Instant Pot Pasta with Meat Sauce | Cooking Through Construction

IMG_9398editedHave you ever come home from work and thought, I’m way to tired to stand over the stove making dinner.  Girl, me too.  It happens all. the. time.  But I just can’t make myself order takeout night after night.  Not only am I trying to lose weight, but we are trying to save money since we’re basically redoing our entire main living area.

I asked Jake what he wanted for dinner on Saturday and he said pasta.  Now, you may be thinking “how are you going to cook pasta if you don’t have a stove, Bethany?”  I’m glad you asked.  By now, you all realize I love my Instant Pot.  And hopefully by now, you’ve taken the plunge and bought yourself one!

You can just throw a bunch of stuff in your instant pot, press cook, and go.  Set it and forget it, right?  Pasta, it turns out, is no exception!  Guys, I may never cook pasta in boiling water again!  It’s seriously that easy and super quick.  Plus the tomato sauce soaks into the pasta so the flavors are incredible!

IMG_9400editedInstant Pot Pasta with Meat Sauce
(adapted from this recipe)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1.5 pounds ground beef
Salt and pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 box penne pasta, dry
1 jar pasta sauce
Water (fill up the pasta sauce jar ½ way, then shake to get every last bit of sauce)
1 squirt basil (optional)

Turn your IP on to Saute.  Add your olive oil and onion.  au-new-branding-basilLet onion cook for a few minutes before adding your beef.  Cook beef until brown, using a spoon to break up the meat along the way.  Once meat is browned, drain if necessary.  Add beef back to IP.

In with the beef, add salt and pepper to taste, garlic, dry penne pasta, pasta sauce, and water.  If you so choose, add in a squirt of basic paste.  What is basil paste?  It’s amazing stuff.  There’s this company called Gourmet Garden that is just awesome!  They make lots of herbs prepped and ready to go, eliminating the prep work.  I hate peeling ginger and GG has it already in a tube!  They also have cilantro, garlic, lemongrass, and Thai seasoning just to name a few.  I get them right in the regular grocery store next to the herbs in the plastic containers.  I’ve never seen the Thai seasoning though…I’m still on the lookout.  “True” cooks will probably sneer at the mention of these types of items but you know what I say to that?  I’m a mom to a relentless, question-asking 5-year-old, who works 50 hours weeks on her feet outside the home.  I’ll take whatever shortcuts I can.

After you get all your ingredients in the pot, mix to combine, then put on your lid, making sure to turn your knob to sealing.  Set the IP to manual for 5 minutes.

Once the IP beeps, release the pressure.  When you take the lid off, you’ll notice it looks like there is a lot of water on the top and you’ll probably think the pasta didn’t cook enough.  Take a deep breath and stir the contents one more time.  Then taste the most delicious, perfectly cooked pasta you’ve ever had!  The water that’s on top mixes in to the rest of the dish and creates a perfectly creamy, saucy dish.  Think of it as the standard cup of “starchy cooking water” Rachael Ray tells you to remove every time you cook pasta.

I’m not kidding…I may literally never boil water for pasta again for the rest of my life.  I can have amazing, delicious, perfectly cooked pasta within 20 minutes of coming home from work AND only dirty one easy to clean pan.  Uhhh…yes please.

While the pasta was cooking, I made salad and toasted some bread.  Because it’s not pasta night without mama making a sandwich!  Have I convinced you to get an Instant Pot yet?  Don’t worry…I have more tricks up my sleeve.  (And, no, I’m not affiliated with IP.  I just sincerely love their product.)



Bacon Ranch Mac & Cheese

Baked Mac & Cheese 3

My mouth is still watering thinking about that amazing sammich from Tuesday’s blog post.  I haven’t made it back to City BBQ to satisfy my craving yet.  Maybe this weekend…

Moving on.  What goes better with a BBQ sammich than mac and cheese?  Not much, in my opinion.  Well, friends, I have a fabulous recipe for you today just in time for all those Super Bowl parties.  It’s creamy, it’s delicious, it’s got bacon.  Yep, the perfect dish for a little football watchin’.  Just add some beer and you’ve got yourself a par-tay.

Baked Mac & Cheese 2

Bacon Ranch Mac & Cheese

8 oz cooked elbow macaroni
6 slices thick cut bacon (I’m partial to Dorothy Lane Market’s applewood smoked bacon)
1 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup cream of mushroom soup
3 ounces shredded Italian blend cheese (or mozzarella)
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp salt
2 ounces shredded Colby Jack cheese
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 450*.  In a large skillet over medium heat, cook your bacon until it is crispy.  Remove bacon and drain off all but 1 tbsp of oil.  Add the flour and whisk for 1-2 minutes or until you’ve cooked the “raw” flavor out of the flour.

Add your milk and soup, whisking to combine.  Bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes or until thick.  Turn the heat off and add the Italian blend cheese, onion powder, garlic powder, dill, and salt, stirring to combine.  I switch to a rubber spatula at this point because the cheese tends to get stuck in the whisk.  Once the cheese is melted, stir in the cooked pasta and bacon.

