Cheesy Taco Pasta

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Last week, I combined two wonderful foods: taco and soup. Today, I’m sharing a taco + pasta recipe from Delish. I’m starting to see a theme here. Maybe next week I’ll invent taco ice cream. Kidding. That sounds awful.

At first I thought this was a mac n cheese recipe with taco meat, but far from it. It’s definitely cheesy, but the main star is still the pasta sauce, which happens to have a lot of cheese in it. Better yet, it’s absolutely delicious and super easy to make. You seriously can whip this up in 30 minutes on a weeknight and everyone will love it. What’s not to love? There’s cheese. There’s taco-ness. There’s pasta. Win-win.

First, boil some pasta until al dente, and it’s really important not to overcook your pasta because you’ll cook the pasta some more in the sauce later. When you drain the pasta, be sure to save some of the pasta water too. You can use any type of pasta. The original recipe uses macaroni, but lately, I’ve been using pasta shells because it has pockets to trap the sauce inside and I like that.

Now for a little lesson on chopping an onion. If you know about this trick, skip ahead. Otherwise, this will be life changing for you. I don’t know what I used to do before other than nick my fingers and end up with unequal pieces of stuff. Unfortunately, the onion will still make you cry, but let’s just pretend they are tears of joy.

Cut off the non-root end of the onion and then peel the skin off. Next, cut it in half through the root. Flat side down, cut in half towards the root.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Now, slice the onion lengthwise.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Finally, cut across and admire your handiwork.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

After you’re done patting yourself on the back for you perfectly chopped onion pieces, you can apply your new trick to a jalapeño. If you want a spicier dish, include the membranes when you chop up the pepper.

Gather the rest of the ingredients and arrange them next to the stove you can dump them in the pan as you go.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Saute the onion and jalapeño. Add your ground beef. When that’s cooked, throw in your taco seasonings. Next, add the canned tomatoes. Fire-roasted are best, but you can use any type of canned diced tomatoes. Hopefully your pasta is done by now because you need some of that reserved pasta water too.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Drop in the grated cheese and let it melt. Stir.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Dump the cooked pasta in.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Stir it all up until the pasta is well coated and combined with the sauce. Dish it out, garnish with cilantro, and eat!

Cheesy Taco Pasta

As you can see, it’s not mac and cheese, but your familiar and comforting pasta and meat sauce, enhanced with a bunch of cheese and taco seasonings. It makes great leftovers, but you might not have any. Instead, you’ll breakdown, have seconds, and soon it’ll be all gone.

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Cheesy Taco Pasta

Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • olive oil
  • 12 ounces pasta shells
  • 1/2 large white onion chopped
  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 jalepeno chopped
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 15 ounces diced fire-roasted canned tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded jack cheese
  • fresh cilantro chopped, for garnish

Instructions
 

  • Boil a large pot of water. Salt the water and then add the pasta. Cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain, saving at least 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Return pasta to the pot.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onion and season with salt. Cook until tender, 5 minutes.
  • Add jalapeño. Cook 2 minutes more.
  • Add ground beef and cook until no longer pink, 6 minutes. Add taco seasoning. Drain fat.
  • Add canned tomatoes and 1/4 cup reserved pasta water. Stir.
  • Add cheese. Let it melt in while stirring occasionally for about 2 minutes.
  • Add cooked pasta and toss until completely combined.
  • Garnish with cilantro and serve.
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Parmesan Chicken

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I love Parmesan chicken. It’s one of my favorites, but one that I’ve never made well. I usually end up ordering it at restaurants, wishing I could replicate it at home. I think I figured out the problem. I had the wrong recipe.

The two biggest flaws: breading is soggy and doesn’t stick. Other recipes have you dip the chicken in a wash of egg or milk, roll it around in bread crumbs with Parmesan cheese, and then hope all would go well. Wrong. There’s a lot of science behind this recipe, but if followed, you’re guaranteed to make perfectly breaded, crispy chicken with cheesy goodness on the outside, and moist chicken on the inside.

First, let’s thank Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, for this recipe. She makes the best food. Fancy yet comforting. Her recipes are solid and reliable. BTW, I split the recipe because it’s just the three of us, and find that reheating the leftovers isn’t that successful. You lose the crunchiness that makes it so good.

Purchase thin chicken breasts or pound them yourself to about 1/4-inch thick. I like to cover the chicken with wax paper and pound it with a mallet. The wax paper protects the chicken from tearing., but frankly, if I can find chicken already sliced thin, I buy that instead.

You’ll need three dishes to coat the chicken. One reason why the breading falls off is because most recipes skip the important flour dredge. This is a mixture of flour, salt, and pepper. I think it helps the egg wash, which you dip the chicken into after the flour, stick to the chicken, which you absolutely need for the last layer, a mixture of dry bread crumbs and cheese. Each layer builds on each other. When you are done coating your chicken, everything should stick to the chicken rather than slide off. This method is fool-proof, and I mean that in the best possible way. I would be the first to screw it up. And with other recipes, I have. Many times over.

Parmesan Chicken

When you cook it, you don’t need a super hot pan. Heat up the pan with butter and olive oil to medium-low heat. The lower heat setting helps the chicken brown nicely while not drying it out. Cook on each side for about 2-3 minutes. Carefully, try lifting a corner of the chicken. If the chicken sticks to the pan, do not flip it over! Wait another 30 seconds and try again. Be patient and gentle. When it looks like the chicken is not glued to the pan, slip the spatula under the chicken and flip it in one motion. Sometimes I use my fingers to guide and balance it to the correct side. Now would be a good time to show you a video of this. If only I had such technology. Just try to imagine it instead. If you can’t, just flip it. It’s all good.

