Whether you like to admit it or not, there’s a good chance that if you’re American, your pantry is stocked with the familiar blue and yellow boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. I know it’s not healthy, I know it’s packed with preservatives and I know it doesn’t compare to the real thing. But there’s something about it that I will never outgrow and I know that there are millions of other people that feel the same way. So, instead of hiding it behind the healthier items in your pantry, bring it out and use it to create a meal that is heartier, healthier and still retains a little of that “mac n’ cheese” familiarity that you know you love. I’ve made several different types of casseroles using macaroni and cheese but this latest creation was really good!
My rule for mac n’ cheese casseroles: keep it simple! If I’m breaking out a box of this stuff, it’s because I don’t feel like shopping or chopping. Use whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have black beans, throw in a can of kidney beans. If you don’t have ground beef, skip it or use a can of chili to replace both the beans and meat. This is actually the first time I’ve even used ground beef in one of these casseroles and this can just as easily turn into a vegetarian meal. The beans offer plenty of protein and you can use whatever frozen or canned veggies you have on hand.
If your creative juices aren’t flowing yet, here’s a basic recipe to get you started!
Mac & Cheese Casserole
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 C. frozen corn
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 T. chili powder
1 t. garlic powder
1 t. onion powder
1 t. seasoned salt
1 package Kraft macaroni and cheese
1 can diced tomatoes
1 C. grated Monterey jack cheese
1/4 C. Seasoned bread crumbs (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. First, put a large pot of water to boil for macaroni. While the water is heating, move on the next step…
2. In a large skillet, cook crumbled ground beef over medium heat, just until it’s no longer pink; drain fat. Return pan to low heat, add chili powder (start with 1 T. and then add more later if you wish), garlic and onion powders, and seasoned salt. Next add corn and black beans. Cook, stirring, until heated through then remove from heat.
3. Meanwhile, in the large pot, boil the macaroni for 7 minutes, drain and return to the pot. Do not add the usual milk and butter to the macaroni!! Instead, add the can of tomatoes and the dried cheese packet and cook, stirring, over low heat just until tomatoes are heated through and the cheese has somewhat dissolved into the tomato sauce.
4. Add the meat and bean mixture to the macaroni pot and mix it all together well. At this point, take a bite and adjust seasonings to suit your taste (This is when you can add more chili powder, salt or anything else you think might taste good). Gently mix in the shredded cheese and then pour everything into a greased casserole dish. Sprinkle bread crumbs over the top (would also be good with extra cheese on top instead!) and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.