HOW TO STACK A PROPER TOSTADA

First of all, just exactly what is a TOSTADA? Well, it’s a Spanish word that means “toasted”, usually referring to a flat or bowl-shaped corn tortilla topped with seasoned ground beef, refried beans, and vegetables. Hmmm…sounds like a flat taco to me! And, really, that’s what it is. A Taco Supreme to be exact, ie, with diced tomatoes and sour cream.

Usually, we fry the corn tortillas in hot oil flat and crispy. This time, I just heated them up on a screaming hot “plancha” or cast-iron griddle. A little less fat and much easier and neater than frying.

Below is my method for stacking a proper tostada, from the bottom up:

  1. A fried or softened corn tortilla.
  2. Seasoned refried beans
  3. Seasoned taco meat
  4. Diced onions
  5. Shredded iceberg lettuce
  6. Shredded cheddar cheese
  7. Diced tomatoes
  8. Sour cream
  9. Chopped cilantro
  10. Guacamole
  11. Salsa on the side if desired

Of course, any way you build a tostada, it’s a great meal…and easier to eat than a taco…you use a fork! Fresh home made guacamole? The best idea, though a good store-bought guac will work in a pinch. It’s all good.

CHICKEN FRIED STEAK 2.0

O.K., so what’s the difference between Chicken Fried Steak and Country Fried Steak? Pretty simple, really. Chicken Fried Steak is tenderized steak that is dusted with seasoned flour, then dipped in egg, then fried and served with a creamy, light-colored gravy. Country Fried Steak is dusted with seasoned flour, then fried and served with a brown gravy made from the pan drippings.

I used New York strip steak that I butterflied then tenderized with a klemoo (a needled tenderizing device), then pound with a studded meat mallet. It must be thin and tenderized or it will not be tender after cooking. If you buy cubes steaks from the grocery store, I suggest you pound them thinner.

Typically Chicken Fried Steak is served with whipped or mashed potatoes, as it may be illegal NOT to do this in some states!

This recipe serves 4 people.

Ingredients:

FOR THE GRAVY:

  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

FOR THE COUNTRY GREEN BEANS:

  • 1 1/2 cup of Haricot Verts (French Green Beans), cut into 1 1/2 inch lengths
  • 2 thick slices bacon, 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 cup diced red or white onions
  • Black pepper

FOR THE MASHED POTATOES:

  • 2 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled, quartered
  • 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/2 cup cream or half and half
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

FOR THE CHICKEN FRIED STEAK:

  • 1 (10-12 ounce) NY Strip steak, Sirloin, or Ribeye
  • Canola oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp milk

Directions:

FOR THE GRAVY:

  • Place 3 tbsp unsalted butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 tbsp flour and whisk, cooking for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the cream and whisk in. Lower heat and cook for about 5 minutes. Season with salt and a lot of black pepper. Turn off heat, cover, and keep warm.

FOR THE COUNTRY GREEN BEANS:

  • Bring a medium sauce of salted water to a boil then add the green beans. Boil for 2-3 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and set aside.
  • When ready to cook, heat a medium skillet over medium heat and add the diced bacon. Cook the bacon, stirring, until it is rendered but not crisp. Add the onions and cook for about 7-8 minutes until there onions are softened. You can do this ahead.
  • When ready to serve, turn the heat to medium high and add the green beans, tossing and cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Season with pepper, salt is not needed do to the bacon.

FOR THE MASHED POTATOES:

  • Place the quartered potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Salt the water and bring the it to a boil. Lower the heat and cook the potatoes for about 15 minutes until tender but not mushy. Drain.
  • Press the potatoes through a potato ricer into a bowl. Then place back into there saucepan overt low heat. Add 3 pats of cold butter and the cream. Start folding them around in the pan with a rubber spatula until they are smooth, add more cream and butter if necessary. Season with salt and pepper, turn off the heat, cover, keep warm.

FOR THE CHICKEN FRIED STEAK:

  • Cut the steak down the middle into 2 pieces, then butter each piece.
  • Using a studded meat mallet and/or a needle tenderizer, pound and tenderize the steak pieces until they are 1/4 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Place the flour in a flat bowl and add the salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Mix well. In another flat bowl, add the egg and 1 tbsp of milk and beat well.
  • Heat 1 inch of canola oil in a medium to large skillet to 364 degrees.
  • Dust the steak pieces with seasoned flour, then dip into the egg mixture, then back in the seasoned flour.
  • Carefully add the coated steaks to the hot oil without crowding. Do separate batches and hold them in a warm oven. Cook until golden brown, basting with the oil.
  • To serve, plate some green beans, then a large dollop of mashed potatoes. Place a Chicken Fried Steak piece next to the potatoes and beans. Spoon gravy on the potatoes with a little on the steak so it stays crispy. Garnish with chopped chives.

