Easy Taco Night Seasoning

Taco Night Made Easy by loopylocks

I have bought pre-made taco seasoning for years. It is relatively inexpensive and easy. No thought or fuss involved. Until one night I forgot to buy some just as I was chopping up the veggies. So I opted to look one up online and make it myself. I was missing several dry ingredients and too salty but it turned out good enough that everyone was a happy camper. So on my next grocery store visit I made sure I got all the vitals and vouched never to buy the packaged stuff again. It is healthier and cheaper too. At a glance, this is all you need. It may look like a lot but most of these spices you likely already have on hand. I store all my dried herbs in my freezer to help keep their freshness.

Easy Taco Night Seasoning by loopylocks

“Easy Taco Night Seasoning” by loopylocks
Makes a single serving (enough for about 1-2 pounds of meat of your choice)

Ingredients:
1 T Chili powder
1/2 T flour (or cornstarch)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp crushed chili flakes (optional)

Directions:
Mix all ingredients together and use as you normally would the store bought seasoning. I alternate between either ground beef or ground turkey (as pictured). To make your own taco night dinner: finely chop and saute a small white onion in one tablespoon of canola oil for 3 minutes over medium high heat. Add meat and brown thoroughly, about 4-5 minutes. Add taco seasoning and combine well throughout. Add 1/2 cup water, stir and reduce heat to medium low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving so sauce can thicken.

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I like to use smoked paprika for added flavour but regular paprika is fine. I generally use this amount of seasoning on up to 2 pounds. You can always add up to an extra 1/4 cup of water if you find it too thick for 2 pounds. I use flour but you can opt for corn starch if you prefer. The water in the cooking of the meat helps to not only distribute the flavour and soften the meat as it simmers but it also helps the sauce to thicken.

I tell myself each time I mix this seasoning up that I am going to make a big batch and just store it in the freezer. But then I go about my business and just make up enough for that night’s dinner. Old habits die hard I guess. Plus it is kind of fun to measure the spices out like you are making magic!

One of the beauties of taco night is that each person can build their own based on likes or dislikes. Keeps complaints at bay, that’s for sure. If our eldest, currently experimenting with being a vegan, was home from university, she would eat this with black beans or brown lentils instead. Our youngest will only entertain meat, cheese and cucumbers. Either way, these two extremes are happy. And while we like the crunch of taco shells, they are a bit on the messy side so we prefer tortilla flaps and make soft tacos, with chips on the side. The visual on the dinner table is art worthy.

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My all time favourite ingredient that is missing in this is avocados. Did not have any when we ate this glorious dinner. You know something, avocados are funny fruits. They are either not ripe enough, or become overripe in the course of one day. Most of mine end up in the freezer for smoothies. In their absence, nothing makes up for a missing ingredient like pepper sauce. Take your pick. I don’t like to play favourites here but if you are ever able to get your hands on some Delish Bajan Hot Pepper Sauce with Cucumber I highly recommend it. Nothing wrong with Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce either. Enjoy!

Bottling up Christmas

There is a popular saying that I come back to all the time. Favourite chef, Julia Child, once said: “Everything in moderation… including moderation.” Now apply this principle to the holiday season. Do you think there is such a thing as too much? Too much music, too much baking, too much decorating? And what about too much remembering?  I think I know what you are thinking. Now don’t you and Julia go ganging up on me. Each of these layers adds to the memories and love that we have for people near and far. Sadness is just as important an emotion as happiness even if we often don’t like to admit it.

This is what happens to me each Christmas. Maybe that’s why I have developed a soft spot for Halloween because it was not part of my childhood. I approach Halloween each year with innocence and delight. Like I used to as a child at Christmas time in Barbados. This year is no exception. I am still working on trying to be kinder to myself.

You know when you find a delicious new dish to make but you overdo it and then no one appreciates it? Same habit can be repeated with music. I have been blazing through all the Christmas classics. Old and new alike. On shuffle. But The Carpenters, Nat King Cole, Harry Connick Jr. and the lovely Michael Buble can only be appreciated so much. Too much leads to reflecting on the ghosts of Christmas past. So I discover a playlist on Spotify called “Christmas Peaceful Piano”. No words. Just haunting lovely Christmas tunes. For those of you who know his work, its like everything George Winston. So far so good. Less complaining by the kids. So I call it progress.

