Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Burger

It’s been a long winter. A long, long winter. Not necessarily from the weather-side, but just from the life side. But never fear – I’m still here! And finally back into a groove of cooking. I’ve noticed that the things I cook often reflect my mood. If I’m feeling good, my recipes turn out great…but if I have the blues, then my dishes just really, well, stink.

It almost sounds cliche – and isn’t there a movie somewhere about this? But a long story short, I feel like I’m back in the game! 🙂

Several weeks ago, this was made on a snowy Saturday night. We had no place to be, no plans to be had, so my husband and I made a date with our couch. It was definitely one of those nights where you wanted to just sit there, veg out, and watch TV. And, I confess, a night where you want to eat dinner on the couch. A perfect night for comfort food.

I had all the ingredients on hand for this recipe and decided it would be the perfect night to try it. And boy oh boy, it was a winner.

Mac ‘n Cheese ‘n Burger

adapted from Rachael Ray

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound cavatappi (curlicue pasta) or elbow pasta
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce (or more to taste)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 4 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup chicken broth/stock
  • 2 cups milk (we used 2%)
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or a ‘mac & cheese blend’ if available)
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill pickles (optional)
  • 1 plum tomato, seeded and diced (optional)

  1. For the pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and a dash of salt and cook until al dente.
  2. As the pasta cooks, heat a nonstick skillet with the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and brown it, breaking it up into bite-size pieces as you go. Add in the onion, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to the skillet to season the meat.
  3. As the meat and pasta cook, heat a saucepot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the butter and whisk in the flour as the butter melts, making a roux.  If necessary, adjust heat to make sure the butter does not burn.
  4. Once the roux is nice and smooth, whisk in the stock and milk. Season the sauce with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a bubble, then thicken it up a few minutes. Keep an eye on the pot so that the mixture does not bubble over. Stir the mustard into the sauce, then add the cheese a few handfuls at a time to the pot. Stir the mixture well so that the cheese melts, but does not burn at the bottom.
  5. At this point, your meat and pasta should be done. Drain the pasta and add it back to hot pasta pot.  Add the beef,  then the cheese sauce to it. Stir to combine the mac ‘n cheese ‘n burger altogether. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  6. Serve in shallow bowls with chopped pickles and tomatoes for garnish, if you’d like.

maccheeseburger.jpg

This is a fantastic combination of cheeseburgers and macaroni & cheese – which are two great comfort foods (but not necessary great on the waistline…). You can easily tweak the add-ins and cheese to incorporate your favorite burgers and toppings:

  • mushrooms and swiss cheese
  • blue cheese and cajun seasoning
  • hellooo, bacon anyone?
  • toppings: ketchup (Hubs did this!), BBQ sauce, hot sauce, red onions,

I figure this can also work with turkey, chicken, or veggie burgers as well. Whatever your heart desires, I suppose 🙂  The only things I would not recommend adding are mayonnaise and lettuce – it would become very soggy, wilty, and just…ick.

After writing this post I have to admit…I want to go make this again, right now. Yes, it’s that good!

 

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Polenta Tamale Pie & The Freezer

For the past month or so, I’ve had this tube of polenta sitting in my pantry. I like polenta a lot – and have seen quite a few recipes that include it – but just never got around to it. I really liked the idea of using it with a Mexican-flavored dish, so off to the internet I went.

I came back with polenta tamale pie. Mike is a huge fan of tamales, so I figured this would be a great dish to try. There are so many recipes out there for this, so I ended up reading through a few and just going for it, so to speak – the two links I’ve linked to gave me the best directions based on what I had sitting in my pantry & freezer.

Polenta Tamale Pie

Inspired by Bon Appetit & Eat, Live, Run

  • 1 tube polenta – sliced into 1/4″-thick rounds
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2/3 lb ground beef
  • 1 can refried beans with green chiles
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • a dash of cayenne pepper
  • salsa
  • 4 oz shredded Mexican-blend or sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*.
  2. In a skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion; cook for a few minutes until the onions start to get a little soft.
  3. Add the garlic and the ground beef at the same time – keep an eye on the garlic so that it doesn’t burn. Once the ground beef has been cooked through, turn off the heat and drain the mixture in a colander in the sink.
  4. In a bowl, mix the ground beef with the refried beans. Add the spcies and salsa, and mix to combine.
  5. In a baking dish, layer about half of the polenta rounds to cover the bottom. Then pour your beef & bean mixture on top of that. Lay the second half of the polenta rounds over the mixture, and cover with cheese.
  6. Cover and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the cover, and bake for 15 more minutes (a total of 30 minutes total). Serve with sour cream and cilantro, and a side of yellow rice, if desired.

Sadly, I don’t have a picture of my tamale pie, because my husband someone had dug right into the pie before I could snap a picture…and this is one of those dishes that doesn’t look very appetizing once someone has started digging into it. But, you’re going to have to trust me on this one. It’s delicious!

