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07/30/2014

~ Kids Stuff: Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Tacos ~

IMG_9037Jesse is my son.  He's in the latter stages of thirty-something now with a seven-year old son of his own.   Jesse was a really good kid.  The kind of good that makes you wonder what you did to deserve a child that sweet, smart and easy to get along with -- until it came time to eat.  Let's cut to the chase and say until he was a teen I had a very short list of 100% stressfree dinner options: pizza, pasta, bacon, shrimp, anything with ground meat, and, chocolate.  That about covers it!

There really isn't too much more to tell.  Whenever I latched onto a flavor combination that Jesse enjoyed, I did my best to prepare food using those herbs and spices as often as possible.  Next to cooking Italian food, Tex-Mex fare was at the top of my kid-friendly dinner list.  This basic but very flavorful ground beef taco recipe was created by me back in the early '80's, when Jess was around 6- 8-years-old, solely to please his finicky palate -- but his two older brothers loved them too, and, I served them "taco bar-style" so everyone in our family of five could make their own.

IMG_9261It wasn't long before I began making the meat mixture in large quantities, portioning it into user-friendly-sized 2-cup containers (enough to fill 8-10 taco shells), and freezing it to have on hand for quick weeknight meals and snacks.  Yes, just like pizza, tacos make a great evening snack for kids (and adults too). 

These beef tacos paved the way for chile con queso, burritos, fajitas and quesadillas too!

IMG_8895Note:  This is the big batch version. It makes 12 cups of taco filling.

6  tablespoons corn oil

6  pounds 96% lean ground beef

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

6  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

8-10  ounces each: diced green bell pepper and red bell pepper

2  large jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely-diced

12  tablespoons ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco IMG_9282Seasoning ~, click on the Related Article link below to get the recipe

2  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, undrained

1/2  cup sofrito (Note:  Soffrito is a versatile puree of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, culantro and EVOO.  It's the foundation of many Latin American, Portuguese and Spanish dishes.  While it is not authentic Tex-Mex, it does contain the same basic veggies and flavors common to Tex-Mex, and, I keep a bottled brand stashed in my refrigerator at all times.  It is NOT the same as Italian soffritto.)

IMG_8901~ Step 1.  In a 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides place the olive oil and ground beef.  Prep the onion, garlic bell peppers and jalapenos as directed, placing them in the pan as you work.

IMG_8902Add the taco seasoning. Note:  If adding store-bought taco seasoning, check the proportions and adjust accordingly.

IMG_8920 IMG_8930 IMG_8938~ Step 2.  Over no heat, give the ingredients a thorough mix.  Over medium heat, cook, breaking up and stirring frequently with a large IMG_8956spatula or spoon, until meat has lost its color and is steamed through, about 30 minutes.  There will be quite a bit of liquid in the pan.  IMG_8980Adjust heat to a simmer (medium-high) and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until almost all liquid has evaporated from pan, about 30-45 more minutes.

IMG_8998 IMG_9012~ Step 3. Stir in the tomatoes, followed by the sofrito.  

IMG_9020Continue to cook, until almost all liquid has evaporated from the pan, 15-30 more minutes.

Note:  The mixture is now technically ready to serve, however, I highly-recommend removing it from the heat, covering the pan and allowing it steep for at least 2-4 hours prior to serving warm.

#1.  Spoon about 1/4 cup of meat filling...

IMG_9246... into each deep-fried & lightly sea-salted corn tortilla.

IMG_9293#2.  Top with shredded lettuce, salsa and grated cheddar...

IMG_9177... and enjoy until you just can't take it any more:

IMG_9198Kids Stuff:  Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Tacos:  Recipe yields 12 cups of filling/enough for six meals of 8-10 tacos each.

