Tex-Mex Obsession

I hope that everyone in the Mid-Atlantic enjoyed the gorgeous weather we had all week! I am lucky enough to have the flexibility to work from home a few times a week so I made sure to take advantage of it; especially on Tuesday when it was 80 degrees! Unfortunately the weather isn’t sticking around, but I’m okay with it – I don’t think I’m ready for summer temperatures just yet. So even though I’ve been grilling and enjoying beers outside, I’m still doing a fair amount of indoor cooking… I’ll resort to grill-only foods come July, I’m sure.

The majority of recipes you’ll find on the blog are Tex-Mex, so it never comes as a surprise to someone when I proclaim “I love Tex-Mex food!” More specifically I love Mexican food, and Tex-Mex is a byproduct of living in the USA. Thankfully I don’t live too far from New Brunswick, where 49.93% of the population is Hispanic or Latino (2010 Census results) and as a result has a lot of really delicious and authentic Mexican restaurants (my favorite is Costa Chica on Handy St., for the locals!). So when I was thinking about more ways to incorporate some of my favorite flavors into a dish, I immediately thought of macaroni and cheese.

After my run!

After completing Abby’s Kick Ass 5k, I got to work in the kitchen. But before we get into the recipe, I have to give a little plug for Abby. Even though the 5k is over, you can still head to her Team Challenge page and donate. Long story short, Abby is an incredibly strong woman who has ulcerative colitis and is running a half marathon in June with Team Challenge (in conjunction with the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation) to help raise money for the foundation. As a fellow IBD sufferer, of course I had to donate to the cause, and I hope you’ll consider it, too!

The recipe uses veggie sausage, but you can either leave it out completely or use real sausage, ground beef, or ground turkey. And the recipe can be turned vegan if you use non-dairy cream cheese, shredded cheese, and milk. Since I’m slightly sensitive to dairy, this definitely isn’t a meal I would eat often… but it’s fun to indulge every once in awhile (though suffering the consequences isn’t fun)!

Tex-Mex Pasta Bake | Foodosaurusrex.com

Tex-Mex Pasta Bake
– Serves 4 –

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 lb. pasta (I used rotini, but small shells, elbow, etc. will work)
4 oz. veggie sausage or ground beef substitute (or ground turkey or beef if you aren’t vegetarian)
1 medium red pepper, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 Tbsp chipotle taco seasoning
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp adobo
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded cheese blend
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm the vegetable oil and add the diced onion and pepper. Saute for 2-3 minutes.
3. Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. Then set aside.
4. Add your meat of choice to the skillet and cook for an additional 5 minutes, until it begins to brown.
5. Add black beans followed by spices, and allow to cook 2-3 minutes. Add in cooked pasta.
6. Once well combined, add in the cream cheese, shredded cheese blend, and milk, stirring to combine until all the cheese is melted. Stir in the Panko bread crumbs.
7. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with cooking spray and spread the pasta mixture evenly. Feel free to sprinkle a little extra shredded cheese on top for good measure.
8. Bake for 15 minutes until top begins to brown.

Twist on a fall classic: pumpkin mac ‘n cheese

Since I stocked up on pure pumpkin a few weeks ago at the grocery store, I’ve been looking to make good use of it. I did use a can to make some overnight oats, but I was itching to try pumpkin in a savory dish. So, after taking to the internets, I stumbled upon one of my favorite foodie running blogs, The Runner’s Kitchen, and a pumpkin mac ‘n cheese recipe. Yum!

I’m not going to lie – the thought of adding cottage cheese into the recipe scared me. I’d only ever tried cottage cheese once or twice in high school and college, trying to force it down because all the health conscious girls I knew would guzzle it with fruit and boast at how awesome it was. After trying it, I was convinced they were lying not only to me, but also themselves. However, I know that my palate has changed quite a bit in the past few years, so I was willing to give it another try. I also assumed it’d be barely noticable in a dish filled with cheese and pumpkin. I was right! It also called for a small amount of mustard, which my fiancé doesn’t eat. His condiment consumption involves ketchup (ocassionally) and hot sauce; that’s it. I toyed with the idea of using it or not, and eventually I did use it (see honey, you didn’t even notice!).

