My Dad's Chili Mac -- a rediscovered crowd pleaser

By Charleen - March 06, 2020

At almost every family gathering, from ski weekends to Labor Day at the lake, my nieces and nephews have come to expect a delicious, cheesy beef macaroni casserole in a slightly tart-sweet chili tomato sauce. Part of my own childhood memories, the dish was lost for 30 years until a chance conversation with our children's nanny...

Tart, slightly sweet, tomato sauce with lots of cheese, complemented nicely with Sriracha for a bit of extra heat
Shortcut to the printable Love2Chow recipe.
In the late 1970's, my father was inspired by a short squat jar of "Old-Fashioned Chili Sauce" to create this mild, beef chili macaroni dish. It was a huge hit! My dad was so proud, amazing his friends when their kids, who were too picky to eat anything other than frozen chicken nuggets or hot dogs, eagerly consumed my dad's potluck dish. Before I went to college, I got the recipe from him and tried to make it. However, we could no longer find the right sweet-tangy old fashioned chili sauce, and the dish just was not the same.


Shortly before Christmas in 2004, I was reminiscing about this dish with our nanny from Utah. It turned out that she knew of a yummy chili sauce in a short squat jar that her dad used for sloppy joe sandwiches. She brought back a jar for me to try, and it was exactly the same shaped jar with the same type-face on the lid. Instead of "Old-Fashioned" it has been rebranded as "Homade Chili Sauce." As soon as I opened it, I knew it was the same sauce from my childhood. I made Chili Mac as a surprise for my sister, and she recognized it at once!
It turns out the sauce can be still be purchased in grocery stores in at least Utah and Indiana. I scoured the internet and found that I could also mail order it by the case. It was made by Ventura Foods in Cerritos, CA, and then later acquired by Allied Old English in NJ. 

In my own version, I have cut back the meat by half and added zucchini and/or yellow squash and/or carrots. It becomes a complete meal with all the food groups. At one gathering, my sister-in-laws thought that some of their kids would never eat anything with any vegetables in it and that I should leave out the zucchini. But I had been adding vegetables to for years, and their kids had already been happily eating large quantities of it! Nevertheless, I started grating instead of chopping the zucchini.

The dish is remarkably easy. You brown the ground beef with a bit of soy sauce, garlic and onion powder, while boiling the macaroni and shredding the zucchini and cheeses. A jar of Homade Chili Sauce and half a jar of spaghetti sauce (we like using a sauce with mushrooms) are mixed with the meat and noodles, and the whole thing placed in a casserole, topped with cheese and baked. 
Top left: ingredients for 2X recipe minus the zucchini. Top right: spooning off oil from the ground beef. Bottom left: adding shredded zucchini. Bottom right: wok full of 2X sauce, while first box of macaroni boils.

While two of the many kids to whom I have served Chili Mac prefer to eat it as a pasta before it is baked because they don't like cheese, I have yet to meet a kid or adult that did not love this dish. I once even made a vegan portion for a guest, by mixing noodles, zucchini and sauces and separating out a portion before mixing adding the meat and cheese. For the gluten-sensitive, I would save some meat topping to serve with rice. The dish is ultimately flexible! This batch contains leftover chopped onions, tomatoes and jalapenos from a taco bar.
Two pans of baked chili mac plus a bowl of reserved pasta for the kids that don't like cheese
As the kids grow up, I find that I have to double or even triple the recipe. Here, the large capacity of a 14-inch wok comes in handy for getting everything mixed up, while my other large pot is used to cook multiple batches of macaroni. After about 25-30 minutes in a 350°F oven, this yummy chili mac is ready to serve!

Love2Chow Daddy's Chili Mac                                                                   March 5, 2020
1-2 pounds ground hamburger beef (he used 2 in the original recipe)
1/4 tsp garlic powder or several cloves of fresh garlic, minced
2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp onion flakes or half a small onion, chopped
1-2 zucchini and/or yellow squash, chopped or grated
1 12-oz jar of Homade Chili Sauce
15 Fl. oz spaghetti sauce with mushrooms
1 pound dry elbow macaroni
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 pound monterey jack cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Boil water and cook macaroni per package directions
3. Meanwhile, brown ground beef, draining fat if necessary. Add vegetables if using. Season with soy sauce, garlic and onion to taste. 
4. Mix in entire jar of chili sauce, spaghetti sauce and the cooked macaroni.
5. Transfer to 9 x 13 glass baking dish or broiler pan. Top with grated cheeses and bake 25-30 min until cheese is bubbly and slightly browned.

Click here for the printable Love2Chow recipe.
Chili Mac with zucchini and carrots


Tips: 
🐾 Ingredients for Homade Chili Sauce are tomatoes, sugar, water, dextrose, distilled vinegar, salt, green & red bell peppers, onion, sesame seeds, spices and natural flavor. 

🐾 Spaghetti sauces that we have enjoyed in this dish include Classico Triple Mushroom with white, portabello and cremini mushrooms -- a Tuscany style sauce, or Classico Marina with plum tomatoes and olive oil. Mid's Sicilian style Traditional Meatless or Tomato Basil sauce is also quite good. 

🍃If you have a steamer basket, you can steam cut up broccoli for 6-7 min on top of the boiling pasta. Toss with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon zest for a great side!

🍃Use a pasta insert or a large strainer scoop to remove the noodles from each pound of pasta if you are doubling or tripling the recipe. The hot water that is left behind can then be used to make soft cooked or hard cooked eggs.  



DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE CASSEROLE DISH?

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