Tag: Mexican Food (page 2 of 2)

Recipe: Tostadas With Roasted Squash, Queso Fresco & Bean Spread

I’m not sure why it took me so long to try tostadas, squash in Mexican food, and ALDI’s

Swapping  roasted squash for taco meat filling is delicious! Although she uses sweet potatoes, Laurie’s recipe for  Sweet Potato and Black Bean Tacos on Relishing It has been swirling around my mind.

I used to hate ALDI, but now I’ve changed my tune. In the Twin Cities and even Fargo, we had many grocery store options that included natural food stores, co-ops, and multicultural grocers. Our North Iowa community is much smaller and it can be difficult to find affordable, specialty ingredients. While ALDI certainly doesn’t have everything, they do sell jars of organic coconut oil for $5, baking supplies, and a decent version of peanut butter. I still can’t get into the cart deposit thing, so I only purchase what I can carry and appreciate how efficient the associates are (they don’t accept checks!).

I’ve prepared my best version of Mexican-style street tacos more times that I can count, but hadn’t thought to add toppings to tostadas until I spotted them at ALDI. Since I recently prepared tacos filled with carne asada, I made a vegetarian version with roasted squash and mushrooms, white bean spread and sprinkles of queso fresco.

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Running to the Kitchen’s recipe for Homemade White Refried Beans helped me transform a can of white cannelini beans into a lighter, creamier version. It was so simple to prepare. However, if you already have refried beans on hand, you can certainly use these instead of making your own bean spread. We were delighted with this sweet, salty and spicy flavor combination.

Sweet And Spicy Roasted Squash Tostadas
Cook’s Notes: Roast your favorite winter squash. I happened to find a small butternut squash. For easier peeling and cutting, I prick the squash a few times with a fork and microwave for one minute. I remember watching a Top Chef contestant roast mushrooms in the oven. I tried it at home and found it’s an easy way to develop caramelization and concentrate the flavors. You could also saute them on the stove top. 

squash tostada watermarked

Ingredients:

Tostadas & Garnishes:
Tostadas (or your favorite taco shell)
Queso fresco, enough to sprinkle on the tostadas
Red onion, finely diced
Cilantro, chopped
Salsa
Fresh lime wedges

Refried White Bean Spread
Olive oil
1/4 cup onion, finely diced and cooked until edges caramelize
1 clove garlic, minced
Chili powder-a few good dashes
1-2 teaspoons cumin
Salt
Black pepper
1 can white beans
Stock (or water)
Honey, a drizzle

Roasted Squash:
1 butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into cubes
Chili powder
Garlic powder
Olive oil
Salt
Black pepper

Roasted Mushrooms:
Olive oil
Salt
Black pepper 

Instructions:

To roast the squash

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  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 ℉.
  2. Peel skin. Remove ends. Cut in half the long way (hot dog-style) and remove the seeds with a spoon. If the squash is especially hard, I prick with a fork and microwave for one minute.
  3. Cut squash into bite-sized cubes. Place on a sheet pan.
  4. Drizzle with olive oil and toss with chili powder and garlic powder. Roast for about 25-minutes or until the squash is tender and caramelized, tossing partway through.
  5. While the squash and mushrooms cook, prepare garnishes and refried beans.

To roast the mushrooms

  1. Rinse and drain mushrooms or brush off any dirt.
  2. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Roast until the mushrooms have released their moisture and are caramelized. This should also take about 20-minutes. Toss occasionally while baking.

To prepare the refried beans

  1. If using canned beans, rinse and drain.
  2. Pre-heat medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion in olive oil until the edges caramelize, lightly seasoning with salt and pepper. Don’t use too much salt since canned beans are often salty.
  3. Stir in minced garlic, chili powder, and cumin. Cook briefly until fragrant.
  4. De-glaze with stock. Mash mixture until smooth. If the beans are too liquidy, gently simmer until they reduce to the thickness you prefer. If they are too thick, add more stock.
  5. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Add a small drizzle of honey to round out the flavors.

Assemble tostadas: Spread with beans. Top with roasted squash and mushrooms. Sprinkle with onion, cilantro, queso fresco. Drizzle with your favorite salsa and spritz with lime.

Webster City, Iowa: Grid Iron Grill & La Perla Jarocha

Disclaimer: On 12.13.14 Deb Brown, Executive Director of the Webster City Area Chamber of Commerce invited me to spend the day in Webster City as part of the “Seven Bloggers on a Saturday” tour. Grid Iron Grill provided lunch. All opinions are my 100% my own

It’s bittersweet to write about Webster City again.

Last December, I spent the day touring the city with seven North Iowa bloggers. One of them was Amy Hild who recently died in a car crash late February. Thinking about the Webster City tour makes me feel sad because we miss our friend, but it also makes me happy because the day holds more warm memories than any other day I’ve lived in Iowa.