I love Christmas music so much that in a moment of Dollarama weakness,  I buy tiny people carolling. Rationale? Because my kids are so over the music, there is absolutely no way I am going to get them to break out in carol. Plus I think that a tiny house should have tiny people.

As a child in Barbados, we would all go to Nana and Papa’s dear friends,  Uncle Woody and Auntie Louella Gibbs, for a good night of carolling at their home in Dover. Lovely souls. Without fail, it would get everyone into the spirit.

Truth be told, Nana wasn’t one for much decorating. At Tremont, there was a rather tall Norfolk Island Pine in a rusty pot on the verandah for many years. She used to sometimes add lights to it. The leaves were so soft that the lights were less than ideal. The tree would end up looking morose, like a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. What I do remember most is that they would come to our home every Christmas morning. We were not allowed to  check the tree or see what Santa brought us until they arrived. The anticipation, trapped in our bedrooms used to drive us into nutcrackers: “When are Nana and Papa going to get here?” 

Now I know themed decor is lovely and all the rage but when you have old sentimental treasures, it is hard to let them not be adorned. I decide this year to blend and balance the old with the new, as frugally as possible.  Some easy rustic touches and some modern trends. So I place several knick knacks around the house from the dollar store. Retail therapy. Yes Rachel. It is OK. I go in to spend $1 on a “necessity” and leave with 23 items and a bill for $37.66.

The newest Dollarama treasures, besides the tiny carollers, being the bottle brush trees I put in a jar that I normally store granola and cookies in. We can’t have our snowman melting in the living room. Our resident Frosty was a gift to our eldest son from our late neighbour, Helen. She died on the day our fourth was born and I think of her often. Another lovely soul.

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Dollar store snowflakes transform our dining room into a Winter Wonderland at night. 

On the flip side, my husband’s grandmother, Grandnanny, was the polar opposite of Nana. She did some remarkable festive things and was a lover of Christmas. She baked like a boss. My favourite treat being her almond crescent shaped shortbread cookies dusted with icing sugar. She was also super crafty. For all her grandkids, she hand-painted and made porcelain Angel tree toppers. Ours has adorned our tree every year for the last 20 years.

She also painstakingly made dozens and dozens of beaded plastic decorations. I once got a personalized beaded angel one year. How sweet is that? We have decorated with them each year. If they do not make it to the tree, we put them in a bowl on display as yet another lovely memory. Bless her heart, she even made the trees that light up out of plastic beads and safety pins. Awesome. Must have taken her forever.

Grandnanny died in the Spring of 1999. That’s before our future three kids were born. So it is no wonder that I decorate each year to remember her spirit.

This year I stumbled on a link to a DIY hack for a Crate and Barrel Christmas modern tree. It is no longer sold in wood. As soon as I saw it I thought of Grandnanny. How better to show off her decorations? So I set my husband happily to work (in my mind at least) like Will Ferrell as Buddy in Elf.  That movie cracks me up each time.

The first prototype we decided to make out of some western red cedar left over from our deck he built in our backyard you can make out in the back of the photo. Here it is my Dollarama mini disco balls because I believe in disco ball therapy to brighten the spirit and bring in something new. You should see the stars when the sun shines in every afternoon!

The end goal, which currently still in progress, is to make one out of some antique mahogany that Tony’s grandfather brought over to Canada from Africa well over 60 years ago. (See more on that incredible story here). He passed away in 1969 when Tony was a mere toddler. I could not be prouder of the legacy that his grandfather created. Without him I would not have my Superman.

It’s hard not to think about our loved ones who are no longer with us and our family who is far away. Nana and Papa died over a decade ago. Me and my siblings are spread from Barbados to Canada to California to Australia. There are moments each year when I sure feel like I am having a Blue ChristmasFor that very reason, Christmas is not an easy time of year for me.

Having said that, I do get giddy and excited like a little girl about getting the house ready for the holidays. And I also take the job of honourary Mrs. Claus seriously. My own four children depend on it, that’s for sure. But behind the simple and beautiful, is also the memory and emotion. It forces me to reflect. Sometimes I try to bury it with happy thoughts and humour. Sometimes with Homesense and Dollarama. But mostly, I simply try my best to soak the memories all in and create new ones with my own family. Note to self.  Moderation, Rachel.