When it’s all toasty brown on one side, it should look gorgeous like this.

Parmesan Chicken

I’m pretty proud of myself here. It’ll be this way for you too.

Meanwhile, make the lemon vinaigrette for the mixed green salad. I don’t think a salad is really necessary and found the dressing to be a bit too acidic for my taste, but my husband loved it. It does compliment the richness of the cheese, but I’m a ranch girl. I would put ranch on everything if I could.

When the chicken is golden on both sides, it’s ready. I placed the chicken over the greens, but the recipe instructs you to place the greens on the chicken. Either way. I wanted my greens a little wilted so under the chicken they went. I shredded plenty of extra Parmesan cheese on top. Like ranch, one cannot have too much cheese.

This makes a super impressive, fancy looking dinner that really didn’t take much time at all.

Parmesan Chicken
Parmesan Chicken

Parmesan Chicken

Servings 6

Ingredients
  

  • 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese plus extra for serving
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • salad greens for 6 washed and spun dry

Lemon Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Using a meat mallet, pound the chicken breasts until they are 1/4 inch thick.
  • Combine the flour, salt, and pepper on a dinner plate. On a second plate, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon of water. On a third plate, combine the bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Coat the chicken breasts on both sides with the flour mixture, then dip both sides into the egg mixture, and dredge both sides in the bread-crumb mixture, pressing lightly.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan. Cook 3 chicken breasts on medium-low heat for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until cooked through and golden. Remove from pan and set aside, covered to keep them warm. Add more butter and oil to the pan, and cook the rest of the chicken breasts.
  • Make the vinaigrette in a small bowl by whisking together the juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Toss the salad greens with vinaigrette.
  • To serve, place a mound of salad on each plate and then place a chicken breasts on each salad. Shredded additional Parmesan cheese on top.
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Mac and Cheese with Ham

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I love mac and cheese. Pasta. Cheese. Gooey deliciousness. What’s not to love? To make a more hearty meal, add a protein or mix it up a bit. Use tortellini instead of macaroni or shells. Top with a cracker crumble. Throw in some chicken and broccoli. That makes it healthy, right? Other add-in ideas: meatballs, bacon (mmmm…bacon), spicy sausage, veggies, pesto, or even tuna. I decided to take it up a notch by throwing in some diced ham.

I have a super yummy recipe when I don’t want to make boxed mac and cheese. You can use any kind of cheese that melts easily, like American (which does have its place but not today), but this is fancy mac and cheese so you swap out the American for a more grown up cheese: Gruyere. Gruyere is a type of Swiss cheese that doesn’t taste anything like that strong, holey Swiss cheese. Instead, it’s sweet, salty, and nutty without being overpowering. It’s also really creamy and melts easily so it’s perfect for fondue, grilled cheese, and of course, mac and cheese.

Making homemade mac and cheese is not hard, but is a little more time consuming that the box. The “hardest” part is making the actually sauce, but it’s a lot easier to make than you think. You won’t mess up. It won’t come out lumpy or burnt if you follow a few simple steps. I promise.

Do your prep work. Shred a bunch of cheese and dice your ham into bite-sized pieces.

While you’re cooking your pasta (to slightly under al dente because it’ll continue to cook a little in the oven), make your sauce. Heat up some milk. When it’s ready, it should be hot, but not boiling. If you can stick your little finger in it and it’s a little uncomfortable, but not burning, it’s perfect. It’ll also coat the spoon and pan a little. It took about three minutes for me on medium heat.

The key is not to heat it on high and or it might scorch the bottom of the pan. If that happens, just start over and be patient. It’ll do the right thing if you don’t rush it.

While this is going on, melt some butter that you’ve cubed into smaller squares so it melts quickly and more evenly than if you threw the whole stick in. Add the same amount of flour and whisk over low heat for about two minutes. Watch you go! You’re now making a roux, which is just a fancy way of saying you’ve combined some butter and flour that you can use to thicken a lot of stuff.

I depend on time to make sure the roux comes out right. After you’ve made a roux a few times, you’ll know what to look for, but for now, just stick to stirring for two minutes and note that it’s bubbly, no longer has that raw flour taste, and slightly darker than before. You can cook it longer to a more golden-brown if you want a darker, richer sauce, but I prefer mine fairly blond.

Add the hot milk and whisk the entire time for one to two minutes. The sauce will be thickened and smooth. Next comes the cheese. Throw that all in along with your seasonings and ham. When it’s well mixed and melty, it’ll look like fondue and it’ll be difficult not to dip cubes of sourdough bread into it. Resist the temptation. I mean, you should taste it to make sure it’s ok, but use some self-restraint.

Mix it with the cooked pasta, stir again until all the pasta is well coated. Plop it into a casserole pan.

Bake it until bubbly and slightly toasted on top.

That’s it.

The original recipe comes from Ina Garten, who makes a ton of amazing food. I completely trust all of her recipes. This recipe has been halved and macaroni has been substituted with shells. I also skipped the tomato and bread crumb topping.

Mac and Cheese with Ham

Mac and Cheese with Ham

Ingredients
  

  • kosher salt
  • 1/2 pound pasta shells
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 ounces Gruyere cheese shredded
  • 4 ounces cheddar cheese shredded
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 cups ham diced

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Add the pasta to boiling, salted water and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
  • Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt butter in a pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ham. Add the cooked pasta and stir well. Pour into a baking dish.
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.
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