Sam Sifton’s Middle-School Tacos

We are counting down the days until the end of my son’s elementary school career. 😦 His 6th grade Graduation- a.k.a. “Moving Up” ceremony- is next Tuesday. So… it’s the perfect time to share this recipe for a popular Middle-School lunch! I’m getting him ready for his next chapter. ❤

The recipe for these “Middle-School ‘Gringo’ Tacos” was featured in a New York Times article titled “The Case for Hard Shell Tacos,” contributed by Sam Sifton. They were a wonderful upgrade from a taco kit. 🙂 I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, decreased the chile powder and red pepper flakes, and doubled the garlic. We topped them with grated cheeses, sour cream, guacamole, shredded iceberg lettuce, and chopped grape tomatoes. I served them with refried beans on the side as well. Great.

Of course, my kids absolutely loved them! Then they informed me that their school lunch tacos are served in soft tortillas. Funny. Maybe that’s an elementary school thing? We’ll see! 😉

Time: 30 minutes

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola, peanut or grapeseed
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1-2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (or substitute hot or sweet paprika)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup chicken stock or beef broth, low-sodium if store-bought

For Serving:

  • 12-18 hard taco shells
  • refried beans, optional

Topping Suggestions:

  • grated cheese (I used both cheddar and Monterey Jack)
  • sliced jalapeños
  • chopped tomatoes
  • shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • lime wedges

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the oil. When it begins to shimmer, add the onion, and cook until softened and starting to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so to soften, and then the ground meat. Cook until it starts to brown, stirring and chopping with a spoon to break up the meat, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Pour off excess fat, leaving only a tablespoon or two in the pan.
  4. Add the chile powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cornstarch, paprika and red-pepper flakes, and stir to combine.
  5. Add the stock or broth, stir, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened slightly, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
  6. As sauce cooks, place taco shells (on a taco rack, if possible) on a sheet pan, and toast in oven until they are crisp and smell nutty, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Serve a few tablespoons of meat in each taco, along with whatever toppings you like.
  8. Serve with refried beans on the side, if desired.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

Happy Mother’s Day & Cooking for a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge

Happy Mother’s Day! I wish all of the mom’s out there a beautiful and relaxing day. ❤ While Mr. BrookCook and my kids take care of me and the cooking today, I have time to share a special mother-daughter cooking project.

In order to earn a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge, my daughter (with my help) had to cook a complete breakfast, a healthy dinner, and a delicious dessert. Understandably, she wanted to make meals that she wanted to eat! This was actually a great opportunity for her as she is harder to please when menu planning. It was a lesson in itself to see how much time and work is required to put together an entire meal. 🙂

We made Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins for breakfast with fruit salad on the side. She loved cutting all of the fruit herself. For the “healthy” dinner, she prepared a No-Boil Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below) with Simple Caesar Salad. Healthy enough, right? She loved it so much we have already made it again.

We made a Lemon Meringue Pie, using a store-bought pie crust, for dessert. Not only did she make the pie, she typed out the recipe to share with her Girl Scout Troop. A big project! She did a great job and I was very proud of her. I hope that she continues to enjoy cooking more and more in the future. ❤

No-Boil Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pasta:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 T coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar, divided

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 400°, preferably on convection.
  2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
  7. Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil.
  9. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

For the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture.
  2. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer.
  3. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Skillet

Somehow, we seem to always have a conflict with a having timely Cinco de Mayo feast. This year, my son has his Swim Club Dinner Dance (at an Italian restaurant, by the way), so, we had our feast early. This way, there is also time to have a second feast. Good planning, right?

