The Ultimate, Go-To Mac & Cheese Casserole Recipe

When it comes to mac-n-cheese, I confess I don’t make it with milk and flour. My go-to macaroni and cheese recipe is based on an old Southern Living recipe that uses cream of celery soup, but I often mix it up to make it my own. I also switch it up based on what I may have on hand. For instance, I have used plain yogurt instead of sour cream. Still, the original recipe is delicious. It pairs well with any meat dish, such as steaks, pork loin or pork chops, or sausage. I’ve also served it with venison steaks. It’s great as a side for a cookout and is also a nice match for BBQ. Start with this and consider your own variations.

“Jack in the Macaroni Bake”

Southern Living, February 1994

Ingredients:

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 oz. of elbow macaroni
  • 2 tablespoons or margarine
  • 1/4 cub chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped sweet red pepper
  • 2 cups (8 oz.) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of celery soup
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • chili powder

Original Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook macaroni according to directions, drain, rinse and set aside. On stovetop, melt butter in Dutch over, add diced onion and pepper. Saute over medium heat until tender. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, sour cream and soup. Fold in cooked macaroni. Spoon into a greased 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle with chili powder. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

My basic version means substituting with the following:

  • 1 tablespoon butter paired with 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • add a diced jalapeno (small) with the diced red bell pepper
  • you can switch out the cream of celery with cream of mushroom
  • you can use plain yogurt instead of sour cream
  • I prefer paprika and Cajun seasoning to chili powder, and I like to sprinkle them in a criss-cross fashion for a spice latticework across the top of the casserole

This mac & cheese is classic comfort food. It keeps well in the fridge, but won’t likely last past a second night. I really love it with sweet onion and jalapeno. As for variations, try not to exceed the measurements for the onion and pepper because the base — soup, cheese and sour cream — needs to hold together and any excess with the other ingredients could interfer with that binding with the pasta. I did manage to fold in a little bit of chopped, sauteed kale.

The classic Jake in the Macaroni bake with a bit of kale interlaced with the pasta.
The classic Jake in the Macaroni bake with a bit of kale interlaced with the pasta.

You can make with other short pastas, such as penne, but I am finding that elbow macaroni might just work the best.

This is a stable of my cooking repertoire and a really great centerpiece for entertaining. It’s great for serving to family or anyone you want to feel like family in your home.

Enjoy! Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

These notes were taken from an old copy at my grandmother's home back in the '90s
My notes transcribed from a Southern Living magazine at my grandmother’s home.

Ginger Curry Venison Meatballs

When you think of hunting and the great outdoors, do you think of ginger curry with venison meatballs? How do these things spring from my brain?

I have had the benefit of living in Houston, Texas the last 10 years and Houston is home to a lot of Asian cuisine as well as hunters. I’ve always liked Thai curry and the sort of Indian-inspired curry you might find served with chips in an Irish pub.

curry meatballs
Curry meatballs served with cilantro

I never really went out of my way to get curry until I had the privilege of spending a month in Singapore. I quickly became obsessed with all the different Indian and Thai curries I could get my hands on. Some nights I would decide to eat light at dinner time, head to the hotel with a yogurt, sit quietly in the room and hear the voice of a green curry down the street calling out my name.

The curry was in a food stall stacked along an alley with a nice smattering of cuisines. The worst was the time I opted to order a Tiger beer from the bar a step from the curry stall only to remember that alcohol is almost prohibitively expensive in Singapore. Once the curry addiction was set, I found myself ordering it all the time at lunch back in Houston.

Then, a British expat friend came to visit and she made an Indian curry. Next, my boyfriend’s father remarked that eating a curry once a week is healthy. I started experimenting. The beauty is you can make it up as you go along and not go wrong. Still, I was truly inspired by a Bon Appetit recipe I bookmarked. The picture is mesmerizing due to the rich, deep orange color of the curry.

curry sauce
Using the immersion blender on the curry sauce

Now, here is the key distinction: I used ground venison to make my meatballs. Venison from deer I harvested last January. I have come to love venison because it tastes good, is satisfying without being filling, Because it is lean, you need to add more egg to bind the meat into balls.

The second departure from the recipe I recommend is using a food processor and most definitely not a blender to puree some of the initial ingredients, such as the scallions. (UPDATE: I just made this a second time and used an immersion blender in the cooking pot. See elaboration below.*) First thing first, review the ingredients and decide what you will use and need. The magazine recipe called for 2 pounds of ground beef. I wasn’t about to commit 2 lbs. of venison to an untested recipe and opted to try it with 1 lb. Thus, I needed to cut this recipe in half.

Meatballs:

  • Olive oil
  • 3 scallions
  • 1 jalapeno
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 inch ginger root, peeled (I used the full amount)
  • 1 tablespoon (just used juice of 1 lemon)
  • ½ tablespoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 lb. of ground venison
  • 2 eggs (I always use 2 eggs per pound of ground venison)
  • 1 ½ tablespoon plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Curry sauce:

  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions (I used one red, one sweet)
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • another 1 inch chunk of peeled ginger
  • 3 dried chiles de arbol (oops, I used 3 instead of 1 ½)
  • 2 tsp. curry powder
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 ½ tablespoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ tablespoon Kosher salt
Adding curry spices to onion and garlic
Adding curry spices to onion and garlic

Recognize that if you halve the recipe, that always throws off things. In other words, when you adapt a recipe, you make it your own. I used the full amount of tomatoes instead of half because what am I going to do with half a small can of tomatoes. Also, I had to add water to the first step because the ingredients did not blend. Then, I had to strain that mixture to get out the extra liquid. Toward the end, after I used the outboard motor to blend the sauce (an immersion blender), I found the taste too spicy hot and added a can of lite coconut milk. The result was an outstanding tasting curry with more volume than needed for the meatballs. The excess sauce was stored separately and eaten with toasted French bread for lunch.

*UPDATE: I just made this again, this time the full recipe with 2 lbs. of ground venison and a 28-oz. can of diced tomatoes. To better bind the meat, I used half a sleeve of crushed Ritz crackers. I also swapped out scallions for sweet onion and skipped the dried peppers. I also used Meyer lemon juice (we have a tree).

Try it!

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard