Thursday, November 14, 2013

Taco Night

Dear, Tacos. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love you made with homemade corn tortillas, topped with shrimp and avocado crema, or melt-in-your-mouth braised beef short ribs. I love you filled with homemade fresh chorizo, and even strips of panko-crusted fish. You are fantastic always, but even sometimes when I have more gourmet options, I love you the most simplest way of all: served in crispy corn shells with a Tex-Mex-inspired filling of ground beef (or turkey).

I'm talking about the most popular type of taco in America, and the one most often prepared for "Taco Night." Hard (or soft, depending on your preference) tacos filled with a well-seasoned, quickly sauteed mixture of ground beef is a standby favorite of mine and so many others. I sometimes make it with ground turkey to lighten it up, but it can easily be made with lean ground beef as well, and it tastes just as good!

I'm never a fan of using store-bought mixes for anything. I found a great recipe to make your own seasoning for taco filling and I'm sticking to it. It's a cinch to make! Most recipes use 1 pound of taco meat for about 12 tacos, but I always feel like that skimps on filling. I like to load my tacos with a healthy scoop of meat and toppings, so I upped the quantity of meat per taco.

You will have enough filling to easily make 14 to 16 generously filled tacos (it really depends on how much you load them up), but since packs of taco shells usually come with only a dozen included, I highly recommend using the extra meat for other purposes instead of cutting down on the meat. I used my leftover meat to make burritos with whole-wheat tortillas and refried beans I had on hand, but it would also be great on nachos and in taco salad.

The shells I used here are from Trader Joe's. What they lack in preservatives and unnecessary additives they make up for in delicious crispiness. And they only cost $1.99 for a pack of 12! After warming them up for just a few minutes in the oven, they are perfect for a night of guilt-free tacos! I'm much happier serving my family tacos made with better quality taco shells and completely homemade meat filling! It makes all the difference.

Ground Beef (or Turkey) Tacos
Makes 14 to 16
(Adapted from Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice)

Seasoning Mix:
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef or turkey
2/3 to 3/4 cup water
14 to 16 taco shells, crisped up in the oven according to package directions, or 14 to 16 taco-sized flour tortillas for soft tacos*
Toppings, such as sour cream, salsa, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, pickled jalapenos, and grated cheddar cheese

Combine all the ingredients for the seasoning mix in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the ground beef or turkey and break it up with a wooden spoon. Stir the meat continuously, breaking it up into small pieces, until it is cooked through, a few minutes. Drain off any extra liquid that accumulates.

Add the seasoning mix and water, starting with about 2/3 cup and then adding more as needed until it creates a thick sauce that just coats the meat, cooking it another minute or two. Remove from the heat and serve with the taco shells and your choice of toppings.

*Packages of taco shells typically come 12 to a pack. You can easily open more than one package, or simply make 12 tacos and save the extra meat for making taco salads, nachos, and/or burritos. I always find that 1 pound of meat is never enough to generously fill 12 tacos, so I'd always rather make extra!


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