Beef and Potato Tostada

Maria’s Tostadas

It is fair to say I do 98% of the cooking in our home. I am not complaining. After all, it is something I love to do. It wasn’t, however, always that way. When my husband and I were first married, we were both in grad school, were both working part-time and we arrived home at about the same time each night. We also had a newborn. In other words, time, money and energy ran on empty a lot. I probably cooked more often than he did but he made dinner regularly. His go-to meals were:

  1. spaghetti with meat sauce,
  2. chili,
  3. tuna noodle casserole, and
  4. tostadas.

Chicken and Beef Tostadas

The first time he made tostadas, I remember thinking “Hamburger and potatoes? In a taco? Don’t let him see you panic or he’ll never cook again!” 

It doesn’t happen often but I managed to keep my mouth shut.

At least until it was time to open it and take a bite. Then, all I said was, “This is delicious! Who taught you to make this!?!”

“Maria, our foreign exchange student from Mexico.”

Apparently, when he was in high school, his parents had taken this student into their home after the family she was supposed to stay with had to move. And to this day, we are making her tostadas!

Beef and Chicken Tostadas

Crispy corn tortillas are covered with a seasoned beef and potato mixture and topped with shredded lettuce, shredded cheese and sour cream or taco sauce. The potatoes are extra yummy because they are cooked with the ground beef and pick up the flavor of the meat drippings as they cook. They are a bit messy to eat but delicious down to the last bite.

When I decided to make these for dinner and for the blog, I thought about some of the new taco restaurants in our area and the street tacos they serve. One of my favorites is a chipotle chicken taco. Ground chicken and a can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce went into my grocery cart. The chipotle flavor made me think of sweet potatoes and a new tostada combination was born!

Chicken and Sweet Potato Tostada

If you have not worked with chipotles in adobo before, you can find them in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store in a 7-8 ounce can. The chipotle peppers are dried, smoked jalapeños, canned whole, in a vinegar-based, spicy-sweet sauce. A little goes a long way with these peppers. When I open a can, I empty the entire can into a food processor and puree the peppers and the sauce until smooth. After covering a cookie sheet with parchment paper, I drop tablespoonfuls of the puree onto the paper and place the cookie sheet in the freezer. When the discs are frozen, I cut the parchment paper between the discs, layer them into a resealable plastic bag and return them to the freezer. When a recipe calls for chipotles, I take the amount I need out of the freezer and return the rest for another recipe.

Freezer prep for chipotle in adobo

Even as I write this, I am thinking of another combination I want to try: al pastor (pork and pineapple). One simple recipe … endless possibilities!

Gratias, Maria!

Print Recipe
Potatoes and ground meat make a simple and delicious combination for homemade tostadas! Add condiments (guacamole, pico de gallo, cheese, cabbage, jalapeños, etc) for the "perfect" combination.
Beef and Potato Tostada
Beef and Potato Tostada
  1. Preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a light drizzle of vegetable or avocado oil to pan.
  2. Add ground meat, potatoes, onions, salt, black pepper, and Mexican oregano (if using).
  3. Break meat apart as it browns and stir occasionally, allowing meat and potatoes to brown lightly. When the meat is no longer pink, reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.
  4. Stir in desired amount of chipotle in adobo puree (see hints in blog post), if using.
  5. Taste the meat/potatoes and add salt and pepper if needed. Set aside.
  6. To toast the tortillas, lightly coat both sides with vegetable or avocado oil and place on a pan, under a low broiler for 1-2 minutes on each side. Tortillas will begin to brown and be crispy on the outside. (This can also be done in a sauté pan on the stove top.)
  7. Place tortilla on a plate, spoon meat/potato mixture on top and add condiments (see list in notes below) as desired.
Recipe Notes

Meat/Potato Combinations: Ground beef pairs well with a Russet (Idaho) potato. Ground chicken and sweet potatoes are an excellent combination. Ground pork is great with either a Russet or a sweet potato but is especially good with hominy (not a potato but the texture is similar). To use hominy instead of potatoes in this recipe, wait to add it (drained and rinsed) until the meat is almost fully cooked.

