You can never have too many mac and cheese recipes.
Sometimes you might be in the mood for a sharp cheddar or a nutty Gruyere or even a little blue, but you just about always want a creamy texture, not one that separates, leaving an oily trail and little curds of cheese—well, I would eat that, too. The following recipe starts out with this one from Kraft and adds whipped ricotta to the sauce, so that it’s extra creamy. I am not adding any cheddar to the top of the casserole, just a panko topping. I like to get a little crust on my mac and cheese, but sometimes you just want to eat it out of the pan, so skip the crumb topping and baking if you like.
The base recipe starts out with a very thick white sauce, into which cubes of Velveeta® are stirred. I usually make my white sauce with 2 tablespoons of flour per cup of milk, but this one uses 4 tablespoons per cup. Like any other cheese sauce, you need this flour base to keep the cheese from separating. I’ve tried that recipe making the rounds, where you use only evaporated milk and cheese, and it does not hold up—beware fads.
Notice the whipped ricotta
Stir in Velveeta
Stir in whipped ricotta
Thick and creamy sauce
Just eat it like this…
…or bake it
Ricotta-Velveeta® Mac 'n Cheese
Preheat oven to 350°; butter a 2-quart casserole dish.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 cup milk
- 8 oz. original Velveeta® cheese, cut into cubes
- 8 oz. whole milk ricotta, whipped in a food processor until smooth and fluffy
- 8 oz. macaroni or other pasta shape—I used whole wheat fusilli
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- Boil the pasta according to the package directions while making the sauce. Drain the pasta and place in casserole dish.
- In a small saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Stir in flour until fully combined. Stir in milk and continue stirring until smooth and thickened.
- Stir cheese cubes into thickened white sauce until all the cheese is melted. This takes a few minutes.
- Stir whipped ricotta into cheese sauce until combined.
- Pour sauce over pasta and stir to combine. You could serve it at this point without baking, or go to the next step.
- Combine panko crumbs and 2 tablespoons butter. Sprinkle over macaroni. Bake for 20 minutes until lightly browned and bubbly.
The first dish from the buck my husband harvested this fall.
This lasagna is a tale of two sauces—a bolognese ragù and béchamel. Neither sauce is difficult to make and the ragù in particular can be made the day or evening before to simplify the final dish preparation. This lasagna doesn’t require all the cheese (ricotta and mozzarella) of typical lasagna recipes, just finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano on each layer, so that the result is a lasagna that is not quite as filling—and by filling, I mean overfilling. You can certainly use the ragù in a typical cheesy lasagna, but I think the béchamel would be overpowered by all that cheese. Ordinarily, I would add cream and butter to a bolognese ragù after the long simmer, but felt that the layers of béchamel provided the necessary creaminess to the dish.
Two things I did differently:
- In addition to using venison instead of lean beef or veal, I used ground, smoked, thick-sliced bacon instead of the traditional pancetta, which is not smoked. The smoky bacon adds another layer of flavor, and the venison can handle it. The bacon happens to be from a local company that provides the hot dogs and kielbasa to Heinz Field, Smith Provision, and it’s a really flavorful bacon.
- I used some of my frozen tomato sauce made from our summer garden tomatoes. It’s a thick sauce made from roasting tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and onion, so it is already flavored with some of the final sauce ingredients, but since my sauce has been blended, you still need the chopped vegetables in this ragù.
I used fresh pasta sheets available at my grocery to construct the lasagna; you don’t need to boil them first as they cook in the casserole to just the right tenderness—just make sure you have plenty of sauce to cover.
Ragù, béchamel, parmesan
Venison Lasagna Bolognese
Note about salt: There are lots of ways to get too much salt into this dish. There is salt in each sauce, your chicken stock may be salted, the bacon may be salty, and authentic Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is salty. Personally, I would leave out any extra salt in the ragù. Taste as you go along.
Preheat oven to 375° when ready to construct the dish.
Bolognese Ragù Sauce
- 1/4 cup olive oil (or more)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- about 1 cup celery heart, center ribs with leaves, finely chopped
- about 1 cup finely chopped carrot
- about 1 cup medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/4 pound smoked bacon, coarsely ground
- 1 pound ground venison
- 1 pound ground pork
- 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 cups thick tomato sauce (or crushed tomatoes or tomato paste with more chicken stock)
- salt & pepper to taste (careful with the salt—see the note above)
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) butter
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 4 cups milk (I used lactose-free whole milk)
- fresh pasta sheets to make at least 5 layers in a 13″ x 9″ dish
- about 2 cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Prepare the meat sauce, which needs to simmer for about two hours.
- In a large straight-sided skillet (often called a chicken fryer) sauté the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil until the vegetables are translucent. Remove vegetables to a dish while browning the meats, which you can’t do well in a pan of vegetables.
- In the same pan, using more olive oil if needed, brown the ground bacon. Add the ground venison and ground pork, breaking it all up and cooking until browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes.
- Return the sautéed vegetables to the pan. Stir in the parsley, chicken stock, red wine, and tomato sauce (or whatever tomato product you are using).
- Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. I’m sure this is a sauce that could be made in a slow cooker, too.
- When the meat sauce is about done, make the béchamel sauce.
- In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter.
- Stir in the flour and seasoning, stirring until all the flour is combined with the butter and there are no lumps.
- Slowly stir in the milk, stirring constantly with a large wooden spoon or whisk. Some people like to scald the milk first in the microwave, but I find that unnecessary—maybe it quickens the thickening. Continue stirring over medium heat until thickened enough to coat the back of the spoon. Remove from heat.
