How to cook, cooking for beginners, cooking without recipes

From The Dark Side of the Fridge – Tacos, Gringo-Style

Please do not look for any recipes here. I don’t generally use them. The point of this little blog is to share process – because you can get dinner on the table a lot faster if you don’t follow recipes. And I’m all about the fast, healthy(ish), cheap and it had better be tasty.

Man, I was exhausted when I got home last Thursday from a day of errands and chasing dollars. The Beloved Spouse wasn’t feeling much perkier, either. A lack of funding and an attempt to eat healthier ruled out dialing for dinner. And the pound of ground beef we had was frozen solid, too. So what to do?

The gringo-style of tacos dorados that my mom served me when I was a kid. Some of my Latina friends serve these with the ground beef fried in the taco shell. We always just sauteed the beef separately and just called them tacos. It actually comes together pretty quickly. The one downside is the clean up factor – it does make a mess.

I popped the frozen block of ground beef into the nuke-o-matic and used the defrost setting for the whole one-pound. I don’t like defrosting my meat all the way this way because you usually get cooked bits and that’s not tasty. But since my microwave defrosts things in stages, I let it go for the first round or so, then started pulling off thawed meat and putting it in the frying pan. I also put the remaining frozen block in the pan and got it all going over medium low heat.

I know, I know – you’re not supposed to cook meat that’s still frozen. It steams it and/or dries it out, depending on who you’re reading. Well, pshaw, pshaw. When dinner needs to get onto the table, I’m not waiting for things to thaw out slowly or in the nuker. I push the thawed bits to one side of the frying pan, center the part of the pan with the frozen meat over the flame and scrape off the browned bits, then flip the frozen piece, breaking it up where I can. And that’s what I did this time, using the times the frozen meat was cooking to chop the bejeebers out of an onion. Note to Self – do up video of how to chop an onion for this blog.

The magic of a rib rack for draining taco shells

The magic of a rib rack for draining taco shells

Once the meat was mostly thawed and partly browned, I added the onion and about a tablespoon full of ground cumin and a quarter to half teaspoon of cayenne. Second Note to Self – do up video of how to measure into your hand. Got all that stirred up and put on low heat to cook through and stay warm. The Beloved Spouse chopped up some lettuce, pulled the shredded cheese from the freezer, sliced some black olives and dished out some light sour cream. We also usually do up some tomatoes, but this time of year, there aren’t any good ones to be had. These all went into little dishes. See what I meant about the mess?

But that’s only the beginning of the mess. Now, I did use the nuker to thaw my tortillas since these are very handy to buy in bulk and keep in the freezer. Dried them off with a bit of paper towel that I later re-used to drain the oil. We have a small rack that makes draining taco shells really easy – it’s actually a rack you use in small BBQs to hold ribs. I put that on a cookie sheet, paper towels underneath, and get the small fry pan ready with a couple tablespoons of oil. Basically, you want to be able to cover the tortilla. IMG_20150108_185539080

Once the oil is hot, slide the tortilla into the oil, let it soak just a nano-second, then pull it out and flip it. Give it another nano-second or two, then fold one edge over to make a half-moon shape. Flip again, then pull the shell out of the oil and drain on paper, a lint-free towel or a rack. Depending on how many of these you’re doing (we did seven for the two of us), alert everyone that dinner is two to five minutes out and see to it that someone has set the table. Or you can before you start the tortillas. We put about a third of the meat in a bowl, reserving the rest for a taco salad at some later date (boy, will that make that dinner easier), then put spoons in all the fixings so we could stuff our tacos to our respective preferences. Dinner landed on the table in just a little under 30 minutes, and that included time to take the photos.

And then we collapsed. The mess waited.

Anne Louise Bannon

Please talk to me. I'd love to hear from you.