Condiment List: sliced jalapeños, shredded cheese, shredded lettuce or cabbage, pico de gallo, sliced radishes, sour cream, fresh cilantro, fresh lime wedges, green onions, and guacamole.

Beef and Chicken Tostadas


Wine & (Apple) Roses

Roses are red,
Apple are too,
Add some white wine and …
Here’s a dozen for you!

Is there someone in your life that you would like to impress, congratulate, or show gratitude? Flowers are always a good choice but EDIBLE flowers? Oh my!

These beautiful sweets look ever so complicated but they are really quite simple. Yes, they take some time but when you (the “giver”) see the reaction of the recipient (the “givee”), it will be worth every minute.

The basic recipe requires red apples, crescent dough, cinnamon/sugar, a rolling pin and a muffin tin. Seriously, that’s it. You can go to the next level with a filling like I used for this post … golden raisins macerated in white wine and spices and then pureed … or try peanut butter, Nutella, or caramel sauce … all based on what you think the “givee” will like!

To give you every opportunity for success with this process, I asked my youngest son to come home and take pictures and video for this post (Photo Credit: Marcus). Here we go!

Apple Roses


Step 1: Wash 3-4 (depending on size) red apples, cut in half, remove core as pictured, and slice into very thin (1/8″) semicircles. Discard (i.e. eat) end pieces. You will need 60-70 semicircles. Place in a bowl of cold water (enough to cover apples) with the juice of one lemon.



Step 2: Microwave apples in lemon water on high for 4-5 minutes or until apple pieces are flexible and do not break when bent. Remove from water and dry on paper towels. Set aside.




Step 3: Open the tube of crescent dough and unroll two triangles (or one rectangle) and place on a floured surface. Using a rolling pin, gently roll dough into a 9″x6″ rectangle.




Step 4: Using a pizza/pasta cutter or a knife, cut dough into three strips (9″x2″ each). Move dough strips a few inches apart.




Step 5: Sprinkle dough with sugar (and cinnamon, if you want just a simple cinnamon/sugar rose).




Step 6: Lay 5-6 slices of apples, overlapping as shown on the top half of each strip (notice I am working from the top of the photos). Start and end the apple slices about 1/2″ from the end of the strip.



Step 7: Spoon a thin line of filling (recipe below), peanut butter, Nutella or caramel at the base of the apples (the center of the dough strip).




Step 8: Fold bottom half of the dough strip up and over the apples and filling. Press down gently to secure in place. You should see the rounded tops of the apples sticking out from the dough edges.



Step 9: Video time! Gently roll up the dough from one end to the other. Focus on the spiral dough end as the video perspective shows. This will make for a nice, flat bottom to the rose. If you have trouble securing the dough at the end of the rolling process, spread a little melted butter on the end to keep the dough from unraveling.


Step 10: 
Place each rose in a well buttered muffin pan and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Use a thin knife to go around the outside of each rose, loosening it from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool for 2-3 minutes before removing roses to cooling rack.



Wine/raisin filling

What better paring for roses than wine? And what is a raisin but a dried grape? This is a perfect filling to compliment the apples without overpowering their sweetness.

1/2 cup white wine (Sauvignon Blanc works well)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and cook on high for 1 minute and 30 seconds. Remove from microwave, cover and let sit for 30-60 minutes. Put all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Allow to cool completely.

I have also made this recipe using pie crust which is AMAZING. The crescent dough is more forgiving when rolling. There are other recipes that use phyllo dough which I’m sure is fantastic … I just don’t have good luck with it for whatever reason.

The goal here is not to create a culinary masterpiece (although it comes close). The goal is to make something by hand to show someone else how much they mean to you. Skip the card … maybe add a single rose and a bottle of white … and deliver it personally.

Gifts that nourish the soul are the best gifts.

Who wouldn’t love a dozen of these homemade Apple Roses? Simple, beautiful, delicious and filled with a white wine and spiced golden raisin puree.





