Recently, I started a “Monday Night Mexican” dinner tradition. It was a way for me to turn the end of a long day into something I could look forward to. Why Mexican? Well, I love margaritas. I love tacos. I love peppers. I love Mariachi music. I love the Mexican culture and its colors, its dancing and its language.
What I don’t love is cooking dinner, simply because I feel it can take so much time that I don’t have (though I hope someday cooking will be a passion of mine!). When I create Monday Night Mexican dinners, it’s so much more than just the food. It’s about the activity of preparing our meal — and then eating it — with all the other elements, like music and the perfect atmosphere. I enjoy my kitchen more when I can transport my mind to another place. So if you’d like to join, we’re going to Mexico…
First things first, I find the “Mexicana” music on the Music Choice channel on my T.V. and play the music loud enough so I can hear it in the kitchen. You can find Mariachi music on YouTube as well. The music literally puts a bounce in my step.
So I find myself in my kitchen where I put on my pepper apron and pull out my pepper oven mitt. I have a little bit of an obsession with peppers ever since I was a little girl. My nickname has always been “Stepher-Bell-Pepper” or some version of that (“Pepper” “Peppy”, “Pep”, “Peperoncini”). Therefore, I collect peppers, although I don’t put peppers in this meal!
In fact, dinner is embarrassingly basic. I cook up a package of ground beef from my freezer and follow the directions on the box of Old El Paso Burrito Dinner Kit. You can also find dinner kits that include hard taco shells or a mix of crunchy shells and soft tortillas. The box comes with sauce, seasoning and tortillas. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, there are Boca Veggie Crumbles you can buy, or substitute beans, seasoned tofu or tempeh.
The most complicated part about this meal is keeping an eye on the meat on the stove. In other words, it’s not complicated at all. But since I’m not much of a cook, having my stove going makes me feel like a real chef. I also get a kick out of the fact that my boyfriend Chris can smell something delicious from outside!
While the meat is cooking, I start pulling out and preparing the toppings. I like to serve lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, black olives, salsa and sour cream with my tacos. I lay everything out across the kitchen table in my most unique dishes, making sure no two are alike as having a festive table is part of the fun. That little decoration of a man under a sombrero was a gift from my grandmother that I just love.
Since I’m often creating a Mexican cantina right in my kitchen, I ordered a reversible table runner with peppers on one side and stripes on the other! Side note: most nights we eat in our “formal” dining room, but for Monday Night Mexican dinners we eat around the kitchen table so it’s a little more casual, and Chris and I are both close to all the fixings.
If you’re having Mexican food, you cannot forget to have margaritas! Chris makes a really delicious margarita: fill the glass with ice; fill half with Jose Cuervo tequila (or less if, like me, you like your adult beverages not-so-strong); top it off with margarita mix and a splash of Triple sec (a liqueur) on top. If you’re feeling creative, add a slice of lime! I even have fun ice cubes in the shape of peppers — a gift from Chris’s mom! Since I love margaritas so much, I bought a great set of glasses that I found at a consignment store. The set came with a blue pitcher and four glasses that are all different colors — well worth the money. This drink is cold, sweet and tastes like vacation. On most Monday nights we don’t drink margaritas, but on special occasions it’s worth it!
Here I am just before we’re about to eat. Yep, those are sombrero and cactus lights hanging in the background. I bought those from the same catalogue as the table runner. Like I said… it’s all about the atmosphere you create! I can’t help but feel like I’m in another part of the world. The food and other cultural elements help make that happen, even if just for one night.
But underneath the music and decorations, it’s really just a basic meal that just about everybody loves.