Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A recipe for you

When I started this blog, I mentioned that I might include other things than jewelry-making. This week a couple of you have asked about my recipe called “Taco Rice” and I decided this was a very good time to expand my topics, maybe post a little oftener. Sharing some of my favorite recipes seems like a good place to start.

I love to eat, and generally love to cook, too. However, as Peg Bracken said in “The I Hate to CookBook” it is the daily-ness of it that can wear you down. To overcome that you need to have a selection of go-to recipes, dishes you can prepare without much thought, from ingredients that are easy to keep in the house, that taste good.

Taco rice may be the ultimate go-to recipe in our house. In some ways it's more of a method than a recipe. I'll start with the basic recipe – you can prepare this as is, following the recipe exactly and have a really nice supper. Then I'll let you in on the secrets, the ways you can adapt this recipe to fit virtually any situation. So here goes.

Taco Rice – 4 servings

½ pound ground meat

Garlic, onion, peppers – optional to taste

1 cup uncooked rice

1 can tomatoes

1 packet taco seasoning

About 2 cups water – depends on how much juice is on the tomatoes

Large skillet or everyday pan with tight-fitting cover


Sour cream or yogurt

Scallions/green onions/sweet onions

Shredded cheese

Other taco-style garnishes as desired

Drain the juice from the tomatoes into a measuring cup and reserve.

In your large skillet over medium high heat, crumble and brown the ground meat. When it is about half-cooked, add aromatics as desired. I always use garlic, sometimes onion or peppers if they are handy. I don't salt it because there is usually enough seasoning in the taco seasoning. However, you might want a little salt and pepper. Just be careful and taste as you go.

When the meat is completely browned, add the uncooked rice. Stir it around with the meat until it begins to look somewhat chalky and is coated with the pan drippings. Stir in the taco seasoning, then the tomatoes. If you are using whole tomatoes, crush them with you hands as you add them. If you are using diced tomatoes, just add them as they are.

To the reserved juice, add enough water to make 2 ¼ cups of liquid. Add this to the pan and mix thoroughly. Raise the heat to high to bring the dish to a boil. When it reaches a boil, cover, count to ten, and lower heat to a very low setting, barely simmering.

Now go away and leave this entirely alone for 20 minutes. Do not lift the lid to peek or see how it is coming along. After 20 minutes, check to see if the rice is tender and most of the juice is absorbed. If not, return the mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat and let cook 5 to 10 minutes longer.

Top each serving with a dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt, some finely chopped scallions or sweet onions, and some shredded cheese.

A green salad and cornbread or tortillas are the perfect accompaniment.

So that's the basic recipe. But this is one of the most versatile recipes on record, and I'd like to share some of the variations that we love.

Meat: You can use any ground meat. Hamburger, meatloaf mix, ground pork, or ground turkey all work perfectly well. If the meat is very lean you may want to add a little olive oil to help it brown and to carry some of the spice flavors. Half a pound is just a guideline. If you like a meatier dish you can use more meat, but it really doesn't improve things that much.

But what if you are vegetarian? Well, you're in luck. You can substitute soy crumbles or cooked/canned beans (or a mixture of both) for the meat and the dish will be just as good – different but excellent. I would recommend that you saute the aromatics alone and then add the crumbles and/or beans with the tomatoes so they don't burn, but otherwise the preparation is just the same.

Tomatoes: When I first developed this recipe, over 30 years ago, I used plain label generic canned whole tomatoes for it and crushed them with my hands as I added them to the pan. Lately diced tomatoes have become widely available, and I have been using them most of the time. You can use salted or unsalted, seasoned or unseasoned, whatever kind of tomatoes you like. The whole tomatoes have more liquid in the can, while the liquid on the diced tomatoes is very thick, which is why you need to adjust the amount of water each time you cook it.

Rice: Any kind of uncooked unprocessed white rice works for this. I generally use medium grain rice, since that is my favorite. However, long grain, basmati, jasmine, sushi rice, even short-grain rice all work fine. Use what you like. Avoid converted or quick-cooking rices as they don't absorb the flavors as well. Short-grain brown rice could work but you would have to adjust both the liquid and the cooking time, and I haven't done that often enough to speak with authority on those numbers.

Taco Seasoning: What kind of taco seasoning to use? What kind do you and your family like? When I started making this I used the plain label generic taco seasoning. When that was no longer available, I used whatever was on sale, often McCormick. Now I get most of my seasonings from The Spice House, and I couldn't be happier. Their spice mixes are delicious, extremely fresh, and very economical. Check out their website for yourself.

Spiciness: Depending on the taco seasoning you used, the basic recipe is not particularly hot. If you want more heat, try using tomatoes with jalepenos, such as Rotel. Or you could saute a couple hot peppers with the aromatics. Or you could add a squirt of your favorite hot sauce like Sriracha. Or if some of you want heat and others don't, you can add hot sauce or sliced jalepenos to the toppings to taste.

Toppings: I like greek yogurt or plain yogurt and shredded sharp cheddar. You could use sour cream, full- or low-fat if you prefer or if it easier to get in your area. I use scallions, both the green and white parts, about 1 per person. Chopped parsley or cilantro are both good if you happen to have them on hand, and a fresh salsa is delicious, also if you have it on hand. And guacamole is always a luxurious touch on any Tex-Mex style dish.

Other options: If you want to sneak in some extra vegetables, it's easy. Corn, green beans, and spinach are all good. Just add them as you assemble the dish. They tend to absorb sauce and almost disappear, which may be helpful if you have fussy eaters. You can also add broccoli stems, finely chopped, and I promise your fussiest family member won't notice. The tomato and seasonings make its flavor blend in.

So there you go. If you have canned tomatoes, rice, taco seasoning, and meat or beans in the house, you have a delicious filling meal that takes about 10 minutes of preparation and less than half an hour of additional cooking. Winner all around.

Please let me know if you enjoyed this recipe, and if I should post some more. Thanks for looking. I'll be back later in the week with more jewelry, and maybe other things too, if you say you are interested.

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