Turkey Poblano Chili

Everybody has their favorite chili. It’s one of those “my mom’s better than you mom” kind of things.

For the record … MY mom makes THE BEST chili. This is not up for discussion.

Maybe your mom didn’t make your favorite chili (shhhhh … I won’t tell). Maybe your favorite chili comes from a spouse or a restaurant. Some people like it thick … some like it thin … with beans … or without … ground beef … pork … chicken … spicy … mild … on a hot dog … or fries …

The point is chili is versatile.

I happen to be one of those eaters who likes chili in all its variations. When I found a recipe for Turkey Poblano Chili, I was curious about the use of turkey but truly all-in with the poblanos. I started growing poblanos in my garden a few years ago and I just can’t get enough of them (see post on Iowa: Home of Giant Poblanos and Stuffed Peppers Mexican Style). I switched up a few things and really love the result.

This is when I remind you that a recipe with a long list of ingredients is not necessarily a difficult recipe. Do not be intimidated by this list. Trust me … you will enjoy the process and LOVE the result.

Simple sides like corn bread, tortilla chips, or polenta are all good choices to complete the meal.

If your mom makes chili like this, I’m impressed.

She can’t beat my mom’s chili, but I’m impressed.

Print Recipe
Turkey Poblano Chili
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 1 day (see note below)
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 60 minutes
Passive Time 1 day (see note below)
  1. Roast the poblanos: Cut poblanos lengthwise in quarters, removing the stem, seeds and membranes. Lay the pepper pieces, skin side up, on a rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle the skin side with one tablespoon of olive/avocado oil, and place under the broiler for 5-6 minutes, or until skin is blistered and charred. Remove the peppers from the broiler, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam (5-10 minutes). Place pepper pieces on a cutting board and gently scrape the loose skin from the peppers (no need to remove all the skin). Dice 3 of the peppers (12 pieces) into 1/2” pieces; set aside. Cut the remaining 2 peppers (8 pieces) into thin strips; set aside.
  2. Chili: Heat a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat. Drizzle remaining olive/avocado oil into pan and add ground turkey, breaking the turkey up as it cooks. When browned (no longer pink), add salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, chili powder, oregano, cinnamon, onion, and garlic to the pan. Reduce heat to medium and stir to distribute spices evenly; cook for 3-4 minutes or until onions begin to soften. Add 2 cups of turkey/chicken broth/stock, tomato juice, beans, hominy, tomatoes, and the reserved poblano pepper strips. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Poblano puree: Place remaining reserved diced poblanos in a food processor with a small handful (at least 1/4 cup) fresh cilantro, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice. Pulse until evenly chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the broth/stock and process into a thick puree.
  4. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of broth/stock, the puree and corn to the soup, stirring to combine. Simmer gently for 30-40 minutes to break-down tomatoes and combine flavors.
  5. Garnish with sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced radishes, finely diced onion, shredded cheese, and jalapeño slices.
Recipe Notes

As (almost) always, this soup is better if made a day in advance.

Chili is a staple for cold days, game days, and soul-comforting days. Mix things up a little with this slightly smoky, mildly spicy version made with ground turkey, poblano chiles and a blend of sweet corn and hominy.

Pigskin Soup

Yes it is a strange name for soup, but I think you will like the reason.

I was recently asked to write some articles for the Iowa Food and Family Project‘s monthly newsletter. Beyond excited to have the opportunity to write for this organization that supports and promotes things that I value … Iowa, food, family, and farming, I was glad the topic of the first article they wanted was about my favorite winter comfort food: soup. January is National Soup Month and this time of year begs for an article on what to serve for the upcoming bowl game.

