Today is January 3. The new year is in full swing. January is a hard month, I’ve always thought–you have all the hustle and bustle, the glitter and colors of the Christmas season immediately followed by what is the longest-seeming, darkest, coldest month of the year. I always face January with a little trepidation, born mainly from waiting hours for buses in freezing, snowy weather, or riding on barely-plowed roads in order to get home. This year I’m trying to put that old demon to bed and embrace January for what it is: a great time to hunker down, to nest, to try new things (as long as they’re indoors–it is still cold, after all), and to enjoy the daylight lasting one minute or so longer each day, since we’re past the December solstice. So yes, it’s winter, but that’s ok. Today I’m hiding in the house (we have snow, blustery winds with 50 mph gusts, a temp around 20*F), working on some sewing projects that would otherwise sit in the to-do bin forever as I found more interesting stuff to work on. I thought it would be a nice time to check in with you all.
I’ve been quiet for a week or so as my best friend was in town from Ohio. We spent one evening in a posh restaurant (well, posh for us, anyway–maybe not for all of you!), and two others loafing on the couch, watching the Twilight Zone marathon, eating homemade pizza (including this one from the archives, using pesto I froze from our basil plants last summer), and playing cards. It was an altered reprise of our college days, and a lot of fun. The cat, however, was glad for our houseguest to go–he’s terribly skittish and pranced around yesterday as though reasserting his position as king.
I also made this taco salad. Taco salad is a fun spin on a more traditional taco night and allows you to get a lot more veg in than you might ordinarily with regular tacos. This is a template recipe-you could swap in any kind of meat or fish (not me, though–I hate fish. If it’s from the sea, I say, leave it be), add tomatoes if you have them, use pico de gallo instead of salsa, add roasted veggies, you name it. Taco salad is just a layered salad; you can change your layers based on your own whims.
We started with a layer of corn chips (I accidentally bought unsalted blue corn chips, so this was good for them). Each bowl gets, oh, half a dozen, which you then smash a bit so you can eat them with your fork. Then the bowls get a layer of lettuce–I used crispy romaine picked up at Trader Joe’s. In the meantime, I had two pans going on the stove: one skillet had a pound of ground beef (I used 93% lean–less greasy, which is good for this, though not for burgers. Whole Foods even had beef from Maine, which is fairly local, all things considered) browning. The other had some rice, based on the DIY rice-a-roni recipe I’ve shared with you before, only using beef bouillion and a little worcestershire for flavor and only 2/3 c of rice and a small amount of orzo. A Mexican style rice might be better, but this salad is part nostalgia for Mr. Pea, so r-a-r it is. Plus it’s tasty. These two pans cooked along and I added a tablespoon of taco seasoning as the beef finished, with just a little water. When both parts were done, I piled some rice on the lettuce, then some beef. I added some shredded cheddar and a couple of teaspoons of green salsa. Yum! It’s a delicious and easy recipe and relatively cost efficient–this makes four servings for well under $10, prorating your ingredients. If I didn’t spend a couple extra bucks on the beef, it would have clocked in at about $7 or $8 for the meal, and that’s not too shabby.
In case you’re wondering, counting meal costs isn’t a recession-era fascination for me as it seems to have become for, say, the Food Network–back in 2000, when Mr. Pea and I first shared a household (a teeny, tiny one-bedroom household that was perpetually moldy, incidentally during another recession), it was one of our favorite dinnertime games. Back then we ate a lot of packaged food and thus could use a lot of coupons; we’d calculate meal prices on a pretty routine basis. Good times! I think we got well under $1 per person a few times–for full meals, not just peanut butter and jelly. While I don’t want to go back to that (never, ever again shall I use boxed mashed potatoes! ew!), it is still nice to know where your food dollars are going–I’m sure more than one person vows to cut their grocery costs as a New Year’s resolution. While ours have gone up a little over the years (we plan five dinners and pick up snacks, usually for right around $50/week now–this also feeds us for most lunches, using leftovers), it’s mainly because I now buy better ingredients, such as beef from a regional state, and organic for at least the ‘dirty dozen’ fruits and veggies. This is balanced by how much I make on my own now–all our bread, our rice dishes, seasoning combinations, potatoes, cakes and cookies, muffins, you name it. For me, it’s a fair cost exchange to spend a little more and get a great deal in return.