For many of us, easy to prepare, tasty little meals out of a can or box are at least a small part of our childhood memories; they were first attempts at “cooking”, in a way! And with this Cheeseburger Macaroni and Cheese, we can enjoy the coziness of childhood comfort food, only in a slightly more sophisticated and from-scratch way.
Nothing felt more safe and comforting to me when I was a kid than unlocking the front door of our house and stepping into that cozy and familiar world that I could completely relax and be myself in, that brilliant world of “home”, after walking home from a long day at school.
All of the little stresses of my day would begin to melt away, those little dramas that took place during elementary school and middle school on the playground, or in the hallways, or between friends that could be so very fickle (and mean!) at times.
Once I walked in through that front doorway, I would drop my backpack and put away my jacket or coat and head straight into the living room where my first order of business was to flip on those cheerful and innocent afternoon cartoons that I loved so much.
“Eh...what's up Doc?”
Ah...to be home was wonderful!
I grew up in a household where my mom always had home-cooked food on the table for us; but when I was a kid, sometimes those little meals-out-of-a-can or box would taste so good, and make me feel like I was actually cooking something of my own choosing, for myself, as I unwound a little from my day out in that crazy world.
Oh, how I love and cherish those delicious little memories!
And I still love the comforting and cozy aspects of those particular little meals, though nowadays, I appreciate it when they're from scratch with whole and healthy ingredients, slightly more refined, and a bit more complex on the palette.
The fall is a wonderful time to dig a big spoon into a hearty, warming, rich, and flavorful macaroni and cheese; it is the perfect time to enjoy those delectable aspects of a nourishing bowl of homemade comfort food.
And the glorious thing is, you don't even have to be a kid to appreciate tucking into something like that! Whatever age we are, we can enjoy and luxuriate in a little TLC in the way of a steaming, nurturing meal, one that goes down ever so easily and exquisitely.
So in honor of those “good ol' days” of coming home from elementary school, way back when (the 80's!!), and opening up a tasty little treasure that would keep me company and warm me to my very core, this simple, homemade Cheeseburger Macaroni and Cheese, all savory, tender, and cheesy-tomatoey, seems to be just the ticket!
It's a delicious and nutritious way to cozy up with a bowl of childhood bliss, of childhood memories, and comfort and care for yourself right down to that precious “inner child” that surely still resides there inside of you. 😉
Taste what's good and pass it on.
Cheeseburger Macaroni and Cheese
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Serves about 4-6
• 1 pound ground beef (85/15)
• 1 ½ ounces of unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon, melted, for use with breadcrumb topping
• 2 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
• 1 ½ ounces all-purpose flour
• 3 cups 2% milk, cool
• 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided use
• 1 teaspoon ground mustard
• ¾ teaspoon salt (plus a little pinch extra, if needed)
• ¼ teaspoon paprika
• Pinch black pepper
• 1 (14.5 ounce) can petite diced tomatoes, drained very well of juice and patted dry
• 8 ounces dry elbow macaroni, cooked according to package instructions and held warm
• 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
• 1 tablespoon chopped green onion
-Preheat oven to 400°, and lightly mist a baking dish or casserole dish with a touch of cooking spray.
-Place a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat, and once hot, crumble in the ground beef, plus a little pinch of salt and pepper, and cook until no longer pink; drain the meat completely of juices and fat, and set aside for a moment.
-Into a medium or medium large pot set over medium-low heat, add the 1 ½ ounces of butter along with the garlic; once melted and aromatic, sprinkle in the flour and stir, and cook this roux, or thickener, for about 1-2 minutes; pour in the milk, whisking all the while to avoid lumps from forming, and allow the sauce to simmer for about 8-10 or so, or until gently bubbling and thickened; turn off the heat.
-Add in the grated cheddar cheese, and whisk until melted into the sauce; next add in the ground mustard, the salt, the paprika, and the black pepper, and whisk to combine; add in the drained and cooked ground beef, and stir.
-Next, add in the cooked macaroni, along with the drained diced tomatoes, and gently fold everything together until well combined; check the seasoning to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed.
-In a small bowl, combine the panko with the melted butter, and using a fork, toss together.
-Pour the macaroni ingredients into the prepared baking/casserole dish, and sprinkle the panko/butter mixture over top; bake for about 15-20 minutes, and if you'd like a darker crust, turn the broiler on at the end for a minute or two to crisp the crumbs.
-Garnish with green onion, and serve. (Even a little squirt of ketchup tastes amazing, believe it or not!)