Baked Three Cheese Chicken Pasta – a Make Ahead Meal

This might be the best chicken pasta dish you’ll ever eat.

The chicken was on its last leg.

Well actually, the chicken no longer had legs, as it had already fulfilled its glorious life purpose and had been cooked and made into a rich broth and good healthy meat for my family.

Regardless, legless though he was, the last little bit of cooked chicken in my fridge was indeed on its last leg. It needed to be eaten. It could no longer be left alone…neglected, unused, and unwanted.

(It would appear that, apparently, I felt the need to create some chicken drama when all I really needed to say was:  “I had leftover chicken- so I used it.”  I can’t just be normal. What fun would that be?)

So the chicken – it was begging to be used. I needed a quick lunch for the family. But I needed to make the meal in the morning and have the capability to reheat it quickly at lunch time. Therefore, I decided to play with my Three Cheese Garlic Chicken Pasta recipe and make it into a “Make Ahead Meal“. The chicken and I are happy to report that my idea worked, and the meal was delicious.

Actually, the chicken has nothing at all to report because not only is he not on his last leg anymore, he is officially gone.

Why? Why do I say these things? I’m going to just give you the recipe already before I say anything else ridiculous about the chicken.

Baked Three Cheese Chicken PastaYum

Baked Three Cheese Chicken Pasta - a Make Ahead Meal
 
Author:
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
  • 2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2½ cups whole wheat pasta
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder (add more if you like)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Instructions
  1. In a large cooking pot, combine cooked chicken, uncooked pasta, milk, garlic powder, and sea salt.
  2. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until pasta is tender and the starch from the pasta has thickened the milk, creating a creamy sauce.
  3. Remove cooking pot from the heat.
  4. Stir in parmesan cheese and cream cheese until it is mixed throughout.
  5. Pour pasta mixture into a casserole dish. (A 9x13 inch pan works well, or any variety similar in size.)
  6. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top and bake in a 350° oven for about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

If you make this ahead of time, you may need to adjust the baking time so that the casserole will be heated through and through. Also, you can freeze this dish! Simply thaw and bake in a 350° oven for 30-40 minutes.

Baked Three Cheese Chicken Pasta

All this talk about chickens and legs kind of has me hungry for fried chicken legs, which pretty much makes no sense – unless you are in my brain and then it does make sense. Oh people. Be glad you are not in my brain. It is not pretty.

So tell me, what do you do when your chicken is on its last leg? (Yes, I think I am actually talking about leftovers here.)

The Traveling Casserole

When we travel, I always pack quite a bit of food. This takes some effort when you’re getting ready to go on a trip, but we find the work is worth it as we save a lot of money on eating out. Plus, it’s a lot easier on our systems. (Don’t even get me started.)

Aside from good ol’ sandwiches, here are some other food items that we have found travel well:

In January, after our 3,800 mile road trip, you could say that we were just a little bit tired of traveling and eating in the car. We’d eaten packed food, fast food, snack food and well…a few too many beans. Vegetable soup and salad from the comfort of our own kitchen had never sounded better.

And yet, just three days after our return home, we needed to make a two hour (one way) trip to one of Asa’s basketball games. Matt and I tried not to groan as we discussed our food plan for the day. The idea of eating out or eating concession food made us turn green. Packing sandwiches didn’t appeal to us in the slightest. Nothing sounded good. Even the kids, who normally think eating out or having sandwiches and chips is a big treat, curled their upper lips at us.

What to do…what to do…because we did need food.

Enter….The Traveling Casserole:

I’ve gotta say…I’d never thought of this idea before. (I didn’t think of it this time either…it was Matt’s brilliant idea.)  He dug out the very cool Pyrex Dish with Insulated Carrier that someone had given us as a gift. Why couldn’t we just make a “real meal” and keep it warm in this until we were ready to eat?

Did I mention that my husband is brilliant?

One of the boys suggested Cheesy Beef and Ricealso brilliant.   Cheesy Beef and Rice is not messy or runny or gooey or likely to cause stains on basketball uniforms.

I made it, baked it and packed it up just before time to leave. I grabbed a serving spoon, some paper plates and plastic forks….tossed in some yogurt and fruit and we were good to go.

When we were ready to eat, I just served up paper plates and passed them to the back of the van. Not one bit of casserole was left at the end of the night…and not one of us was whining about having a stomach ache or about having to eat a sandwich…again.

So…all that to say…think outside the box just a little bit when packing food for trips. There is no limit to the traveling food ideas.

Except for I don’t think I’d ever want to pack spaghetti. Or anything you’d have to eat with chop sticks.

Like we ever even eat with chop sticks when we’re at home at the table?

I have no idea why I just said that.

What are  your favorite travel foods?

Always Label Your Frozen Food – UPDATED! :)

We are having an unidentified casserole for lunch today. Sounds delicious doesn’t it?

I made it during one of my recent freezer cooking days, but I didn’t label it. Why didn’t I label it?  Good question. I think I didn’t label it because I figured we’d eat it within a couple of weeks and I’d remember what it was. But we didn’t eat it within a couple of weeks and my brain has blocked out that memory and now I have no idea what it is.

Any ideas?

unknown_casserole

I’m thinking it might be beef enchiladas, but I’m not sure. 

So, my encouragement for you today is to always label your frozen food. It helps you know what you’re eating. Duh.

Now, I also recommend that you re-use your freezer bags if possible. The labeling of freezer bags, however, can become an issue when you re-use them. 

Case in point:  I once filled a freezer bag with bean and cheese burritos. I labeled the bag “bean and cheese”. Later I re-used the bag store zucchini bread. I knew what it was, but of course no one else did. My husband got ready to slice some for breakfast the next day and glanced down at the bag to see what kind of bread he was to be eating. He looked at the label and of course it said, “bean and cheese”. I think he might have jumped back in shock. Sorry, Honey.

I hereby resolve to become better at labeling my frozen foods. 

Would you like an update on the identification of the unidentified casserole after lunch today?
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UPDATE!!

Sure enough…it was beef enchiladas. Once I could smell what it was while it baked in the oven, I had just enough time to make a taco salad and lunch was served. Hey, sometimes surprises are fun, right?