Special Equipment List:  12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; spatula; large spatula or spoon

IMG_8665Cook's Note:  If it is an adult crowd your trying to impress with some Tex-Mex food, you might want to give my recipe for ~ Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon) ~ a try.  These are a cross between a modern-day fajita and an old-style Mexican taco and you can find the recipe in Categories 2, 10, 13, 17 19 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

07/27/2014

~ The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: More than "just a little bit of this & a little bit of that". ~

IMG_8305

Like fajita seasoning, taco seasonng is a standarized concoction of spices common to Tex-Mex cuisine.  It was invented for convenience sake by American manufacturers for modern day American cooks trying to find an easy way to mimic authentic flavors without really learning how to cook the dish authentically.  A standarized blend of anything is a totally foreign concept to Mexican cooks -- and that includes our American-manufactured chili powders.  Read on:

6a0120a8551282970b017d4140e28d970c-800wi 6a0120a8551282970b017ee8b46f2b970dChili powder, spelled with an "i" is an American concoction that bears little resemblence to chile powder, spelled with an "e".  Chili powder contains spices and salt.  

Mexican cooks use personalized blends of pure, unadulterated, dried chile pepper.  The "e" in the spelling designates "plant or pod" (nothing else is used in its making), so, if it is pure dried chile powder you're in the market for, look for the "e" in the name.  For more details, click on the Related Article link below and read ~ Is it spelled chile or chili?  It's not a regional thing! ~.

What are the differences between fajita and taco seasoning?

I get asked this oftener than I would like.  I am writing this post with the hope of encouraging more family cooks to make their own blends (it takes less than 5 minutes), not criticize to those that do not.  The following is my explanation -- it is a combination of logic and a few cold, hard facts.  When it comes to store-bought or home-blended fajita and taco seasonings, I am very careful to use the words Tex-Mex "-style".  Why?  There is no such thing as an "authentic" wed-in-stone recipe for either.  They do not not exist, not even in Mexico.  Burritos, tacos, fajitas and everything and anything that can get placed in a tortilla and eaten is related to each other.

Tx_satMexican food is Mexican food.  It varies from region to region and cook to cook, and, the blending of authentic spices is at the discretion of each cook in each region.

When we Americans settled in Texas, it was only natural that Mexican and Texan food fused together, but even then, it was the Texans who imitated the Mexicans, not the reverse.  Tex-Mex cuisine was born -- I've never seen a Mex-Tex eatery in Mexico, have you?

Thanks to street fairs, rodeos and carnivals, home-grown Tex-Mex cuisine traveled into the Southwestern USA, and, once it gained in popularity, restaurants realized how lucrative it was, latched onto it, and, distinctions emerged.  The same basic spices made up the flavor profile for the American idea of Americanized fajita and taco spice blends, with fajita seasoning being subtler than taco seasoning (and I think it should be).  Why?  

Mexican1011Fajitas are usually made with quickly-cooked grilled or pan-seared proteins and crisp-tender vegetables, and, are served with the condiments to the side, allowing the flavors of the filling and vegetables to stand on their own. Tacos are often made with slower-cooked sauted or stewed minced or shredded filling and are served with the condiments on top, requiring the need for taco filling to be bolder (and I think it should be).  I think of fajitas as being tangy, bright, herby and al fresco, and, tacos as being smoky, spicy, earthy and comfy-cozy.  I love them both.

51zVSx871oL._AA160_ 41-H56vvoFL._AA160_ 51b-ncAQfYL._AA160_ 41D2B2iXArL._AA160_Depending on the manufacturer:  Store-bought fajita seasonings contain citric acid granules which mimics the flavor of the fresh lime juice (or other citrus) that is usually part of the marinade and gets squirted over the dish at the end too -- it is what give fajitas their classic 'soury' tang. IMG_9280Taco seasonings often contain dehydrated tomato powder (a product that I like a lot and will be discussing more in the near future).  It mimics the acid from fresh tomatoes or various bottled or canned tomato products, which are frequently cooked into taco meat mixtures.  

Chili powder and cumin are found in both mixtures, with earthy cumin being more prevalent in the subtle fajita seasoning and chili powder being more prevalent in the bolder taco seasoning.  Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and/or sugar are commonly found in both -- I use fresh garlic and onion in my preparation, so I do not add them to my blends.

