• Leigh

Back to School Supper: Macaroni-Beef Bake


Here's an incredibly easy supper for back-to-school week: slow cooked Macaroni-Beef Bake. The meal "bakes" in the slow cooker, is inexpensive to make, yields a lot of food for dinner or leftovers, and is mild-tasting for finicky appetites. The bake definitely falls into the category of "comfort food." Although I use macaroni in the bake, you can substitute another smallish tube pasta, like ziti, if you prefer. Whichever pasta you choose, don't skip the step of microwaving the pasta before you add it to the slow cooker. The microwaving step takes only a few minutes and will help keep the pasta from turning too mushy as it slow cooks. The dish is rich in protein, with ground beef, cottage cheese, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Nonetheless, the bake is not greasy and is fairly light tasting--just right for a simple, back-to-school supper.

Macaroni-Beef Bake -- Serves 4 + Leftovers

16 ounces of lean ground beef (93 percent)

1/2 cup of chopped onion

1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder, divided

1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper

3 cups of macaroni, uncooked

1-2 teaspoons of canola oil

2 cups of boiling water

1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes

3 tablespoons of tomato paste

1 teaspoon of dried basil

1 tablespoon of fresh oregano leaves (or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano)

1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese

1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (the kind from the round green can, etc., is just fine)

1 cup of part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and coat the insert for a large slow cooker (13 x 9-inch, preferably) with non-stick cooking spray. Crumble the beef into the skillet and add the onion, Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of lemon pepper. Saute the beef mixture for 10-15 minutes or until the beef is cooked through and browned a bit. While the beef is cooking, in a large bowl, combine the macaroni and oil and mix them well. Microwave the macaroni on 50 percent power for 4-6 minutes, stirring it every minute or two, until many of the pieces look toasted and the pasta is slightly nutty smelling. Put the pasta into the slow cooker and add the boiling water (you'll hear some sizzling). Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, basil, oregano, remaining salt and garlic powder, cottage cheese, and grated Parmesan cheese until everything is well distributed. Stir in the ground beef mixture. Cover the slow cooker and cook the Macaroni-Beef Bake on high until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed--about 3 hours. Stir the pasta well, taste it to see if it needs more salt, and recover the slow cooker. Cook the bake for another 30-60 minutes or until it has firmed up and absorbed the remaining liquid. Sprinkle on the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and recover the slow cooker until the cheeses melt--about 5 minutes. Serve the bake with a salad, vegetable, and/or bread if you like.

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