OK, y’all. See, it’s like this.

Michelle, over at Thursday Night Smackdown (www.thursdaynightsmackdown.com), has thrown down this gauntlet as part of her Hobo Mondays thread, which thread involves cooking dinner for two for under five bucks’ worth of ingredients, excluding pantry staples. Which I can do standing on my head whistling God Bless America and tapping my toes on the sink, and make you like it.

And then the heifer goes and changes rules on me. But NOOOOOO, this week, the very first week I am going to officially compete, it’s THREE bucks for a two-person menu!

U’mm h’mm, thank you, drive through. Look, sistah, I raised three kids as a single parent. I know from cheap. Many’s the night I fed the four of us beans and rice, and they loved it, and still do (particularly with smoked sausage and leftover chicken and ham in it). And I can whip up a pretty mean quiche, a basic tuna-noodle casserole, and chicken spaghetti that they begged for. All of which would feed four of us for under five bucks, given the basics I always had in the pantry. Not to mention mac and cheese, because my kids didn’t care if you fed them anything else as long as you fed them mac and cheese as long as it was my homemade variety, and chili mac was always good for a change.

But that was then, and I don’t cook for three kids any more, and much of that was with packaged mixes and timesavers and none of it was of the tastes to which my adult and better financially set palate has adapted itself. So three bucks was a freakin’ challenge, OK? And since I still have Child C here at home, and since she still thinks my mac and cheese is the epitome of haute cuisine (it’s pretty damn good, I must admit), my “meal for two” constitutes a meal for me with leftovers I can take to work for lunch in a day or so.

So, all that said — I originally thought whether or not this meal qualifies depends on how Michelle treats the issue of leftovers, because this one was built around a leftover grilled tuna filet which someone didn’t show up to eat on Saturday. If I get a break on that, I’m in; if not, I’m over the three-buck limit even if you eliminate the side salad. Deal with it. If you were here to eat dinner with me, you’d say it’s worth it. This is some Damn Fine Stuff, and I will be making it again. Frequently. As in all summer. You could sub a thin-sliced or diced chicken breast filet and get the same effect, and could, in fact, add all sorts of neat stuff as the notion struck you.

Kudos, once again, to Mark Bittman, my kitchen hero. This was a recipe of his I snatched out of the NY Times and added stuff to. Because, you know, Mark’s never steered me wrong. Man can COOK. He can write recipes, too.

Without further ado, my el-cheapo main dish version of


  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups any rice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed citrus juice, or more to taste (lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, grapefruit, or a combination)
  • 2 tablespoons grated citrus zest
  • 1 tablespoon sugar or honey
  • 1 cup chopped citrus flesh (or whole segments, if small)
  • 1/2 large red or mild white onion, minced
  • 1/4 lb. grilled tuna filet, flaked
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup or more grated Parmesan
  • Chopped almonds or pecans, optional

1. Cook rice in abundant salted water, as you would pasta, until it’s just done; white rice will take 10 to 15 minutes, brown 30 or a little longer. Drain, rinse in cold water, drain again, then put in a large bowl.

2. Combine olive oil, citrus juice, zest, sugar or honey, salt and pepper in a blender and turn the machine on; a creamy emulsion will form within 30 seconds. Taste and add more citrus juice a teaspoon or two at a time until the balance tastes right to you.

3. Drizzle vinaigrette over rice. Use 2 big forks to combine, fluffing rice and tossing gently to separate grains. Stir in citrus flesh, onion, tuna and mint; taste, and adjust the seasoning or moisten with a little more dressing. Serve, sprinkled with Parmesan and chopped nuts, at room temperature, or refrigerate for up to a day, bringing salad back to room temperature before serving.

This, my friends, is some FINE stuff. Sufficient unto itself for a meal; I had a tomato, and I had mozzarella, so I added a caprese salad, because I will eat caprese salads at any excuse.  I’ve got a gracious plenty to take to lunch tomorrow. And I opened a bottle of Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc, because I could.

Life is good.

The tally:

  • Rice — I used 1 1/2 cups, $1.89 for a two-pound bag, so maybe, what, 20 cents?
  • Citrus — three limes, at 3/$1, provided everything I needed, albeit I was a tad short of the full cup of chopped flesh. I sprinkled with a little sugar. too. $1.
  • Onion — I’d almost call it a pantry staple, but I used a quarter of a big Vidalia, and sauteed it slightly to sweeten it. At 89 cents a pound, call it 30 cents.
  • Tomato, 50 cents
  • 4 1/2 ounce slices fresh Mozzarella, at 8.99 a pound, $1.25 or so.
  • Salt, pepper, olive oil, honey and the balsamic vinegar for the salad, pantry staples.
  • Mint and the basil for the salad, out of my pots of herbs on the deck. I gave up two mojitos for that salad. It was worth it.
  • I contend the tuna should not count, as it was a leftover. If it does, it was $2.25 for a quarter-pound and I am Over The Limit for the two dishes (but still well under the $5, I might note.)

For a grand total of…….. (drum roll, please)

$1.50 for two salads, without the side caprese; $3.25 with.

No photos because I’m still cameraless, a condition to be remedied this week when my new Olympus E-Volt 420 DSLR arrives!

Y’all tell y’mama ‘n ’em to make that salad when they’ve got company coming. You can afford to feed a Baptist preacher and his flock on that kind of cheap.