Thursday, February 17, 2011

February 17, 2011: Neal’s Favorite Tacos Recipe

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For me, food equals love. Since the month of February – the shortest month of the year and named after the Latin term for “purification” – is typically associated with love, it just seemed appropriate that I include a recipe that is a favorite of my favorite loved one, my son, Neal.

When Neal was growing up, we never had an excess of money. Did that mean our life was bad or hard? Not in the least. In fact, I think it meant that we were closer than if we’d been rich. We spent a lot of time shopping at yard sales and thrift shops, fixing up our house with elbow grease, and making gifts for special occaions. And I always made a home cooked meal. It was a rare occasion that we went out to eat at a restaurant.

If you ask Neal, he might say that he preferred fast food burgers and Chinese take-out to Mom’s homemade food but I know that deep down inside, he appreciated my efforts. In fact, on most nights I fed not only my son, but two or three or four of his friends. If they wanted frozen pizza they could stay home, but if they wanted a delicious meal of homemade chicken fingers or meatloaf, our house was the place to eat.

No matter how hard I tried to overcome his resistance, I raised a son who is picky when it comes to food. I tried my best to introduce him to new and varied foods, but I soon gave up when he demonstrated that he couldn’t tolerate certain things by “voiding his stomach” (to put it delicately). Oh well. Even though I couldn’t experiment with exotic vegetables and herbs, I still love cooking for him!

There is one dish that Neal craves and requests more than any other and that’s my rolled tacos. It’s an incredibly simple recipe but it pleases me no end that not even the Mexican food chain popular in Phoenix, Filiberto’s, can compete with mom’s rolled tacos. So here’s the recipe that tops my son’s list of all-time favorite foods.

Rolled Tacos

Cooked roast beef, shredded (about half a pound will serve four people)
Cooked russet potato (half to one whole potato)
12 or more corn tortillas
Cooking spray (such as Pam)
Oil for frying
Velveeta cheese
Milk
1 tsp. cumin
1 chopped green chile (optional)

There are no exact measurements included in this recipe because it relies on leftovers and the amount you have available will vary.

Make a pot roast one night and use the leftovers the next to make these tacos – if you have a large family, make a really big roast. If it’s only one or two diners, you can use a smaller roast of about 5 pounds cooked in the crock pot one night and have plenty leftover to make tacos the next night.

Take the leftover beef and shred it. Finely mince the cooked potato (use any leftovers from the previous night’s pot roast if available). Combine the potato with the shredded beef and add a bit of leftover gravy, if available – just enough to make the mixture moist.

You will need to gauge how many tortillas are necessary to use up the meat mixture. Start with a dozen and you can prepare more if needed. Use a small microwaveable plate. Take one corn tortilla and spray it one both sides with Pam. Place it on the plate. For the remaining tortillas, spray with Pam on one side and stack it on the plate, unsprayed side on top of the base tortilla. When all the tortillas are sprayed and stacked, cover the plate with plastic wrap and microwave on high for one to two minutes, until the tortillas are softened.

Take a softened tortilla and place about two tablespoons of the meat/potato mixture on one end. Roll it up tightly like a cigar, then secure with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

Take a heavy saucepan and add oil to about two inches up the sides. Heat it to approximately 375 degrees. Using a pair of tongs, drop in two to three rolled tacos at a time. Fry for a minute or two on one side until the tortillas starts to turn crispy and golden brown, then turn it over and fry for an additional minute or so. Remove to a paper towel lined plate. Continue with the remaining tacos, placing the cooked tacos in a warm oven.

When all the tortillas are cooked, cube Velveeta cheese (about one-fifth of a loaf will be enough for two people) and place in a microwaveable bowl. Add a couple tablespoons of milk along with a dash of cumin and a chopped green chile (if desired; Neal doesn’t like spicy food so I omit the chile for him). Microwave on high for about a minute, stirring halfway through. Cook until all the cheese is just melted.

Serve the rolled tacos over a bed of sliced lettuce and tomato and top with melted cheese sauce. Refried beans and Spanish rice are a great accompaniment.

And that’s how I show love to my son!

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