Throwback taco salad from the days when things were simple. Karen Schneider / For The Forecaster

Karen Schneider cooks and writes in the village of Cundy’s Harbor. You can reach her at or 504-0545.

Indulge me, if you will, while I reminisce for a few moments – I’m feeling nostalgic today. I’m remembering the fleeting summers when I was a young mom tending four children, a dog named Bosco, a kitty or two and a vegetable garden.

Our basic version of taco salad had its place on the regular rotation of our weekly warm weather menus. Served with a side of fruit, this was a quick and economical meal to prepare without heating up the kitchen, and no matter how many times we ate it, we were always delighted by it.

This summer supper was one of the first things my children learned to prepare on their own and remains a favorite that is made for their own children.

Because of discerning diners who I will not divulge, at least not today, the taco salad of our past didn’t include the frills I often set out now, albeit in separate bowls so I don’t complicate matters. Viewed as interlopers by some of the family, these include black olives, colored peppers, jalapenos, chopped avocado, sour cream, minced cilantro, corn, black beans, Pico de Gallo and spices of the Southwest persuasion sprinkled onto the meat. Spring greens are sometimes substituted for the iceberg lettuce, and if I really want to raise an uproar, turkey burger or shredded roast chicken takes the place of ground beef.

Even with all these attempts at add-ons and experimentation, the favorite formula is the original recipe from back in the day: shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, grated cheddar cheese and cooked ground beef seasoned only with salt and pepper, then tossed together unceremoniously in a salad bowl.

It was tradition for plain tortilla chips to stand sentry in a wicker basket alongside, waiting to be crushed on top of the salad. Lastly, the secret ingredient (equal parts Catalina dressing and jarred mild salsa stirred together) was poured over everyone’s serving, except for my youngest daughter’s, who preferred… ketchup.


For dessert there was often chocolate zucchini cake. The recipe came to us from a friend of my son’s and has surely been prepared just as often as the taco salad. This is the best thing I know to do with zucchini, and I’m sure you’ll agree. This cake is another simple, satisfying, delicious choice to have in your kitchen on a summer day, best served warm with a cold glass of milk.

What more can I say as I relate this blast from the past, except – have I really been making this salad and this cake for over 40 years? Yes. Yes, I have.

Our taco salad

1 pound ground beef

Salt and pepper to taste

8 cups iceberg lettuce, shredded

1 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half


1/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup Catalina dressing

1/4 cup mild salsa

1 bag tortilla chips, slightly crushed if desired

In a large skillet, cook beef over medium heat for 8-10 minutes or until no longer pink, breaking into crumbles; drain and season with salt and pepper.


In a small bowl, stir together Catalina dressing and salsa.

In a large bowl, toss together lettuce, tomatoes, scallions and cheese. Top with ground beef and serve with dressing and chips.

Yield: 4 servings

Chocolate zucchini cake

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup oil

1 3/4 cups granulated sugar


2 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk

Alternative: 1/2 cup milk with 1 teaspoon vinegar added (allow to mingle for at least 15 minutes)

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda


1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cocoa

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups fresh zucchini, shredded

2 cups chocolate chips, divided

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch pan. With an electric mixer, cream butter and oil with sugar in a large bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cocoa and cinnamon and add to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk. Stir in zucchini and 1 cup chocolate chips. Pour into pan. Sprinkle the remaining cup of chocolate chips on top. Bake for 1 hour or until a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing.

Yield: 10-12 servings

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