I've often written about recipes inherited from my mother, grandmother and other family members who have since passed on and left behind family favorites. This time I've gone the opposite direction and have decided to profile a recipe from my daughter.
A military wife with two children, my daughter, Lindsay James, deals with periodic moves, and long deployments while her husband is often away from home doing his job. Like most military wives, Lindsay often has to face daily challenges on her own. Making sure her family has healthy, nutritious meals is sometimes a challenge in itself.
''I'm trying something new,'' Lindsay told me in December. ''I'm not sure how it will turn out, but I hope it's good.''
Beef, cheese and noodle bake is a healthy, one-dish meal that is easy to put together and makes enough to feed an entire family. Leftovers are even better the next day.
The something new was a one-dish meal she found while browsing the Internet, but the recipe that caught her eye wasn't healthy enough.
''It needed something more,'' she said, ''so I added spinach.''
Not a fan of spinach, Lindsay tries to find ways to sneak vegetables into meals, not just for her own health, but also to set an example of healthy eating for her children.
Lindsay's Beef, Cheese and Noodle Bake
1 8-ounce package small elbow macaroni
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup finely chopped spinach
2 tsp. minced garlic
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt, divided
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1 cup low-fat milk
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Cook pasta and drain. Lightly coat the pasta with cooking spray.
In a large skillet or dutch oven, saute the onions and shredded carrots for four minutes. Add the garlic and saute one minute longer. Add the ground beef and spinach. Cook, crumbling the ground beef, for five minutes or until the meat is browned. Add the tomato sauce, 1/2 tsp. salt and the pepper. Cook for an additional two minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Add the pasta to the beef mixture and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish coated in cooking spray.
In a medium saucepan over moderate heat, combine the milk, flour, nutmeg and the remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Whisk until blended. Cook about two minutes or until the mixture begins to thicken while stirring constantly. Take off heat and add one cup shredded cheese and stir until smooth. Pour the mixture over the pasta and beef mixture and stir to combine.
Top the mixture evenly with the rest of the cheese.
Bake for 20 minutes. Let stand five minutes before serving.
''Spinach is good for you, but I don't like the taste,'' she said. ''I thought if I put it in a casserole, I could eat it without tasting it.''
When the dish came out even better than she expected, she made it again while her father, brother and I were visiting over Christmas, and we not only ate it for dinner and lunch the next day, but her father also heated up a small serving and put it inside an omelet for breakfast.
Long after the holidays, I was planning menus for my husband and myself and remembered this dish and how much we enjoyed it. She quickly emailed me the recipe. The best part of this dish is that it reheats well and tastes even better the second day.
I'm also looking forward to getting a little more creative with the recipe by perhaps adding taco seasoning to the meat mixture along with adobo sauce, green chiles and crushed tortilla chips on top.