This cheese soup has always been a crowd pleaser among my family and friends. It was definitely going to be a part of the article but it needed a name-lift. If the Packers had been in contention, this job would have been easier. During the brainstorming process, I thought of “Twice-Baked Potato Soup” and “Potato Skin Soup” because the ingredients and flavors of this recipe remind me so much of those foods. Still not thrilled, I started peeling the potatoes and as the peelings hit the sink, I paused. The skins of “potato skins” were destined for the disposal. I saved them, rinsed them and turned them into the best topper for this soup: Baked Potato Skin Crisps.

Turns out peeling potatoes is inspiring. The word “skin” kept going through my head and finally the football connection was made: pigskin.

Please don’t judge how long it took me to come up with this …

The realization that pork was an MVP (couldn’t resist) in this recipe made the name all the more appropriate. Bacon AND ham? Spike the ball!

Hey … at least I didn’t say “Slam Dunk!”

I’m done … here’s the recipe.

Print Recipe
Pigskin Soup
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30-45 minutes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 30-45 minutes
  1. Sauté onions and celery in bacon drippings over medium heat until tender (4-5 minutes).
  2. Sprinkle flour, thyme, ground mustard, and black pepper over vegetables and stir to coat; cook and stir for 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add Worcestershire sauce; cook and stir for 2-3 additional minutes.
  4. Add bay leaf and white wine, cook and stir for 3-4 minutes while flour and seasonings thicken the wine and the alcohol evaporates.
  5. Stir in chicken broth, carrots, potatoes and ham; simmer for 10-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender (time varies based on the size of the vegetable pieces).
  6. Slowly stir in one cup of the milk, stirring constantly, until milk is thoroughly warmed. Repeat two more times with remaining milk (see note below).
  7. Add shredded cheese, a little at a time, stirring to allow it to melt in the soup (see note below).
  8. Finish with a small dash of nutmeg. Remove from heat.
  9. Garnish with shredded cheese, green onions, potato skins (see note below), and bacon.
Recipe Notes

Adding the milk and cheese in intervals creates a smoother texture.

Baked Potato Skin Crisps: This recipe provides a delicious topping for this soup, a tasty side to any soup or sandwich and an excellent way to use the potato peelings rather than throw them away!

Leftover Mashed Potato Substitute: This soup is also a great way to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Simply omit the diced potatoes and instead add 1-2 cups of mashed potatoes right before adding the milk and cheese. Stir the mashed potatoes into the soup base until completely warmed and distributed (i.e. few clumps of potato are left).

This soup combines our favorite pork products with that wonderful cheesy appetizer of potato skins. Salty ham and bacon, melty cheeses, and diced potatoes make a bowl of rich soup that is only improved with a sprinkle of crisp bacon, a bit of sour cream and a few strips of baked potato skins.

Hearty Beef & Vegetable Soup


I have been making this soup for about 7 years now and “hearty” is always the word that comes to mind as I make it and as I eat it. It is an incredibly simple recipe. It is full of incredibly simple ingredients. It tastes anything but simple.

It is hearty.

I had to refer to the dictionary just to see how the word is officially defined. There are seven different ways listed that this adjective could be used, referring both to physical and emotional situations. As I looked through the list, the one that seemed to best fit a comfort food like this was “substantial, abundant, nourishing.” The ground beef and potatoes cover substantial, the vegetables and broth cover nourishing, and the amount of soup this recipe makes covers abundant.

But it was another group of words that may better describe how this soup makes me feel: “genuine, sincere, heartfelt”.

Those are not words typically used when referring to a meal. I think they fit this recipe so well because I have an emotional tie to it. Almost seven years ago, I lost my dad. As it is for most, it was a very sad and difficult time for my family. We got through that time by the grace of God and knowing that we would be reunited with him “in the blink of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52). We were also surrounded by extended family and friends who supported us with good memories, kind words and food. The community in which I was raised knew when words fail, food sustains. For days, we would receive quick visits from friends and neighbors who “just stopped by to give a hug and drop this off”. If we weren’t at the house, we would return to a pan or two sitting by the door. Casseroles, baked goods, meat and cheese trays and, yes, soup.

There was love in every bag, bowl or disposable pan.