- Construct the lasagna. Butter a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.
- Using a large ladle, lightly cover the bottom of the dish with béchamel sauce.
- Arrange your uncooked pasta sheets over the béchamel. You don’t need to cover every inch of the pan, as the pasta will swell a little on absorbing the sauces. I trimmed my sheets to fit in two large squares on each layer, but your sheets may be more narrow than mine.
- Top each layer of pasta with enough meat sauce to cover all the edges. Then add a layer of béchamel. Finish with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
- Repeat until you reach the top of the dish, ending with the sauces and cheese. Mine came all the way to the top with 5 layers, and while a little bubbled over, most of it was absorbed by the pasta.
- Bake at 375° for about 40 minutes. Place a sheet pan on a lower oven rack to catch any spills. The finished lasagna should be browned and bubbly.
- Let rest a little before cutting into large squares.
I know, it’s the middle of summer and not a holiday, where you usually expect to see a green bean casserole, but the garden keeps giving and there are only so many things to do with green beans. We don’t care for sour green bean salads, so that doesn’t leave much else. Although we are both familiar with that casserole made with canned soup and canned fried onions, it was never a fetish at either of our parents’ homes on holidays, so I feel free to make it my own without violating any holiday rituals. If you have air conditioning during this hot summer, you might want to try this dish now when it’s not overshadowed by a holiday turkey.
I made one big change to the beloved casserole which might seem like heresy to you if it is a staple at your holiday—no French fried onions! Instead, I sautéed thinly sliced onions until brown before adding the mushrooms and beans to a white sauce. Another option would be to caramelize the onions for a richer addition. Still the dish needed a topping, so I used buttered fresh breadcrumbs—a nice choice.
Green beans can be Frenched in your food processor by stacking them in the chute and using the slicing blade. I don’t know where I learned this, but I’m sure it was some Internet tip that has saved us from slicing beans individually. The resulting beans are surprisingly well-sliced, if not perfect. Even if you don’t make the casserole, just making French style green beans is a nice change if you have been overwhelmed by your garden this summer. Another benefit is that the beans cook more quickly when sliced.
Stack beans lengthwise in food processor chute
Frenched in seconds
Saucy and crispy
Garden Green Bean Casserole
Preheat oven to 350°
- 3-4 cups fresh green beans, stem end removed
- 1 medium or 2 small onions, thinly sliced
- 10 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups milk
- salt & pepper to taste
- Crumb topping: 1.5 cups fresh breadcrumbs tossed with 4 tablespoons melted butter
- Stack green beans lengthwise in chute of food processor. All my beans fit without trimming, but you could cut them to fit if needed. Using medium slicing blade, press beans through. I had to fill the chute three times.
- Toss the cut beans in boiling water and simmer for about 6 minutes or until the beans begin to wilt. Drain and set aside.
- In large skillet, sauté onions over medium heat in 4 tablespoons butter until browned. Stir in sliced mushrooms and continue to sauté until mushrooms are cooked down, their liquid has evaporated, and they have browned.
- Stir flour into onion, mushroom, butter mixture until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. The mixture will be dry and clumpy, but that’s fine.
- Stir in milk, continuing to stir until all the flour mixture is distributed and smooth. Simmer, stirring, until the sauce is thickened.
- Stir in the cooked green beans.
- Pour into baking dish and top with crumb mixture.
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until crumbs are nicely browned.
I’m surprised there’s not a meatloaf blog, where every day illustrates a different version of the loved (or not) fare. There are a few blogs with meatloaf in the title, but they turn out to be about other things, even when they are about cooking. Maybe I’m overstating people’s love of meatloaf. I probably make it once every two or three weeks with variations. Today, I was faced with having no breadcrumbs, so I’m using rolled oats for the filler. It’s been a long time since I’ve used oats, but I remember them adding a sweetness to the mix. For the meat, I’m using one pound of ground beef and one pound of Jimmy Dean® Sage Sausage, which means a lot of the flavoring is already done for me. I’ve been using this sausage in meatloaf for a while, to rave reviews.
Still, it’s just another meatloaf.
Let oats absorb milk
Meatloaf with Oatmeal and Sausage
Preheat oven to 350°
3/4 cup rolled oats (not the quick cooking variety)
1/2 cup milk
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon bacon fat—for a nice smoky flavor
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 eggs, beaten
1 lb ground beef
1 lb Jimmy Dean® Sage Sausage (or your favorite country sausage)
salt & pepper
- Combine rolled oats and 1/2 cup milk in large mixing bowl. Decide later if you need more milk.
- Sauté the onion, seasoned with salt & pepper, in the bacon fat over medium heat until translucent. Pour over the oats and milk and let sit until cool. This also allows the oatmeal to soften a bit in the milk and warm onions. An alternative would be to microwave the oats and milk for about 1 minute and then cool. I like to wait until the oats have absorbed most of the milk, because there is nothing else in this meatloaf to soak it up. This is your substitute for bread crumbs.
- When the mixture is cooled, stir in the beaten eggs, tomato paste, and parsley.
- Mix in the meats with your hands until it’s all combined well, adding more milk if needed. I found 1/2 cup to be plenty.
- Shape into a loaf and place in an oblong baking dish with space around the loaf, so it doesn’t touch the sides of the dish.
- Bake for about 1 hour or until the center reaches 165°; remove to platter to serve.