Thursday, September 15, 2011

tacos and margaritas, enchiladas and sangria

You so wish you could come over for dinner when Laura and I are cooking. Check out this Cinco de Mayo spread we put together back in May:

My mother's taco recipe: ground beef with all the fixins on a flour tortilla.

A salt rimmed margarita with real agave syrup!

Laura's always crowd pleasing chicken and salsa enchiladas-- and they are easy too! It's just chicken cooked with onion and peppers, and then rolled into a flour tortilla with jarred salsa and grated cheddar, and then topped with more of the same and baked until melty. A great easy party food!

And finally here is sangria with gorgeous blood oranges. The secret to slicing all the fruit was using my birthday gift from Tenli and Marie, an amazing William Sonoma mandoline slicer. I blew through a bunch of oranges and apples in like 15 minutes, and all the slices were exactly the same size. Marvelous!

I got a cheap magnum of red wine and some bottom shelf brandy, mixed it together in a make shift punch bowl and added my sliced fruit. I let that soak for about an hour, and then I let people add seltzer to each glass so it wouldn't get flat sitting out. It was pretty phenomenal.

My aforementioned margaritas weren't quite as successful, since the limes I had ended up being totally dried out, and we had to resort to using overly sweet bottle lime juice. I will have to try again on the margarita.

What needs no improving are these tacos. These are one of the best things that my mom makes, and everyone love them. I once had a whole taco birthday party with all my friends, and I remember one year my mom actually brought a hot plate of tacos over to cafeteria on my birthday for lunch, which was just about the coolest thing. I mean I loved a peanut butter sandwich like nobody else, but NOTHING beats fresh tacos hand delivered by your mom.

So where does the recipe come from? Bialosky Bear's My First Cook Book. This was my first cookbook, and I was legitimately obsessed with it. It was mainly simple stuff, but it was SO good. Stuff like stuffed baked apples, and a tuna melt with crunchy little alfalfa sprouts. Wow, there's something I haven't thought about in years! Do they still sell alfalfa sprouts? Anyway. I particularly liked the amazing bear themed recipes, like the scrambled egg Teddy McMuffins and the buckwheat Teddy Bear Pancakes...

Oh man, it's so on. I am bringing back that cookbook in a big way! But first, I want to thank you, Bialosky Bear, for providing the foundations for my awesome dinner party skills. They have served me well. I also should thank my mom, because a bear themed illustrated children's cookbook was a typically awesome mom move on her part. My mom rocks. (She also braved the scanner and email attachments to help me bring you this recipe, which is no small task for her!)

Without further ado, here's the recipe:

(from Rena Coyle’s My First Cookbook: A Bialosky Friends Book, illustrated by Jerry Joyner sn published in 1985, pp. 50-51)

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes

Tacos are such good eating that nobody cares if the taco shell crumbles after one bite and the filling drips onto the plate. Put plenty of napkins on the table for messy hands. Ask your adult assistant to help cook the meat—it can be tricky.

1 medium sized onion
1 pound ground beef
1 cup tomato puree*
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp chili powder
¼ tsp garlic powder
4 oz Cheddar cheese (about 1 cup)
4 lettuce leaves
8 taco shells**
¼ cup sour cream
¼ to ½ cup taco sauce, medium hot
Cutting board
Utility knife
10-in frying pan
Pot Holder
Long-handled wooden spoon
Medium-size bowl
Waxed paper
Measuring cups

1. Place the onion on the cutting board. Using the utility knife, trim off the ends of the onion. Cut the onion in half from end to ends and peel off the skin. Throw it away along with the ends. Place the onion halves flat side down on the cutting board, and cut each half lengthwise into several slices, then cut across the slices several times to make small pieces. Place the pieces in the frying pan.
2. Crumble the meat into the frying pan with your hands and place the pan on the stove. Stir the meat slightly with the wooden spoon to mix it with the onion. Cook over medium-high heat. When the meat starts to sizzle, stir it again. Brown the meat, stirring frequently, until all the pink is gone, 5 to 6 minutes. Ask an adult to stay nearby in case your need help.
3. Place the strainer over the bowl, and with the help of your assistant, spoon the meat and onion into the strainer to drain off the fat. Pour off any fat remaining in the pan.
4. Return the meat to the pan and add the tomato puree, cumin, chili powder and garlic powder. Stir it all together and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the meat sauce is hot, turn the heat down to low.
5. Using the largest holes on the grater, carefully grate the cheese over a sheet of waxed paper. (Do this slowly, so you don’t scrape your knuckles.) You should have about 1 cup.
6. Tear the lettuce leaves into small pieces with your hands.***
7. To assemble the tacos, spoon the meat mixture into the taco shells, spoon some sour cream on the meat, sprinkle with the lettuce and then the cheese, and top with a spoonful of taco sauce. Or if you want, you can put all the ingredients in separate bowls on the table and let everyone assemble their own tacos.****
Tip: Tacos also taste good with chopped fresh tomato and avocado sprinkled on top.

* I cook a can of pureed tomatoes in a little hot olive oil with garlic to make a sauce.
** My mom switched over to flour tortillas when I was still in elementary school.
*** I chop the lettuce into long thin strips.
**** I always put out all the taco ingredients in little bowls and let everyone go at it. My preferred order: refried beans, taco meat, cheddar cheese, lettuce, scallions, tomatoes, sour cream and a second layer of cheese—skip the taco sauce. Also nice if you have it: avocado or guacamole, salsa, cilantro... lime and radish or even corn salsa if you want to be fancy.

In closing here is one of the awesome accompanying illustrations for this recipe. If it weren't for this taco slinging bear, I would not be the cook that I am today!


  1. Of course they still sell alfalfa sprouts -- at least in Berkeley!
    Great post.

  2. thanks! yeah I saw some sprouts last night at this Wild Olive Market near me, and was really tempted to buy them, but I ultimately went a different direction.