Tonight, I finally reached a more substantial section of the cookbook, after spending last week in the breads and desserts world (which wasn't, by any means, a bad place). Taco salad is the first entry in the "Salads" section. Jeannene is ecstatic to have arrived at a savory dish, although she's equally excited that much of the section consists of Jell-o salad in various permutations. I'm a bit of a Jell-o purist and, despite my weird adoration of strawberry pretzel salad, I tend only to tolerate the addition of fruit to my Jell-o. No marshmallows, no cool whip, no whipped cream, no nuts, and, for the love of all that is holy, no celery or other vegetable matter! But, I somehow ended up loving pretzel salad, so maybe ribbon salad, Under The Sea Salad, and 7-Up salad won't be as abhorrent as I fear. I do have a lot of food rules, don't I?
In addition to the taco salad, I needed to make up for missing Monday's recipe, apple pudding. The two don't seem very much to go together, but today's rainy weather allows admirably for apple pudding, which is infinitely more like cake, with a brown sugar sauce thickened with fruit pectin. But more on that in a moment.
Every taco salad I've ever eaten or seen has come in a crispy corn tortilla shell, with varying amounts of lettuce, shredded cheese, and chopped tomatoes accompanying a mound of taco meat. This was a little different, more akin, as Jeannene observed, to a walking taco in a pan instead of in a Fritos bag. One of my favorite things about Boot's PeeWee football games, for which we had to arise wretchedly early on a Saturday morning and which we often spent out in the mist and rain and cold, was when it was time for lunch & we could get walking tacos & more coffee from the concession stand. The only things better were getting to extrovert with other football moms and the grin on Boot's face when he excitedly asked if we saw him [insert technically detailed football term for a play here, which will sound as understandable as Greek to me]---& of course, as far as he needed to know, we had. All of us moms. Every single play. Never distracted by chatting. Not once. Completely following the game. Yeah. That's it. (Have y'all seen the meme featuring Maria Von Trapp, twirling around in the mountains, with the words, "This is me not giving a [expletive variable but here deleted] about football season" yet?)
Anyway, this taco salad is basically taco meat with a bunch of onion, tomato, kidney beans, cheddar cheese, and crushed Doritos added. Well, crushed Doritos was my interpretation of Mrs. Weaver & Mrs. Yoder's "taco flavored chips." I guess Chili Cheese Fritos would have worked, as well. When it came to the addition of shredded lettuce, meant to be mixed into the whole bunch, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Once lettuce, particularly shredded lettuce, has gotten warm and soggy, it nauseates me. Therefore, I left it out & allowed Jeannene to do as she pleased (mixing it in, of course---she is quite the food mixer and especially delights in corn mixed into mashed potatoes with gravy). I put my meat mixture on top of the lettuce and liked it just fine because the lettuce remained cool and crisp. I liked it quite a bit actually, although I wouldn't want to eat huge quantities of it purely for health reasons, even though I used the leanest ground beef available. I did end up adding more spices. The recipe called only for a packet of taco seasoning, but it tasted bland, so I added some chili & cumin.
The only thing I couldn't stomach was the dressing. It was like taco dessert, but not nearly so delicious as a Choco-Taco (which I don't like much, but am willing to eat on occasion). Horrifyingly sweet---1/4 c. sugar to 4 oz. Thousand Island dressing with a little taco sauce and a little seasoning. I could probably have nightmares about it pretty easily, really. I did try a tiny smidge on a corner of my meal and it was better on the food than when sampled plain, but still appalling. Jeannene didn't think it was as bad as I did, but she did opt for sour cream instead of dressing. I thought it was just fine plain.
In fact, it was rather a bad night for sauces. Perhaps I erred in using Can-Jel fruit pectin for the "clear jel" called for in the recipe? Since I am not a canner---not even sure if I've ever participated in such a thing---I didn't know exactly what I was looking for. The sauce called for only water, brown sugar, a weensy bit of salt, and the aforementioned thickening agent. Unfortunately, although I did mix the pectin with water as directed, something occurred. Not only did the sauce not thicken, but when I tasted the watery result, it was tart, like I'd added lemon juice and vinegar, both.
The "pudding" itself was delicious, however, a sort of blondie with apples & pecans. A perfect autumnal dish, I would absolutely make it again and would happily serve it to company just as I served it tonight, with a little round of good quality vanilla bean ice cream or, better yet, Salted Caramel from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream (they do ship---http://jenis.com). I had hoped to drizzle a smidge of Treat Dream's caramel sauce over the top (www.treatdream.com---they're not Jeni's, but if you're in SE Michigan, they're definitely worth a stop), but could not find it in the fridge. Perhaps it looked tasty to our youngest? Really, though, all this treat needs is the ice cream. Or, it could be eaten out of hand for a casual accompanying sweet in a lunchbox or picnic basket.
Monday's dinner, hot chicken salad, was edible but not, in my opinion, good enough for me to post the recipe here. Hot chicken salad should not, in my opinion, be just like cold chicken salad that's been heated. This was. If, however, I do find my good hot chicken salad recipe, I will post it. Last night, we were invited to dinner at a new friend's house. She is an enthusiastic fan of sauces and dips from Robert Rothschild Farm in Urbana, Ohio (www.robertrothschild.com). I can testify from previous experience to the deliciousness of their artichoke dip and their raspberry sauce, but didn't know they made spaghetti sauce until Brenda mentioned it. We had the roasted portabella & roma tomato sauce and it was definitely yummy, with a definite bit of heat to it, almost a hint of Cajun flavor, even. Brenda had said she didn't want to have it until they had company because it was so special & I felt so honored that we were chosen. I love going to dinner at other people's houses because I get to have things I wouldn't ordinarily think to make. It's always a real treat, especially with such congenial company.
I get to look forward to congenial company tomorrow night, as well, when we join several folks from Jeannene's plant at a hog roast given by Mulefoot Gastropub (a terrific new restaurant in Imlay City, Michigan, named after the heirloom breed of pigs that is their focus---website at www.themulefoot.com) as a fundraiser for the Stone Soup Food Pantry. Not only do we get delicious roast pork, but they will be sampling new menu items as passed appetizers and there's going to be live music! Should be a roaring good time!
So, I will need to catch up on last night's peanut butter pie assignment and tomorrow' s barbecued hamburgers. Perhaps Sunday when we have the kids over for Sunday dinner, which is our new tradition, now that Pie and Bubbles live close enough to visit for dinner. This first Sunday, Jeannene made an old-fashioned roast with wonderful veggies, a big salad, and fruit kebabs. My contribution, in order to stay out of her way in the kitchen, was to pick up a strawberry pie & a cherry pie from a new grocery we discovered, Papa Joe's in Rochester.