My friend Maureen once locked herself into her own apartment because she was so excited to get home and make tacos. She didn’t realize what she’d done until she was rushing out the door to work the next morning and realized she couldn’t open the door- unable to get in touch with her super, she called another friend who lived near by. A few minutes later, she heard her lock turn, and Therlow opened the door- in her excitement to get home and make tacos, she had left her key in the lock and jammed the bolt from the outside.

Now, I’m assuming Maureen is ok with me telling this story publicly- I didn’t bother checking with her first, because, really, who has the time? – but there are two morals to this story: We all have the potential to do something stupid when in a taco-induced haze, and any story you tell your blogger friend could show up on the internet, months later, tenuously connected to something she’s posting about.

Anyway.

What I really want to say to Maureen is, I get it.  Tacos can do things to you. Heck, I almost failed calculus because of tacos. They are that powerful.

Give in to the taco.

I took Math 103, literally the lowest level of math offered at Penn, my freshman year. My friend Jon was also in the class, and while there is no way to know how we would have fared separately, together we were abysmal. Both of us are chatty and easily distracted, so our study sessions dissolved quickly. Our favorite refrain was, “What does that even mean?!” when reading a question, and often we’d conclude that there disconnect was due to a typo, not our laziness. We’d then pack up our books and go to Taco Bell.

Taco Bell became inextricably linked to not doing our homework, and as Taco Bell visits increased, math work decreased. Sometimes, when we’d barely survived a midterm, we’d just go straight to Taco Bell to preemptively pity-feast. There is probably an equation we could come up with to figure out how much Taco Bell I consumed that semester, but, as you’ve probably guessed by now, math is not my subject. Whatever the square tonnage of Taco Bell I consumed was, I’m fairly certain its higher than the FDA would recommend. But while there’s something so wrong about Taco Bell, there’s something so good about it too.

I know what you’re thinking: Marshall, it seems like your work ethic was the real problem, not Taco Bell. And to that I say, Shhhh. Here is a recipe for beef tacos that are way, way better than Taco Bell. We can talk about it after you’ve had them. What’s that? you can’t even remember what we were fighting about? Exactly…. 

This taco recipe comes to us from the wizards at America’s Test Kitchen, who have, as usual, taken a dish that is easy to phone in (taco seasoning! ground beef! serve up!) and made it slightly more complicated but infinitely more delicious – and while the ingredients list may look intimidating, the most important substitution is making your own homemade taco seasoning for the stuff in the pouch- and trust me, its well worth it. You can even use their ratios to mix up a bigger batch to keep for your own recipes that may call for taco seasoning.

Toppings Bar!

Tacos
from America’s Test Kitchen Season 6

Ingredients

2 teaspoons vegetable oil or corn oil
1 small onion , chopped small (about 2/3 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound 90% lean ground beef (or leaner)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons vinegar (preferably cider vinegar)
Ground black pepper
8-1o taco shells, (make your own- see below- or store-bought and heated
Toppings*

1. Heat oil in medium skillet over medium heat until hot and shimmering but not smoking, about 2 minutes; add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, spices, and 1/2 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. Reduce heat to medium-low and 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. This is a good time to prep your toppings. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

2. Using wide, shallow spoon, divide filling evenly among taco shells; place two tacos on individual plates. Serve immediately with toppings.

* I did cheddar cheese, shredded lettuce,  salsa**, sour cream, avocado, onion and cilantro- diced tomatoes, sliced jalepeno,  and hot sauce would also be delicious additions – the list goes on!

**since tomatoes aren’t in season, I used a refrigerated salsa which was much fresher than the jarred variety. When I make this again in the summer I’ll use homemade pico de gallo!

Home Made Taco Shells

I didn’t fry my tortillas as long when I made them, so I had semi-soft semi-crunchy tacos, which was nice, and quicker than deep-frying until brown. Either way you do it, homemade tortilla shells are delicious and pretty easy! 

Ingredients

– Corn Tortillas (8-10 is good for this recipe)
– Canola Oil (3/4 c for an 8-inch pan, enough to be able to submerge the tortilla)

1. Heat the oil in a heavy 8-inch skillet over medium heat, or until it reaches 350 degrees. Test by dropping a small slice of tortilla in – the oil should bubble. Line a baking sheet with paper towels while you wait.

2. Using a tong to hold the tortilla, bend into the shape of a hard taco shell and, with a spatula, press half of it into the oil until submerged. Fry until just set but not browned, about 30 seconds.

3. Flip tortilla to fry the other side, keeping about 2 inches of space in the “crease.” Fry until golden brown, about 1 1/2 minutes. Flip to the other side and fry until golden brown as well (another 30 seconds). Transfer to baking sheet to drain. Rewarm in a 200 degree oven before serving if necessary.