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From the food editor: Macaroni and Beef Casserole is a quick and delicious way to get dinner on the table

It took about 10 minutes into making this recipe for me to realize that it was merely fancy Hamburger Helper.

I originally made it for a Christmas gathering with my best girlfriends, and it was perfect: warm, hearty, comforting. But it's also a boon to the beginning of your 2018, when you haven't quite sloughed off all the buzz and stress of the holidays. Maybe you just got back into town. Maybe your house is still overstuffed with Christmas decor. Maybe you're back to work this week after a long while off and not loving life. This casserole will soothe you.

It's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it is completely homemade down to the cheesy sauce, and that counts for something. We've got the rest of January to promise to eat more vegetables.

Every ingredient is crucial here, from the green pepper to the dried Italian spices to the cubed cheddar cheese. They combine to make a one-dish meal that is very flavorful and not too monotonous in texture. Serve it with a nice big spinach salad to counteract the heaviness of the cheese.

The original recipe called for ground beef, but I used ground turkey and thought it actually tasted slightly better. The beef gives off a very, well, beefy flavor, and it's good, but for a weeknight dinner I found it just a bit too fatty. There's enough to love with the butter and milk and cheese. But it's up to you: Any ground meat would do.

The thing I love most about this recipe is that is does not get overcooked once it's assembled into the casserole dish. I've made this mistake one too many times with baked macaroni and cheese. Ooh, so much sauce, I can cook it for an hour! Nah. Even globs of cheese sauce dry up quickly, and the macaroni overcooks, and the result is bland and too noodley and disappointing.

This dish simply gets broiled at the very end, to melt more cheese on top and create a soft crust. Since everything is fully cooked, that's all it needs. And it ensures you can bring it to the table bubbling and hot, which is by far the best way to eat it.

Though it's also pretty dang good at 10 p.m., eaten by the forkful straight out of the fridge. Come on, we've got the rest of the year to eat salads.

Contact Michelle Stark at mstark@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8829. Follow @mstark17.

>>EASY

Macaroni and Beef Casserole

2 cups elbow macaroni

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped celery

½ cup chopped green pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic

1 pound ground turkey or beef

Salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

2 cups cubed or shredded cheddar cheese

Cayenne pepper to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 2 quarts water with salt to a boil. Add the macaroni; stir and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse under cold water.

In a skillet, heat the oil and add the onions, celery, green pepper and garlic. Cook, stirring, until wilted. Add the meat, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until the meat loses its red color. Add the oregano, basil and tomatoes. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add the cooked macaroni. Blend well and set aside. Keep warm.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour with a wire whisk until well-blended. Add the milk, stirring rapidly, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cheddar cheese, cayenne, nutmeg and more salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the cheese melts.

Heat broiler. Spoon the macaroni mixture into a baking dish; I used a 9- by 13-inch glass casserole dish. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the macaroni mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and place under the broiler until mixture is hot, bubbling and lightly browned.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Adapted from the New York Times

From the food editor: Macaroni and Beef Casserole is a quick and delicious way to get dinner on the table 01/02/18 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 2, 2018 12:12pm]
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