I’m always on the lookout for simple weeknight meals that I can make after a long day of working. And for me that means a long day of already being in the kitchen cooking all day long. So by the end of a work day, the last thing I really want to do is get back into the kitchen and cook some elaborate meal that’ll take way too long. I realize I’m not the only person who feels like this, and instead of pulling up to the drive-thru window, why not try your hand at a few simple weeknight meals that you can get on the table in no time at all? This 30 Minute Red Beans and Rice Soup is just what you need to warm you up during these cold winter nights. All you need is a sheet pan to make these Turkey Caprese Meatballs which you can whip up in a flash! I’ve teamed up with my friends over at GO BOLD WITH BUTTER to bring you this delicious Jalapeño Popper Pasta Bake. It’s a comfort food mash-up that takes that classic appetizer and turns it into a satisfying weeknight casserole.
Preheat a large skillet over medium high heat. Once hot, add the bacon and cook, stirring often, until browned and crispy, about 5 to 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels. Carefully drain off the bacon grease and return to the skillet to the stove.
Add in 2 tablespoons butter, once melted, add in the chicken and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and allow to cool slightly before dicing, set aside.
**Tip: To season and marinade, combine the chicken, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper until evenly combined. Allow to sit at room temperature while the bacon cooks!**
Add the onion and garlic to the same skillet and cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add 2 more tablespoons of butter to skillet and stir until melted. Stir in the flour and cook for about 30 seconds to cook off that raw flour taste.
**Note: We’re basically just creating a roux (mixture of butter and flour) which will thicken our sauce for the pasta bake. This is very similar to what you what do if you were making a cheese sauce for mac and cheese.**
Whisk in the chicken stock and milk. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce has thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining salt, pepper, cream cheese, 1 cup Cheddar, and 1 cup Monterey Jack until smooth and melted through.
**Tip: To help you melt the cream cheese a lot faster and more evenly, I recommend letting it come down to room temperature and also diced it up before adding to the sauce.**
Add the chicken, pasta, half of the crispy bacon and pickled jalapeños and stir until well combined.
**Tip: You can add as much or as little of the pickled jalapeños as you’d like depending on how spicy you like your food. If you like a lot of heat, you can leave them whole from the jar or you can chop up the slicing into smaller pieces if you want to distribute the heat throughout the dish. For extra heat: try adding a splash or two of the pickled jalapeño juice from the jar!**
Pour into a greased 9×13-inch casserole baking dish and top with the remaining cheeses and bread crumbs. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the top of the casserole. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 18 to 20 minutes in a preheated 375 degree F oven.
Remove from the oven and top with sliced the remaining bacon, thinly sliced fresh jalapeño and scallions right before before serving. If you want to cool things off a bit, you can also serve the pasta bake with a dollop of sour cream.
If you plan on making this dish ahead of time, I suggest making it up to the part where you pour it into the baking dish. Top with the cheese and bread crumbs, allow to cool and then cover with foil. Place in the fridge for up to a day in advance. Then just pop into the oven and bake as directed. Remove the foil the last 10 minutes of baking to brown.
If you’re looking to keep things vegetarian, this can easily be made without the bacon and the chicken. It’ll just be like a very delicious spicy mac and cheese and believe me, no one would complain about it.
And because I’m all for things being as simple as possible, you can simplify matters even more by skipping the baking part. You can easily serve this is a stove top pasta dish without the crispy crunchy topping baked on top.
Serve this pasta bake with a simple tossed green salad or a salad of tomatoes mixed with cucumbers and dressed with a bit of olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper for a complete meal. I like having some kind of salad or vegetable on the side because it makes me feel less guilty about eating a mountain of noodles and cheese.
**Thank you for your continued support of the occasional sponsored post on this site. They help keep the blog going, allowing me to continue to share my recipes with you on a weekly basis. I never want my sponsorships to feel forced, which is why I only partner with companies I feel very passionate about and actually use on a regular basis.**