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Brax’s Tacs, or: Crystal cooks!

April 30, 2007

Tacos and beansEvery now and then, Crystal gets the impulse to cook, and I take full advantage. She usually pulls out a family recipe, and impresses me with the most Americanized Mexican food I’ve ever had. Canned gravy in the enchiladas. A casserole loaded with ground beef and cornmeal. And these totally delicious tacos, which are called Brax’s Tacs in the Combs family, after her grandfather, Braxton.

The tacos my father made growing up were messy and complicated time suckers that I have yet to have the inspiration to try on my own. I don’t remember the last time he made them, but I do remember that even when I was in school, he would usually refuse to get involved with all that hot oil. The Combs family tacos, on the other, while certainly time consuming, don’t frighten me with deep frying, and I suspect that long after Crystal’s gone away to Spain and then started up her spa in Napa, no matter where I live, I’ll be making tacos like these.

We also decided to throw together some impromtu and cheater-style refried beans, and swoon-inducing quacamole with the leftover avocados in the refrigerator. Usually, Trader Joe’s avocados are barely edible, but these were actually good–wonders never cease. Crystal ended up making over two dozen tacos. While a good portion of them were sent to Laurent and Jen, as they’ve been too busy to cook, themselves, we still had a big ol’ pile of them to devour. And they were even better today for lunch. What she worked out, though, if you don’t want to make a gatrillion tacos, is that a pound of ground beef makes a dozen tacos.

Brax’s Tacs, or the Combs Family Tacos

  • 1/2 T. corn oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 lb. ground beef (or ground turkey)
  • 1 tsp. each garlic powder, cayenne, cumin, and oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 dozen corn tortillas
  • 2 c. grated cheddar cheese
  • more corn oil

In a large skillet, heat the corn oil, and add the onion and garlic. Cook over medium-low heat until the onions are soft and just barely starting to color. Add the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Add the spices, and a bit of salt and pepper, and cook all the meat through, about 10 minutes. Remove it from the heat, and let the meat drain on a paper towl. Wipe the skillet out, and put it back over a medium-low flame.

Heat the oven to a very low temperature–either the warm setting or just about 200F, and put a baking sheet in there. This is where you put all the tacos as you cook them so they don’t get cold.

Pour a tiny drizzle of corn oil into the skillet, swirl it around a bit, and place in a corn tortilla. Add a big spoonful of beef and some cheese, and use a fork and your fingers and maybe a spatula to fold the tortilla over like a taco or quesadilla. Let it cook for a few minutes, and then flip and cook a bit more so the cheese melts and the tortilla starts to brown just slightly. Stick it in the oven, and start on the next. Repeat ad infinitum, or until you run out of tortillas and meat.

In future, I might be a little sacriligeous and add some tomatoes or chopped red and green peppers into the meat mixture. Green onions might be tasty, too. Maybe some pickled jalapeno. You could probably get pretty creative with what goes into the meat, and if you’re not a meat eater, you could do the exact same thing with tofu. The possibilities might just be endless.

More tacos and beans

Impromtu and cheater-style Refried Beans

  • 1 T. lard
  • 1 15-ounce can of black beans
  • a few shakes of cumin, garlic powder, salt, and pepper

We were just going to heat up the beans and eat them as is, but I remembered that I did have all that lard in the refrigerator. You could also do this with corn oil, but lard is more authentic and way, way worse for you. And these were so easy it seemed ridiculous not to do it.

Heat the lard in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the beans and the spices and let it all heat up a bit. Then, using a potato masher, just start mashing the beans up until they are the consistency you want. Then leave them be and let them cook, stirring only once or twice, for about 15 minutes. They should start to dry out a little bit, and brown on the bottom of the pan just slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste, and voila–easy style homemade refried beans.


  • 3 small avocados
  • juice from half a lemon
  • 1-2 T. sour cream
  • 1 tsp. each cumin, cayenne, and garlic powder
  • salt and pepper

Everyone makes quacamole differently. In fact, I think I make it differently every time. Sometimes I add tomatoes, or fresh salsa. I once added black beans. I don’t always add sour cream, but I did learn that mayonnaise is not a good option. Plain yogurt can be, though. Lime juice is often better than lemon, but either works, so go with what you already have. I love cilantro in my quacamole, but Crystal can’t abide it, so we left it out. Red onions can be good. Put it all in a bowl and mash it up with a fork. If it seems too spicy, add more sour cream. It will probably also mellow out in the refrigerator if you let it sit for 20 minutes or so. I’m not sure why that is. You really can’t go wrong with quacamole, because avocados are the greatest things ever.

Taco dinner made my Sunday much more bearable, so thanks Crystal! Good Combs Family cooking always livens up an evening.

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