 

‘Simple’ Bajan Rum Punch

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You do not have to come from an island, nor visit one, to be able to make rum punch. Anyone can make it, including my Canadian husband. It’s not rocket science: it’s a simple ratio. 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, 4 of weak. The challenge lies in the fact that not everyone can make a ‘proper’ rum punch as we would say back home. The fact that my husband can is our little joke since I am the one from Barbados. Sure I can squeeze limes and make simple syrup but I let him take care of the mixology. I just love drinking them. Call me an islan’ girl.

Now there are many theories on what makes a for a great rum punch. I have been told that  my Jamaican grandfather, Papa, used to peel the skin off all the tiny local limes before squeezing them to avoid any sharp limey aftertaste. He would also hide vodka in it for an extra punch. My younger sister likes to freeze her mixed rum punch in a large empty pop bottle to make it into a slush before serving. It’s tart and delicious. My older sister has a different simple syrup recipe. I know another Bajan who believes you should make it with brown sugar, preferably from Barbados. Not so easy to find off the rock. I know a few clever Bajans, who feel that the ‘weak’ just means ice. This is similar to my husband who believes all you need is 1 of sour, 2 of sweet, 3 of strong, forget the weak. Regardless of the recipe you believe in, it is common ground that you have to drink this on the rocks. To be clear, not the rocks in the picture with my limes.

This recipe is inspired by my Jamaican cousin who makes up a batch of just the sour and sweet mix to keep in the fridge. It lasts a long time unless you are having a party or are sitting on a dock at a cottage.

proper bajan rum punch by loopylocks

‘simple’ bajan rum punch by loopylocks

If you are reading this and have connections to a different island, I know you have your own set of rules for making your own punches. That’s cool. Listen, a Bajan Rum Punch would not be the same without some Trini bitters and I will be the first to admit it. Having said that, I am not of the inclination that anyone should make a rum punch by adding anything like grenadine syrup, orange juice or pineapple juice. No disrespect. It’s just, well, not a proper Bajan Rum Punch. This drink is way too basic for that. The only concession I will make is if you decide to replace the weak (i.e. water) with coconut water. While it may be a sin for some, it makes for a sinfully smooth cocktail.

“Simple Bajan Rum Punch” by loopylocks
Makes a big batch to cheer a crowd*

Ingredients:

Part 1 – make the lime juice mixer
12-15 fresh limes, squeezed with the pulp
2 cups granulated white sugar dissolved in 2 cups water (simple syrup)

Part 2 – diy your own simple bajan rum punch with
dark rum
lime juice mixer
water (or coconut water)
fresh grated nutmeg
a few splashes of Angostura Bitters
ice (lots and lots of it)

* If you do not wish to make quite this much, read through the recipe and adjust to suit. Since the drink is based on a ratio, you can make any amount that your liver can handle. 

Directions:

part 1 – make the lime juice mixer

Please, I beg you… only use fresh limes. Nothing else. No matter how hard you would like to, you simply cannot make rum punch with artificial lime juice. It does not matter if the bottle has the word “real” anywhere on the label. Trust me I have tried. I once experimented using real, organic, cold-pressed, lime juice, not from concentrate, that I picked up from my local grocery store in Toronto. The label made perfect sense. The taste? Not so proper.

Since you need to go get the limes from a store, I reckon a dozen is a good place to begin. Any extras can be used as a garnish. Mine pictured here are from Mexico. Sure they could be Bajan. But you know what, they are good enough. I was able to get 1 1/4 cups of lime juice.

The sweet comes from simple syrup. Sounds simple because it is. As this is a DIY cocktail, your best is to make your own. Store bought simple syrup has a sweeter, thicker consistency. I personally find it a bit too sweet. I prefer white sugar even though you can make it with brown sugar. Most brown sugars today basically just have molasses added to them. They are no more natural or pure. Just coloured. Adding colour comes later, with the bitters.

How much to make? It depends. I always decide how much simple syrup to make after I have squeezed and measured the lime juice. I needed 2 1/2 cups of simple syrup to the 1 1/4 cups of lime juice. I elected to make 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. That made 3 1/2 cups of simple syrup. The extra syrup I put up for another time. Not a problem. It keeps well in the fridge.

Microwave method (I used for less cleanup): Cook time – 2  1/2 minutes. In a glass jug, heat the mixture on HIGH for 1 minute. Stir with a fork. Heat again for another minute. Stir again. Heat for 30 seconds. Stir. (depending on your microwave you may need more or less time). As long as your solution is free of granules and clear then you are good to go.

