pan.  Pour in the jar of Alfredo sauce, milk, Velveeta, Colby-Monterey Jack, and black pepper; stir to blend and cook until melted and combined.  Stir in the cooked pasta.

5. Spread the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish and bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes.  Remove baking dish from oven, top with parmesan and panko, return to oven until the casserole is hot and the topping is starting to brown, about 20 minutes.  May finish under broiler if desired.

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