Beth and I actually returned to Webster City in January to explore at a more leisurely pace. Our bloggers tour had moved at a rapid pace in order to fit in as many businesses and attractions as possible. Between both of our visits, we enjoyed meals at a few restaurants. Here are highlights from our meals at Grid Iron Grill and La Perla Jarocha.

Grid Iron Grill & Sports Lounge
This sports bar served as our big lunch stop on our original Webster City tour. Owner Burk Risetter greeted our table and surprised us by treating us to our meals. Before he opened his own restaurant, Risetter worked in the food service industry. He spoke of taking pride in the fact that his kitchen hand breads most of their appetizers such as their onion rings and fried pickles and cuts their own steaks and salmon fillets.

appetizer Collage

We split several appetizers and most everyone ordered a different entrée. My favorite appetizer was the fried pickle chips.

Fried Pickles WM

I didn’t mind that the chips were softer because I liked their light coating. Of course, they were served with ranch in true Iowan fried appetizer style. I found these pickle chips addicting and kept returning for more during the entire meal. Grid Iron’s ranch passed my ranch test, meaning it did not taste like a pre-made product.

For my entrée, I ordered six wings with bourbon sauce and a side salad.

Wings wm

Chicken wings are one of my top three favorite foods. My parents rarely served meat on the bone and so wings were a treat I’d order wings at restaurants every chance I got. Grid Iron’s wings were larger and plumper than what you’ll find at chains like Buffalo Wild Wings. The cook fried them so that the skin was crispy and the meat was tender. Typically I prefer spicy wing sauce, but chose something milder since I was on a bloggers tour. I’m not sure if the world is ready to see me devour hot wings yet.

This sauce was a little sweet for me, but ideal for those who like honey BBQ. Donna ordered a burger glazed with this same bourbon sauce and raved about it. Her meal also came with crispy sweet potato fries served with an unusual marshmallow sauce. I would certainly order Grid Iron’s wings again with a spicy sauce. In terms of size and cooking technique, these are the best wings I can remember eating for a long time.

La Perla Jarocha
We noticed two specialty food markets along Webster City’s main street. On our second visit, Beth & I popped into a small Asian market that carried mostly South East Asian pantry items and La Perla Jarocha, one of Webster City’s two Mexican grocery stores. Chamber Director Brown mentioned that Webster City is home to a sizable Laotian community and that a Laotian family is in process of opening a egg roll and bubble tea shop soon.

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It’s hard to believe, but even though Mason City and Clear Lake are the biggest communities in North Iowa, we have no multicultural grocery stores. I’d love for someone to prove me wrong, but the closest Asian grocery store appears to be Yaw Asian Grocery Store located 40-minutes away in Albert Lea, MN.

At La Perla Jarocha’s grocery store, I noticed a hot food warmer on the front counter containing what looked like pork carnitas meat and found foil-wrapped tamales in the cooler. The owner shared that her mother prepares them with freshly made masa dough. She gently reminded me to remove the banana leaf before eating, which made me giggle as I thought of people trying to eat the tough leaves.

I brought two tamales home. The masa dough was light and fluffy and the chicken filling tasted delightfully spicy. I’m always thrilled when food makes me sweat.

Tamale

Spicy chicken tamale from La Perla Jarocha

The tamales from La Perla Jarocha reminded of eating my first banana leaf-wrapped tamale in Cholula, Mexico. Our friend Mario biked to his favorite tamale vendor early one the morning so he could share them with us at breakfast. We unwrapped them on a beautiful sidewalk cafe and enjoyed them with espresso and traditional pastries before climbing Mexican’s largest pyramid, The Great Pyramid of Cholula.

Until this moment, I thought I didn’t like tamales because the only ones I had tried were dry and heavy. Now that I know how delicate and spicy they can taste, I try them every chance I get.

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Mario unwraps a tamale in Cholula, Mexico

I later followed up with the owner of La Perla Jarocha who said they recently opened a restaurant across the street where they serve these tamales and more of their family recipes.

Soon after our last trip to Webster City, a Des Moines Register reporter contacted me (along with two other Iowan food bloggers) for an interview . Understandably, Torpy’s word count was limited and she couldn’t fit all of our replies into her feature, but her final question was my favorite to answer. I wrote my reply as I enjoyed one of these tamales: “What do you hope people will take away after reading your blog?”

I hope my readers will feel inspired to try a new food or wander into a new market. I also hope they’ll feel inspired to explore their own backyard and never stop searching for their new favorite dive bar or small town café. My favorite bloggers make me feel something. They make me laugh and cry, awaken wanderlust, or become curious about something new. I hope I do the same for my readers.

Be curious. Wander into new stores and don’t be afraid to ask the owners questions. Celebrate chicken wings with crispy skin and don’t be the fool that passes on someone else’s mother’s homemade tamales.