So despite my reservations, I forged ahead with the recipe and in the end it turned out deliciously. I have to say, though, it’s pumpkin mac ‘n cheese – not pumpkin pie mac ‘n cheese. I think for whatever reason when I first took a bite, I was expecting that cinnamon and nutmeg taste that is synonmous with pumpkin in the fall (even though neither was an ingredient – duh!). I later came to realize the pumpkin is really there to make the dish creamy and gooey in a healthy way, without adding a ton of cream, butter, and cheese – it worked. I definitely recommend this dish to all the pumpkin fiends out there. Plus, this recipe makes 8 servings, so my fiancé and I have lunch for at least two days on top of the dinner!

Pumpkin Mac ‘n Cheese
– Serves 8 –

1 lb whole wheat pasta
15oz canned pumpkin
2 cups skim milk
6oz reduced fat cheddar cheese, cubed
1/2 cup low fat cottage cheese
1/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano, shredded
1 tsp salt
1tsp mustard
black pepper (to taste)
1 tsp olive oil
2 Tb whole wheat bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and coat 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray
2. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until “al dente” or about 8 minutes
3. In a large saucepan, combine pumpkin and milk until just about simmering
4. Remove from heat and add 2Tb parmigiano-reggiano, 6oz cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup cottage cheese, salt, pepper, and mustard – combine until sauce is smooth and melted
5. In a large bowl, combine cheese sauce and pasta then transfer to the baking pan
6. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, bread crumbs, and 2Tb parmigiano-reggiano, sprinkle crumb topping on top of macaroni
7. Bake for 20 minutes, then broil for 3 minutes (until top is brown and crispy)

Nutrition: about 325 calories, 8.5 grams of fiber, 18 grams of protein per serving

Meatless Monday: Fajita Mac ‘n Cheese

As I’ve been trying to incorporate a more veggie friendly diet, I’ve found quite a few delicious and wallet friendly meals along the way. This past Monday, in honor of “Meatless Monday,” I whipped up Fajita Mac ‘n Cheese from Naturally Ella‘s blog. I actually found the recipe from a cart I was following on KartMe, and as soon as I saw the word fajita combined with macaroni and cheese, I knew it had to be good.

Quite a few months ago I made a Buffalo Chicken Mac ‘n Cheese which was absolutely amazing. The only thing was that it was pretty time consuming, so I haven’t made it since. Since this recipe was meatless and had quite a few less ingredients, I figured it would be an acceptable Monday night dinner, especially since we had the luxury of not running (hello rest day!).

The recipe calls for fresno peppers, but I grabbed two jalapenos instead. It also notes queso fresco, but I used just a regular Mexican blend of cheese, and that worked well. The only other modification I made was adding some spices while sautéing the onions and peppers. It didn’t call for anything, so I added my usual arsenal of spices; chili powder, chipotle flavored taco seasoning, and spicy adobo. I also didn’t sauté the jalapenos with the onions and peppers, to try and keep some of the heat. I’m finally getting the hang of making roux-like sauces, and this cheese sauce had a perfect consistency! Slicing up some fresh avocado added a nice extra creamy touch as well.

As usual there was enough for lunch for both my fiancé and I, and we definitely made our co-workers jealous with our yummy re-heats. I’ll take that over a Lean Cuisine or Smart Ones any day!

Fajita Mac ‘n Cheese
– Serves 4 –

1 medium onion
1 green pepper
2 fresno peppers (or any other hot pepper you like)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups queso fresco
1 cup cheddar cheese
8 ounces pasta
1 avocado and cilantro for topping

1. Pre-heat oven to 375˚.
2. Prepare pasta according to box and drain In a large skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Cook peppers and onions until they begin to soften. Stir in cilantro and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Set aside.
3. In a small sauce pan, melt butter over medium low heat (be careful not to walk away- you don’t want browned butter.) Whisk in flour and salt/pepper- create what looks like a paste. Finally, whisk in milk and turn the heat up to medium. Continue to whisk, making sure you get the edges of the pan, until the mixture begins to thicken. The sauce should look slightly creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the queso fresco.
4. Mix pasta and veggies together in a 9 x 11 baking dish(or feel free to use whatever baking dish you have around.) Stir in cheese sauce and sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes until cheese is bubbly. Remove from oven and top with avocado/cilantro.