Wednesday, January 28

Out of the Box Frito Chili Macaroni Helper

When times are lean, I have always leaned on meals like Hamburger Helper and Rice-A-Roni to fill my pantry shelves. Between sales and coupons, they can be purchased very cheaply, and for a long time I thought they were helping us to get by.

But then we started moving away from processed foods and in no time we reached a point where if we did pick up a boxed meal, we were left not only dissatisfied, but also feeling not so great from the preservatives and included sugars and salt. I've missed the convenience of the box though, and several months ago started to hunt down some D-I-Y recipes for some of our favorite meals.

What I have found is that when you do make it yourself, the flavors and textures are SO much better! The DIY versions don't look much different from what you pour out of the box, but they cook up into larger meals (we can easily feed four adults from one mason jar) and are much more satisfying. The home made versions don't leave you hungry and snacking an hour after you eat. 

I am still tweaking some of the recipes until I find the mix that is just right for us, so I haven't been sharing them. I've finally got a couple down pat though, and as I re-assemble them in the next couple of weeks I'm going to be sharing them with you. 

Here is one of our favorites: Frito Chili Macaroni Helper. I assembled six jars of the Chili Helper this morning. It is so easy to assemble many jars at once and then stick them on your pantry shelf for those nights when you just don't want to think about what to have for dinner. This mix is shelf stable for several months. I wish I could remember where I found the original recipe, but I didn't keep diligent notes on this project and have modified it to suit our tastes since I first found it.

Make Your Own Frito Chili Macaroni Helper:

You will need:
  • 6-10 quart sized mason jars (wide mouth makes it easier to get ingredients in and out)
  • Paprika (you can use either sweet or smoked, depending on how you like it)
  • Garlic Powder
  • Onion Powder (optional)
  • Chili Powder
  • Corn Starch
  • Your favorite shaped pasta (I use whole wheat spiral or penne pasta from my grocer's bulk section)
  • 1 bag of Low Sodium Frito Corn Chips (or the number of single serving bags equal to the number of mason jars you are using)
  • 6-10 Snack sized Ziplock bags (skip this if you are using single-serving chip bags)
To assemble, add the following to each jar:
  • 1/2 teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon Chili powder
  • 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
  • 2 cups pasta
  • Either 1 cup of Fritos in a sealed Ziplock bag, OR 1 single serving bag of Fritos
To cook:
  1. In a large skillet brown 1 lb. of your favorite meat. Hamburger, chicken, pork and turkey all work wonderfully. For classic Hamburger Helper style meals, use ground meat. For something a little different, try shredded meats. Once browned/heated through, drain any excess fat.
  2. Add 1 cup HOT water and 2 cups of milk, plus the pasta/seasoning mix from your jar to the pan. Put Fritos to the side - don't put them in yet!
  3. Bring the pan to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer for 12-15 minutes. Stir occasionally, and make sure that pasta is cooked through before moving to the next step (note: Wheat pastas may take longer to cook than white pastas).
  4. Add 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, keep on low heat and stir until the cheese melts.
  5. Remove from heat, let stand 5-10 minutes until the sauce thickens.
  6. Sprinkle Frito Corn Chips over the top and serve.

I promise you that once you try making this on your own, you'll never want that boxed Chili Helper ever again!

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