Italian Elbow Mac-N-Cheese

Today is National Prime Rib Day. Now I know what you are thinking, Italian Mac and Cheese is a far cry from a beautiful Prime Rib. And you would be right. While Hubby and I are far from rich, we manage and can even indulge for the right reasons when it comes to the food budget.

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Jefferson’s Macaroni and French Cheese

Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, was born on April 13, 1743. Jefferson served as minister to France, Secretary of State in Washington’s Cabinet and ran for President for the first time in 1796. He was elected Vice President to his opponent, John Adams, due to a major flaw in the Constitution. It seems that back in the early days, the winner of the presidential election became President, the second runner-up Vice President. You can imagine how that opened the door to all sorts of problems.

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Putting on the Ritz (Mac and Cheese Ham Casserole)

When Kiddo was not yet a year old, Hubby’s career was on the fast track to the top, but reaching that plateau required us to pack up and move from the central valley that I had called home my entire life. Moving to the dessert wasn’t easy. I had never been away from family before.

In the beginning, we made the ten-hour drive several times a year to be with family. One by one, those treks became fewer and fewer. First it was Christmas. Since we came out for Thanksgiving, Christmas was too quick of a turn around. And then the summer camp-out disappeared. Eventually even Thanksgiving every year became tough to manage. While I missed my family deeply, the move to another state meant we had the opportunity to develop our own little family traditions. I wanted to give Kiddo the holidays I remembered. We made friends, and they became our large, extended family.


Over the years, we developed our own magical family traditions. So to did our California family.

When we returned to California a few years back, once again adjustments needed to be made. Hubby, Kiddo and I hosted a full-blown sit-down Christmas Dinner with a big ham and all the trimmings for our adopted families. My family does a cold-cut smorgasbord on Christmas Day. We missed the big, fancy dinner. So we began rearranging our traditions. Our big dinner was moved to Christmas Eve. That posed some issues since our Christmas Eve was also rich in keeping with the spirit of Seven Fishes. When we lived in the dessert, we were adopted by a great Italian family. They were old school Catholics, so Christmas Eve was an unending feast of pastas and seafood, followed by Midnight Mass. When we first landed back in California, we did a smaller, more intimate version of the Christmas Eve Feast and skipped the Christmas Supper entirely. It wasn’t long before my guys were missing their old traditions. Wanting my guys to be happy, and clinging to our own traditions, we ignored the dates on the calendar. For us, Christmas Eve is December 23, Christmas is the 24th. We have our traditions while acclimating to the traditions of others.

I love doing it this way for several reasons. First off, I have the ham bone for our big pot of beans for New Year’s Day. Secondly, shortly after Christmas I make my guys one of their favorite casserole. Typically, it consists of Macaroni, Cheese, Peas and diced ham saved from Christmas. This year I tried a new recipe, adding Ritz Crackers to the mix. Guess what? It was a hit – as in nothing left. My guys polished it off with eager delight.

Ritz Mac and Cheese Ham Casserole
For the Casserole
2 Boxes Kraft Three-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese Dinner
8 tablespoons (1 stick) Butter
1 cup Milk, divided
1 1/2 cup chopped Smoked Ham
1 can Peas, drained
1/3 cup shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese
1/3 cup shredded Monterey Jack

Buttery Ritz Topping
1 sleeve Ritz Crackers, crushed
2 tablespoon Butter, melted
1/2 cup shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook pasta as directed. While the pasta is cooking, chop the ham, drain the peas and crush the crackers. Place the crackers in a small bowl. Blend with 1/2 cup cheese, and drizzle with melted butter. Set aside until ready to use.

Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain the pasta. In the now empty pot, meld 1 stick of butter. Blend melted butter with macaroni cheese packets. Stir in 1/2 cup milk. Return pasta to sauce pan over low heat.

Add chopped ham, peas, remaining 1/2 cup milk and both cheeses. Stir to blend over low heat until cheese has melted and mixture is well blended.

Spread mixture into a 9×13 casserole dish. Top with Ritz mixture.

Bake for 15 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

This is great with a simple salad.

Garlic White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Spam

Boxed Mac and Cheese with Spam? Really? Are you actually blogging about boxed Mac and Cheese with Spam? Have you lost your mind? Those are the thoughts going through my mind as I type this post.

Okay, originally on the menu was White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with diced ham – from scratch – as in buy the macaroni and make the White Cheddar Sauce from scratch. So what happened? A grocery store that was not stocked. No ham steak to slice and dice, – just the stuff in the cans or the giant, crowd pleasing Christmas Hams. What was up with that? Fine. If I’m using ham in a can, I may as well use Spam. Especially since I had a can sitting in my pantry – save the cost of a canned ham. Oh hell’s bells – if I’m using Spam, I’m not going to fork over my hard-earned money for a block of Irish White Cheddar and all the other cheeses for a Mac and Cheese from scratch. I told Hubby we’d skip the deli cheese counter and just get that boxed stuff.

Hum, Kraft makes a boxed White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Garlic and Herbs. Wow, I did not know that. Okay, let’s use that – anything’s better than the powdered orange stuff, right?

Mac and Cheese with Spam brought back memories. When times were tough and the grocery money needed to be stretched to the limit like in college or when you were first starting out on your own. Except this time around this take on a budget friendly supper had some real flavor. Now I wouldn’t recommend such an unhealthy bowl full of this nostalgic dish as a regular part of anyone’s diet. But for a quick trip down memory lane it was fun.

Kiddo and Hubby actually went for seconds. I might have to keep a box or two in the pantry for those nights when I’m just not up to cooking or when Kiddo is on his own.

Garlic White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Diced Spam
2 Boxes Kraft Deluxe White Cheddar Mac and Cheese with Garlic and Herbs
1 Can Spam, diced

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Empty macaroni into boiling water and let cook 10 minutes.

While macaroni is boiling, dice Spam and set aside until ready to use.

When macaroni is cooked through, drain but DO NOT rinse.

Pour a little olive oil into the pot, heat over medium-high heat. Add diced Spam to the pot and fry until just beginning to brown.

Return macaroni to pan, remove from heat. Empty cheese packages over pasta. Sprinkle with garlic-herb packets.

Stir pot well to coat everything in the cheese and blend spices.

Serve and enjoy a trip down memory lane. Great with a big glass of ice-cold milk.

Italian Macaroni and Cheese

First let’s talk about Kraft Mac and Cheese for a moment. You know the stuff I’m talking about – comes in a box with a package of powdered cheese. In 1916, Kraft was awarded a patent on their powdered cheese. While the company did not create powdered cheese, it did come up with a new way of processing the powdery substance. By 1937 Kraft had perfected its Mac and Cheese Dinner. The timing was perfect. World War II was looming just over the horizon, and the impact of a world war would create a demand for Kraft Mac and Cheese.

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Beautiful Italian Macaroni Bake

While I know Italian food isn’t necessarily pasta, salads and bread, that’s what usually springs to mind when someone says “Italian”. This dish is truly “beautiful” in the sense that it has all those typical “Italian” foods conveniently located inside a single dish. You’ve got your pasta, your bread, and your salad (hey – tomatoes and basil counts).

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