Friday, March 28, 2014

Pizza Casserole

We eat a lot of pizza at our house, in many forms; frozen, homemade, pannini style.  We might be caught throwing a few slices of pepperoni on a sandwich.  We like pizza.

This is our FAVORITE casserole, because it's a pizza casserole.  Duh.  It's one of those recipes you can mess with a little and it will still turn out; add some veggies, use different kinds of pasta, mix up what cheeses you use, anything to make it what YOU are craving.  The next time I make it I plan to switch out the ground meat with diced cooked chicken, use Alfredo sauce rather than pizza sauce, and substitute a mix of ricotta and Parmesan for the tomato paste and sauce.  It probably won't be any good.

Since this makes a big pan, we save a few pieces for lunch the next day, and the rest goes in the freezer.  If it makes it that far.

Pizza Casserole (printable version)
1 pound ground beef, turkey, or ground pork, any combination equaling 1 lb ground meat
1 medium white or yellow onion, finely chopped, or 2 tsp. dried onion flakes
Salt and pepper
1 box of pasta (12-16 oz.) (I use Farfalle, Rotelle, or Penne Rigate)
One 15 oz. can pizza sauce
One 4 oz. can tomato paste
One 24 oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
One 7 oz. pkg pepperoni slices (7 oz. pkg), regular or turkey pepperoni
Optional fillings:  sliced mushrooms, sliced black olives, diced green peppers 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Brown the ground meat with a sprinkling of salt and pepper over medium heat.  Add the 
chopped onion and cook until soft, or add dried onion flakes if using those.  If you are adding
any of the “optional” fillings, add them now.  While this mixture is cooking, boil your pasta of 
choice for 10 minutes until almost al dente.  Drain the pasta.  Return the pasta pot to the stove
and add the browned meat to it. Pour in the pizza sauce, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and dried
oregano.  Stir to combine.  Add the drained pasta and mix together well.

Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray, especially around the upper edges.  Layer half of the
meat/pasta mixture in the bottom of the pan.  Top with a layer of half of the pepperoni, then 

top with half of the mozzarella cheese and half of the cheddar cheese.  Repeat with another 
layer of meat/pasta, pepperoni, and cheeses, then top it all off with the Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 30-40 minutes or until cheese is melted and golden on top and the casserole is 
starting to bubble.  Allow to cool about 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with warm crusty garlic bread and turmeric pickles.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Craving Spring

Right about this time of year I start craving fresh stuff from the garden; lettuce, basil, fresh mint for my tea.  Being able to walk out my back door, across the soft grass, and pick these things at the ready is something I cherish every Summer, knowing that the convenience is fleeting.  In Northern Minnesota we only have about four months (let's be honest) to enjoy this pleasure, but I do my best to freeze or preserve anything and everything I can to savor through the long, cold Winter.

Spring sprang the other day.  The temperature was above freezing, the hardier of our bunch could go outside without a giant insulated parka, and hope was in the air.

Then the next day we got 6 inches of snow.  And so it goes.

Digging through the pantry this weekend I found some canned artichokes, and in the freezer, spinach.  Needing to take a break from dilly beans and frozen sugar snap peas for a while, I decided it was time to whip up some hot spinach artichoke dip and enjoy perhaps one last Winter comfort food before I break out the salad spinner.

I served this with sweet potato chips, so it's healthy, right?  I know, not really, but it was worth every calorie.

Spinach Artichoke Dip        (CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE RECIPE)

1 8 oz. package regular cream cheese, softened
2 cans artichoke hearts in water, drained, and water squeezed out
1 box frozen spinach, thawed and water squeezed out
1 cup Provolone or other cheese of your choice, grated (save about 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top before baking)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
pinch of ground Ancho Chili pepper, or more if you like things spicy

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Chop up the artichokes and spinach and put in a medium bowl.  Add the cream cheese and shredded cheese.  Add pepper, garlic salt, onion powder, cumin, and Ancho Chili pepper.  Mix everything together with a hand mixer, or if you don't have one, work it with a wooden spoon until blended together well.  Spread into a 9" x 1"3 baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Sprinkle the remaining shredded cheese and Parmesan evenly over the top.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until cheese is melted and dip starts to bubble slightly around the edges.  Remove to a cooling rack.  Serve with potato chips, sweet potato chips, or fresh cut veggie sticks.


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