SCALLOPED POTATO CASSEROLE

I settled on a favorite Scalloped Potatoes recipe a short while back (it’s in my blog history). Then, I decided to try making it a little more of a meal than just a side. So, here’s a Scalloped Potato Casserole with ground beef. I chose to make a cut down recipe for the two of us and decided to use my little 8 inch cast-iron skillet. One bit of advice, bake it on a sheet pan in case it overflows during the cooking process.

Ingredients:

  • 8-10 ounces of lean ground beef
  • Canola oil
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 1/4 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, sliced think (a little less than 1/4 inch)
  • 1/2 cup shallots, thin sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, thin sliced
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 cup cream
  • 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into 12 little cubes
  • Paprika

Directions:

  • Heat a small saucepan over medium heat and add the cream, shallots, garlic, and thyme sprig. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the cream and reserve. Discard the solids.
  • Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add 1 tsp canola oil. Add the diced onions and saute for 3 minutes, then crumble and brown the ground beef until it is no longer pink. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring. Season with salt, white pepper, and the granulated garlic. Cover and set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Butter a small cast-iron skillet (8 inch) or 8×8 baking dish. Layer half of the sliced potatoes in the skillet. Season with salt and white pepper. Spoon in half of the cream. Add the cooked ground beef and spread around evenly. Layer the remainder of the potatoes then add the rest of the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Distribute the cold butter chunks evenly over the potatoes. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover tightly with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, raise the oven temperature to 400, and bake another 10-15 minutes until the top is golden brown and the potatoes are tender.
  • Garnish with chopped chives if desired. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

MINI SKILLET LASAGNA

Of course, you can make this Skillet Lasagna in your honkin’ big, full size cast iron skillet, or…do a smaller version in an 8 inch cast iron skillet like I do. It’s just the two of us, so we always opt for cut down recipes. Also, make your own or just buy jarred marinara.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces of lasagna noodles (like to use the Barilla sheets), you’ll need about 4-5 sheets only
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach
  • 2/3 cup whole milk ricotta
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan plus more for serving
  • 5 ounces Italian sausage (1 link if using)
  • 12 ounces marinara sauce, put 2 ounces aside for serving
  • 4 ounces shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  • Cook lasagna noodles in salted boiling water for about 6-8 minutes depending on the type you use. Remove from the water with a slots spoon and place in a collender. Rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Reserve the water in the pot.
  • Bring the pasta water back to a boil and add the spinach. Blanche for 1 minute then drain and rinse with cold water. Let cool slightly then squeeze out the excess water.
  • Crumble and cook the Italian sausage in a medium saucepan until no longer pink. Add the marinara sauce, lower heat, cover, and cook about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Combine the ricotta, grated parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Shred and add the blanched spinach as mix well.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To assemble the lasagna, spread a couple tablespoons of the sauce on the bottom of the skillet. Add lasagna noodles to cover the bottom, cutting pieces to fit the round skillet. Spread 1/3 of the sauce over the noodles, then dot the sauce with 1/2 of the ricotta and spinach, then 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella. Repeat with another layer of noodles, sauce, rivet and spinach, and mozzarella. Then add another layer of noodles, sauce, and mozzarella.
  • Bake the lasagna for about 30 minutes until the top is browned. Remove from the oven and set aside for at least 1 hour, loosely covered with a paper towel.
  • Preheat oven to 450. When ready to serve, slice serving pieces and place them in individual gratin dishes or bowls. Heat them in the microwave for about 45 seconds. Then top with some marinara and mozzarella and place in the oven for about 3 minutes until the mozzarella has browned slightly.

BEEF STROGANOFF

My favorite method of making this iconic, Russian comfort food is to use beef tenderloin. Typically, many recipes call for Top Sirloin or Top Round, but those cuts are much to0 tough unless you braise them, unless you like chewy meat! This version only takes the better part of 30 minutes, most of that time used caramelizing the mushrooms and onions.

