Cheesy and warm, this taco pie is a delightful treat on cold days. Credit: Sandy Oliver

Figuring out what to have for supper is sometimes the hardest part of cooking. It helps to have pals you can talk with about menus. The other day at our sewing circle meeting I asked Linda Achorn, “What are you going to have for supper tonight?”

“Leftover taco pie,” she said. “I love that taco seasoning.”

The idea of taco pie caught my interest. Cold, damp weather makes anything from the Southwest sound good. And I wondered, what is in taco seasoning, anyway? So I bought a packet and I also went online to find a do-it-yourself recipe for it.

Now I have a fair number of spices because I cook from scratch a lot. But I don’t keep on hand maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, citric acid, and “natural flavor,” whatever that is. The packet was coy about what spices were needed, trade secrets I supposed, though it admitted to chili pepper and onion powder.

However, I do have cumin, garlic, paprika, oregano and red pepper, which five recipes I looked at for homemade taco seasoning all agreed were necessary to add to the chili powder. Onion and garlic powders are handy, but I usually have both in vegetable form to cook with. One recipe and the seasoning packet both mentioned cornstarch as an ingredient, which helps thicken up the sauce formed when you add the packet to the meat and water called for. I mixed up one recipe of from-scratch taco seasoning and compared it with the packet seasoning. By golly, they smelled the same to me.

So I had my seasoning. Now for the pie.

If you are trying to steer clear of excessive carbs, which Linda does (and I do, too, now that I am older and find they collect right around my hips). One recipe called for crescent rolls to line a baking dish with crushed tortilla chips on top. Or you could try tortilla chips crushed on the bottom of the dish and cornbread mix on top. Or use instant biscuit mix on the bottom and … well, you get the picture.

I kept thinking, this reminds me of tamale pie. In many ways, taco pie is an upside down tamale pie. I made it two ways. One had crushed tortilla chips on the bottom, and a meat and bean mixture on top. The second had a cornbread mix on the bottom. Both were very good, but the one with the chips was more fun because of the crunch.

If you have only a little time, the tortilla chip route is a good one to take. A cornbread base makes the pie feel more substantial. Either way you can veganize it with the addition of black or red beans, corn, red or green peppers, chopped fresh tomatoes, and even avocados, if you want, whatever you might use when you make tacos.

So here are two recipes: one for seasoning mix and one for the pie. Make the seasoning as snappy as you want by adding more red pepper. I increased the cumin because I like it. I like smokey overtones, so smoked paprika is my choice and next time, I’ll use chipotle powder instead of red pepper. Mix it up and stash it away for any time you want a Tex-Mex flavor.

Taco Seasoning

Makes a scant ¼ cup

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon garlic powder

½ teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon paprika

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon oregano

⅛ to ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste

1. Mix all together in a small bowl and store in a jar.

Taco Pie

Serves 4

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground beef or venison

2 tablespoons taco seasoning mix

½ cup stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce

½ cup black or kidney beans, optional

½ cup all-purpose flour

½ cup cornmeal

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 tablespoon melted butter or vegetable oil

½ cup milk

1 egg

½ cup grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, or to taste.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch baking dish or skillet.

2. Put the oil into a pan over medium heat, and cook the garlic and onion until softened, about 3 minutes, then add the meat and cook until done.

3. Add the taco seasoning and mix well, then add the tomato sauce or stewed tomatoes and optional beans. Turn down the heat and simmer together.

4. Mix the flour, cornmeal and baking powder in a separate bowl.

5. Whisk together the butter or vegetable oil, egg and milk to the dry ingredients until it makes a soft dough, using more milk if necessary.

6. Spread the cornmeal mixture in the greased baking dish or skillet.

7. Distribute the seasoned meat over the cornbread mixture and top with the grated cheese.

8. Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes or until a tester inserted comes out clean.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...