Thanks again to Grid Iron Grill for treating us to lunch during the December 2015 Webster City Bloggers Tour.

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest: Las Palmas & Sidewinder

Our most recent date night brought us queso sauce and a cherry blue cocktail. A taste of something familiar and a taste of something new.

We self-admittedly owe many North Iowa restaurants a visit, but crave Mexican food from Las Palmas on a regular basis. The staff always makes us feel welcome and very much at ease. Even after our first or second visit, the bartender recognized us and remembered what we ordered. How could this type of hospitality not foster loyalty? We felt like we were cheating on Las Palmas when we dined at a different Mexican restaurant in town.

Jake and I like spicy food. While the salsa at Las Palmas isn’t necessarily spicy, it’s got a little kick and a pleasant herbiness from what I’m guessing is Mexican oregano. Sometimes I order a blistered jalapeno on the side for extra heat.

One of my favorite dishes combines an interesting assortment of ingredients: Broccoli and cauliflower florets, shrimp, rice, and queso. This probably shouldn’t work, but somehow it just does. Seafood and cheese often freaks me out, but queso sauce might be an exception.

Shrimp Broccoli Dish WM
Most recently, I tried a quesadilla stuffed with shrimp and refried beans, and drizzled with queso sauce. This might be my new favorite dish. The shrimp had a snappy texture and I’d trade the typical quesadilla for one drizzled with this queso sauce most any day.

*There are plenty of dishes without queso at Las Palmas. We just keep gravitating towards the cheesier ones. 

Quesadilla shrimp wm

Jake rotates between burritos, fajitas, and a fajita-like dish that combines shrimp, beef and chicken. He commented on how he was especially happy with how well-seasoned the beef tasted last weekend.

After dinner, we headed to our fourth stop on our Every Bar in Mason City Quest, Sidewinder (Facebook page may contain NSFW language).

A few of my readers let me know that Sidewinder was closing after the last weekend in November. One individual took the time to email me about his memories of Sidewinder. He mentioned it used to be called Tommy’s and functioned as a popular neighborhood gathering spot where his dad watched sports games with friends.

Last Saturday evening, it was standing room only as many stopped by for their End of the World party. We overheard one woman reminisce about having her first drink at Sidewinder. Others mentioned they were going to stay until closing time on this last evening.

I ordered the bartender’s choice of a Jack & cola and we paused to watch the football game. Later, I noticed a bottle of cherry Mcgillicuddy’s and thought of a friend who had recommended I try it. Since I was in the mood for something sweet and something new (to me, at least), I asked the bartender if he could make a cherry cocktail with the liquor. He steered me towards Three Olives Cherry-flavored vodka and suggested this blue creation.

Sidewinder blue drink wm

When he mentioned it contained energy drink, I almost changed my order. I drink coffee and the very occasional diet Dew, but avoid energy drinks, mostly because I don’t like their liquid SweeTart taste or smell. This was a night to be adventurous and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked the cocktail, energy drink and all. Like Las Palmas’ shrimp, queso, broccoli & cauliflower combination, this cherry liquor and energy drink combo just worked.

In closing, we enjoyed our visit to Sidewinder. Everyone was friendly, from the bartender to the patrons, and we felt very welcome. We are sorry to learn they are closing and wish the owner and staff well. Based upon all of the stories people have shared, it’s evident that Sidewinder holds significant memories for many past and present Mason City residents. Hopefully they will find a great buyer.

Coming Up Next: A date night stop at Mason City Brewing & North Iowa Bloggers dinner at West Fork Wharf in Sheffield, Iowa.

Every Bar in Mason City Graphic

The Every Bar In Mason City Quest
Burke’s Bar & Grill
Candy Bar Nite Club
Homer’s Sports Bar & Grill
Kozy Korner
Mason City Brewing
Mulligan’s Bar & Grill (11/24/2014)
Mystic Lanes Bowling
Patrick’s Bar
Ransom’s
Sidewinder Bar (11/29/14)
Spike’s Tap & Grill
Sportsmans Lounge
VFW Post 733
Willow Run Lounge (11/01/2014)
Wise Guys Sports Pub (11/08/2014)

Restaurant/Hotel Bars
1910 Lounge
Chop Eleven
LD’s Filling Station
Loredo’s
Papa’s
Pastime Gardens
The Quarry Tapas Bar
Rib Crib
River City Bar & Grille at the Clarion Inn
Whiskey Creek
Wok ‘n Roll

Reader Suggested Bars Throughout North Iowa
Bernie’s Bar, Forest City
Elly’s Lakefront Tap, Clear Lake
Lake Time Brewery, Clear Lake
Signatures Sports Bar & Grill, Northwood
Tanks Bar & Grill, Rudd
West Fork Wharf, Sheffield

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