If you’ve ever had houseguests staying for several days over the holiday season, there may have come a time when you’ve wondered what to feed everyone for dinner. A time when you needed something filling and delicious, in quantities that would satisfy a hungry crowd. Preferably something very easy to throw together, because you, as chief cook and bottle-washer (as my father used to put it) would have already spent enough time in the kitchen prepping for the day of the major feast. Ordering pizza is an option, but it gets expensive.
Today I’m sharing with you a recipe for just such a situation, one that has stood the test of many of our own family events. It’s warming, it’s satisfying, AND it’s flexible. Think of the recipe more as a set of guidelines rather than hard-and-fast dictates about measurements and ingredients. Feel free to make changes. Let’s say you’ve got only a one-pound package of ground beef in the freezer. Not a problem. Don’t like jalapenos? Leave ‘em out. Want to use chili with beans? Go for it. Top your plate with sour cream? Sure, why not?
I present it along with a justification. I don’t make Cream Tacos often, certainly not as often as Glen would like. (He calls it “Creamy Tacos,” which is probably more fitting.) Why? Because it’s the lowest of the lowbrow: not much else but cans and cartons thrown in the pan with a package of ground meat. This is not my style of cooking, as you probably know by now, and the only way I can rationalize making it is that I’ve put my own stamp on it over the years, changing the proportions and adding seasonings to better suit me. And be warned: Don’t expect tacos just because of the name. It’s more of a taco salad.
But I have to admit . . . it’s really good.
Olive oil, for browning the meat
1 ½ lbs. ground beef (venison is great too!)
one 19 oz. can Wolf Brand Chili (no beans)
one 10 oz. can Rotel Original Diced Tomatoes & Green Chilies
one 15 oz. can Ranch Style Beans (I like the kind with sliced jalapenos)
1 lb. Velveeta Original
2 minced jalapenos (pickled or fresh)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
½ tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
Other spices, 1 tsp. each: garlic powder, onion powder, ground comino (cumin), smoked paprika, regular (sweet) paprika, dried oregano leaves
Cheese, grated (cheddar, Monterey jack/cheddar blend, colby, etc.)
Sour cream, if you’re feeling it
1. In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef in olive oil (salting to personal taste, but don’t overdo it).
2. Add all the spices, plus the Wolf chili, the Rotel Tomatoes, the Ranch Style Beans, the Velveeta and the minced jalapenos.
3. Turn the heat to medium-low as the Velveeta melts, stirring periodically to blend everything.
4. When the Velveeta is melted, add the heavy cream and stir to blend.
5. Turn the heat to very low and cook the mixture gently, stirring every so often, for about 15 or 20 minutes to allow the flavors to develop. You can taste for salt at this point, but I don’t usually need to add any more.
1. Break up some corn chips onto a plate.
2. Ladle some of the meat/cheese mixture over them.
3. Sprinkle with grated cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, chopped onions as desired.
4. Top with salsa and sour cream as desired.
• See what I mean? It doesn’t get any easier. And everybody can adjust their toppings and their corn chip to meat/cheese mixture ratio to suit themselves. I put more lettuce, tomatoes, onions and salsa on mine, cutting back on the corn chips and meat/cheese. Because of these variables, I can’t give you an exact number of servings the recipe makes, but I can tell you I’ve fed 8 people easily from one batch, and had leftovers besides.
• Be careful salting this, as there is salt in the prepared foods. I salt the ground beef as it’s browning, and after that I salt the raw lettuce, tomato and onion that I top my plate with.
• In the spices, note that I use garlic powder, not garlic salt. Some folks treat them as if they’re interchangeable.
• The meat/cheese mixture keeps for days in the refrigerator, and also freezes nicely. To freeze: Put it in an airtight container, press wax paper or plastic wrap over the surface of the mixture to minimize the risk of freezer burn, then snap the lid on. A great convenience, especially over the holidays.
Glen and I first enjoyed Cream Tacos more than thirty years ago in San Antonio, at a family gathering in the home of my older brother Bob and his wife Jan. Where Jan found the recipe, I don’t know, but it has a back-of-the-box feel to it. So much time has passed since then. Bob died in March of this year; Jan, a couple of years before him.
Bob relished cultivating a certain quirkiness; he was the kind of person who left you stunned speechless with every overshare he casually (and always with a wry smile) tossed out. Jan, the most genuinely good and sweet person I’ve ever known, would just beam at him with enormous tolerance and devotion, gently chiding, “Oh, love.”
Together the two of them spent a good share of their later years in volunteerism: visiting nursing homes, performing endless kindnesses for the ill or elderly, even driving them hours across Texas to medical appointments (with Bob’s lead foot on the gas, and, no doubt, his passengers’ fingernails digging into the upholstery). Bob had always read widely, and he appreciated good music, teaching me about jazz and Shakespeare when he was about 20 and I was no more than 7 or 8. He loved to eat (occasionally whipping up something delicious himself), and Jan, a placid yet fearless cook, loved to feed him.
I make Cream Tacos at least once a year; it’s one of Glen’s favorites. And now, for me, each bite is remembrance.