Do you ever have a craving for a casserole? No? Am I the only one? I know a lot of people associate casseroles with bland, over-made, boring meals. But I like casseroles. Mostly because they make packing lunch easy. When I grill or make a side of meat, I rarely want to eat it the next day. And lots of other foods seem to not taste as good the next day. Soups and casseroles, on the other hand, warm up well, are easy to take to work, and if you season them well enough, aren’t bland or boring!
Disclaimer: I think most casseroles, when made as the recipe describes, are pretty boring. Why is that? That’s like how most crockpot dishes rely on cream of something soup. Weird.
Yes, you do see cheese. And macaroni, black olives, beans, tomatoes and ground beef. Enticed?
I used this recipe as a base. Alone, I think it would have been boring. Boring both in spices (how’s it southwest if it’s not spicy?) and in texture (soft isn’t super appetizing to me). First of all, I halved the mean. Anything with 2 pounds of ground beef is way too much for me. I don’t know why allreceipes.com seems to always do more than one pan of something, or in the case of loaves of bread always does two. Or three. Or four. Weird.
Anyway, I also wanted more flavor. So while I left the one can of tomatoes in, I also added a can of Rotel. The recipe suggested removing the seeds of the jalapeno. I left them in. And then added a Poblano for fun. I replaced the kidney beans with Mexican spiced beans. I didn’t use the tomato paste. But I added in two ears of corn, a can of black olives, ranch dressing mix (well, ranch dressing dip mix – hey, I had it on hand) and a can of cream of celery soup. I know, I just complained about the over-use of the stuff, but it was in my pantry. So I added it. It made the recipe much creamier. I can’t decide if it was better with, or would have been better without. Then I swapped monterrey jack cheese for a pepper-based cheese. And since macaroni seems to absorb all of the juices I didn’t drain anything.
The result? It was pretty fantastic. Other vegetables that would have been good include bell peppers, mushrooms, tomatillos. Whatever vegetables you like, add them.
Here’s my entire adjusted recipe:
- 1 cup elbow macaroni
- 1 pounds ground beef
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers, diced
- 1 poblano pepper, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (14.5 ounce) cans diced or Rotel tomatoes, undrained
- 1 can of diced tomatoes
- 1 (16 ounce) can beans
- 1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies
- 1 ear of corn
- 2 poblano peppers
- ½ can of black olives
- 1 packet of ranch soup mix
- 1 can of reduced fat cream of celery soup
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cups shredded pepper-based cheese (pepper jack, etc.)
- Cook macaroni until just underdone. Meanwhile, in large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook beef, onion, garlic and jalapeno over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the tomatoes, beans, chilies, corn, olives, peppers, tomatillos and seasonings. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Drain macaroni; stir into beef mixture.
- Transfer to baking dish. Top with cheese. Cover and bake at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes. Uncover; bake 10 minutes longer or until bubbly and heated through.
Left: Two finely diced jalapenos (with seeds), chopped medium white onion, two diced cloves of garlic, one chopped poblano pepper.
Warm the oil. I always add the garlic first and let it cook.
Then I add the peppers and onion and let them saute for a bit before adding the hamburger.
Then add the hamburger and stir, breaking into pieces.
When the hamburger’s just about done, add the corn.
Add both cans of tomatoes (diced and Rotel).
Add the can of Mexican/chili beans. And the can of diced green chilies.
And the black olives (I chopped up an entire can, but I LOVE black olives. A normal person would probably only want a half a can.). And stir. Relish the aroma.
Bring to a simmer and season to taste. I added all of the seasonings listed. Maybe a little bit more. I never think there’s too much chili powder, but cumin’s one I feel like can be overdone. So add a little, taste, add more. Go easy on the salt because you still have to add the ranch dressing mix and cream of celery soup (I think both add salty flavor).
Add the ranch dressing mix.
Then your can of cream of celery (or cream of mushroom, chicken, etc.). If you don’t want to add it, skip this step. Otherwise, once you’ve added it taste again and finalize your seasonings. As the jalapenos cook, they’ll become more spicy, so keep that in mind.
Meanwhile, cook the macaroni until almost done. They’ll cook more in the dish, so you don’t want them to turn to much. I cooked mine until they were still too underdone to eat.
Stir in the macaroni. (This could also be done in your original pan – but mine was too full).
Sprinkle with about a cup of fresh-grated cheese. Trust me, fresh-grated is the way to go. But if you have pre-shredded bagged cheese, I won’t judge you! I used spicy pepper cheese. But you could use Mexican blend, good old cheddar, monterrey jack, etc.
Cover and cook for about 30 minutes. Then uncover and cook an additional 10 or so. You want the cheese to start to brown some. I don’t like mine to get too brown or it doesn’t re-melt when I warm it up for lunches.
Mmmmmmm… You could theoretically top with sour cream or guacamole. I didn’t do either. But I bet they’d be good. Crunched up tortilla chips or fresh chopped cilantro would probably also be good. But I love this casserole, just the way it is.
One last look before we go our separate ways! If you can think of other stuff to add to this dish, let me know. I’ll probably make it again. And if you think the beans + pasta is too many carbs, you could leave the beans out. But I think the pasta holds it together. And I liked the added flavor and health benefit of the beans. There weren’t so many as to make my co-workers miserable…