Dump the box, favorite meals are easier, tastier from scratch

08/11/2014 12:00 AM

08/07/2014 3:34 PM

I’ll be honest and admit that I buy frozen ready-made pie crusts and my husband’s favorite cornbread is made with a mix, not from scratch. Not all of the jelly or jam in my pantry is homemade and we sometimes have canned biscuits. Furthermore, while I’ve learned to make tamales and usually make them once a year, it’s so much easier to buy them.

But I’ll never buy frozen taquitos or hamburger-cheeseburger helper (grandchildren’s favorite) again. I have recipes for both that are simple to make and taste much better. Both can be altered for your individual tastes (i.e. add chopped jalapenos to the taquitos or modify the blend of cheeses in the macaroni). Both recipes can also be frozen, making life easier on busy nights. Enjoy!

Crispy Homemade Chicken Taquitos

3 cups roasted shredded chicken breasts (or roast beef is great, too)

12 oz. whipped cream cheese

4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 6-oz can green chilies (or 1⁄2 cup green salsa verde)

3⁄4 teaspoon cumin

1 1⁄2 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder

2 1⁄2 cups shredded pepper-jack cheese

Small corn or flour tortillas

Fine-grained sea salt

Olive oil cooking spray

Add all spices, cilantro, lime juice, green chilies, chicken and cheese to a large bowl. Mix until well blended. (You can store the mixture overnight in an airtight container in the refrigerator, if desired. I think it makes the mixture easier to roll if chilled).

Heat tortillas so they are soft and won’t break as much when you roll them. (I heat mine in the microwave, a few at a time, with a wet paper towel underneath the stack). Keep warmed tortillas wrapped in a clean, damp cloth until ready to roll. Add a little bit (about 2 tablespoons) of chicken mixture to each tortilla, roll and place seam side down on parchment or a foil lined cookie sheet. Spray with a little olive oil spray and sprinkle with a little bit of salt. Bake in a 425 degree oven for 15 minutes.

To freeze – After rolling the taquitos, placing them on the lined cookie sheet, and very lightly spraying with olive oil spray, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour or so. When the taquitos are frozen, remove them from the pan and add them all to freezer-safe gallon bag. Label and add back to the freezer. When ready to eat just take out of the bag, place on a foil or parchment-lined cookie sheet. Spray lightly with olive oil spray and sprinkle with a little salt. Bake in 425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until crispy.

Simple Macaroni and Beef with Cheese

1 large onion, diced

1 tablespoon canola oil

Salt to taste

2 14.5-oz. cans fire roasted diced tomatoes, pureed

2 lbs. lean ground beef

1 box macaroni shells

1 cup each grated cheddar, Monterrey Jack, and mozzarella cheese

Optional seasonings: black pepper, oregano, cumin, chopped garlic, hot smoked paprika, chili powder, whatever you’re in the mood for.

Sweat the onion in the oil with a three-fingered pinch of salt. Add the beef and cook it, breaking it up as you do. Add another pinch or two of salt along with any additional dry seasonings you want. Add the tomatoes and any fresh seasonings you may be using, bring it to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for an hour.

Cook the macaroni in boiling water until it’s half done. Drain it and add it to the tomato mixture. (To stretch this into two meals, use the whole box of macaroni. To make a meatier dish, only use half the box.) Stir it into the sauce. Taste it and add more salt or any other seasonings, if needed, and cover.

When it’s cooled and the pasta has absorbed the tomato juices, transfer it to a large baking dish and cover it with foil. It can be refrigerated up to two days or frozen a few weeks at this point, before adding the cheese and baking.

Bake in a 400 degree oven until piping hot (about 45 minutes if it’s cold to room temperature). Just before you’re ready to eat, remove the foil, cover macaroni with the cheese and broil until it looks beautiful.

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