Guilty Pleasures – Taco Pie

I try to cook from scratch most nights at our house but there are nights when convenience just takes over. We’ve been known to purchase a bright yellow taco kit about every other week now and again at our house. But a few years ago, a dear friend and neighbor turned us on to something magical. This neighbor and her husband picked up The Boy from school and brought him to their house a few days a week. Sometimes, they’d have an early dinner and feed him as well. He began to BEG me to get the recipe for “Taco Pie” from Miss Kara. So of course, I asked her what this amazing dish was. Turns out, it was the yellow box (you know what I’m talking about) that was getting such rave reviews.

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I’m not gonna lie. That particular yellow box has crossed our threshold many many many a few times since then but I decided I needed to create this thing on my own. From scratch. So I set out to try something similar but made from real ingredients and not just pouches and bags (although I will admit with no shame those pouches, bags and boxes have saved my butt many a busy school night). This is my take on our convenience food favorite. I will tell you that my family may not eat this again for a while as I’ve experimented with seasoning mix and cheese sauce about once a week for more than a month. But I think I got it right and you can feel good about not using so many processed ingredients for your family.

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There is, however, one caveat to my “not so processed” rule. I tried using a quality sharp cheddar for the sauce. I tried using nice deli American cheese for the sauce. Chef J kept insisting I use the big block of “pasteurized processed cheese food product” and I kept resisting. And my sauce kept breaking in the oven or running off the sides and burning. What sealed the deal for me was the night he brought home some leftover mac and cheese from his fancy country club. I questioned how he got it so creamy. And he used the “V” word. I was beaten and I broke down and bought the block of “cheese” that, for some reason doesn’t require refrigeration until you open it. And y’all, it made all the difference. So I’m a little ashamed but it also tasted REALLY good on this dish and we can use it for mac and cheese sometime in the future. So I will put aside my shame this one time and use a VERY processed ingredient (it says so right on the box!) to make a really delicious topping for my pie.

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And I know this looks like a lot of ingredients. And I guess it is. But look at the ingredients. Do you see anything weird in there (other than the bright orange blob of cheese)? Nope, you don’t. This is stuff you probably already have in your cupboard. And if you don’t, well skip the seasonings in my beef mixture and buy the little pouch of taco seasoning mix. I won’t tell.

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Taco Pie (serves 3-4)

  • 1 lb lean ground beef (turkey if you must)
  • 1/3 C finely diced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 T chili powder
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 1/2 t paprika
  • 2 t ground cumin
  • 1 t coarse kosher salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 2 T cornstarch (divided)
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 3/4 C beef stock
  • 4 “soft taco” sized flour tortillas (about 7-8 inches)
  • 1/3 C half and half 
  • salt and pepper
  • 2-3 T diced pickled jalapenos
  • 1/2 – 3/4 C diced processed American cheese (like Velveeta)
  • 3/4 C grated Cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream, shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomato and hot sauce for serving

Preheat oven to 350F.

Brown ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking up in to small pieces. When most of the pink is gone, stir in onion, garlic and jalapeno and continue to cook until vegetables are softened and just beginning to brown, about five minutes (add a splash of vegetable oil if it starts to get too dry). If there is too much liquid, drain and return to the pan. Add chili powder, cayenne, oregano, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper and cornstarch and stir until very fragrant. Add beef stock. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5-10 minutes, and stir in black beans. Remove from heat until ready to build your “pie.”

While your beef is cooking, heat half and half over medium heat. Do not bring to a boil. In a small bowl, toss processed cheese with cornstarch until well coated. Gradually stir the cheese into the half and half, a little at a time until well combined and fully melted and creamy. It should be very thick – almost spreadable. Add pickled jalapenos to sauce. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired. Remove from heat.

Place one tortilla in the bottom of an ungreased pie plate. Spread 1/4 of the beef mixture over the tortilla and then sprinkle with 1/4 of the Cheddar cheese. Repeat with the next two tortillas. When you get to the fourth tortilla, cover it with the last of the beef mixture. Then spread the cheese sauce over the top and cover with the last of the shredded cheddar cheese. You may have some cheese sauce left. You don’t want the thing swimming or dripping all over the sides – just cover the top.

Transfer pie plate to oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until brown and bubbly on top.  I turned on the broiler for the last minute tonight. Remove from oven and allow to set for about 5 minutes. Cut into four wedges and serve, topped with lettuce, tomato, sour cream and hot sauce.

If you want to round out your meal, you could serve with a simple salad with a lime vinaigrette or some Mexican rice.

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