You can easily, easily make this a vegetarian (or maybe even vegan if you omit the cheese?) dish by making your mixture with corn, tomatoes, and pinto or black beans, instead of ground beef and refried beans. More than likely, this is what I’m going to do next time I make this dish. You really wouldn’t “miss” the meat, persay. You could even do ground turkey instead of beef, to lighten it up – I used beef because I have some in my freezer, and wanted to use some up before transferring it to the new chest freezer!!!

I’ve had my chest freezer for 24 hours and I’m already in love. The freezer in our kitchen refrigerator is terrible – it defrosts ice cubes – and the freezer in the garage is even worse, especially with the frigid weather we’ve been having. It was an affordable necessity. I also purchased a small FoodSaver to see if that will help me freeze extra meat and vegetables better, especially when CSA season starts and I want to preserve vegetables. So far, the 2 lbs of ground beef I vacuum-packed & froze have held up well. I’m sold 😉

So, in a nutshell, that’s what’s been up over here in my kitchen. Tamale pie, and a new freezer. All while it’s freezing cold outside.

Cheesy Broccoli Rice

We’re members of the local community garden and every Wednesday night, we have a potluck & garden work night. This week, Mike suggested that we make cheesy broccoli rice casserole. It sounded like a great idea, since I knew it would feed a lot of people, and who would think to make that on a warm night in June? Plus, it’s once of Mike’s favorites.

Mike has loved “broccoli cheesy rice casserole” for as long as I can remember. It has to be made with Velveeta, or some sort of plain old American/Cheddar cheese, but not nacho cheese – because it’s sheer and utter disappointment. I suppose it’s just one of those comfort foods he always grew up on. But here’s a confession for you: we’ve been married for almost 5 years, and I believe this is the first time I’ve made this dish. Sad, right? I know damn well that he loves it, but I guess I just never got around to making it. Wife of the half-decade right here!

When I went to the store to get ingredients, I started to panic, as I could not seem to find that sinful block of processed cheese food – the main ingredient in the dish! Thank God for iPhones, as before you knew it, I had a substitute for Velveeta that tasted better, and was probably a bit more healthier. And I’m glad for that because the block of processed cheese food kinda grosses me out.

This is a great dish that is easily multiplied for potlucks, or kept simple for a weeknight side dish. You could even eat this as a meal in itself if you really wanted to. And the best part? No processed, rubbery cheese food 🙂

Cheesy Broccoli Rice – adapted from Betty Crocker and MOMables

  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped (you want about 1 cup total)
  • 1 8oz bag of cheddar blend shredded cheese
  • 1 can (10.75 oz) condensed cream of *whatever* soup
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups broccoli florets – fresh or frozen
  • bread crumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350*. Cook rice in water according to package directions (or, use a rice cooker).
  2. While the rice is cooking, melt the better into a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until the onions are tender, but still have a bit of a crunch to them.
  3. Turn down the heat to medium/medium-low and add the soup, milk, pepper, and cheese. Simmer, stirring often, until the cheese is melted and the mixture thickens.
  4. Add broccoli and rice. Mix well and spoon into a 9×13 baking dish, coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top of the casserole.
  5. Bake, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes until the edges turn light brown and the casserole is nice and bubbly.
Perfect leftovers for a special someone tomorrow :)

Perfect leftovers for a special someone tomorrow 🙂

The casserole was a big hit at our potluck. I doubled the recipe and the above was all that was left – the perfect amount for someone’s lunch. My toughest critic said that he missed the ‘taste’ of the Velveeta, but that it still tasted pretty good. I’ll take that as a win. Not only because I was able to create a Velveeta substitute, but because I finally made one of my husband’s favorite dishes that has gotten overlooked over the years – recipe SAVED!

Cheeseburger Casserole

One of the foods I’ve really had a taste for lately is a good old-fashioned cheeseburger. There are a few decent places to get a burger up by where I live, but nothing really beats one that you make on the grill during the summertime. It’s still winter up here, and it’s been pretty cold lately – so not the right weather for making burgers on the grill.

I found this recipe from one of my favorite ‘healthier food’ blogs and knew that we just had to try it. With conferences & honors band last week, I didn’t have much time to cook. However, Hubs is now back on day shift…so he did the honors with this one.

Cheeseburger Casserole – adapted from Skinnytaste

  • 2 cups uncooked pasta (we used small shells)
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 28 oz diced tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp Dijon mustard – or whatever mustard you like on your burgers…being native Clevelanders, my husband used Stadium Mustard & it totally worked 🙂
  • 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped pickles (we are kosher dill fans over here)
  1. Set a medium sized pot of water on the stove to boil, and Preheat the oven to 350*. Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Once the pot is boiling, cook the pasta until al dente, and drain.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Cook the onions until soft (about 5 minutes).
  4. Add the garlic & saute; once you can smell the garlic cooking, add the beef and cook until brown, seasoning with salt & pepper.
  5. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, and mustard. Let simmer until it thickens. Remove from heat.
  6. In a bowl, mix the cooked pasta in with the meat/tomato mixture, and pour into the baking dish. Top with cheese & bake 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is nice and gooey.
  7. Remove from oven & top with chopped pickles. Serve.