6a0120a8551282970b017d4150cc35970cMexican oregano and/or coriander, both considered background spices, can make an appearance in both as well.  Mexican oregano (a member of the lemon verbena family and quite different from Mediterranean oregano) adds a vibrant lemony tang, while coriander (the seeds of the cilantro plant) adds an earthy lemony tang -- both of these ingredients, used together or separately, play very well with cumin. Corn starch or corn flour are sometimes added as thickeners -- I prefer not to use them.

Can fajita and taco seasonings be used interchangeably?

IMG_8163 IMG_9151Because I make my own seasonings, in a pinch, I wouldn't hesitate doing it.  If I promised my kids fajitas or tacos, the difference wouldn't be enough for me to disappoint them.  Would they notice? I'm not sure.  The difference between my two blends, while definitive, is relatively subtle.  Why?  The absence of citric acid or tomato powder and corn flour or corn starch, along with additives and preservatives evens the playing field somewhat, meaning:  If one is substituting store-bought fahita seasoning for store-bought taco seasoning, the substitution will be evident.  That being said, if you are snowed in with nothing more than a packet of one or the other in your pantry, whatever Tex-Mex fare you're serving will taste different than expected, but, you're at no risk of ruining your family's dinner!

Tex-Mex Campstove or Stovetop Chicken Fajitas:

IMG_8131Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon):

IMG_8665Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Ground Beef Tacos:

IMG_9197

The difference between fajita & taco seasoning is: More than "just a little bit of this & a little bit of that".:  Store-bought, 1-ounce seasoning packets yield and use 4 tablespoons of seasoning per 1 pound of protein.  My 4-ounce homemade fajita and taco blends yield and use:  2  tablespoons of seasoning per 1 pound of protein.

Special Equipment List:  Click on the Related Article links below, and, with each detailed recipe, you'll get a list of the hardware you'll need to prepare it! 

IMG_8825Cook's Note: ~ "Yes Virginia, there is such as a thing as a Taco Ring!" (One of my "I can't believe I am posting this posts".) ~, can be found in Categories 1, 13, 17, 19 or 20.  Perfect for picnics or tailgates!

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

(Recipe, commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)  

07/25/2014

~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco Seasoning ~

IMG_9151Taco (tah-koh).  The definition is a simple one: a grilled or fried, soft or crispy, corn- or wheat-flour tortilla filled with a host of grill or stovetop cooked meat, sausage, poultry, fish, seafood or vegetable fillings and an array of condiment toppings.  The tortilla (the empty, portable, holder) turns into a taco when it gets filled.  Once filled, the taco is picked up by folding it in half and eaten with the hands.  Once filled, the taco usually takes on a specific name:  tacos al carbon (skirt steak), tacos al pastor (pork), tacos de pescado (fish), tacos de camarones (shrimp), etc.

Tacos are simple, versatile, portable fun -- just ask any child!

IMG_8667The first tacos I learned to make were tacos al carbon.  It was in the latter 1970's, and, my training was hands-on standing next to my friend Toni (Antoinette), a Mexican-American woman from San Antonio, TX.  As with all authentic versions of Texican fare, she changed her proportions and blend of spices depending upon what she was preparing -- no different from other cultures (Asian, French, Indian, Italian, etc.).  It seems that only us Americans are obsessed with standardizing everyone's cuisine! 

Fast forward into the 1980's and 1990's:  reality check.  No matter how much I learned about food from family, diverse friends and extensive traveling, this was the period of my life when I had to sit across the dinner table from our three children.  Standarization hit me like a brick to the head.  Frozen food, school cafeterias and fast food joints had taken over the USA and they were interfering with my food world.  My boys were comparing my shrimp to Gortons, my mac and cheese to Kraft, and, my Tacos to Taco Bell.  My boys were being introduced to "this stuff" everywhere, even in our own neighborhood.  Desperate times call for desperate measures:

IMG_8163And so it began -- fusing what I knew to be true ingredients with what my boys liked.  The kids wanted hard-shelled tacos with deep-fried corn tortillas and filling made with ground beef instead of shredded steak.  I'm ok with that. What I wouldn't buy into were overpriced cardboardesque boxed taco shells and 1-ounce, foil taco seasoning packets.  I began mixing my own spice blends for fajitas and tacos and keeping them on hand in my pantry.  For my recipe ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Fajita Seasoning ~ (pictured here) click on the Related Article below.  

