One-skillet beef mac & cheese

This easy, one-pan, beef mac & cheese immediately became a favorite at my house after I tried the recipe a few months back.  It is one of my son's favorite dishes and he can devour it in minutes (and could likely eat the entire pan himself if you let him). So after making it so many times, I thought I'd post it here on the blog for quick reference; I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots before the sunset as I plated it for dinner last week.
And with summer essentially in the rear view mirror (how did that happen!) and the change to cooler temps making us crave heartier meals, macaroni and cheese comes to the rescue.  This one-skillet dish comes together in less than 30 minutes so it's easy enough for busy weeknights.  

As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of Christina Lane's blog, Dessert for Two.  My son loves a bunch of her recipes, which I make over and over again. This skillet mac & cheese recipe is one and it comes from her savory cookbook, Comfort and Joy: Cooking for Two. Honestly, my son could eat the entire skillet so as time went on, I've snuck in a bit more meat and pasta (as much as I can without overflowing my 10-inch skillet) to amp up the portion.  If you're feeding more than two people as a main for dinner, I suggest some garlic bread and/or a big platter of roasted vegetables to go alongside.  
This macaroni and cheese gets its creaminess and thickness from a combination of milk, water, cornstarch, and, of course, cheese - cheddar cheese, to be exact.  The cheddar gives it such a great familiar flavor but I've also made this with some pepper jack cheese thrown in, and since it melts so well, it gives the mac & cheese a great texture.  In other words, don't be afraid to personalize it.  

I think the same goes on the flavor front when it comes to the spices.  A mix of spices including chili powder and smoked paprika give this mac & cheese a nice smokey flavor but I've experimented with different proportions and I sometimes throw in other spices from my spice box. When I first made this recipe, the flavors were a bit too strong for my son so I tampered down the spice levels.  But now...he's grown used to it and I'm pretty heavy handed with the spice.
Another way to mix and bulk this up - add some vegetables into your mac & cheese.  I often toss in some broccoli and when all else fails, there's always frozen peas on hand. It's fair to say that almost everything tastes good in a creamy cheese sauce!


Let me just note a few changes I make to the original recipe.  As I mentioned, I try to pack as much as I can into my 10-inch skillet (you'll need one with a lid) because this is a popular dish at my house, particularly for the 12-year old!
Instead of half a pound of lean ground beef (I use ground sirloin/93% lean), I use 2/3 to 3/4 pounds.  And while the recipe calls for 1 cup of uncooked macaroni pasta (it's a small-scale, dish for 2, recipe), I find that I can pack just about 4.5 to 5 ounces of macaroni pasta into my pan.  I add a rounded 2 cups of liquid (milk and water).  

Before you begin cooking, mix together 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with all the spices you'll be adding.  This makes the cooking process easier so you're not grabbing the spices as you go.  The recipe calls for salt, chili powder, garlic powder, smoked paprika, and cayenne.  I use essentially the same but often go a little lighter on the chili powder but adding some plain sweet paprika, onion powder, and black pepper in its place.  One extra note on smoked paprika - I love it!  I remember when I first tried it in a recipe not long ago and realized it made food taste like...bacon!  I love using it now.
The beef cooks first in the skillet.  When it's done, you add and stir in everything else but the cheese: the milk-water, uncooked pasta, cornstarch and spices.  It'll take about 10 minutes for the pasta to cook.  Check on it after half that time, give it a stir, add a splash or two of water, if necessary, and continue until the macaroni is cooked through.

Off heat, stir in 1 cup (4 oz.) of shredded cheddar cheese.  As I mentioned, you can substitute some of the cheddar for another kind of cheese you enjoy in your mac & cheese.  Stir in some blanched broccoli or cauliflower, or add some peas like I did the last time I made this, if you like.
Here's to a cozy Fall, filled with plenty of heartwarming meals!

