One-Skillet Cheesy Beef and Macaroni
Serves 8 with a lot of leftovers, which you will be grateful for
(so I guess it really serves 10 to 12)
Very possibly the least sophisticated recipe in the book, this may be the one dish that my husband in particular eats as though he will be fasting for the following week. The kids love it, but Gary's eyes get kind of teary whenever I make it. He'll show up for dinner early. It's nothing new under the sun, but once you try it, you will understand the deepest meaning of the word crowd-pleaser. And, it all cooks in one skillet. Even the pasta, which cooks right in the sauce! I know, I know! It's the little things.
Get a huge pan, a twelve or thirteen incher (best pan in the world if you cook for a group regularly), make a vat of this, and keep it in the fridge. If you don't have a huge honking pan, cut the recipe in half. If you have bigger kids who are constantly running in and out of the house with their friends, all of them starving and in need of fuel before or after soccer practice, then you, my friend, may never again be without a pot of this awaiting reheating and inhalation. My sister-in-law Lisa, with her three large boys and revolving cast of visiting teenagers, swears by it. It is reminiscent of something that rhymes with Flamberger Felper, but it's better and it's yours.
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 cup chopped red, yellow, orange, or green bell pepper (about 1⁄4-inch pieces)
1 cup peeled chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes in juice (see You Say Tomato . . . , page 155)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 to 3 teaspoons chili powder (optional but recommended)
Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
3⁄4 pound dried elbow macaroni
2 cups (8 ounces) grated cheddar cheese
1. Heat a very large skillet over medium-high heat (for this full recipe, it should be a deep 12-inch skillet). Add the beef and cook it until browned, stirring until no pink remains, about 5 minutes. Place the browned beef in a strainer and let the fat drain off, then set the beef aside.
2. Wipe out the skillet, add the oil, and heat it over medium heat. Add the bell pepper, carrots, onion, and garlic and cook until almost tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Return the beef to the skillet and add the basil, oregano, tomatoes with their juice, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, if using, and 2 cups of water. Season with salt and black pepper to taste. Increase the heat to high and let come to a simmer. Add the elbow macaroni, stir, and cover the skillet. Reduce the heat to medium and let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the macaroni is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 8 to 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or black pepper as necessary.
4. Sprinkle the cheddar on top, then cover the skillet and cook until the cheese is melty, about 1 minute. Serve this right out of the skillet.
Cooking Tip: Leftovers can be reheated on the stovetop over medium-low heat, or in a preheated 350°F oven, for 10 to 15 minutes (you may want to add a bit of water if it seems like the macaroni is drying out). If possible, don't add the cheese until the very end, otherwise it has a way of dissolving right into the casserole and not staying on top in that appealing melty way. If you are serving half of the dish on one day and saving the other half for another, sprinkle one cup of the cheese over half of the skillet, leaving the other half naked for later.
What the Kids Can Do: Kids can add ingredients to the skillet, with supervision, and letting them sprinkle on the cheese during the final step often locks in their appetite for the dish, because it smells great.
Fudgy One-Pot Brownies
Makes 12 huge or 24 reasonably sized brownies
It had been dawning on me that the surest way to achieve brownie nirvana, the kind of fudgy chocolatiness that wimpy people say is too chocolaty (and then go on to polish off another brownie or two), is best achieved by combining cocoa powder and melted chocolate. During this period of intense brownie contemplation I had lunch with Melissa Clark, food writer and mom to young Dahlia, and mentioned my brownie quest. She thought she had a recipe somewhere with dueling chocolates, and she e-mailed it to me that afternoon. I tinkered with it a bit, determined to decode a perfect brownie that could be mixed right in the saucepan. This is the one-pot result. Fifteen minutes of hands-on time, max, and well worth every minute.
I am also ridiculously pleased to say that this recipe shaves off two more common brownie-making steps. Often a recipe will tell you to chop the chocolate before melting it. Here you just make sure to melt it with the butter over low heat, and the chocolate will dissolve gently into the butter, without scorching. Also, you can skip the whole double boiler thing if you keep the heat low enough, don't stray too far, and stir frequently. This saves you washing a chopping board, a knife (or a food processor bowl and blade), and the second double boiler pan. You will want to celebrate this with a brownie.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus butter for greasing the baking pan (optional)
Nonstick cooking spray (optional)
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1⁄2 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
21⁄2 cups granulated sugar
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
11⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 13 by 9-inch baking pan or spray it with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Place the butter and chocolate in a medium-size saucepan over low heat and let melt together, stirring until smooth. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, and salt, then blend in the vanilla. Beat in the eggs one at a time, stirring to mix quickly so they don't have a chance to cook at all before they are blended in. Blend in the flour.
3. Scrape the thick batter into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake until the edges just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan and a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.
4. Let the brownies cool in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, cut them into 12 or 24 squares.
Cooking Tip: A bit of bad news, I'm afraid. You really need to let these brownies cool completely before you cut them or they will cut messily and not hold their shape very well. It's best to leave the house to avoid temptation. But, hey, they're for a bake sale. You weren't going to actually eat one? Oh, okay, that'll cost you $1.00. By the way, the brownies are so much better, both in terms of taste and consistency, when they are completely cool-in fact they're even better the next day, firm and amazingly moist inside, with that gorgeous lightly crackled top crust.
Make Ahead: I have heard that these brownies can be stored in a tightly sealed container for up to five days, but this may be just a rumor.
What the Kids Can Do: They can measure, mix, dump, stir, pour, stand around saying "Are they cool yet? Are they cool yet? How about now? Are they cool now?"
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