This quick and easy, crowd-pleasing dish was perfect for our early Cinco de Mayo celebration. It would be perfect for a Mexican-inspired weeknight meal any other day of the year too. We enjoyed it with chips and guacamole, of course. 😉

This recipe was adapted from Epicurious.com, contributed by Anna Stockwell. I reduced the oven temperature, and increased the proportions as well as the pan size. Great.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons kosher salt
  • 24 oz (1 1/2 jars) medium red salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 6 corn tortillas, torn into quarters
  • 6 cups shredded cooked chicken (from 1 rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 to 2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained, rinsed (I used 1 1/2 cans)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • cilantro, for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Combine salsa, sour cream, and 6 T water in a large bowl; stir to combine. Fold in tortillas, chicken, and beans until thoroughly coated.
  3. Heat oil in a 12″ ovenproof skillet over medium. (I used cast iron.)
  4. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer onion mixture to the chicken and bean mixture; reserve hot skillet. Fold to incorporate evenly.
  6. Return mixture to reserved skillet and transfer to preheated oven until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling on the edges.
  7. Remove skillet from the oven. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top.
  8. Return skillet to oven and bake until cheese is lightly browned, melted and bubbling, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  9. Top with cilantro, if desired.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Four Years Ago:

Easy Enchilada Pie

My son’s third grade teacher told the class that they each needed to know three recipes by heart before going to college. What good advice! 😉 Besides a good vinaigrette, this one might make the list! 🙂 It’s an easy crowd pleaser.

This recipe is also quick… super super fast. 🙂 It initially caught my eye because it included a “2-minute” enchilada sauce (as well as a lot of ingredients from Trader Joe’s!). We were not disappointed. It was a perfect, comforting, and family friendly weeknight meal. I especially loved the sauce. This recipe was adapted from Feasting at Home. I added an additional layer of tortillas as well as cheese to the top. Now I need to teach my kids how to make it! 🙂

For the 2-Minute Enchilada Sauce:

  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)(Trader Joe’s!)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • ¼-½ tsp chipotle chile powder, to taste (or add a canned chipotle pepper, smoked paprika, and/or cayenne for heat)
  • 1 ½ tsp coarse salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a Vitamix (or blender) and blend until smooth.

To Complete the Enchilada Pie:

  • 2-Minute Enchilada Sauce
  • 12-14 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2 15-oz cans seasoned black beans (like Trader Joe’s Cuban Style Black Beans)
  • 16 oz bag frozen fire roasted corn (Trader Joe’s) or other roasted vegetables
  • 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Mexican style cheese or blend (I used Monterey Jack)
  • 4 ounce can green chilies, preferably fire roasted (Trader Joe’s)
  • cilantro, to taste as well as additional chopped cilantro for garnish
  • diced avocado, sour cream, hot sauce, as desired for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. In the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spread out a scant amount of the enchilada sauce- just enough to lightly coat the bottom. (I used an enameled cast iron baking dish.)
  3. Spread 4-5 tortillas on top of the sauce.
  4. Drain one can of seasoned beans, and spread out over the tortillas. (Drain well!)
  5. Spread out half of the frozen roasted corn.
  6. Spread out 1 cup of the shredded cheese.
  7. Scatter ½ of the canned green chilies and a little chopped cilantro.
  8. Spread a second layer of 4-5 tortillas over the mixture.
  9. Then repeat with another can of drained seasoned beans. (cooked chicken, chorizo,or ground meat can be substituted, if desired)
  10. Top with rest of the corn, the cheese, the chilies and cilantro.
  11. Drizzle with ⅓ of the enchilada sauce and top with 4-5 more tortillas.
  12. Spread the remaining sauce over the tortillas.
  13. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  14. Uncover, top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and bake 8 to 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.
  15. Garnish with diced avocado, and cilantro. Cut into servings and serve with sour cream and hot sauce, if desired.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

If you like this you may also like:

Spaghetti Pizza

I loved that this recipe equated the choice between making spaghetti or pizza for dinner to choosing a favorite child! 😉 Such a paralyzing decision! 🙂 A spaghetti pizza “crust” was too genius of an idea for me to pass up. I made it for my kids one night when my husband couldn’t join us for dinner- it seemed like the ultimate KID-friendly dinner. They gobbled it up!