Thin slice (1/4 inch) a filet mignon against the grain into 2 inch pieces. Then brown them in a very hot pan for about 1 minute per side, remove and set aside. Then, caramelize the mushrooms and onions in the same pan. You’ll get a rich, beef, mushroom, and onion sauce that will makes this dish one of your favorites. Serve over cooked wide egg noodles or steamed rice. This recipe serves about 3-4 people with modest serving sizes.

Of course, you avoid most of this by just heating up a can of Campbells Cream of Mushroom Soup! But, what fun is that?

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 (8 ounce) filet mignon, fat trimmed
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 medium onion, peeled, quartered, 1/4 inch slice
  • 6 ounces white mushrooms, 1/4 inch slice
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry or brandy
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 tsp Dijon
  • 1/2 cup half and half or cream
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 6 ounces wide egg noodles
  • Chopped parsley

Directions:

  • Heat a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium high heat and add the olive oil. Season the beef with salt and pepper. Add the sliced beef to the pan in single layers and brown for 1 minute then turn and brown another 1 minute. Do this is batches so the beef is in a single layer. Remove beef to a plate and set aside.
  • Lower heat to medium and add 2 tbsp unsalted butter. Add the sliced mushrooms and onions and stir to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring. Cover, lower heat, and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Add the tomato pasta and stir until combined/ Add the Worcestershire and the sherry and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to release any brown bits. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the Dijon and whisk in.
  • Whisk 1 tbsp cornstarch in 1/2 cup half and half then add to the simmering sauce. Whisk until slightly thickened then turn off the heat. Whisk in the sour cream then add the beef back to the pan and stir to coat. Add more pepper to taste. Taste and reseason if necessary.
  • Serve over cooked egg noodles and garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with garlic bread slices.

SALMON FETTUCINE ALFREDO

It’s not traditional alfredo sauce, but a tasty make-ahead version that goes well with any pasta, especially pasta and seafood. I’ve made this many times with shrimp as well as salmon. It’s just good, easy, and quick. This is a cut down recipe for 2 to 3 people.

Ingredients:

  • 1 ( 8 ounce) boneless salmon filet
  • 5 ounces fettucine
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 tsp granulated garlic
  • Fresh grated nutmeg
  • Fresh lemon wedges
  • Chopped parsley

Directions:

For the salmon:

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place 1 tbsp of butter in a small baking dish and place the dish in the oven for 5 minutes.
  • Season the salmon filet with salt and pepper then place in the baking dish, turn over to coat both sides with butter, and bake for about 12 minutes until the salmon is done to your desired consistency. Remove from the oven, and flake into 1 inch chunks. If there was skin, remove it an discard. Set salmon aside.

For the alfredo sauce:

  • Heat 2 tbsp of butter in a small saucepan over medium low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, for about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the half and half and bring to a simmer. Season with salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and fresh grated nutmeg. Add the grated parmesan cheese and stir in to combine. Turn off heat, cover, and keep warm.
  • Cook the fettuccine for about 12 minutes until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and do not rinse. Return to the saucepan and drizzle with some olive oil and toss.
  • To serve, plate some fettuccine in a nest in a pasta bowl or plate. Spoon on some alfredo sauce. Add a few chunks of the cooked salmon then spoon on more alfredo sauce. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with a lemon wedge.

PICADILLO STEW

A journey into rustic comfort food. Picadillo Stew is a general term for any number of soup or stew recipes from several different cuisines…Filipino, Mexican, Spanish. Basically, it’s a country style stew that utilizes ingredients, mostly vegetables, that are available at any given time in the kitchen. This recipe leans a little to the Mexican side due to the addition of cumin and chile powder. I had a small leek and some cabbage in the fridge, so in they went as well.

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces lean ground beef
  • 3 ounces pancetta or bacon, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup sliced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced leeks (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp chile powder
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup chopped cabbage
  • 1 Russet potato, peeled, 1/2 inch diced
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 2 minutes. Crumble in the ground beef and brown until no longer pink.
  • Add the onions, celery, carrots, leeks, salt, pepper, cumin, chile powder, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, Worcestershire, diced tomatoes, cabbage, and chicken stock. Bring to a simmer, lower heat, cover, and cook for 25 minutes.
  • Add the potatoes and cook another 15 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Taste and reseason if necessary. Add the chopped cilantro and serve.

ROASTED SAN MARZANO TOMATO SOUP

Roast the tomatoes raises the bar on home made tomato soup. And using whole San Marzano tomatoes takes it even higher.

San Marzano tomatoes are a type of plum tomato that come from the San Marzano region of Italy. Typically, they are thinner than regular plum or Roma tomatoes with fewer seeds. They are also grown in the U.S., but try to find the Italian-grown variety. Cento is a good brand…it will say Product of Italy on the can. They are harvested at the peak of ripeness, skinned, then canned immediately.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (28 ounce) can of whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup diced white onion
  • 1/2 cup diced carrots
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig
  • 1 small fresh rosemary sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • Sourdough bread
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. With your hand, crush the tomatoes into a 9×13 baking dish. Place the garlic cloves over the tomatoes, drizzle the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, turning half way through. Using a potato masher, mash to break up the tomatoes and garlic.
  • Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the carrots and onions. Season with salt and pepper and saute, stirring, about 5-6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook from25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and raise heat to medium and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add the tomato mixture, thyme sprig and rosemary sprig and stock and bring to a simmer, cover, cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly. Remove the thyme and rosemary sprigs.
  • Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Add cream and stir. Heat until soup is hot again. Taste and reseason with salt and pepper. Stir in 2 tbsp of unsalted butter.
  • Serve in bowls and garnish with fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of creme fraiche or sour cream.

SHRIMP CAPPELINI POMODORO

Cappelini Pomodoro is one of the simplest, quickest, and freshest pasta dishes you can make. Cappelini (Angel Hair), fresh tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, and parmesan cheese. Thrown in some sautéed shrimp scampi-style and this is what you have.

A couple of chef’s notes: Do not add the diced tomatoes to the skillet for more than 1 minutes or they will get mushy, you just want toe heat them up. Also, don’t overcook the Cappelini as it only takes 2-3 minutes to cook compared to other pastas that take 8-10 minutes. And, don’t overcook the shrimp as it can become tough very easily.

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 ounces of Cappelini (Angel Hair)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 8-10 large shrimp. peeled, deveined
  • 1 cup diced ripe Roma tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Chopped fresh Italian parsley

Directions:

  • Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a simmer.
  • Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil and the butter. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp and saute for about 1 minute then turn over and saute the other side for 1 minute. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, and diced tomatoes and toss with the shrimp for about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat.
  • Add the Cappelini to the simmering water and cook for 2 1/2 minutes. Drain but don’t rinse. Add the Cappelini to the shrimp and and toss thoroughly. Place everything is a large servings bowl, add the grated Parmesan and fresh basil and toss thoroughly. Season again.
  • Plate and garnish with more parmesan, chopped parsley, and fresh basil. Serve with soldiers of buttered garlic bread.

SCALLOPED POTATOES 2.0

Let’s start with the difference between Scalloped Potatoes and Potatoes Au Gratin. The simple answer to that is: cheese. Au Gratin Potatoes typically has cheese, cheddar cheese quite often. Depending on which cook you ask, there is no difference. Today, I decided to keep it basic, and leave out any cheese…so, these are Scalloped Potatoes. The other question is should there be onions and/or garlic? My answer is “Yes”…but, I actually infuse the cream (yes, cream) with shallots, garlic, and fresh rosemary. Beyond that, the potatoes are Yukon Gold sliced thin and layered 3 times in a buttered baking dish. The dish is baked covered for 45 minutes, then uncovered until the top gets nice and golden brown. The garnish? Chopped chives if desired.

I used a mandolin to slice the potatoes 1/8 inch thick.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled, sliced 1/8 inch thick
  • 3 tbsp unsalted cold butter, cut into 12 small chunks
  • 1 medium shallot, peeled, thin sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled, smashed
  • 1 fresh thyme sprig and/or rosemary sprig
  • 1 cup cream or half and half
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • Paprika
  • Chopped chives for garnish

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Heat medium saucepan over medium heat and add the cream, thyme or rosemary sprig, shallots, and garlic. Bring to a simmer, cover, turn off the heat, and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain the cream and reserve. Discard the shallots, garlic, and herbs.
  • Butter a 9×9 baking dish. Layer 1/3 of the sliced potatoes then add 1/3 off the cream. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add another 1/3 of the potatoes and cream. Season with salt and pepper. Layer the remainder of the potatoes and cream. Dot the potatoes with the cubes of cold butter. Sprinkle with paprika. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake another 15 minutes until the top is golden brown. Garnish with chopped chives.