Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Have it your way....or the towering tostada!


Does anyone remember that jingle from a nationwide hamburger chain? Well I think the sentiment is a good one, and occurred to me as I was trying to think about what to make for dinner tonight.

After a difficult few days I was a little down about my household duties and wished I could just order out for pizza. An impossibility these days with the special food needs of my family. Like the mythical Sisyphus, so simple and so close, yet so out of reach!

Then I thought, why not satisfy everybody with a "make your own" night. To do this start with a foundation food like pizza crust, pasta or tacos and set out various toppings or mix-ins. I did this on Cinco de Mayo with a Tostada bar (see below). The kids love it as they have a hand in creating their own dinner, and everyone gets their favorite---no complaints! I've had a package of soy Italian sausage from Trader Joe's sitting in my 'fridge beckoning me for a couple of weeks. They have a nifty labeling system where-in they have a "G" symbol on gluten free foods. Sadly, this sausage is gluten full, therefore off limits to Lillie. Then it occurred to me to do a pasta bar, that way I can have my rice penne pasta (which I found Trader Joe's to have the best price around) with soy sausage, onion and peppers, Lillie can have sauce and melted cheese, Rosie can have hers with Tofutti cheese and Hubby, well, he'll be the wild card I guess.

In Amsterdam they serve a dish called Rice Taffel, which literally means "Rice Table". It comes from Indonesia, which used to be a Dutch colony. It is a dish of rice with many small dishes of various vegetables, curries, chicken and meat dishes to serve on top. You can pick and choose your favorites. Rice Taffel is so popular there are tons of restaurants specializing in just that, and at the supermarket you can buy little packets of pre-cut and shredded veggies to use in your homemade Rice Taffel. This is a great choice for Celiacs to try.

For my Tostada bar I used pre-fried tostadas, which are just corn tortillas that are deep fried and flat. Mission brand Tostadas Estila Caseros, just leaped out at me one day in my local Target. They look like giant round tortilla chips and are only 160 calories for two.

You can also make your own by frying corn tortillas in about a half inch of oil, or brushing them with oil and baking at 350 degrees for several minutes until crisp.

For toppings you can choose to do either meat, chicken or a vegetarian/dairy option. I tossed chicken strips with some taco seasoning and baked for 30 minutes. Then I laid it out on the table with chopped lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, homemade guacamole, salsa, Eden brand refried beans and Tofutti Better than Sour Cream. The kids had a lot of fun making their towering tostadas "to order". I just love Mexican food, so I was content.

I topped my tostada with homemade, baked plantain chips. Plantains are those big fruits that look like bananas in the specialty fruit section of the supermarket, often near the coconuts. However, you must cook them. In Cuba (and some other Latin American countries) they are used in a delicious dish called Tostones. They plantains are deep fried, then flattened in a special little press, and fried again.

At a food show I attended recently in Miami Beach, a lot of caterers were using these crisp, fried plantains in place of crackers. I thought that was a great alternative for Celiacs. I tried to make an oven baked plantain chip in the interest of time and health. The result was delightful! Below you will find my recipes for a very quick and easy homemade guacamole and the baked plantain chips. Enjoy!

The trick to good looking guacamole is to touch it as little as possible with metal. The reaction of the metal and the avocado will turn it brown. The "authentic" way to make guacamole is by using a stone mortar and pestle called a
molcajete (see picture below). In many trendy restaurants waiters are doing this tableside with fresh guacamole to order, in the same way that years ago it was stylish to do a Caesar salad at the table.

For our purposes at home, I suggest you use a non-metallic bowl, pour the lime juice over the avocado immediately, and use a fork only for mashing. For serving use a non-metal spoon. Another trick to keep the guacamole from going brown is to save the avocado pit and stick it back into the prepared avocado until you are ready to serve.

Quick and Easy Guacamole
1 ripe avocado*
juice of 1/2 lime
2 heaping tablespoons prepared, chunky style salsa
hot sauce (such as Frank's Red Hot) to taste

Cut the avocado in half and remove pit. Scoop avocado into a medium sized mixing bowl (non-metallic). Squeeze lime juice over avocado. Add salsa and hot sauce. Mash all together with a fork. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.

*To test for ripeness, hold the avocado in the palm of your hand and press down with your thumb. If your thumb can slowly press into the avocado, it is ripe.

Oven Baked Plantain Chips
1 large ripe plantain*
½ Tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt

Line a cookie sheet with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick cooking spray.

Slice plantains 1/8-inch thick and place in single layer on cookie sheets. Brush both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle tops of plantains with salt. Broil on high on top oven rack for 5-6 minutes or until they begin to brown. Turn oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 13-15 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes, remove with a spatula.

*Ripe plantains are yellow with a lot of black streaks on the skin.

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