I can be quite lazy when it comes to cooking, wanting maximum results for minimum efforts.
Here is my almost fail-safe and easy menu for dairy meals: mac-n-cheese, bean chili, and yellow rice. All three dishes can be made quickly, and well ahead of serving. I put each in a casserole dish (9×13) for reheating and fill out the meal in different ways to change around the meal a bit.
For a large party, I serve these three easy pieces with cornbread, quacamole, salsa, and tortilla chips, plus lots of salad. The foil pans of chili, rice and mac-n-cheese go into chafing dishes to stay hot.
For a smaller meal (and you could do this for the large party, too), I serve guacamole, salsa, salad, tortilla shells and soft flour tortillas, plus taco sauces and condiments.
I used to serve a Mexican lasagna with this meal, but it is not necessary.
Couldn’t Be Easier Bean Chili
My vegetarian chili could not be easier: just dump together in a casserole dish or pot:
14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with onion
14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with jalapenos (or a cup of salsa–mild is best if you are serving children)
6 ounce can of tomato paste
29 ounce can (or two 14.5 ounce cans) small red beans, rinsed and drained well
1 tsp. cumin, or tot taste
1/2 tsp. oregano
chili powder or hot sauce to taste.
You could heat it in a pot, but I usually put everything in a casserole pan (the only mess is the serving dish! No pots or pans or bowls or even cutting boards to clean up!). It needs to cook for a while to fuse and deepen the flavors. Put it in the oven for about an hour. You can do this ahead and then just reheat. It is even better when reheated. Serve with yellow rice. The beans and rice make a nice meal all by themselves.
For yellow rice, just make rice following the instructions on the bag, but add in a teaspoon of turmeric, 1/4 tsp. cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (for 2 cups of uncooked rice). You can also saute an onion and/or garlic before adding the rice and water.
Macaroni and Cheese
My macaroni and cheese, perfected over many years, is easy, but never fails to get raves. All you need is a pot to boil the pasta and a casserole dish–no separate pot for making cheese sauce. The macaroni and cheese makes its own sauce.
Put in a casserole dish (disposable 9×13 pan is fine, and what I usually use, but a pretty serving casserole is a little nicer):
1 lb. of macaroni, boiled until al dente, rinsed under cold water until cool and not sticky, and drained very, very well
4 Tbl. melted butter
Toss well and season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Add and try to mix in a bit:
1 lb. grated cheddar (use extra sharp for more flavor and grate it yourself; you can add in or substitute for some of the cheddar some Monterey Jack and American cheese, depending on your taste in cheese. The American gives a very smooth texture, but the flavor is bland, so make this a minor component)
1 1/2 – 2 cups of evaporated milk or half-n-half
Cover the pan with foil and put it in a moderate oven for about a half hour. Check on it to see if the cheese looks melted. Stir it around. At first it will look unpromising because it seems as if the cheese and milk will not come together to make a sauce, BUT KEEP STIRRING. If the cheese is melted enough, eventually the cheese and milk will combine into a creamy sauce.
At this point you want to adjust for seasoning with more salt and pepper to taste. If you are serving right away, put it back in the oven (with more cheese on top, if desired) and heat until just hot all the way through. Be careful not to overheat, or the sauce will separate and get greasy.
Don’t put it back in the oven to fully heat through if you are making this dish ahead. Just chill until you need it and then gently reheat. Stir it as it reheats to make sure that it heats through evenly without overheating.
I like to top the finished dish with some crushed cheese cracker mixed with melted butter. Don’t toast the crackers on top, just heat them through.