This is one of my family's favorite and easiest bulk meal prep meals. I cook once and have at least 2 family dinners out of it, sometimes 3 or 4. I made sure to have a couple of batches of this in the freezer for when baby arrived too. It's also an incredibly easy recipe to modify. You can use whole wheat pasta, gluten free pasta and swap in ground beef for the turkey. You could also use nutritional yeast as a substitute for the cheese if you want to make it dairy free.
I like to use a cast iron skillet when I stir fry the meat and veggies together because then I can just slide that same skillet into the oven for the batch that I'm going to use for dinner that same night once I add in the pasta and cheese. Less dishes are always a win!
Here's what you'll need for this simple family crowd pleaser!
-2 x 1 lb boxes of pasta
-1 package of frozen, chopped spinach or 2-3 cups fresh spinach
-1-1 1/2 lb of lean ground turkey
-2 x 28 oz cans tomato sauce plus 1-2 cups additional sauce for topping when baking - each dish
-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese plus additional for topping when baking each dish
-2 tsp garlic powder
-2 tsp oregano
Prepare the pasta according to the package directions While the pasta is cooking, spray a skillet with non-stick cooking spray, heat on medium heat and add the ground turkey to the heated skillet. Pan fry the turkey until fully cooked and there is no pink meat throughout. Drain the turkey of any excess water. Prepare the frozen spinach in the microwave or on the stove top based on the directions on the package. Once the spinach is cooked, drain of any excess water and use a fork to separate all of the spinach and ensure it is not frozen anywhere in the middle. If using fresh spinach, add it to the turkey and stir fry until cooked and significantly reduced in volume.
Once the pasta is cooked, strain to remove the water and return the pasta to the large pot. Add in the turkey, spinach, 2 large cans of tomato sauce, the garlic powder and oregano. Stir until well combined. Add in 2 cups of shredded cheese and stir again. Prepare 2 casserole dishes by spraying with non-stick cooking spray and pour half of the pasta into each prepared dish. For the dish you are cooking now, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, spread an additional 1-2 cups of sauce on top and sprinkle some extra cheese on top. Cover & bake for 30-40 minutes until cheese is melted and dish heated throughout.
For the dish you are placing in the freezer, allow to cool, cover, label and store in the freezer. When ready to use the freezer dish, transfer to the fridge approx. 2 days ahead of time. Top with additional sauce and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for approx. 45 minutes until heated all the way through.
Enjoy a night off of cooking!
How is 2020 going for you so far? We're off to a pretty good start here...I can't believe that it's only a few short months until our due date for baby #4. At my last appointment, I was given the lab slip for the gestational diabetes test, which I was thinking, "oh, no, that's not until third trimester...must be a mistake..." and then I realized that I will be in the third trimester at my next appointment. I feel like each subsequent pregnancy goes by faster and faster and I need to slow it down so I can absorb all those baby kicks and flutters. I could get along fine without the breathlessness I get from time to time or the immediate dash I need to make for fresh air or a piece of fruit randomly when I feel like I'm having a weird sugar crash (those 2 things have been hallmarks of all my pregnancies), but I'll take them knowing that it's part of having this sweet baby boy.
Speaking of sugar, I've been trying to stay away from refined sugar these days. Nope, not a resolution, but just bringing back a healthier balance after thoroughly enjoying the Christmas season. I can't say that I've been 100% on this, but my intake is definitely down since December. No refined sugar for me does not mean no desserts because I just can't live that way. I once did a Whole 30, which was a really great experience, but I would mash a banana and some almond butter together for something resembling dessert when I felt I needed it and it hit the spot. This recipe was inspired by my craving for something decadent without the refined sugar and my not feeling like turning my oven on. Aannnddd....these hit the spot.
These chocolate peanut butter caramel layer bars are a no-bake recipe. They're refined sugar free, sweetened with some maple syrup and dates. They're also gluten free if you use gluten free oats and the chocolate, peanut butter and date "caramel" are a match made in heaven. These are also dairy free and completely plant based if you use a vegan chocolate for melting. I used Hu Kitchen dark chocolate gems, which have no refined sugars and they're vegan and paleo. I know I keep listing all of these things that these are "free" of, but I swear that they are not free of taste. These conquered by dessert cravings and my chocolate cravings...and I'm a good test run for such a thing.
Here's what we'll need to not bake this recipe:
-1 1/2 cups of oatmeal
-1/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
-1/3 cup peanut butter
-1/3 cup of maple syrup
Middle layer of "Caramel"
-12 pitted dates
-2-3 TBS maple syrup
-1-2 tsp water
-3/4 cups of chocolate for melting
-1/3 cup peanut butter
Put the dates in a bowl, boil water and pour enough boiled, hot water over the dates to submerge them. Allow to sit and soften for approximately 15-20 minutes. Line a large loaf pan with parchment paper. Prepare the base layer by mixing together the oatmeal, unsweetened cocoa, 1/3 cup peanut butter and 1/3 cup maple syrup. Use a rubber spatula or damp hands to press the mixture into the bottom of the parchment paper lined loaf pan. Place in the fridge to chill.
Once the dates have sat in the hot water for approximately 20 minutes, remove them from the water and place them in a high powered blender or food processor. Add the maple syrup and process. As the dates begin to puree, slowly add in 1-2 tsp of water to help them come to a caramel consistency. Once you have the mixture processed until mostly smooth, remove the loaf pan from the fridge and use a rubber spatula to evenly spread the caramel mixture on top of the base layer. Return to the fridge to chill.
Using a double boiler (I just place a heat proof bowl over a pot of boiling/simmering water), add your melting chocolate and allow to melt and continuously stir until it comes to a smooth consistency. Add the peanut butter over the heated water and stir until it comes together with the chocolate. Using a rubber spatula, spread the chocolate peanut butter mixture evenly on the top of the caramel layer. Return the entire pan to the fridge and allow to chill for 3-4 hours.
Once set, remove from the fridge and use a sharp knife to slice into squares. This recipe makes 6 large layer bars or you can cut 12 modestly sized bars...no judgment either way! (I might have gone with the 6).
I hope that you enjoy these as much as I did because this recipe is definitely going on repeat here!
New England wife, mom & home baker. Faith, food, fitness, baking, cooking and constantly cleaning my kitchen.