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~ Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs ~

IMG_1857Cinco de Mayo Rice-a-Roni?  You betcha and cha-cha-cha.  This fun to celebrate holiday is less than ten days away, so, no time like the present to plan something fun for dinner.  While we all gotta do what we all gotta do, and, while desperate times do call for desperate measures, this spicy rice-a-roni and meatball dinner is so dang delicious, I guarantee you'll make it even during the best of times.  I'm proud to say I invented it back when I was trying to keep three growing boys fed (aka "bottomless pits" as we moms refer to them), and they loved this one.  I'm also proud to report I took the "invent a Rice-a-Roni dish" page straight out of my mom's playbook:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I the aforementioned hamburger patties atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni drizzled with some store-bought beef gravy to prevent us from bugging her to buy Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni" and "burger-roni.  Try my recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef, &, Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Ground beef & chorizo together = Mexican-Style perfection.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4996f17200dIt's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Part One:  Making Mexican Meatloaf-Style Meatballs

IMG_1729For 3 dozen Mexican-style meatballs:

1 1/2  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

4  ounces saltine crackers (1 sleeve of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1  cup milk

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup thin-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

1 cup small-diced green bell pepper

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

1  cup small-diced yellow bell pepper

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves and some tender stems

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2-2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the bell peppers and green onion.  Season with the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until peppers are softened but still crunch-tender, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and cool 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1778 IMG_1778 IMG_1778 IMG_1778~Step 3.  While veggie mixture is cooling, add the ground beef and chorizo to the cracker mixture. Using your hands thoroughly incorporate the meats into the pasty mix.  Add the cool but still slightly-warm vegetable mix to meat mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_1795 IMG_1795 IMG_1795~Step 4.  To form and bake meatballs, using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll level scoops between palms of hands, placing them on a wire rack that has been placed in a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 15-16 minutes, until just cooked through.  Do not overcook meatballs.  This recipe yields 4 1/2-5 dozen meatballs -- that's a lot. That said, I freeze them in packages of 12 meatballs each, for quick-and-easy future meals. 

Part Two:  Making the Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni

IMG_1805For the rice-a-roni & meatball dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  6.8-ounce box Rice-a-Roni Mexican Rice Mix + seasoning packet

2  cups water

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon chili powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/4  teaspoon jalapeño pepper powder (optional, for extra heat)

1  15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1 15-ounce can well-drained canned corn kernels

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  dozen meatballs, from above recipe

fresh salsa or pico de gallo, your favorite brand, for dipping or drizzling

Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish

minced cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions starting by browning the rice and pasta in the melted butter, stirring constantly.  This takes about 3-4 minutes, and the butter will get very foamy just before the rice and the pasta start to brown (during the last minute of cooking time).

IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1827 IMG_1827~Step 2. Slowly add the water* to pan -- steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, garlic and onion powder, chili powder, cumin and optional jalapeño pepper). Stir in the tomatoes, corn and diced onion.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer.

*Note:  For added flavor, when I drain the canned corn kernels, I drain the liquid (which amounts to about 1/2 cup) into a 2-cup measure, then, I add water to the container to total 2 cups.

IMG_1832 IMG_1832 IMG_1832~ Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.  Top each portion with a beef patty and a generous drizzle of gravy.  Serve ASAP.

Top each portion w/4-5 meatballs & drizzle w/crema:

IMG_1873Stick a fork in it.  Enjoy every savory, succulent bite:

IMG_1875Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs:  Recipe yields 4 1/2-5 dozen meatballs; 4-6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; large spoon or spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides; 2-cup measuring container

IMG_1156Cook's Note: When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional, to quote mom, "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner".  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true. ~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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