Thursday, February 19, 2009

Cheesy Venison Casserole

My husband and I still have a lot of venison in the freezer from the deer he got this past fall. We actually butchered it together and I had fun doing it! I found it really interesting to see where the meat comes from and how you can break it down. Anyways, he said he was in the mood for hamburger helper the other day and asked me to use venison in it instead. I said I would, but I was going to make my "own" version of hamburger helper and not make it from out of the box (obviously). I didn't use a recipe but kind of came up with it as I went along and it came out really great! I love when I make things without a recipe and they actually come out good since I don't do it very often! This is perfect comfort food, and the perfect recipe for when your husband wants hamburger helper but you don't want to make it from a box! You can obviously substitute beef for venison, but I personally loved the flavor the venison gave the dish. I served this meal with some crusty french bread that I topped with Olive Oil and minced garlic, and toasted in the oven for a few minutes.

1 lb ground venison (or beef)
1 box of Large Shell Pasta (I used Barilla)
1 medium-large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 block (4 oz) reduced fat or fat free cream cheese
3 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. flour
3 cups skim milk
1 bay leaf
1 egg
1/2 tsp paprika
1 8 oz. bag shredded 'Mexican' blend cheese (I think this equals about 2 cups)
panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a large casserole dish with non-stick spray. Set aside. In a large pot of boiling, salted water add shells and cook for about 12 minutes or until cooked through. Drain, and set pasta aside.

In a large skillet with high sides, cook ground venison over medium-high heat, crumbling/stirring meat every few minutes. When ground beef is almost cooked through and has very little pink left, add onion and garlic. Stir to combine, cover and cook, stirring every few minutes for about 5-7 minutes or until onions are translucent and meat is cooked completely through. Reduce heat to medium-low, add cream cheese and cover. Stir every so often until cream cheese is completely incorporated with meat mixture and has melted. Remove mixture from heat and, keeping it covered, set aside.

In a medium-large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. When melted, whisk in flour and continue whisking until the mixture becomes a very light golden color, about 3-4 minutes. Whisk in milk and paprika, add the bay leaf and turn up the heat to medium-high. When the mixture has been brought up to a simmer, lower heat to medium or medium don't want the milk to boil over!!! Make sure you are whisking constantly during this whole process. Let the milk simmer for about 10-12 minutes, or until it has thickened considerably. Remove the bay leaf, and temper in the egg*. Whisk in all of your cheese and continue to whisk until the cheese is completely melted and the mixture is nice and thick.

Now, put your cooked shell noodles in the same pot as the beef mixture, and pour the cheese sauce over everything. I used most of the sauce, but not all of it. Add as much as you want, to your particular cheese liking! Mix everything together thoroughly, season with salt and pepper to taste, and pour in your greased casserole dish. Sprinkle the top with panko bread crumbs, and bake for about 20-30 minutes. Serve, and enjoy!

*Tempering in an egg: If you're not a food network junkie like me, you might not know what tempering in an egg means! Basically you don't want your egg to scramble when you put it in a hot mixture, so you have to bring it up to temperature gradually. Crack your egg into a very small bowl or measuring cup, then add a few spoonfuls of your hot milk mixture to it and whisk it in with the egg. Do this 2 or 3 times, adding more of your hot milk mixture each time. Then pour the whole thing back into the thickened hot milk and whisk to combine.


Anonymous said...

Mmmm... that looks soooo comforting. Flavorful and delicious!

Maria said...

What a comforting meal!


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