Monday, January 6, 2014

What's For Dinner: Mexican Mac and Cheese with Taco John's Style Tater Tots

I love cooking, which is not so weird, but I really love meal planning, which may be weird to some people.  I know it's a chore that a lot of people loathe (especially if you don't like to cook), and one that some skip completely.  For me and my family, meal planning is a way for us to control (or at least try to control) the amount of money we spend at the grocery store each week.  It is also ensures that we have ingredients on hand to prepare a meal each night, instead of the dreaded, "what's for dinner?" at 5:30, when all we have in the fridge is pickle relish, a quarter cup of mozzarella cheese, and celery (not that that has ever happened in our house, wink-wink :)).  And my favorite thing about meal planning, is that since I am in charge of the planning, I get to pick what we eat for dinner each night, and we get to try out new recipes, different cuisines than we are used to, and I can make the cooking as involved or as easy as I like!

SO...  We started back meal planning this past week, and the first meal that I put on the calendar was Mexican Mac and Cheese.  I found the original recipe on Pinterest (surprise, surprise), from the Better Homes and Gardens website (find the original recipe here), and I have altered it just slightly to make it just perfect for our family.  We are HUGE mac and cheese fans, and I love Mexican food.  A hybrid of them both?  Perfect.  It's easy, inexpensive, it makes a ton, and it's kid-friendly.  Here's the recipe to try it yourself!

Mexican Mac and Cheese

1 box of elbow macaroni (12-16 oz, depending on the brand.  Can also use rotini, penne, or your favorite short pasta!)
1 onion, diced
12-16 oz mild pork sausage (you can also use hot sausage, or chorizo if you like a little spice and heat!  We keep it mild for the kiddos, then add hot sauce later)
1 jar green salsa verde 
1/2 c regular salsa
4 cups Mexican blend cheese, divided (can also use cheddar or Monterrey Jack)
Toppings (optional)- diced tomatoes, chopped cilantro, diced avocado, sliced jalapenos, salsa

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
-Bring a pot of water to a boil, and cook macaroni according to package directions.
-In the meantime, saute sausage and diced onion in a medium skillet on medium high until cooked through.  You want the onion soft and translucent, and the sausage browned through, with no pink.  
-Once sausage and onion mixture is cooked, put into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the salsas and 2 cups of the Mexican blend cheese until combined.
-Once pasta is cooked al dente, drain and add to the sausage, onion, cheese and salsa mixture.
-Spoon the pasta mixture into 9x12 baking dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese on top of pasta mixture (2 cups is makes it really cheesy, so feel free to cut back).
-Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and casserole is heated through.

Like I said, I love Mexican food, and I like to make it pretty regularly, but I like to make side dishes to go with my main Mexican entrees, and I get tired of making rice and beans all the time (which usually go uneaten anyway).  But, when I saw the recipe for the Taco John's Seasoning for their Potato Oles, I knew I had to make them.

Now, my Southern friends will probably have no idea what I'm talking about when I refer to Taco John's.  But, my Midwestern friends will know exactly what Taco John's is, and where to find the nearest one!  Taco John's is a Mexican fast food chain predominately in the Midwest, but also stretching through the east and northeast.  They have these Potato Oles, which are really just "Crispy Crowns" or Tater Tots, with this salty, spicy seasoning that is completely addicting and delicious.  All through high school and college, potato oles would accompany my taco orders, and would usually be eaten first, before said tacos!  So, I knew I wanted to try the seasonings recipe, and see if I could recreate an old fast food favorite as a side dish for my Mexican Mac and Cheese.  Well, they did not disappoint!!  And again, the recipe couldn't be easier, and completed our Tex-Mex meal , and added another Mexican side dish into our repertoire. 

So here's the recipe if you'd like to make some of your own!

Taco John's Style Tater Tots (Potato Oles)

4 teaspoons seasoning salt
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1 package of frozen tater tots or crispy crowns (Potato Oles are traditionally made with crispy crowns, and that's what I thought I had bought, but I got home and realized I had bought tater tots.  Oh well, same thing, pretty much, and they tasted just fine)

-First, mix all spices in a small bowl until combined.  Easy.
-Bake crispy crowns/tater tots according to package directions (I baked mine at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes)
-As soon as crispy crowns are done, take them out of the oven and immediately sprinkle with seasoning mix.  You will probably only need about half (if that much) of the seasoning mixture, so sprinkle until the tots/crowns are covered to your taste preference.

Super easy and really tasty.  The seasoning mixture adds a lot to the bland tater tots and definitely completes the meal!  My kids were popping these like they hadn't eaten all day.  Big hit all around.

So, I hope you'll try the Mexican Mac and Cheese and the Taco John's Style Tater Tots for your next family meal, or sometime soon.  Let me know how you enjoy it!

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1 comment:

  1. This looks DELICIOUS! And you're right...I never heard of Taco John's but now I think I need to try it. Thanks for the yummy recipe. :)