This recipe was adapted from Tasting Table.com. I used whole wheat spaghetti, Trader Joe’s Tuscano Marinara Sauce, and Grana Padano instead of Parmesan. (I would have also added tons of garlic if it was for my husband and me! 🙂 ) Easy, tasty, and FUN!

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1/2 pound whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano, separated
  • 1-2 cups tomato or marinara sauce, to taste (I used Trader Joe’s Tuscano Marinara Sauce)
  • 1 cup coarsely grated part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • fresh basil, for garnish
  • additional pizza toppings, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Precook the spaghetti in salted boiling water for 6 minutes; cool slightly.
  3. Toss the noodles with the eggs and 1/4 cup Parmesan.
  4. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Form a crust with the noodles on the pan. (I made a rectangle.)
  5. Bake it for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and spread the tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and the last 1/4 cup of Parmesan over the top. Add any additional toppings as desired.
  7. Bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.
  8. Garnish with fresh basil, slice into wedges, and serve.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Three Years Ago:

Super Creamy Macaroni & Cheese

Well, here it is. I know you all have been waiting for this recipe to complete my husband’s coke-brined fried chicken with biscuits and gravy birthday meal. 🙂

This is the most indulgent, rich, super creamy, super cheesy macaroni and cheese ever. So much so that I could only bring myself to make one half of the original recipe. It was more than enough- especially because we ate it as a side dish! :/ It would also be a wonderful main dish with a huge green salad. (Half of the original recipe would still easily serve at least 4 people as a main dish.)

This recipe was adapted from The Martha Stewart Living Cookbook: The Original Classics, via Smitten Kitchen. HBD Mr. Brookcook! ❤

Yield: Serves 10+ as a side dish or 4+ as a main dish

  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
  • 3 to 4 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn or cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Tuscan Pane)
  • 2 3/4 cups milk (I used 1 percent)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more for water
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/4 cups (about 9 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère
  • 1/2 pound short pasta such as campanelle or elbow macaroni

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F on convection. Butter an 8×8-inch (or equivalent), 2-quart casserole dish; set aside. (I sprayed my dish with cooking oil spray instead.)
  2. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a medium bowl, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in the microwave. Add the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
  3. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. (I warmed it in the microwave instead -one less pot to clean!) Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
  4. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cups Gruyère; set the cheese sauce aside.
  6. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
  7. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup cheddar cheese and remaining 1/4 cup Gruyère on top. Sprinkle the reserved breadcrumbs evenly over the top of the grated cheeses.
  8. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes on convection (or up to 30+ minutes in a standard oven). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve.

Also- an update!

No ducklings yet… I guess we’ll have to welcome the goslings for now… 🙂

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

This year, my son qualified to compete in our County Championship swim meet for the first time! 🙂 The swim club hosts a HUGE pasta party the evening before the meet begins. Many many families bring pasta for all of the swimmers and their families to share. You have never seen so much pasta in your life!! Incredible.

I decided that in order to make it “fair,” I would bring my daughter’s absolute favorite pasta dish, so that the evening was special for her as well. The mistake was that – by appearance only (of course!)- it was indistinguishable from any jarred sauce… if the crowd only knew that it was made with the coveted recipe from Chicago John of one of my absolute favorite blogs From The Bartolini Kitchens… Well, it left more delicious penne a la vodka for us! Yay! 😉

I made this fabulous creamy red sauce including both pancetta and red pepper flakes- but it is just as delicious as a vegetarian and/or non-spicy version. It is particularly fabulous served with garlic bread and green salad. A crowd pleaser. Simple and perfect!

  • olive oil
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto or pancetta, optional
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, diced or crushed (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 T fresh basil, chopped
  • coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper; add the red pepper flakes (if using) and the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute.
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese. Serve immediately.

One Year Ago:

Two Years Ago:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 968 other followers

Recipe Categories

my foodgawker gallery
my photos on tastespotting

Top Posts & Pages

Foodista Food Blog of the Day Badge
%d bloggers like this: