Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Taco Casserole

This spicy dish is for anyone who loves the comfort of cheesy-topped casseroles straight from the oven and is also obsessed with taco meat. I have to warn you, if the shell is your favorite part of the taco this casserole probably isn't for you, since it has no shell in it whatsoever. While it's inspired by tacos, and has taco seasoning in it, I wouldn't want to serve it in a taco if I were you.

1/4 pound extra-lean ground beef
1/4 cup dry whole wheat macaroni
1/4 packet low-sodium taco seasoning (about 8 grams)
1/4 cup water
grated cheese
1 cup spicy diced tomatoes (I used 'spicy red pepper' from Aylmer Accents)

you'll also need:
pasta strainer
non-stick frying pan
baking sheet covered with tin foil
oven-proof casserole dish holding at least 700 ml

A note on substitutions:
If you don't want your casserole to be as spicy as this one, use a can of regular diced tomatoes instead of the spicy ones. You could also substitute ground chicken or turkey for the beef, but I wouldn't recommend it: the beef is a hardier meat that holds its texture and flavoring well, and you want it to stand up to everything else you're putting in this dish. In terms of cheese, I wanted to use Tex Mex blend but didn't have any, so used double cheddar instead. You'll want to make sure that whatever blend of cheese you use has cheddar in it, as that will help cut some of the heat.
Strictly speaking, your cookie sheet doesn't need to be lined with tin foil. This is a precaution in case your cheese goes awol and ends up all over the cookie sheet -- if you've covered it with foil, you won't have to clean it.

1. bring salted water to a boil and put your macaroni in. Cook it until it's firm or very firm. As soon as it's done, put it in the strainer and run cold water over it. This will keep it from continuing to cook itself.
2. while your pasta is cooking, put 1 cup of the tomatoes, with some liquid, into the casserole dish. Once your pasta is drained and cooled-by-water, stir it into the tomatoes.
3. for good measure, stir a pinch of cheese into the mixture.
4. preheat your oven to 350 F.
5. brown your hamburger at medium heat in the frying pan. When it has browned, add taco seasoning and water, simmering at medium heat until all the liquid has been absorbed.
6. once your meat is completely cooked, stir it into the casserole. Top with shredded cheese, place on cookie sheet and put it in the oven. Cook for 20 to 25 minutes, until top is melted and starting to bubble. You'll know it's ready by the smell in your kitchen.
7. when done, remove casserole from oven and let it sit for several minutes. Put something heat-proof under the dish and eat it straight from the casserole once it's cooled slightly. I recommend eating it with a glass of water or cold milk nearby.

I made this recipe up based on my obsession with both casserole and taco meat.

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