because it’s not pasta: a woman makes homemade beef tacos

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Ever wake one morning and say, This is enough. I’m done with this nonsense? Over the past year I’ve been in this cycle where I keep eating dairy, believing that this intolerance will magically go away, that I’ll suddenly return to a time where I can devour sour cream, cheese, and oceans of milk {granted, I hate milk, but you know what I mean} without feeling as if my life would be better if my stomach were somehow excised from my body. After another night of writhing on the floor as a result of having consumed cheddar, and after another day of lapping up rice pudding — blithely aware of the sickness that will invariably ensue — I decided to just get real with myself and admit that I can’t eat dairy like I used to. There’s no point in making yourself sick just to replicate the person you used to be.

At the same time I confronted a new, burgeoning addiction. This white lady was cruel and taunting, and paired perfectly with the most delicate and richest of sauces, and she did not take well to being abandoned. Recently, I had a long talk with my doctor–who had noticed an uptick in my sugar intake–and while I’m able to speak freely about overcoming my predilection for drugs and alcohol, would you believe me if I told you that I was ASHAMED to tell my doctor that I was addicted to PASTA? That I secretly eat pasta EVERY SINGLE DAY? That I created this bizarre logic that if I had a kale shake it would somehow negate a bowl of white pasta with pesto? I cleaved to this insanity for too long, and last week I woke and said that I’ve got to quit it with the pasta and dairy.

I’m about to give you some real truth here: over the past week I finally don’t look like I’m pregnant. I’m finally sleeping through the night and not waking every three hours. I’m feeling less sluggish and more energized for my workouts. And while I feel the strongest I’ve ever been as a result of making fitness a real part of my life, I also know that my journey to strength, health and mindfulness is not a game of how long I can hold a forearm plank or how low I can squat or how high I could jump, rather it’s a mix of training and being smart about what goes into my body. Treating my body as if it were a house in which I plan to spend my life, and don’t I want this house to be feel like a home? Don’t I deserve to feel good and awake and alive every moment of every day?

This week a friend of mine told me about a woman who nearly fainted in her fitness class. After some probing, the woman revealed that she’d be watching her weight, and as a result, she hadn’t anything to eat for breakfast and only had coffee to drink. No water, no food–just a house in disrepair, a home unkempt. My friend shook her head and said, You need to eat so you have calories to lose.

It’s odd that these two examples of the extremes–a woman who denied herself, and another who consumed to excess–would force me to open my eyes. After careful thought, I plan on committing myself to a diverse, balanced diet coupled with the fitness lifestyle I’ve grown to love. To that end, I’m investing in a few sessions with a nutritionist, who can help me map out a menu of healthy options for the days when I come home late and all I want to do is fall into the couch and fondle my cat. I’ve stocked my fridge and cupboards with healthier snacks, and for the next month I’m eliminating pasta from my diet so I can crack the addiction and introduce it back into my diet slowly, allow for that indulgence to have meaning {homemade lasagna instead of a bowl of limp noodles}.

To that end, I found this delicious taco recipe in Cook’s Illustrated’s {I’m finally a subscriber!} compilation of their best recipes over the past 25 years, and can I just say that this dish is EVERYTHING. It’s filling, homemade, spicy and I feel proud that I’ve finally made a lunch that’s not a photocopy of the dozens that came before. Know that I also plan on a veg variation that will include chickpeas, lentils, and cauliflower. More to come, friends!

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Cooks Illustrated
For the beef filling
2 tsp canola or safflower oil
1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1½ tbsp chili powder {the original recipe calls for 2 tbsp. As a result, my tacos were insanely spicy}
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 pound 90 percent lean (or leaner) ground beef
½ cup plain tomato sauce (see note)
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tsp vinegar, preferably cider vinegar {I used apple cider, and it as fine}
Salt + pepper to taste

Cook’s Illustrated Note: Tomato sauce is sold in cans in the same aisle that carries canned whole tomatoes. Do not use jarred pasta sauce in its place. We prefer to let diners top their own tacos with whatever fillings they prefer. There’s no need to prepare all of the toppings listed below, but cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes are, in our opinion, essential.

For the shells + toppings: I really veered off the original recipe because I really wanted a simple taco. I peeled + shucked 3 ears of corn and sauteed them in a pan with 2 tsp olive oil until they were charred + brown. I add some cheese + parsley, and it was divine. However, if you want to rock all the fixings, click here for the original recipe.
¾ cup corn, vegetable, or canola oil
8 (6 inch) corn tortillas
4 ounces shredded cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese (1 cup) {I used shredded mozzarella instead}
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley leaves

DIRECTIONS
For the beef filling: Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook, breaking meat up with wooden spoon and scraping pan bottom to prevent scorching, until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking meat up so that no chunks remain, until liquid has reduced and thickened (mixture should not be completely dry), about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

For the taco shells: The taco shells can be fried before you make the filling and rewarmed in a 200-degree oven for about 10 minutes before serving.

Heat oil in 8-inch heavy-bottomed skilled over medium heat to 350 degrees, about 5 minutes (oil should bubble when small piece of tortilla is dropped in; tortilla piece should rise to surface in 2 seconds and be light golden brown in about 1 ½ minutes). Meanwhile, line rimmed baking sheet with double thickness paper towels.

Using tongs to hold tortilla, slip half of tortilla into hot oil. With metal spatula in other hand, keep half of tortilla submerged in oil. Fry until set but not brown, about 30 seconds.

Flip tortilla; hold tortilla open about 2 inches while keeping bottom submerged in oil. Fry until golden brown, about 1 ½ minutes. Flip again and fry other side until golden brown, about 30 seconds.

Transfer shell upside down to prepared baking sheet to drain. Repeat with remaining tortillas, adjusting heat as necessary to keep oil between 350 and 375 degrees.

For assembly: Using a wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among prepared taco shells; place 2 tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately, passing toppings separately.

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