Meet my kid-friendly, homemade taco seasoning blend!

IMG_88764  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend*

3  tablespoons Santa Fe Seasons Six Seasonings*

1  tablespoon generic chili powder

1  teaspoon each:  coarse-ground black pepper and cayenne pepper

1  teaspoon ground coriander

4  tablespoons ground cumin

1  teaspoon smoked paprika

1  teaspoon sugar

2  tablespoons sea salt

IMG_8872~ Step 1. Measure and place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir.  You will have 4-ounces or 16 tablespoons.  Cover or transfer to a jar, cover, and keep on-hand in a cool, dry pantry for up to 6 months.  Look at that red color!

* Note:  Available online at http://www.applecanyongourmet.com  (Albuquerque, New Mexico). Spice blends in my taco seasoning?  You betcha.  The chile blend is a melange of pure, dried and ground chiles, along with New Mexico's famous red chiles and contains no salt.  Six seasonings is a melange of pure and dried herbs, all favorites of Sante Fe, NM.  It would not be cost efficient for me or you to order all of these pure and unadulterated ingredients separately and grind them at home.  For authentic flavor, I highly recommend you give these products a try!

For those of you who don't know, when a product says "chile powder or chile blend", spelled with an "e" at the end, that denotes pure, powdered chiles.  When a product says "chili powder or chili blend" with an "i" at the end, that is an Americanized product containing other additives.

IMG_8905~ Step 2.  Use my taco seasoning as directed in my recipes, and, I use 2 tablespoons of my blend for every 1 pound of ground beef in my recipe for ~ Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Ground Beef Taco Filling ~ which can be found in Categories 2, 13, 19 or 20.  Note:  A 1-ounce packet of store-bought taco seasoning contains 4 tablespoons and uses 1 packet per 1 pound of ground beef.  

You made the seasoning, now it's time to go make some tacos!

IMG_9033Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco Seasoning:  Recipe yields 4 ounces or 16 tablespoons.

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoons; 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01a511e47e56970cCook's Note:  For another Tex-Mex recipe, which also uses Santa Fe Seasons Chile Blend and Six Seasonings, ~ "White Out" White Chicken 'n Corn Chili Burritos ~ can be found in Categories 13 & 19!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

07/23/2014

~ "Yes Virginia, there is a thing called a Taco Ring!" (One of my "I can't believe I'm posting this posts".) ~

IMG_8838"Count me in, I'll give it a try."  That's what I said on Facebook last week.  It's what I agreed to do, and I'm doing it.  I'm making a taco ring today.  Here's how it came down:  One of my hungry guy foodie friends, Jaqmes, posted a photo with a link to a recipe for a taco ring.  Cocktail-connoisseur friend, Jill, said she'd made it and it was quite good, especially when washed down with a six-pack of Corona.  For a moment, I thought Jill's cheese slid off her cracker and landed in the deep-end of her pilsner.  The thread continued.  Kendra, who's is loving learning to bake bread, and pastry-chef Teresa chimed in too.  In the end, at Jill's behest, we agreed that perhaps we should all forget our food-savvy pre-conceived notions for one afternoon and make a taco ring -- and post our experiences on Facebook.  After all, we are all in this food world together!

IMG_8676With my ingredients list in hand, my trip to and through the Weis market was stealth.  I went mid-morning to avoid the crowds, made eye contact with no one, and, kept my packet of taco seasoning mix strategically hidden underneath a small box of tomatoes.  This wasn't my first rodeo -- I've used Pillsbury crescent rolls before.  Debit card in hand I made it through the express checkout without incident.  I arrived home, removed my babushka, screwed the real license plate back on my car, mixed myself a cocktail and 0509betty04Reddi'd myself  to rock and roll.

Note:  I've added a few things to this recipe because I am food savvy and do have pre-conceived notions. They are each marked with an asterisk (*).  Feel free to omit them. 

