05 January 2008

The first of many Mexican inspired meals...

My most favorite food in the world is Mexican. Someday, I will be the girl with the Mexican Food themed wedding. I am a regular at a local Mexican joint - to the point that they ask where I have been if I miss a weekly appearance. I love spice. I love flavor. I love heat. So where should I start but with a shout-out to my childhood (thanks Mom for introducing me to "Middle American Tacos") and my favorite cuisine- Mexican.

When I was a little girl, my mom would make hard-shelled tacos on a fairly regular basis. She usually browned the meat with some chili powder and maybe a little onion. We stuffed the hard taco shells with the meat and piled on the typical toppings - shredded iceberg lettuce, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and store-bought salsa. It sounds incredibly plain to me today, but when I was a child this was our "adventurous meal". I think I owe my mom a big thank you for opening the door to Mexican cuisine. If we had left it up to Dad, I don't think we would have had our taco bar dinner...

So I essentially pick up where my mom left off. I still use the ground beef of my childhood, but I jazz it up with more extreme flavors. My toppings have changed drastically as well. No longer do I crave the pale shredded lettuce of my youth... now I want the crunch of purple and savoy cabbage, the spice of raw jalapeños, the zip of fresh cilantro. Most importantly, I need the astringent flavor of fresh lime juice on my taco.

So tonight, I decided to brown up some ground beef for tacos. I like to freeze the meat for quick weeknight dinners. I just pop some into a freezer bag when it is cooled (I freeze in fairly small portions since I am only feeding me). I like to squeeze out all the air so that the bag lays completely flat. Then I label it and stick it in my freezer... perfect for an easy weeknight meal. I thaw it in the fridge the day before and heat in the microwave.

DISCLAIMER: Do not trust me on heat levels! I am notorious for telling someone "oh, it isn't that spicy-hot" only to have them want to kill me (After they finish guzzling their glass of milk).

Josie's Taco Meat

1 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 jalapeños, chopped finely
1 serrano pepper, chopped finely
1 lb ground beef (I use a fairly lean mix that we get from a local farmer who butchers a whole cow for our family)
salt and pepper, to taste
1 T hot chili powder (I used Penzey's because I have it on hand)
2 t ground jalapeños
1/2 t cayenne pepper
2 t freshly ground coriander seeds (I keep a spice grinder on my counter with coriander seeds because I love them freshly ground so much)
pinch of ground cumin
1 t ground chipotle pepper
juice of 2 limes (about 2-3 T)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Sauté the fresh peppers and onion in the olive oil on a medium high heat for 3-5 minutes, until soft and beginning to turn golden. Add in the ground meat and break it up with the back of a wooden spoon. Allow the meat to cook without stirring much so it actually begins to brown. The meat will look grayish at first, but it will turn golden brown if you allow it to continue cooking. Depending on the amount of fat in your ground beef, here is where you drain off the fat. I like to dump everything into a colander and let the grease drain out. I add it back to the skillet without any additional fat. At this point, add all of the dry spices to the meat. Mix the spices into the meat thoroughly. At this point I taste the meat to see if it needs any additional spices. Once you are done seasoning the meat with spices, add in the lime juice. I like to deglaze or scrape the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to get up any tasty brown bits. The lime juice helps loosen those tasty bites. Turn off the heat and add in the chopped cilantro. Stir to combine.

At this point I let the mixture cool for freezing, or I make tacos! Here is my current favorite taco topping:

Josie's Taco Slaw

1 cup shredded purple cabbage
1 cup shredded green or savoy cabbage
1/4 cup onion, chopped finely
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
4 chili peppers, chopped (a mix of jalapeños and serranos is great)
juice of 2 limes
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a non-reactive bowl about 30 minutes before eating. The cabbage will soften if you let it sit longer. This is awesome on its own or on top of any taco. It is also especially good on fish tacos.


Erica said...

I love tacos! We just had tacos at my place for a new years gathering with friends. I was in charge of the main course and decided to do a shredded turkey taco -- what i called a shredded turkey pibil. While in Belize Tj and I fell in love with chicken the way they make it -- using recado ball of annato spice. You can find it at the local mexican markets too. Rick Bayless uses it all the time on his show and in his books. So I pressure cooked up a couple turkey breasts with the annato spice and some onions, orange juice and vinegar. Once it was cooked we shredded it up and let is sit for a day in the red, red sauce. The results were tangy and I added a little more spice with some ancho chili powder. Not too hot for the guest. We've used the left over on salads and quesedillas.. and just yesterday TJ made breakfast tacos burritos with it. Yum!

Josie said...

Erica- I have a bunch of annato in my spice drawer waiting to be used up. Maybe you will inspire me. I will dig out my Rick Bayless book. I also love trkey or chicken tacos. The orange juice sounds so yummy and different.
... you know I love a good breakfast burrito... ;)