Friday, October 30, 2015

Taco Soup

Whenever I make something for the first time I will ask the person who shall remain nameless 'how is it?'. Of course you are probably thinking there is only right answer to that question. Actually there isn't. But there is, if I am being totally honest, a single word response I pray I will not hear. The word almost always causing me to cringe; make a 'you can't really be saying that face'; or, ask 'are there no other words in your a zillion years ago one point away from a perfect score on the ACT vocabulary?' is 'good'. An adjective that belongs in the same non-committal category of words that include 'nice and fine' or should be added to the list of those four letter 'bad words. Don't get me wrong, not everything that comes out of my kitchen is amazing, outstanding, incredible, to-die-for, over-the-top, last meal worthy, blue-ribbon-esque, unbelievable, best-ever, great, or even 'really, really good'. Sometimes it's a disaster, just okay, or simply just 'good'. However, there are those moments when the culinary stars are aligned and the dish deserves a rating better than 'good'. Those would be the occasions when my face reveals what I am thinking. Which is exactly what happened last week. I heard the word 'good', not 'really good' or 'really, really, really good'. But then after I made a face, and maybe I even whispered something audible, something else happened. We finally came to a really, really good understanding as to what that word meant to both of us. 'Good' has not been permanently banished from ever being spoken (particularly in the food review context) and it continues to remain an option. Because sometimes 'good' really is good enough. Except for when it isn't.

In the past week, I was reminded of the centuries old expression 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink'. Almost a year ago to the day, one of my friends had shared her recipe for Taco Soup with me. My 'how good can a soup made mostly with canned vegetables really be' snobbery trumped not trusting the recommendation of this 'I love everything she has ever made' friend. In spite of having savored every morsel of food she has ever served, I had been reluctant to make the soup. Then over the weekend, this 'old horse' sat down at the table where a bowl of the Taco Soup was placed in front of her. And she drank. Not just one bowl, but two. Three days, not three weeks and not three months later I was making this soup. Proving once again that I still have alot to learn.

Having friends over for a weeknight or weekend gathering? Having a chill and Netflix movie night? Having an open house for the holidays? Hosting a luncheon? Making lunch or dinner for family and/or friends? Going up to a cottage or cabin for the weekend? Wanting something to take the chill off of a cold, blustery day? Craving comfort food? Inviting friends over last minute? Feeling in the mood to binge watch a favorite show? Or hey, having neighbors and friends over for Halloween? There are an almost endless number of opportunities for you to make this incredibly easy to make, delicious soup.

From start to finish this soup comes together in about an hour. A lack of time or rather a perceived lack of time should not be used as an excuse to avoid making this Taco Soup. Because making this soup could turn out to be the one of best uses of your time for the week.

As I stood at the butcher's counter in the grocery store, I wondered which ground meat I should use. Ground Chuck (80/20), Ground Round (85/15) or Ground Sirloin (90/10). We all know it's the fat content is what gives ground beef its' wonderful, buttery flavor. Taking into consideration the meat wasn't taking center stage (i.e., needing the highest amount of fat), I ruled out the Ground Chuck. Knowing I wanted the browned meat to have some 'fat' flavor, I nixed using the Ground Sirloin. Which meant by process of elimination, the best option seemed to be the ground round. After that ground meat deliberation came the 'how much to buy' decision. The recipe called for only one pound of ground meat which should have made it a no-brainer decision. Yet I couldn't help but wonder about the soup's taste and texture if it was made with one and one half pounds of ground meat. That answer will come shortly. Keep reading.

The moisture or liquid in the soup comes from the liquid in the canned vegetables and from the can of nacho cheese soup. Nothing is drained.

Once the ground round has been browned, all of the other ingredients are added. Easy, peasy. The soup cooks for approximately 30 minutes on medium-low heat. With this being the amount of time necessary for all of the ingredients to be heated through, you can reduce the heat to a simmer and continue cooking for an additional 15 minutes to further develop the soup's flavor. Stir the soup occasionally to prevent anything from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Don't forget to season with salt and pepper.

The only garnish this Taco Soup really needs are some Fritos Corn Chips. Additional options include grated Cheddar/Monteray Jack cheese and sour cream. If you are making this Taco Soup a 'meal', consider serving with some cornbread (from scratch or your favorite mix) or a heated baguette.

The increase in the amount of ground round made for an even heartier, soul-satisfying soup, kicking up its' deliciousness factor up even further. The addition of the extra half-pound of meat transformed into a cross between a soup and chili. If you prefer a more pure 'soup' feel, use only one pound of the ground round.

This soup will thicken up more if made the night before and chilled. To return it to its' original consistency, add some water. A little at a time until the soup reaches the desired consistency.

"Life is really simple. But we insist on making it complicated." Confucius I am the first to admit to being skeptical about making those 'quick and easy, not made from scratch, with promises of tasting better than homemade' recipes posted daily on social media. Yet, in spite of this skepticism, the Taco Soup was a reminder there are exceptions to all rules or should I say all perceptions. I am kicking myself for waiting a year to make this Taco Soup. Because it is really, really, really, really good. To be certain I avoid any misunderstandings between us, let me just say it's pretty gosh darn delicious. 

Taco Soup (an ever so slight adaptation to Randee Malmberg's Taco Soup recipe)

1 - 1 1/2 pounds of ground round (85/15) Note: For a thicker, heartier soup, use 1 1/2 pounds.
1 package of Taco Seasoning
1 can (15.5 ounce) dark kidney beans, undrained
1 can (15.5 ounce) small red (light) beans, undrained
1 can (15 ounce) black beans, undrained
1 can (14.75 ounce) fire roasted whole kernel corn, undrained
1 can (14.5 ounce) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (10.75 ounce) fiesta nacho cheese soup (recommend Campbell's)
Kosher salt and pepper for seasoning

Fritos Corn Chips or tortilla strips, sour cream, freshly grated cheddar/jack cheese, cornbread or warmed baguette.

1. In a deep, heavy bottom stock pot or dutch oven, brown the ground beef over medium heat.
2. Add all of the remaining ingredients (remember Do Not Drain any of them) and stir to combine. 
3. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent any sticking to the bottom of the pan. Note: For even deeper flavor, reduce heat to simmer and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
4. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
5. Serve with Fritos Corn Chips, sides of sour cream, freshly grated cheddar/jack cheese, cornbread and/or a warmed baguette.
1. Soup can be made the day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat until heated through.
2. For serving soup to a large group, consider doubling ingredients. Transfer cooked soup to a slow cooker and put on warm setting.

Sculptures in the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden.

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