Pour the macaroni into a greased 8×8 casserole dish.  Top with Colby Jack cheese.  Combine bread crumbs and olive oil and sprinkle on top.

Put dish in the oven until bread crumbs are golden brown (6-8 minutes).

Baked Mac & Cheese 1

Stuffed Shells


One of my least favorite things in the world is leaving work at 5PM, getting in the car to drive the 35 minutes (or longer as I travel on the interstate…in rush hour…most of the way) home, and realizing I didn’t plan for dinner that night.  My boys like to eat at 6PM, so if I didn’t plan something earlier in the week, it’s pizza or take out for dinner.  Not that they complain about that mind you.

I like to do my meal planning, shopping, and meal prep on the weekends so when it’s crunch time, I already have a plan.  Plus things like sloppy joe, pre-cooked Dad’s Spaghetti sauce, or this little recipe are the perfect make ahead meals for Jeff to throw together at the last minute when I have to work late!

As you guys may know by now, is one of my favorite places to go for meal inspiration.  One day I was perusing and a little gem of a recipe popped out at me.  I thought it looked intriguing, so I added the ingredients to my grocery list, cooked it, and the rest is history.  Now we have Stuffed Shells at least once every few weeks.  It also freezes beautifully.  The recipe makes two 6×9 pans of shells or one 13×9 pan.  It’s also a great meal to take to someone who recently had a baby or moved into a new home!


Stuffed Shells
(adapted from

1 box large shells
4 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 garlic clove, grated
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp parsley
**In place of the oregano and parsley, you could just use a couple teaspoonsful of Italian seasoning
1 jar pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350º.  Cook your shells according to the package.  There should be a shorter time on the box specifically if you’re going to further cook the noodles in the oven.  I think mine is 9 minutes or something like that.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta, mozzarella, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, eggs, garlic, and seasonings.  **Hint:  if you want to sneak in some veggies, replace 1-1.5 cups of the ricotta with pureed cauliflower.  They’ll never know… 

Drain your pasta and rinse with cold water until the noodles are cool enough to handle.  Prep a 13×9 or two 6×9 pans with cooking spray and a little drizzle of the pasta sauce (just enough to barely coat the bottom).  Transfer your filling to a large Ziploc bag.  Cut one of the tips off the bottom of the bag to turn it into a piping bag.  Fill your shells with the filling and then place filling side up in the pan.  Top with the rest of the pasta sauce and the remaining Parmesan cheese.  Bake for 30 minutes or until everything is hot and gooey.

Make a double batch and freeze in some foil pans.  These shells make a terrific meal on a cold, snowy night with a large loaf of crusty Italian bread and some salad.

Pasta E Fagioli Revisited

Pictures make a blog come alive, right?  Well, when I first started my blog, I didn’t add pictures.  I’ve learned my lesson.  During my marathon cooking session this week, one of the recipes I decided to make was Giada’s Pasta E Fagioli.  Like a good little blogger, I took lots of pictures throughout the cooking process but when I went to create a blog about them, I had this nagging feeling I’d already put it on the blog.  Turns out I was right!

GDL’s Pasta E Fagioli

Back in January of 2010, I wrote “I saw this recipe in Giada de Laurentiis’ Giada’s Family Dinners cookbook and thought it sounded like a yummy filling soup on a cold day.  I was right.  It was a-mazing.  I loved it.  I couldn’t get enough!”  It’s still as fabulous today as I originally thought!  I’m demanding you make this soup.  It’s seriously one of my favorite soups I’ve made!  I only wish I had made a double batch yesterday!

Tortellini with Peas and Pancetta

Who wants a quick, easy, delicious meal that you can throw together in less than 30 minutes?

I DO!  I DO!

I saw this article in Food Network Magazine and it had some of my favorite things in it.  Garlic, Parmesan, pasta, cream half and half.  Yum!  I whipped this up in no time last night!  Try it.  You’ll like it!

Tortellini with Peas and Pancetta
(inspired by Food Network Magazine‘s April 2010 issue)

1 pound meat filled tortellini
2 tbsp olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup half and half
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 cup Le Seur peas, drained
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Once it reaches a boil, salt the water and cook the tortellini according to the package’s instructions.

In another saucepan over medium heat, warm up your oil and start to brown your pancetta.  You want the pancetta to be nice and crispy.  It will take about 5 minutes.

Grate in your garlic…

keep your tortellini from boiling over…

and add the tomato paste.  Stir to combine and cook until fragrant (about 1 minute).

Add about a cup of pasta water and simmer until reduced by half (3-4 minutes).

Add the half and half.  Simmer until slightly thickened (2-3 minutes).

Add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes for good measure.  You know how we do in the Desjarlais house.

A few minutes before the tortellini is done, add your peas to the water.  You want to warm them up so you don’t bite into a cold pea in your warm pasta.  (The original recipe called for frozen peas, so this step would be doubly important if you’re using frozen.)

Drain the peas and pasta and add to the sauce.  Toss to coat.

Top with parmesan cheese and serve with toasty warm croissants (optional).

Easy, peasy, Japanese-y! (This meal literally came together by the time I had heated up the oven and cooked the croissants.  It’s that quick.)

What’s your favorite go to meal during the week?