When You Just Have to “Wing it”

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Our favorite Pasta Roni variety!

I have two very, very picky little brothers.  Well, little is relative: one is fifteen and taller than me, the other is eight and almost as tall as me.  Picky is no exaggeration, though; these boys will not eat ANYTHING, especially the older one (the kid won’t eat pizza or hamburgers, for starters).

We are home alone a lot in the summer, since my parents work, so we often have to fend for ourselves for lunch.  When I don’t feel like trying very hard, or paying to take them out to lunch, there’s one trick I’ve found to be a popular favorite and it only takes about five minutes to make.  It comes in very handy when all you can hear is a whiny chorus of “I’m hungryyyyyy.”

Ever heard of Pasta Roni?  My brothers absolutely love the stuff, and it comes in really handy when we don’t have the time or ingredients for homemade creamy pasta.  It doesn’t taste half bad, and the Angel Hair varieties only take 4-5 minutes to cook.  We like the Pasta with Herbs and Parmesan Cheese varieties, and all you have to do is follow the directions right on the box – just add butter, milk, and water.

For those quick lunches, I like to cook 2 boxes of Pasta Roni and grill up some Tyson frozen chicken (not the breaded strips kind, the grilled chicken breast kind).  I cook both, spicing the chicken with a bit of garlic powder, salt, pepper, and whatever else is sitting in the front of the spice cabinet.  When they’re done cooking, I just cut the chicken up into bite size pieces and mix it into the pasta.

This isn’t a truly homemade lunch, but the boys love it and it is super quick to make.  And since you can get boxes of Pasta Roni on sale for $1 each or less, it’s a pretty good bang for your buck.

I prefer to make my own homemade creamy pasta sauce, but this works well for two picky boys who look at anything unfamiliar like it’s alive and going to crawl off of the plate at any moment.

Microwave Hash Brown Casserole

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This was the first time I cooked this dish – for a dorm friendly food contest. It won 2nd place!

Today, I have been making a lot of preparations for my return to school in August.  I submitted my early move-in request, signed up to volunteer for freshman move-in and work the Strong Women Strong Girls table at the Activity Fair, and sent my RSVP to the Service Learning Partnership Orientation for the class I will be TAing in the fall (I like to do it all!).

Doing all this college-y stuff has inspired me to share a college girl friendly recipe for the day.  I love this recipe because it’s easy, inexpensive, and it can be cooked in the microwave! (Good news for anyone living in a traditional dorm).  I made it quite a few times during my freshman year, and even submitted it in a contest where it won 2nd place!

So here it is, Microwave Hash Brown Casserole!

Ingredients:
2 cups frozen tater tots
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup each chopped bell pepper and onion
1/2 medium sized ham steak, diced
1/3 cup grated cheddar cheese (or your favorite grated blend – I like the Kraft Four Cheese Mexican!)
Salt and pepper

Preparation: 

(Quick note: I like to make this dish in a round Pyrex glass bowl.  The four cup one is the perfect size and it transitions easily from microwave to refrigerator if there are leftovers.)

1.  Start with your tater tots in a medium sized microwavable dish.  Add chicken broth and microwave on high for five minutes.
2.  Remove from microwave and stir together until broth disappears completely and the tater tots lose their individual form.  Add onion and pepper; stir together and microwave on high for another five minutes.
3. Remove and add ham.  Lightly salt and pepper, and stir again.  Layer cheese on top of the dish; you can add more or less than the suggested amount to taste.  Microwave for 2-3 minutes, or until cheese is melted.
4.  Give it one more good stir, and serve.

This works as a great dinner for 1 or 2 people to share, or a side dish for 3-4 people (I like to omit the ham if I’m cooking it as a side).  Also tastes great with bacon bits!

Another quick note: measurements are not super important for this recipe.  I pretty much eyeball everything, and just cut up whatever pepper and onion I happen to have on hand at the time.  As long as your tater tot to broth ratio is good, you will have a perfect, dorm friendly microwave casserole!

Happy Eating!