Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ground Beef Tacos

Do you have any food traditions? I don’t know if this counts as a food tradition, but every summer while I was growing up my parents would send me to stay with my paternal grandparents for three weeks. My grandparents had, if not food traditions then food rituals. Everyday, they both woke at the crack of dawn to have breakfast at 6am ( I’m sure in the winter they woke before dawn even began to crack). They ate what they called “dinner” at 12 noon, and had “supper” at 5pm sharp. I loved visiting my grandparents! What kid wouldn’t love all of that routine surrounding food? And, the food my grandmother cooked? Well, I loved it as a kid. By the time I was a teenager, I had realized grandma's meals weren't exactly gourmet, but I loved visiting my grandparents, and I loved the precision with which they ate.

I remember very few of my immediate family’s food traditions while I was growing up, but I do know my mom cooked the same foods over and over again. And, I remember if ratatouille was mentioned for dinner, I was in for a bad night. The ratatouille wasn’t horrible, but my parents only served the ratatouille—no bread or pasta to round out the meal. I was always starving after a dinner of ratatouille.

One meal I remember fondly was tacos. My mom ripped open the little spice packet (I’m sure you know which one I’m talking about), browned ground beef, shredded cheese and lettuce, and dinner was served. Dinner can’t get much easier.

I brought this taco tradition to my family, spice packets and all. So, it was with trepidation I decided to try the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for ground beef tacos. I was looking forward to trying the recipe because I love Mexican food, but I worried the recipe wouldn't live up to my expectations.

I shouldn't have worried. The Cook’s Illustrated Ground Beef Tacos far surpassed tacos from a packet. The meat was moist and flavorful without being greasy or salty. We tried the tacos with the fried corn tortillas Cook’s Illustrated recommended. My family liked these tacos much better than spice packet tacos. My son didn’t like the homemade shells (he likes the pre-made shells, and he’s not ready to change.) My husband and daughter both like the fried shells, but they are soft taco lovers at heart. I liked the fried shells, but I couldn’t get passed the “fried” part. I tested the taco meat the next day for lunch with soft corn tortillas, and I could really taste the difference in the taco meat. I think we have a new ground beef taco recipe. Goodbye little packets! Is this recipe as easy as opening a packet of seasoning? No, but it's worth it!

Ground Beef Tacos
From Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Recipes

Beef Filling
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves minced or pressed
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 lb 90% lean or leaner ground beef
½ cup plain tomato sauce (do not use jarred pasta sauce)
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons cider vinegar

8 fried corn taco shells

Assorted toppings
shredded lettuce
shredded cheese
sour cream
chopped tomatoes
sliced avocado

Heat oil in a medium skillet and add the onions and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices and salt; cook stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add ground beef and cook breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon until beef is no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce, chicken broth, brown sugar, and vinegar; bring to a simmer, uncovered, stirring frequently and breaking up meat so no chunks remain, and until the liquid has reduced and thickened but not evaporated completely, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper. Divide the meat evenly among the taco shells, and serve. Pass the topping separately.

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