Tiny Tacos

There is a new favourite in our household, and it goes by the name of Tiny Tacos. It has been long-established that a sure-fire way to market any product to me is to make it smaller. You wouldn’t believe the little knick-knacks I have just because they’re small and adorable. I used to make paper cranes out of Starburst wrappers; then, I realised I could use the scrap from it (cut off to leave the wrapper square) to make even tinier ones. The smallest I got was just under 1cm tall. I’m a bit mental.

I bought these.  I don't need them.  But they're tiny.

I bought these. I don’t need them. They’re tiny.

Regardless, Tiny Tacos are very tasty, and they are reasonably quick to throw together. I’m in the home stretch of essay-grading, but every moment spent away from the red pen feels like it needs to be justified. We’re also nearly a week through the Love Your Greens Challenge, and it has made a truly exciting addition to our diets. While Tiny Tacos aren’t exactly bad for you, they’re not the best healthy food, either, so the green smoothies have made me feel less guilty about putting these things on a plate. If you’re at a loss for how to celebrate Cinco de Mayo today, knock out some easy Tiny Tacos and feel very fake-Mexican, indeed.

Tiny Tacos

I think I could successfully market these things to myself.

I think I could successfully market these things to myself.

2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, diced into small cubes
1 teaspoon cumin*
1/2 teaspoon paprika*
1/2 teaspoon black pepper*
1/4 teaspoon cayenne powder*
1/2 teaspoon garlic*
a few leaves of fresh cilantro/coriander, chopped
1 15oz can refried beans (or make your own. no judgment either way.)
2 cups grated cheddar or blend of cheese, divided
1/2 cup medium salsa
about 10 chopped black olives, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
bag of gluten-free tortilla chips
sour cream
lettuce, chopped
* If you have a taco seasoning mix or packet that you like, go for it instead of the spices listed here. I prefer to make my own spice mixes, but I am well aware that not everyone does.

Chopping board
Medium saucepan
Medium frying pan
Casserole dish
Cheese grater
Wooden spoons
measuring cups and spoons

Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C. Crush enough tortilla chips to cover the bottom of your casserole dish. You don’t want to put too many because they will get soggy; the idea is to form a bit of a crust, not to have a crunchy bottom.

Very helpful Matryoshka

Very helpful Matryoshka

In the saucepan, stir together the refried beans, 1 cup of cheese, and the salsa. Warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it sticking and burning (as there is very little liquid). When warmed through, stir in the chopped coriander/cilantro and spread across the tortilla chip base in your casserole dish. Smooth with the spatula.

It's not pretty, but it's relatively smooth -- Casserole dish after two layers

It’s not pretty, but it’s relatively smooth — Casserole dish after two layers

After spreading the bean mixture, put the olive oil, cumin, paprika, black pepper, cayenne, and garlic in the pan. Heat the pan over medium heat to infuse a bit of the spices into the oil. Add the diced chicken and completely coat with the oil mixture. Cook until done, at least five minutes depending on the size of your chicken bites. Add the chicken evenly on top of the beans in the casserole dish.

Top with remaining cheese and chopped olives. Bake for about 10 minutes — everything that needs to be cooked is already cooked. You just want to make sure everything is warm and the cheese is melted.

If you have thick handmade or handmade-style tortilla chips, you can toss the toppings (sour cream and lettuce) right on and eat it like a dip. Our chips were not so sturdy, so I scooped each bite onto a chip with a fork and topped it like I would a taco. After all, they are Tiny Tacos.


Jennifer Esposito Calls out CBS, and I Make Tacos

Lest I fall into the same pattern as the shops around town, I made sure to make my mother a gluten-free dinner that didn’t have to be made with exceptions or substitutions.  It’s not hard to find a cake or cookie suitable for a gluten-free lifestyle in Tesco or M&S; this is not to say that they are all tasty!  However, it’s much harder to find a decent loaf of bread.  Considering all the foods that have “hidden” gluten — meaning, not just bread — it’s more important that we can eat dinner than dessert!

As I watch my mother struggle with her new lifestyle, I realise how lucky I was to have supportive folks around me as I worked my way through the changes.  I did it very much alone in the sense that I didn’t know anyone who could give me advice or show me the ropes, but I did have my husband (while he was still on the way to being my husband) and our families for moral support.

