Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Quick Anyday Taco Pasta Skillet

Let's face it. There are days when even the most accomplished cook wants something easy. Simple. No hassle. I had one of those days a couple of days ago. I just plain did not feel like inventing something lengthy or complicated. I had some hamburger thawed, so that was going to be the main event. I was tired of Sloppy Joes or my One-Skillet Hamburger Meal (which I made last week).
Taco Pasta Skillet
My Taco Pasta Skillet

So I went online. I am sure, if you are looking at this blog post, that you have been in this same boat, and found literally hundreds of hamburger skillets, along with ones for chicken and pork and any number of other things. Some with pasta, some with rice, and some with no carb component. This is what influenced me: my husband likes his carbs. If I served him a hamburger skillet that contained no rice or pasta, he would want it on a bun. So - since I had just made the rice skillet recently, I was looking for something with pasta. 

I found lots and lots and lots of recipes. As usual, none of them - quite - suited me. A Taco Skillet sounded good, but required a packet of Taco Seasoning. I do not buy packets of pre-mixed seasonings. They most often contain MSG, and at the very least contain a slew of ingredients that make me wonder if there is truly anything at all real in the mixture! One commonly known brand contains 6 identifiable ingredients. The remainder of the ingredient list states:
"Contains Less than 2% of: Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Silicon Dioxide (Anticaking Agent), Sunflower and/or Cottonseed Oil, Natural Flavor, Ethoxyquin (Preservative)."
Taco Seasoning
Taco Seasoning
I don't know about you, but for me, this is not desirable. So, my next step was to try and cobble together a recipe for Taco Seasoning. Most recipes found online are quite similar. Most have identical ingredients, but with differing amounts. Some few have a couple of extra things. You get the picture. So again I set pen to paper and made a list of what I thought should go into a Taco Seasoning. Here is what I created:

Taco Seasoning
Taco Seasoning

Taco Seasoning

  • 2 tablespoons = one "packet"
  • 2 tablespoons seasons 1 pound hamburger
  • makes five (2-tablespoon) servings

3 tablespoons commercial chili powder
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons powdered oregano
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

Mix all ingredients together and store in a jar with tight fitting lid, away from light and heat. 

If more heat is desired, add in cayenne powder to your desired heat tolerance.

What is a Taco, Anyway?

I guess the next step in my creation of a recipe is to ask "What is a Taco?" I think that all depends on who you ask. Almost anything can go into a taco. Any kind of meat. Cheese or no cheese. Vegetables: most often fresh tomatoes, or salsa, avocado, and many other possibilities - or no vegetables. Tortillas: corn or wheat. What goes in is at the discretion of the cook, the country and the day of the week. I am being a little facetious, but really, tacos consist of something to hold and something to fill. 

With this much leeway, most anything can be done, but obviously making something in a skillet has nothing to do with a "taco". So I am going on the idea that because it is flavored with "taco seasoning" (I'm betting tacos in Mexico do not use "taco seasoning"), and some of the things that might go into a taco are in this one-dish meal, that this constitutes a "taco" skillet. For sure, the ingredient list can be diverse. 
Taco Pasta Skillet
Taco Pasta Skillet

When I approached this concept, I started thinking about things that might be thought of as "Tex-Mex" and so corn and beans were two things right off the bat. The taco seasoning I created, at least had no untoward ingredients, and gave flavors that lean in that direction. Cheese strewn over top would be the cheese component. The pasta component is the one, glaring, outside-the-box ingredient. 

Ultimately, my husband loved it, and so did I. I served it with sour cream and I ate mine with avocado cubes. It is delicious. My husband's only commentary was that some kind of tortilla chips, maybe crumbled over top, would have given that crunchy aspect he was missing. Ultimately, I think this will be added to the small list (in my cooking repertoire) of things that can be put together in a jiffy. And, that my husband loves.

Taco Pasta Skillet

Taco Pasta Skillet
Taco Pasta Skillet
serves at least 8 hungry people

1 pound lean ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium bell pepper, chopped
1 commercial packet of Taco Seasoning,
OR 2 tablespoons of my Taco Seasoning,  
     recipe above
1 teaspoon salt (if using my seasoning)
2 cups tomato salsa
1 small can corn kernels, drained
1 can (15 oz) black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups elbow macaroni
3/4 cup taco sauce + 3/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded cheese (cheddar / jack)
2 - 4 scallions, chopped

In a very large skillet (preferably non-stick, and with a tight fitting lid) brown the ground beef until all the liquid evaporates, and the meat is browned, about 7 - 8 minutes. Add in the onion, garlic, bell pepper, Taco Seasoning and the 1 teaspoon of salt (if using commercial Taco Seasoning, it will already contain salt, so be aware and eliminate or reduce the salt) and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Add in the salsa and the pasta, with the taco sauce and water and another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir the mixture well and cover. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 7 minutes. Uncover and stir well, then cover and cook for another 7 to 10 minutes, until the pasta is cooked al dente. Sprinkle on the scallions, and top with the shredded cheese. Replace the lid, remove the skillet from the heat and let stand while the cheese melts, another 3 to 5 minutes. 

Serve the skillet meal with sour cream, avocado (plain or as guacamole), chopped tomatoes, cilantro, or salsa on the side.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.