I don’t know if it was the “meat and potatoes” nature of this soup that gave me the comfort from losing my farmer father, but comfort is what I got. One of my mom’s closest friends made it for us and I remember thinking as I ate it for the first time, “why does this soup taste so good?” I think she poured all of her best memories of time spent with my parents into making that soup. I could taste that it was genuine, sincere, and heartfelt. Every single time I make this soup, I think of Darlene, of all the other comfort food and the people who delivered it, and especially of my dad.

There’s another definition of hearty that caught my eye: completely devoted and wholehearted.

That’s my dad.

He was hearty too.

Print Recipe
Hearty Beef & Vegetable Soup
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 1 day (see note)
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Passive Time 1 day (see note)
  1. Heat a large dutch oven or stock pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Drizzle olive oil into pan and add ground beef and onion, breaking up beef as it browns.
  3. When beef is no longer pink, remove the excess fat, reduce heat to medium and stir salt, pepper, tomato paste, dried thyme and crushed red pepper into the ground beef and onion.
  4. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  5. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 20-30 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are tender.
  6. Garnish with chopped fresh parsley or thyme and croutons.
Recipe Notes

As (almost) always, this soup will taste better if made a day in advance!

Simple, hearty, and deep in flavor, this soup recipe needs to be in your collection. Ground beef combines with chunks of potato, carrot and celery in a rich, but light, broth.

Farm to Table: Six Secrets To Satisfying Soup

Winter in Iowa: love it or hate it?

I love it … as long as it’s not below 20 degrees, at least 6 inches of snow is on the ground, the wind stays below 10 mph, and ice doesn’t cause problems with the tread of my shoes or my tires.

Yep, I love it alright … about 3 days a year.

I have no right to complain as I sit in my warm house, looking out on a frigid, but stunning, snow-covered yard. It’s a beautiful day but the sun is straining to keep us above zero. It’s cold out there and no one knows that better than those who work outside: police officers and firemen; construction crews; farmers caring for livestock; even kids working hard to add just one more layer to that snow fort.

Is there anything more comforting to a body subjected to winter’s fury than a hot, hearty bowl of soup? (Cue the crackle of the fireplace.) Whether you crave a bowl of tomato soup in which to dunk your grilled cheese sandwich, a big thick bowl of chili sprinkled with onions and cheese, or a bowl of broth-y chicken-noodle with oyster crackers floating on top, just thinking about it begins to warm those cold toes.

January is National Soup Month. We’ve already established that the weather makes January an appropriate month to celebrate this food category. As I thought about it a little more, another reason soup became so popular in the winter came to mind: practicality. Growing up on a farm, I worked with my mom in our garden. As we harvested, canned, froze, and stored produce, she would share stories and lessons of food preservation. Our freezer, cupboards, and cold room were full of vegetables and fruits that we would use all winter. As the winter months passed, some of the cold room vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, etc.) would start to spoil. The answer to the question, “Should I throw this one out?”, was always, “No. It’s good for soup.” We’d cut off and discard the spoiled portion and a pot of soup would soon be simmering. Waste Not. Want Not.

Trade secrets learned on the farm apply directly to making soup (among other important life skills).

1. Waste Not Want Not

So much of what we throw away on a daily basis could best be used to make homemade broth or stock for soup. We buy a rotisserie chicken and throw away the bones. We peel potatoes and carrots and throw the peelings away (vitamin packed, you know). Mushroom stems, celery ends, lemon rinds, and even the rind of hard cheeses like Parmesan are all items that end up in the trash when they could be simmered low and slow (say hello to my friend the crock pot) with herbs and spices to make amazing broth. Ever dumped potato or pasta water down the drain? There went a great start to a hearty broth.

Clarification: I do buy broth/stock. I try to make broth whenever possible and freeze it for later use but life doesn’t always allow for it. When buying broth, take a few minutes to look at the ingredients and nutritional information. Avoid broths high in sodium, full of additives/preservatives and artificial colors/flavors. Who needs that?

For more instructions on making chicken broth, check out this post: Chicken Stock.

