Spicy Beef Tacos

Spicy Beef Tacos

I’m the grade parent in my daughter’s classroom. It means I’m the liaison between the parents and the teacher; communicating on anything outside of academics. It’s one of those jobs you pray you can rope a partner into and snatch up since it allows you to be an active member of your child’s classroom. It’s a great job and you, most days, don’t mind that it ends up being three times the amount of time and effort you predicted. At least you don’t mind until a parent forgets you’re just a volunteer–another mom with work, chores, a husband, family, dinner–and they send a note blaming you for something they so obviously allowed to slip through the cracks. I recently found myself on the receiving end of one of these notes. I never met these parents so this was our lovely introduction. Not only did all the correspondence and subsequent damage control take up a good portion of my afternoon but it put me in the worst mood. In the end, all I really wanted to say to my new-found pen pal was “When did being nice go out the window?”

I’m not a grade parent for the recognition. I do it for my daughter. So it really doesn’t matter if folks thank me but must they be rude and treat me like their employee? Honestly, what has happened to our manners? I watched a mom yell at another mom recently because she didn’t like the craft project she organized for the classroom. Our generation of children receive a healthy dose of Miss Manners training and yet parents can so easily forget to use their own set of pleases and thank yous. Trust me, I’ve tossed my own manners out the window on occasion. I once marched up to a mother and gave her a bossy-pants lecture about why she shouldn’t park her van in the kiss and ride. It definitely wasn’t one of my finer moments but I made a point of apologizing and now, when I see her, I try to be a friendly face in the pick-up crowd.

The bottom line is being a parent is hard and we don’t need to make it worse on each other. On my toughest days, I remind myself to not displace my frustration/anger/anxiety onto anyone else. After all, it’s the biggest parenting moment I have on that day. With a beautiful set of little eyes always watching me, it’s my job to model how to manage your emotions and not let them get the best of you.
Spicy Beef Tacos

Photo by Maya Visnyei

How does all this have to do with tacos? It doesn’t. Well, a little. With most of my afternoon suddenly sucked up by my grade parent debacle, I needed a fast dinner to help make-up for lost time. So I turned to a spice blend I created for our Sweet Potato Shepard’s Pie. It’s a flavourful combination that balances the heat of chili powder with the warmth of cumin and cinnamon, and I created it last fall. However, it took me a dozen tests to get the ratios perfect, and one of my favourite dishes to use it in, besides the shepard’s pie, are these tacos. Paired with roasted sweet potato, they are a lighter version of  your traditional meat and potatoes dinner. And the sweet potato pairs so deliciously with the spiced ground beef. Sprinkled with shredded cheese, some thinly sliced red onion and fresh cilantro, you have corn tortilla happiness. In fact, I bet if more people ate these we’d all be a little nicer, especially on those days when life gets a little messy.

Spicy Beef Tacos

Serves 4


  • Makes: 4 servings
  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Total time: 30 minutes
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into bite-size pieces
  • 1 Tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp (7.5 ml) salt, divided
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced and rinsed in very warm water
  • ¼ tsp (1 ml) sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 lb. (900 g) organic lean ground beef
  • 2 Tbsp (30 ml) chili powder
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) ground cumin
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) cinnamon
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) dried oregano
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) pepper
  • 2 tsp (10 ml) salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) shaved Monterey jack cheese
  • A handful of chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 corn tortillas, warmed according to package directions
  • jar of prepared salsa


Preheat oven to 400.

In a bowl, toss sweet potato with olive oil and 1/2 tsp (2ml) salt.

Spread sweet potato pieces out in a single layer on a lined baking sheet.

Bake in the oven for 5 to 7 minutes.

Toss and then bake another 5 minutes, or until fork tender.

Remove potatoes from oven and place in a bowl; set aside.

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt in the vinegar and then add the onions; set aside.

In a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat, breaking up with spoon, until browned, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, blend chili powder, cumin, cinnamon and dried oregano.

Stir into the meat the garlic, spice blend, pepper and remaining salt; cook for another 2 minutes. Remove beef from heat and transfer half to a serving dish. Set aside.

Put the other half in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator to use for another dinner.

Place beef, sweet potato, slices of red onion, cheese, fresh cilantro, salsa and tortillas out on the table for taco assembly.



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