I am just watching, and waiting.
Five nights ago, one little boy spent the whole night launching his leftovers, and, if everyone I know on Facebook is to be believed, with a family of six we aren’t getting off that easy. So far, the baby has a terrible-but-only-occasional barking cough, and no one else has given in to the urge to hug the toilet. But, Carl left yesterday and I’m on my own, so I figure it’s really only a matter of time now.
Better to prepare for the worst and be pleasantly surprised at getting any sleep than to hope for the best and be mad about barf, right?
Times like these call for freezer meals, and I’m relieved to report I had some stashed away in case I went into a cooking funk while Carl was away. Ok, that’s not even an “in case”; I totally lose motivation to cook when Carl isn’t here. If only my kids got excited about things like grilled cheese and chicken nuggets, you can bet we’d be eating like that every night. Unfortunately, literally no one likes chicken nuggets, and they are all huge fans of multi-dish meals involving things like broccoli, potatoes, asparagus and Caesar salad. While this is normally a fantastic trait in children, when mom feels like making dinner from a box the options are limited. We have two pancake lovers, two omelette lovers, one Kraft Dinner lover (that one’s me ;)), but the only easy dinner everyone agrees on is noodles.
We all love noodles, and this dish is no exception.
Ham is one of those meats I love to buy on sale because there is so. much. meat on them and I can bag up meal-sized portions for days. But ham is also a meat I often run stuck on ideas for. We love this lasagna with ham in place of chicken, and we bake it in taquitos, but otherwise it always winds up in fettucine alfredo or on pizza. Now, neither of those is a bad option, don’t get me wrong, but I’m always looking for something new to add to the meal plan. As soon as I saw a version of this casserole on Erin’s blog, I knew it was a must-make.
We’ve had this a few times now and, to be fair, I’m the only one who liked this with apples – everyone else in the family liked it much better without. But then, I love ham smothered in applesauce, so the apples totally worked for me. Sage isn’t an herb I cook with a lot, and it was good, but this is just as good with thyme, rosemary, or a combination of your favourite herbs.
For us, this made enough for two meals when served with salad and breadsticks, and I love meals that leave me with one for the freezer. The sauce is perfectly creamy without being too heavy and the crumb topping is totally optional – it is just as good replaced with a sprinkling of cheese. You can add spinach, mushrooms, peppers…whatever you like in your casseroles! I tend to go light on the veggies and serve with a salad because my kids like food with only obvious ingredients.
Basically what I’m saying is, don’t take this recipe, or me, very seriously. Flexibility is where it’s at.
- 1 lb / 450 g (approx) dry pasta (I use about 4-5 cups dry rotini)
- 1½ cups cooked, cubed ham
- 2 medium sweet apples, cored and diced (optional)
- ⅓ cup loosely packed sage leaves, thinly sliced
- 3 Tbsp butter
- ½ an onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 2½ cups milk
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ cup low fat sour cream
- 1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
- TOPPING (optional):
- 1 cup Panko bread crumbs mixed with 3 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. LIghtly grease a 9x13-inch or similar size casserole dish, or two smaller ones, depending on your family.
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a large, deep pan over medium heat. Add onion and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Whisk in flour and garlic until all butter is absorbed and flour is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Gradually pour in milk, whisking until smooth. Bring sauce to a gentle simmer and let thicken, whisking frequently, for about 7 minutes. Turn off heat, then whisk in salt, sour cream, cheddar and sage.
- When the pasta is ready, combine it with the sauce, apples, and ham, tossing to coat evenly. Transfer to prepared baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumb mixture, if using. (If freezing, do NOT put bread crumb mixture on).
- Bake for 15 minutes, until heated through and bread crumbs are golden. If they aren't crisping up enough for you, broil on high for 1-2 minutes. Serve hot.
To use: thaw overnight in refrigerator. Add bread crumb mixture right before baking, if desired. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, removing foil for last 10 minutes of baking time and broiling for an additional 1-2 minutes if necessary to toast bread crumbs.
What are your favourite things to cook for just one adult and a bunch of kids, half of whom don’t eat meat? I’m working on a single-parent meal plan and coming up short.
Adapted from Well Plated.