2. Good Things Are Worth Waiting For

If there is one soup tip that is above all other tips, it is this: make the soup at least one day in advance. Even simple soups are complex combinations of ingredients and flavors. Dumping everything together and expecting it to taste balanced is sure to disappoint.

3. Figure It Out As You Go

My dad was an expert at “figure it out as you go”. He would never have said that about himself but having witnessed it first-hand, time after time, it was true. He would work to fix a piece of farm machinery starting with what he knew and looking for clues. It’s a stretch to compare farm machinery and soup but the advice holds true.

Taste as you go.

Texture and seasoning are the clues to “figuring out” soup. Taste as you go to ensure proper seasoning, especially when it comes to salt. It is important to season the layers and still end up with a soup that is not overly salty. Adding more or less salt to the soup is highly dependent on your choice of broth, canned verses fresh vegetables, meat types (prepared sausages will contain salt while fresh ground meat will not), and other ingredients like soy or Worcestershire sauce that may be added later in the recipe.

Taste the vegetables to see if they are properly cooked. A recipe gives guidelines for the amount of time it will take to cook vegetables properly but they only way to tell if they are properly cooked, and not overcooked, is to taste them.

4. Be Consistent

No need to break out a ruler, but chopping ingredients uniformly is important for uniform cooking. Bigger pieces will take longer than smaller pieces to cook. No shock there. If the pieces are not cut the same size, some will be overcooked and some will be undercooked.

5. Timing is Everything

Use the broth and herbs to their full potential. Whenever a recipe calls for browning of meat, make sure to brown the meat. Let it caramelize in the pan (stir it less often) so the pan has a nice layer of meat “bits” stuck on it. Remove the excess fat from the pan (as directed) and, while the pan is hot, add the dry herbs and spices. “Toasting” the herbs/spices for even a minute will release their flavors and oils. Add the broth to deglaze the pan. (Be careful as, of course, adding liquid to a hot pan will produce steam.) All the richness of the caramelized “bits” and the herbs/spices will infuse the broth with more flavor.

6. Little Things are big things

Bay leaves and apples.

These are two very simple ingredients that I’ve learned not to ignore when making soup.

Putting into words the effect of a single bay leaf on the flavor of soup is impossible. All I know is when I leave it out, I regret it. Some websites compare the flavor of bay leaves to mint, eucalyptus, menthol, or pine. What? Why would I recommend adding that to soup?

If I concentrate really hard while smelling a bay leaf, I MIGHT get a hint of eucalyptus. I think the only word I can use to describe the scent is “fresh”. There is a balance that comes to soup when a bay leaf is allowed to simmer and even rest in the broth.

Bay leaves are not to be eaten, so make sure to remove them before serving.

Apples? In soup? Well, when it comes to Ham & Bean Soup, turns out a few apple slices make or break the finished product. I discovered this when trying to replicate my mom’s amazing soup using leftover ham bone. You can read the whole story here, but suffice it to say, the addition of a few slices of apple in the cooking process was all I needed to get as close as I can to my mom’s specialty.

It’s the “little things” that show their power when the people around your table taste your creation, close their eyes and say “mmmmmm”.

Turkey Poblano Chili

Here are a few of my favorite soup recipes. I wish they all had better/pictures (working on it)… I’ve learned A LOT about food photography in the last year! I can say the recipes are true and, as always, I would love your feedback (positive/negative/question-filled) on any and all of my posts. It’s the only way I can get them JUST RIGHT!


Ham & Bean Soup
Mexican Chicken Soup
Carrot-Poblano Soup
Italian Vegetable Soup
PigSkin Soup
Hearty Beef & Vegetable Soup
Turkey-Poblano Chili
Seafood Chowder

I may have a love/hate relationship with winter in Iowa, but a good bowl of soup on a cold, January day can make me optimistic for February and March (maybe even April).

Soup … a glass of wine … and a pair of footie pajamas!

Take your soup from good to great with a few tips that will deepen flavor and warm your soul.