Tip #1: Golden Onions. Not to be confused with caramelized onions.
Inevitably, because I don't have the patience to stand over my onions for half an hour or more, my "golden onions" end up a lot more caramelized than I'd prefer. But that's okay. Most of them come out golden.
Here's how you get golden onions. Chop white onions up and saute them in olive oil over medium heat FOREVER (30 minutes at least, less than an hour for sure) and somewhere near the end of eternity they will turn golden. Rarely have I gotten them quite as golden as I'd like because I just get tired of messing with them. Regardless, the more golden, the better. 1/2 to 1 whole onion, diced and cooked until golden, will make the most humble spaghetti sauce outstanding. It's totally worth the time. I should add that I could probably get them golden a lot faster by cooking them on medium high if I was willing to stand there and stir them the entire time. I just don't have the patience for constant stirring.
Tip #2: Minced Mushrooms. A lot of them.
When mushrooms go on sale we have spaghetti. Sometimes I make the sauce from scratch (well, if you can call using canned maters and canned tomato sauce starting from scratch), starting the entire process with the onions and mushrooms. Other times I just use the golden onions and mushrooms to improve on canned sauce.
In a large batch of spaghetti sauce I will happily use up to 30 ounces of fresh mushrooms that have been minced in the food processor and then sauteed in olive oil. Generally I add the minced mushrooms (and fresh garlic if I'm using it) to the golden onions (after they are golden, not before) and continue sauteing them until the mushrooms are cooked and a lot of the liquid from them has cooked off--this doesn't take long.
My husband and I are of two minds on my spaghetti sauce. You see, I love mushrooms and would happily forgo meat in my sauce. He likes mushrooms okay, but not the way I do. He would much prefer I "beefed" the sauce up with, well, beef (okay, usually venison).
For hubby, 10 ounces of fresh mushrooms is more than enough for a batch of sauce. For me, 20 to 30 ounces is much better.
White mushrooms have a lighter flavor than baby bellas and when I use white mushrooms he enjoys the sauce just fine. When I use bellas, he remarks that the sauce is good, but that the mushroom flavor is too strong. To me, that's kind of like saying there's too much chocolate in the dessert, but whatever.
If you use 20 to 30 ounces of mushrooms, it's going to change the color of your sauce. You can turn your sauce brown if you use enough baby bellas.
Mushrooms really do beef up spaghetti sauce and I personally think it's a great way to stretch your meat sauce or to use in place of meat altogether.
Lentils are also good in spaghetti sauce in place of meat. Yummy!
Chalupas, Nachos, Cincos, Pericos, and Chips
Tip #1: Why triangles for our cincos or whole fried tortillas for our chalupas?
Triangles don't fit in our mouths and practically demand double-dipping (of which I am frequently guilty) and a chalupa built on an entire fried corn tortilla usually falls apart if you are trying to hold it like a slice of pizza and eat it. Disintegrates is a better way of describing what happens. Eating a chalupa with a fork is pretty much impossible unless the tortilla has been sitting on the plate long enough to get mushy. Nope, there's a better way.
For chalupas, we cut our tortillas into thirds before we fry them. This makes eating them SO much easier. Once you've done this, there's not much difference between a chalupa and a perico, really.
What's the difference between Nachos, Cincos, and Pericos? Read on. "Beans" from here on out means "refried beans."
Nachos: Fried tortilla chips with melted cheese and jalapenos (optional on these and all of the following). A cook and restaurant owner in Piedras Negras, Mexico, about an hour from here, claims he invented nachos. But the owner of Ma Crosby's in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico about 35 minutes from here, also claims to have invented them. On Ma Crosby's menu there is a story that Ma Crosby herself was already closing up shop when a group of hungry American turistas entered her establishment. With nothing available but leftover chips and the cheese in her cooler, the nacho is said to have been born.
Cincos: Fried tortilla chips with beans and melted cheese. Think triangular bean and cheese chalupas. Chalupa, by the way, means "boat." I have no idea why cincos are called cincos as they don't have five ingredients. I think a waitress at Johnny's Steak House in Acuña told me once but I can't remember what she said. I vaguely remember that it had nothing to do with "five."
Super Cincos: Fried tortilla chips with beans, melted cheese, and meat.
Pericos: Think colorful, like a tropical bird. Perico means parakeet. Depending on what restaurant you are in this might simply mean Cincos with lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. It might instead mean Cincos with guacamole. Or it could mean Cincos with guacamole, lettuce, onions, and tomatoes. But every restaurant differs on this.
Super Pericos: Same as above, with meat.
Fortunately, to clear up the confusion, a lot of restaurants are switching to calling all of the above nachos and putting them on the menu like this:
Nachos with fried beans
Nachos with fried beans and chicken
Nachos with fried beans and beef
Supreme nachos (with fried beans and guacamole)
Nachos Grande (with fried beans, your choice of beef or chicken, and guacamole)
Nachos Deluxe (with fried beans, your choice of beef or chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and guacamole)
There is no standard, unfortunately, but you get the idea.
None of the above is really Mexican food, by the way. It was all invented to please American taste buds and, in Mexico, is only on the menus of restaurants that cater to non-Mexican tourists.
But what's a tostada? Experience has taught me that tostada usually, but not always, means beans or beans and meat on a crispy round tortilla covered with shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions and topped with cheese. How's that different from a chalupa? On a chalupa, the cheese is usually melted on the beans/meat mixture before the veggies are added.