Chili-Mac with Ground Venison & Ground Pork
Everyone has his/her favorite comfort food. My family loves chicken fried venison steaks with garlic mashed potatoes and cream gravy. We all love venison meatloaf. It makes the house smell great! Any type of pasta is comforting. But number one on my personal comfort food list is Chili-Roni. I’ve seen it called Chili-Mac. But it’s chili and macaroni & cheese mixed together in a wonderful conglomeration of feel good. Recently, I’ve actually seen it on menus in restaurants. I have to admit that I find it almost offensive to take a food that is perfect in its simplicity and try to upgrade it to gourmet status. But foodies are notorious for that.
What makes chili-roni perfect is that it is from my childhood. During the dawning of boxed dinners, TV dinners, and canned veggies, my mom created this snuggly blanket of a dish that always had me coming back for seconds. It, too, uses “the box”. Boxed macaroni and cheese is perhaps the most important part! The cheap stuff! I actually use the generic version of the store brand. Back in the day, there was Kraft and that was it. My mom was not the first to prepare chili-roni. It has been passed down for generations. It’s one of those dishes that kids the world over just love. All kids, everywhere!
After I experienced it as a kid, I noticed that pre-packaged and various other box and pouch prepared meals came up with versions. The fact is, chili-roni is so easy to prepare, why not do it yourself so that you know what’s going into it? Granted, boxed mac & cheese may not be the healthiest thing on the planet, but at least the amount of salt and chemicals can be kept at a minimum if you have a hand in the list of ingredients. You can also tweak the recipe as per your family’s preferences.
As with most of my recipes, ad-libbing is just a given. If you have canned spaghetti sauce in the fridge that might start growing a fur coat in a few days, use it instead of the tomato paste and water. Different type of noodles in the pantry? Okay, just don’t tell me! I have to say that the packet of powdered mystery cheese in the mac & cheese box IS a pretty important ingredient. Just so you know.
I’m gonna share the recipe, in all its simplicity. I thought about making everyone who makes the recipe sign a promise that no gourmet ingredients would be added, no substitutions (except perhaps beef for venison). Here it is, a window into my childhood!
1 lb. ground venison (or 1/2 venison, 1/2 pork)
1 box mac & cheese (store brand is fine)
1 small can tomato paste
1 cup water
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
a couple splashes Worcestershire sauce
salt to taste
1. Brown ground meat in a cast iron skillet. I ALWAYS sprinkle in a bit of salt & pepper mix as I brown meat. It helps with any gamey smell.
2. Boil water for boxed pasta. Prepare pasta, reserving powdered mystery cheese for later to be added to the chili mix.
3. Add tomato paste and remaining ingredients to browned meat. (I’m sure everybody knows this but my secret trick for a clean extrusion of tomato paste is to open the top and bottom of the can and just push it straight through. It saves me from scraping out the can. It saves probably 30 seconds or so that could be used to pour a glass of wine!) Stir in cheese powder and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste.
4. Drain pasta and add to chili. Done.