All these thoughts were piqued today when I read this article: Blue Bloods’ Jennifer Esposito Departs Show, Slams CBS For Its ‘Shameful Behavior’.  I don’t know this actress (I mean, I’ve seen her in things) or anyone else on the show or in the network, so I can’t speak to what truly happened.  However, her words “[…] CBS implied that I was nottruly ill […]” struck such a chord with me.  I know most Celiacs don’t like to actually say “Celiac Disease” because it sounds so terrible like that.  However, it IS a disease, and it is something that requires actual treatment and consideration.  Some people think that, just because the most-known treatment is not eating particular food that it’s not as bad as other diseases.  You don’t hear people saying the same about Diabetes, which also involves a specific diet as a major form of treatment.  While, like I said, I don’t know for a fact that CBS acted terribly, her phrasing makes it sounds real.  It is something that happens, and it shouldn’t.

Anyway, so, in an effort to support my mother through the process and show her that real food is within reach, I made tacos.  Tacos have long been one of her favourite meals, but removing both beef and gluten from her diet have made the concept of making them unappealing for her.  What follows isn’t really a recipe for tacos as much as it is just a chronicle of the meal.

I made tortillas with masa harina (OH! That is what was in the mystery jar! Mystery solved!), water, and sea salt in my tortilla press. I fried them without oil in a cast iron skillet and kept them warm until everything else was prepared.  I battered the chicken lightly in a seasoned corn meal and pan fried.  It was served with lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and salsa (I decided against the salsa because of my recent surgery).  It was a great send-off for my mother’s last meal in Belfast (this time!).


Pão de Queijo (Brazilian cheese breads)

When I first became gluten-free, my aunt passed this recipe on to me.  Her boyfriend is from Brazil, and he recommended it as a gluten-free recipe (requiring no substitutions, which I find so useful).  It was so impressive, I tried several combinations of flavours.  Try various types of soft cheeses and throw in your favourite herbs and spices.  It’s quick and easy — especially if you have a blender — and is a tasty snack.

Other additions that have been successful are cayenne; garlic powder and basil; cracked black pepper.  Let me know if you try something new and like it!  Also, if you’d like to make multiple flavours at once (and/or like a bit more rustic appearance), sprinkle your chosen spice/herb directly atop the batter once poured into the muffin tins.  It looks lovely and lets you tell the difference between the different kinds.

The final breads will puff up in the oven and fall once they begin to cool.  The centers will be chewy but should still be light.  If the centers are heavy, let them bake for a few more minutes, watching carefully to prevent burning the thin tops.

1 egg, room temperature
1/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup milk
1 1/2 cups (170 grams) tapioca flour
1/2 cup packed (about 66 grams) grated fresh mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
sunflower oil spray or other greasing oil

medium mixing bowl (or blender)
wooden spoon (if no blender)
measuring cups and spoons
flexible spatula
large spoon or ladle
muffin tins

Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

If you have a blender, the directions are incredibly easy.  Add all ingredients, minus the sunflower oil, into the blender in the following order: milk, egg, flour, cheese, salt, paprika, garlic powder, olive oil.  I include this order because it has liquid on top and bottom, encouraging the entire mixture to properly circulate through the blender. Blend until combined, stopping to scrap the sides with the spatula to ensure a proper mix.

Grease muffin tins, and pour the mixture evenly to just above the middle of each cup.  It should make approximately 18 small breads.  Bake for about 18 minutes, until breads have risen and are slightly browned on top.

If you don’t have a blender, I hope you have a strong mixing arm!  Add the ingredients to the mixing bowl in the following order: milk, egg, olive oil, cheese, salt, paprika, garlic powder, flour.  The reason I include this order is because, otherwise, you will likely have a gluey substance in your bowl!  It will still take swift and heavy stirring to thoroughly combine, and the job will be made easier based on how finely your cheese is grated.  Stir until you are sure it is completely combined, scraping the sides with the spatula when necessary.

Grease muffin tins, and spoon/ladle the mixture evenly to just above the middle of each cup.  It should make approximately 18 small breads.  Bake for about 18 minutes, until breads have risen and are slightly browned on top.