You know the way some people have religious food apparitions, like they see Jesuses in their toast? Well, I see smiles in my tacos. Except it's not an apparition - they are totally there!!! Would you look at it, grinning away in all its cholesterol-raising enticingness, ready to shatter the second your teeth touch it. And that smell? That, my friends, is eau de Sunday night; it's a melty, cheesy, spicy scent, with top notes of squidgyness, middle notes of inelegant messiness and base notes of one-last-bold-meal-before-the-weekend-is-over. Tacos are really a way of making nachos into a legitimate meal. Nowt wrong with that, I say. It is, in fact, to be embraced. I do love a good tex-mex mash-up; it's all very DIY, dive right in, leave your table manners at the door-type food. I do, however, realise that Mexican cuisine has been hijacked by people like the folks at Old El Paso, and that my understanding of it is incredibly limited, which is why Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple is on my increasingly lengthy cookbook wishlist. At least I have the decency to avoid packets of suspicious powdered substances that claim to spice things up authentically - the ingredients lists on those things give me the heebie jeebies. In fairness, since I was having Mr and Mrs Newlywed over for a Sunday night nosh-up, I could hardly go opening packets and sprinkling things with numbers in them on their food, now could I? Only the freshest would do.
Eking as many food miles (I'm trying to give the expression a new, more positive meaning, for no particular reason other than belligerence) as possible out of my latest Jamie magazine, I actually resorted to cooking the kiddies' meal in the current issue. Before I actually noticed that it was a teach-your-children thingy, I looked at it and thought "Oh look now, there's a nice simple taco recipe, sure won't that be nice for a hearty mess of a Sunday night meal".
And then I saw:
Do you think that put me off? Nope. I don't have sufficient levels of shame to either be put off by or hide the fact that I use recipes designed to teach small people how to cook. I love their back-to-basics simplicity, and also find that they make a good starting point for putting your own stamp on dish, if not quite a blank canvas then a very bare one.
And so to the pan; tacos may not be a macrobiotic concoction of antioxidants and superfoods and all that jazz, but I really do think that if you use fresh ingredients and cook from scratch when making any dish, then you are not doing yourself any major harm. Crunchy peppers and a roundy brown tear-creating onion? Ah they're hardly carcinogenic, calorie-laden nasties, now, are they.
What helps prevent this dish descend into complete lardass territory is keeping it fairly minimal on the olive oil front. This is made mostly possible by this wonderful non-stick pan, which is, in fact a Jamie Oliver pan for Tefal - not that I'm out to promote anyone who I don't really think needs it, but, to be fair, this is a wonderful piece of kitchen equipment. I'm also told that there's a great deal on them in the Kildare Village outlets.
Instead of a lil-packet-o-evil, I get my spice on by going to the source: after the veggies have softened up a little, in with two chopped garlic cloves, a pinch of paprika and one and a half teaspoons of cumin for about two minutes.
500g minced beef and 250ml beef stock for added flay-va.
Eagle-eyed cherries among you may notice the change of pan. The recipe required one with a lid, but Einstein Eats A Lot here didn't read to the end of the recipe and used one without a lid. In a move of uncharacteristic compliance, I braved the extra washing up and changed pots. Well, it needed 45 minutes cooking time and I didn't want the juicyness evaporating entirely.
Look at the layers and layers of smiley tacos, waiting to be crunched up! They got a good hot 5 minutes in the oven at 180 degrees.
While the beef was busy making itself amazing in the pan, I got grating and mashing and chopping. Jamie's recipes for salsa and guacamole are thoroughly wussy, being, as they are, minus chillies. There were no small people to be fed, so I gleefully mashed a green chilli in with the guac and a red one got chopped into the salsa. They both got douses and dollops of lime juice and coriander. I went along with his plan to have creme fraiche in the guac, but swapped spring onions for a red onion in the salsa. I grated away at the cheese and chopped up iceberg lettuce to max up the layers.
At LAST! The beef is ready to join the party. It went into two bowls to guarantee equal divide-uppage and non-hogging.
Guess who ate the most tacos? Like, we weren't counting or anything, but I'd swear I have a twinge in my elbow from all that stretching.