Recipe

One-Skillet Beef Mac & Cheese
Adapted from Comfort and Joy: Cooking for Two 

- Serves 2 - 

1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Spice blend (this is the mix I use; adjust to your own liking):
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Pinch of cayenne
Few cracks of freshly ground black pepper

2 teaspoons olive oil (or a neutral flavor oil)
2/3 to 3/4 pound lean ground beef (I use 93% lean)
4.5 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni
1 cup (4 oz.) shredded cheddar cheese

Combine milk and water in a 2-cup measuring cup and set nearby.  In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and all the spices you intend to use; set aside.

In a 10-inch skillet (which has a lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add ground beef and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon as you go. Once beef is cooked, tilt the pan slightly and use a paper towel to soak up the extra grease.  In the meantime, heat the milk and water mixture in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, or until hot.

Add the hot milk and water mixture and the prepared cornstarch and spice mixture into the skillet, followed by the macaroni.  Stir well together and bring mixture to a simmer.  Lower the heat to low (I leave it on the "1" dial on my stove) and cover the pan with a lid.  Cook for 10 minutes, checking on it after 5 minutes.  Give it a good stir and add a splash of water if mixture seems too dry. 

After 10 minutes, taste the macaroni for doneness.  When macaroni is cooked through, remove it from the heat.  Stir in the shredded cheese.  Plate and serve immediately.  




22 comments:

  1. Now you have me crave some mac and cheese too! Haven't had this ultimate comfort treat in years..this looks just awesome!

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    1. These days I enjoy a few bites only once in a while, too. It's hard to stop once you start.

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  2. I forget about recipes like this sometimes - so thank you so much for the cheesy reminder! I bet your son could indeed devour the whole pan - it looks wonderful. So comforting and satisfying. Who could say no to this lovely dish?!

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    1. I didn't grow up eating this...wish I did because that's when I could have blissfully loaded up my plate. haha

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  3. Yay for cozy meals!! We started to have some cooler weather here but now it's back to the humidity - boooo! haha I am so ready for meals like this one! Now if the weather would just cooperate...

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    1. I'm definitely looking around for fall meals to try and keep things interesting. The cold will come! yikes

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  4. Such a hearty and delicious looking mac and cheese. And yes, Dessert for two new cookbook is amazing.
    Yes, fall has sprung on us and this would be so good for the cooler months.
    Have a lovely week my dear.
    xx

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    1. I've really enjoyed her recipes and my son really seems to favor them. The boy has good taste! :)

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  5. I’ve got to confess,Monica I have never had mac and cheese. When my daughter was in school I made her the boxed mac n' cheese. Don't know why? This sounds so easy and looks delightful with peas.

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    1. Never, ever, Bal?? I didn't grow up eating it at home at all but once I had it (maybe at school or something...), it was hard not to love it. I can't eat much these days without it sticking to me so this is more for the fellas. If I could, I'd eat the whole skillet! ; )

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  6. So I totally just printed this recipe. It's right up my alley!

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    1. Sounds great! Hope you guys enjoy it...it's sure popular at our house!

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  7. Now this is some serious comfort food! Hiding peas in the mac and cheese you little devil.. LOL wishing you a little early Happy Mid -Autumn my dear friend!

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    1. Confession...the plates with veggies go to the hubby. The little man isn't a fan and I sometimes don't have the energy to enforce things...gotta pick my battles! ; )

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  8. There is nothing like a one skillet meal, specially the ones which don't take so much time. This one skillet beef mac cheese looks so comfy and scrumptious, Monica. Lovely.

    Anu
    https://www.mygingergarlickitchen.com/

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    1. I love a good cooking/baking project but I love simple good dinners even more! : )

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  9. This sounds amazing! Just the thing for a cold autumn evening. I really need to try this.

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    1. I highly recommend it. Thanks, Caroline.

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  10. This looks so, so good Monica. Comfort food at it's absolute best. Being one skillet is a delicious bonus.

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    1. Such a fave with my kid. : ) Hope all is well!

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  11. This is what I called comforting! The pea is a nice touch. Bryan would be very happy with this. I'm make them next week!

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    1. Hope you try it. I make it often these days... : )

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