Monday Menu: Cheesy Mac

Bet you thought I'd forgotten about posting today. Ha! No such luck. It's what you get for reading this mess I call a blog.

As I wrote last week, I've come up with a schedule that should keep me posting to this blog, rather than neglecting it. And it seemed like a good idea to be writing something, even if I should be working on a book. Have I mentioned how writer's block sucks? Yeah.

If you're here expecting something awesome, like seafood, mushrooms, and desserts that take 18 hours just to get all the ingredients mixed, you should probably go now. I cook simple things, mostly things you can get the ingredients for at Aldi, or at Wal-Mart in a pinch.

I cook without preservatives, dyes, colors and artificial flavorings as much as possible. I make things like spaghetti sauce, sloppy joe sauce, hot dog chili and things similar to Hamburger Helper, myself. It's not that hard to cook simple meals from scratch (or nearly so), it just take a little time and effort.

For the first installment, I thought I'd start out with something easy. So, tonight we're doing cheesy mac. My kids love this (even now that they're grown), it's about the easiest thing to make, and tastes awesome. You can use less than a pound of hamburger, if you're a little short, or just don't want that much meat.

You'll need basic cooking equipment, of course. Pots, pans, stove, serving spoon, measuring spoons. Stuff like that. You also should have on hand some spices: oregano, basil, parsley, salt pepper.

Now, I should say that I seldom make anything exactly the same every time. Sometimes I put something else in, or take something out. Also, if you're expecting a lot of pictures, well, you ain't gonna get em. I'm lousy at taking pictures. It's why I'm such a failure at scrapbooking. I hardly have any pictures. Shame, really. I like scrapbooking.

Anyway, to the recipe:

1 lb hamburger (or less, if you prefer)
2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni (more or less, if you want, or if you're trying to stretch the meal)
oregano (and basil and/or parsley, if you want)
salt and pepper to taste
tomato sauce
diced tomatoes if you want
shredded cheddar cheese 
olive oil (or oil of your choice)

Chop up the onion, garlic and peppers. Cook in a little oil until softened. Add the hamburger and brown it. Drain well.

While you're doing this, cook the elbow macaroni noodles, either in the microwave or in a pan of boiling water on the stove if you prefer. I like to get them almost done, softer than al dente but not mushy.

Add some oregano, about a tablespoon, some salt and pepper, and the other spices to your taste to the ground beef mixture. Stir it up well, then add some tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. Use enough to allow the beef to be mixed easily with the elbow macaroni (which you've now drained and rinsed). You can add a bit of water, or more tomato sauce, especially if you've got a lot of noodles.

Once I have everything mixed, I like to heat it up a bit to allow the flavors to blend. Maybe five minutes on low heat. To serve, portion out and add cheese. I've tried putting the cheese in with the rest of the stuff, but it tends to make the pan really gooey and hard to clean.

I let my boys put the amount of cheese they like, since they're grown, but you could put just what you think the family will like. Or, if you're short on cheese you can control how much gets used up. Cheese is about the most expensive thing I buy, on par with meat prices.

We normally eat this with corn, but you could have a salad, bread sticks, what ever side dish you like.

Total cost for the cheesy mac: 

2.29 for a pound of hamburger
minimal amount for spices/seasonings, just pennies
maybe .50 for some onion, garlic and peppers (I don't use a whole onion or pepper, about half, and maybe a clove of garlic)
another .75 or so for the noodles
2.00 for the cheese (more or less, depending on how generous you are)
.75 or less for the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes (I don't use a whole can of either one, about a third to a half of the diced, and one 8 oz can of sauce)

About $6.00 for enough of a main dish to feed four hungry people. You could probably feed six, or even eight, depending on how hungry they are, and what side dishes/bread/etc you add.

I add two cans of corn, about another $1, for a total of around $8.00.

Here's how the dish looks. Yummy. See how much that is? That's a big frying pan. Don't mind the mess on the stove, I'm a messy stirrer, thanks to carpal tunnel syndrome. I really should have cleaned up before taking pictures, though. Oh, well. Next time.

This is basically how I make chili mac, just substituting chili powder for the Italian-type spices/herbs. Yeah, I make the chili powder, too.

We seldom eat dessert, and bread rarely. Dinner is our main meal, so I make big main dishes.

So there you have it, Gentle Readers. A home-cooked dinner that takes about a half-hour to get on the table, has very little to no preservatives, no high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or dyes. And the best thing, you can adapt to suit your tastes.