Stovetop method: In a small pot, over medium, heat the sugar water solution just long enough until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is clear. This only take a few minutes. Stir until dissolved and remove from the heat immediately to cool.

This part is important. Simple syrup must be cool before adding to the lime juice or it can make the limes taste bitter. Been there. Done that. To quicken the process you can put it in the fridge. Use a funnel and combine the lime juice with the simple syrup into a jug that can be stored in the fridge. Remember to always shake this before using as the sweetness settles and while you won’t notice it in the beginning, when you get to the bottom of the bottle, you will notice your rum punch is not as tart as you remember. I like these inexpensive KORKEN glass bottles from IKEA that are under $4:

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lime juice mixer

part 2 –diy your own simple bajan rum punch

If you do not put the rum in rum punch, all you get is limeade once you add water. Delicious on a hot summer day for you and your kids but definitely not the liquid gold I am trying to teach you about.

Everyone has a favourite rum. First things first. We are talking about dark rum. Not the clear rubbing alcohol white rum that no one should ever drink. Ever. I will also never ever endorse the use of Bacardi rum. Just saying. If you are not on an island reading this, say Canada, to make this easy, see what your local liquor store has to offer. I personally like Mount Gay Extra Old. I know it is pricier but you pay for quality. If I was in Barbados, I might use a less expensive rum like Old Brigand, or Cockspur’s Old Gold Special Reserve. The choice is yours. El Dorado makes a cheaper rum that is sold in Canada if you want to experiment. If you cheat and settle for a mediocre rum, that’s ok too. You will have made yourself a mediocre rum punch. Your call. And listen, after a few, they all taste good!

And what of the weak? Water and ice. Sometimes we switch out the water for coconut water. When in Barbados, there is nothing quite like it.

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Fresh coconut water being harvested by ‘Anthony’. Barbados. 2009.

However, if you are not on the rock, buy only a good quality brand. It makes the rum punch super smooth. The key is that it has to be natural and unsweetened.

Every rum punch needs nutmeg and bitters. Not everyone can find fresh nutmeg so if you need to use the pre-grated nutmeg, it will be OK. Not proper. But again, good enough. You cannot skimp on bitters though. I find it ironic that even though it is loaded with over 45% alcohol, most supermarkets carry it in Toronto as opposed to the LCBO. Same aisle as the soft drinks at the end where you find specialty drinks, mixers and non-alcoholic beverages. It’s under $10. It also stains terribly so be easy when adding to drinks and wipe spills asap. It gives the rum punch that gorgeous amber colour I was telling you about instead of using brown sugar. Has quite a history of herbal healing. So does rum punch… makes your heart feel extra sweet and special.

And here is the part you have been so patiently waiting for. But before we get there, let me just confess that I have always been terrible at maths. That’s why my husband makes this drink. He explained that since you already put the 1 part sour and 2 parts sweet together, you now have 3 parts. The same 3 parts as the strong that the drink requires. So from this point in the mixology cycle, we are talking about and even (1:1) ratio between the sour/sweet concoction to the strong rum. The remaining room in your glass will dictate the  water you will end up using. It ends up being roughly a trio of 1:1:1. True to those clever Bajans I mentioned earlier, I happen to agree that some of the weak should come from the ice.

Without further ado

  1. In an 8 ounce rocks glass, fill to the brim with ice.
  2. Add 4-6 shakes of the bitters and freshly grated nutmeg.
  3. Add 1 1/4 ounces of dark rum.
  4. Pour 1 1/4 ounces of the lime juice mixer. (Shake lime mix first).
  5. Add 1 1/4 ounces water until you get to just under the top of the glass. Stir well.

I personally prefer a standard rocks glass. Part of the enjoyment of this drink is in the vessel. To each his/her own. You quickly learn that you can make a strong or “weak one” based on how much water you add. Stir well and taste it. If it tastes watery, add either a splash more of the lime juice mixer or rum or both.

a proper bajan rum punch

‘simple’ bajan rum punch by loopylocks

And there you have it. Who needs dinner when you can have this? Best served in pairs. I wish I could add a slice of lime but I used it all to make the lime juice mixer. Note to self for next time.  Sorry it isn’t more fancy but like I said, it is a pretty basic drink. The key to simple living. Cheers!