Cheeseburger Casserole. The leftovers are just as delicious as the dish the night that it’s made (that is, if you end up with any leftovers).

I didn’t miss the bun; the pasta made up for it. I’m not one to put tomatoes on my ‘burger, but they tasted great in this dish. I suppose maybe you could put it on top of lettuce if you’re missing that…but I’m not a fan of lettuce on my ‘burgers either! 😉

It was a delicious meal to come home to after conferences and it helped satisfy that taste I’ve got for a nice greasy cheeseburger. Since it’s still cold outside, casseroles are still more than welcome in my kitchen and this one did a great job of satisfying my taste buds as well as my need for comfort food. I highly recommend it!

 

Just Like Mom Used to Make: Chicken Pot Pie

‘Tis the season of comfort foods! While my husband and I were out to dinner on Saturday, we made a quick meal plan for the week. He suggested chicken pot pie – which we both haven’t had in ages. I immediately recalled my mom’s chicken pot pie and how much I enjoyed it growing up. When I called her over the weekend to get the recipe, she mentioned how easy it was – and she was right!

I also ended up giving her a taste for chicken pot pie, so she made it this week, too 🙂

Chicken Pot Pie – adapted from my mom (thanks, Mom!!)

You need:

  • 1 box pre-made pie crust (the kind you roll out)
  • 2-3 cups cooked chicken (I used some from a ready-made rotisserie chicken at the grocery)
  • 1 can cream-of-whatever soup (Hubs picked out potato)
  • frozen vegetables (I used just a mixture)
  • herbs & seasonings, if you like
  • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
  1. Spray a pie plate with Pam. Unroll & lay one of the pie crusts on the plate.
  2. In a bowl, combine chicken, soup, veggies, seasonings, and cheddar cheese. Pour onto pie crust.
  3. Top with the remaining pie crust. Poke a few holes in the top of the crust to vent. Seal the edges with your fingers or a fork.
  4. Bake at 425* for 35-40 minutes.

I’ll admit – it’s not the prettiest chicken pot pie ever, but it’s very tasty! A good, comforting, and quick weeknight meal!

Just like Mom used to make 🙂

Cheesy Eggplant Casserole

The only eggplant dish that most people (myself included) learn/try to make is eggplant parmesan. It’s not fast, but it’s easy and a crowd-pleaser. If you can get past the name and the texture – eggplants have little seeds – you can find that it’s actually a pretty tasty vegetable, especially smothered in tomato sauce and cheese.

We got a few eggplant in our CSA this past week and I wanted to cook them up, rather than try to freeze them – AND, I wanted to make something other than eggplant parmesan. Furthermore, with the change in the weather, I was craving something oven-baked, that would pair well with the breaded chicken I was making as the main dish.

I found this recipe on an old-favorite of mine, Allrecipes.com*. I tell ya, if you’ve never tried this website before, do so! It’s a great hub of tried & true recipes (and some terrible ones, to be honest) that people all over the world post, cook, and rate. It’s a great go-to when you have a vegetable and/or ingredients and you’re just not sure how to pair them together. That being said…here’s a great side dish & casserole that helps you use that eggplant you receive in your CSA, when eggplant parm just won’t do!

Cheesy Eggplant Casserole – adapted from Allrecipes.com

  • 1 eggplant (or several smaller ones), peeled and diced
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (not pictured, oops! I used a new cheddar blend from Sargento*)
  • 1 cup dry bread stuffing mix
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • dried Italian seasoning, to taste
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 can diced tomatoes  (not pictured, read review below!)
  1. Preheat oven to 350-degrees.
  2. Place eggplant in a medium microwave-safe dish. Cook for 3 minutes, stir, and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Transfer to a square baking dish.
  3. Mix in tomatoes, stuffing, garlic, onion, egg, and 1/2 cup cheese. Season with Italian herbs, salt & pepper.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes in the oven. Top with remaining cheese, and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

You will notice right away that there isn’t any tomatoes in my casserole. This was an addition that should have happened, but realized after the fact. While the original recipe does leave this out, the original recipe also turns out decently dry; I read several reviews on the website that all stated that this addition was a good idea.

Still…the end result of this dish, tomatoes or not, is delicious! All the flavors blend really well together and it was a nice compliment to the breaded chicken I had baked.  Don’t be afraid to add too much spices or garlic, as they really make the dish pop. The cheddar blend I used was also really great. Furthermore – the casserole was filling! Always a plus 🙂

If you’re weary about making eggplant, or are in need of a new idea for it…try this recipe! You won’t be disappointed.

Cheesy eggplant casserole, and breaded chicken. Great dinner on a rainy night!

* NOTE: I was not asked nor paid to talk about Allrecipes.com, nor mention the Sargento brand. These opinions are solely my own and for the enjoyment of my readers.