How many different ways can one family eat tacos? The answer is infinity. (Infinity Tacos is the name of my Los Lonely Boys/Evanescence cover band.)
I had a small beef brisket from our CSA, and decided to slow cook it for taco filling. Since I don't give a frig about authenticity, I rummaged around in the cabinets and came up with a melange of ingredients to throw in the crock.
I rubbed the roast with Lime Pepper and Kitchen Bouquet, and let it sit while I chopped a head of garlic. I sautee'd the garlic in a few tablespoons of oil, and then quickly seared the meat on all sides. I then transferred the meat to the crock and topped it with a can of roasted green chiles, a couple of quartered tomatoes, a sliced onion, a half a jar of pizza sauce that I had in my fridge and some agave syrup to balance out the acid in the onions and tomatoes (probably about 2T?). Then I set it on low nd came back to it eight or nine hours later. I took the roast out, shredded it by ripping it apart with a fork in each hand, and returned it to the pot, mixing it back with the cooking juices.
The results were tender and flavorful, peppery without being too spicy. I used a jarred tomatillo salsa and smoked shredded cheese to complement the meat.
The reason that I didn't write this up in my traditional recipe format is that I don't intend this as a strict recipe (which it certainly can be), but more of an example of how I take what I have and wing it from there. I know a lot of people don't feel comfortable cooking without a recipe, and I don't blame you! When I was first teaching myself to cook, before I was working in kitchens and learning from more experienced people, I didn't trust myself to experiment. Even now - when dealing with flavors and cooking styles that I am unfamiliar with - I will stick hard and fast to recipes until I get the feel. Eventually I get to the point where I instinctively know what something will ultimately taste like as I'm composing a dish.
Maybe we don't all have this ability, and I'm taking it for granted. Maybe it's kind of like how anyone can be taught to play the guitar, but not just anyone can be Clapton. I'm certainly no Keller (the food world's Clapton), but I'm just as good as half the hacks on Food Network (eff you Bobby Flay) and I think that anyone with a love for interesting food and some core knowledge can throw together an impressive meal any day.
Here is another example: pasta salad. Like Taco Guts (what we refer to taco filling as), the possibilities are endless. Do you have pasta? Good, you're halfway there. I made the following salad for a pot-luck at E's school. I wanted something a little different but not "weird", and something that the parents could enjoy in the sea of mac and cheese and meatballs that everyone always brings to these events.
Chicken Chipotle Pasta Salad
3 cloves garlic, minced
zest + juice of 1 lime
3/4 c mayo
3/4 c sour cream
1 scant tsp chipotle powder
Blend together, set aside.
2 c corn
1 bunch scallions, sliced
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 whole chicken - roasted, boned and chopped (can you say "rotisserie", boys and girls? I can, especially in summer.)
1 c chopped fresh cilantro
1 # pasta
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, and then immediately rinse in cold water. Drain off as much water as possible.
Toss pasta with remaining ingredients and dressing. Chill for at least one hour to allow the flavors to blend.