2  8-ounce tubes crescent rolls

1 1/2  pounds lean ground beef

1/2  pound sweet sausage*

1  cup diced yellow onion*

IMG_83261/2  cup creamy refried beans*

1-ounce packet taco seasoning 

2  tablespoons ground cumin*

3/4-1 cup shredded cheddar

no-stick cooking spray

iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, black olives, additional cheddar, Wish-Bone Lite-Italian dressing

~ Step 1.  Place the ground meat, sausage and diced onion in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Over medium-high heat, saute until meats are IMG_8345cooked through, stirring almost IMG_8338constantly, using a spatula to break them up into small pieces as they cook, about 10 minutes.

~ Step 2.  Tilt the pan on an angle. Using a small ladle, remove and discard all of the fat and liquid from the bottom of the pan.

IMG_8359 IMG_8347~ Step 3. Stir in the taco seasoning and cumin, followed by the refried beans. The beans hold the meats together, and, I stirred 2 tablespoons of water into 1/2 cup of beans to make them extra creamy.

IMG_8368Remove from heat, cover, and set aside for 1 hour.

IMG_8685~ Step 4.  The recipe instructs to line a pizza pan with aluminum foil and spray the foil with no-stick cooking spray.  

Note:  I own a couple of fancy schmancy 11 1/2" French porcelain trays (oven/broiler fridge/freezer safe), so, I'm skipping the foil and just spraying one of them with cooking spray.

IMG_8691 IMG_8694 IMG_8697~ Step 5.  It's finally time for a geography lesson: North, East, South and West.  Open the first tube of crescent rolls, unroll them, and, use a sharp knife to separate them so there are no ragged edges.  Place four pieces of dough on the pan, as pictured, at points N, E, S and W.  Place four more on the pan, at points NE, SE, SW and NW. Open the second tube and place the next eight at all points in between.

IMG_8703 IMG_8715 IMG_8718~ Step 6.  Using a 2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 8 scoops of firmly-packed meat mixture on the widest part of every other piece of dough.  Trade in your scoop for an ordinary tablespoon and fill in the open spaces with all of the remaining meat mixture.  Once you see how it's done, it's oh so easy!

IMG_8742~ Step 7.  Sprinkle 3/4-1 cup of grated cheese over the meat, picking up any stray pieces that fall onto the pan.  One at a time, lift the pointed pieces of dough over the top, and tuck them underneath the center.  Using the palm of your hand and a light touch, apply a bit of pressure across the top of the ring to make sure the dough, the cheese and meat are all "kind of" adhered together.

Tip from Mel:  When lifting and wrapping the pointed ends, start with the top eight (the ones that came out of the second tube).  Next wrap the middle NE, SE, SW and NW four, and, lastly wrap the bottom N, E, S and W four.  This will make for a neater, prettier presentation!  

Here's the big picture, all ready for the oven: 

IMG_8744~ Step 8.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven 25-30 minutes.  Dough will be golden brown, cheese will be melted and meat will be bubbly.  Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack to cool 30-60 minutes prior to serving warm or at room temperature.

Here's the big picture, just out of the oven:

IMG_8768And here is a closeup of the big picture:

IMG_8789~ Step 9.  Place a shallow bowl in the center of the ring -- or don't.  The rest of this appetizer recipe is arbitrary:  fill the center with your favorite concoction of Tex-Mex  salad ingredients or salsa, or a dip like guacamole, and, don't forget the beer, lot's of beer because:

Taco ring rocks -- & so does my fun group of foodie FB friends!!!

IMG_8822"Yes Virginia, there is a thing called a Taco Ring!":  Recipe yields 16 appetizer-sized slices or 8 servings, or, 4.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; spatula; small ladle; standard-sized 11 1/2" pizza pan; aluminum foil; 2" ice-cream scoop; tablespoon

PICT2701Cook's Note:  I told you this wasn't my first rodeo.  I grew up loving these now retro appetizers.  You can find ~ The "I Can't Believe I'm Posting this Recipe" Post: Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket (Pillsbury Crescent Dogs) ~ in Categories 1, 2, 20 & 26.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)