Who doesn’t love nachos? All that melty cheese, warm beans, salsa, avocado, and crispy chips just taste so good together. Unfortunately, when I order nachos in a restaurant the chips are soggy with rubbery cheese, and half the chips are naked. What is the point of getting nachos when most of the food on the plate are plain chips? It is like ordering a cheese burger and getting one partially covered with cold cheese.
There is an easy solution. When I make nachos, I spread the chips in an even layer on a rimmed sheet pan, then cover each chip with bean spread (or refried beans), avocado, pickled jalapeño, and grated cheese. Once assembled, they bake in the oven until the cheese thoroughly melts. Why bother with this nacho assembly? Because it is just not a pretty sight, watching your family and friends wrestle and compete over the nachos covered in all that Tex-Mex goodness. With this process, no one gets stuck eating naked chips when they wanted the works.
There are several ways you can put these nachos together. One, buy the chips, bean dip or refried beans, and salsa already made, along with a couple of blocks of cheese and a ripe avocado. The only thing left to do is assemble and bake the nachos. Second, you can use a combo of homemade and store-bought items to make these nachos. The third option is, you can go all out and make everything from scratch.
My version is the second option. I made chips from store-bought tortillas and made the salsa verde. Everything else I bought. If you make everything from scratch, your nachos will have more nuance in flavor, especially the beans. However, these days it is easy to source good quality store-bought salsas, beans and chips. Why not take advantage of your resources? Whichever method you choose, buy the best quality ingredients you can afford.
Suggestions for making Nachos:
For my recipe testing, I discovered getting tortilla chips with a deep corn flavor depends on the tortillas you use. If possible, buy freshly made tortillas from a market or restaurant, and make the chips at home. Or, buy chips from a Mexican restaurant. Both options produce the best tasting chips. Nachos require thick chips that won’t break easily and not too salty. Thicker chips hold up better. If you don’t have a Mexican market or restaurant in your area the store brand I had success with is, Simply Organic Yellow Corn Chips by Tostitos. However, the other corn chips by Tostitos are too thin.
Making your own chips requires some cooking skill, special equipment and deep-frying in 375° F (190°C) oil. You need an instant read thermometer, a 10-inch (25 cm)cast iron skillet, or Dutch Oven, or wok, and a spider strainer. If you do not have all the equipment, please don’t make the chips. Deep frying is tricky business and buying chips a lot safer.
I also provided a recipe for a raw salsa verde made with tomatillos, serrano chilies, onion, garlic and cilantro. The recipe is from Tacos by Alex Stupak, but my method is different. (You can read my cookbook review on Tacos, here.) Instead of using a mortar and pestle, I made the salsa with an immersion blender. It was a breeze and finished in fifteen minutes. Sometimes, tomatillos are hard to find. I found tomatillos at my local Asian vegetable market, but I also saw them at Whole Foods. If you can’t find them substitute with your favorite store-bought salsa verde or red salsa.
Traditionally, nachos are made with refried beans. I used a black bean dip instead. Feel free to use what you like. The beans should be thick and somewhat smooth, so it stays put on each chip. The store brand I used was Newman’s Own Black Bean and Corn Salsa. It was a little too thin, but it still worked. Look for a black bean spread or dip. If you prefer using refried beans, just remember refried beans are made with lard, so if you are serving vegetarians or vegans, find or make a vegetarian one. Here are links for home-made refried beans, and vegan refried beans from Serious Eats.
Helpful Tips Serving Nachos:
- Serve nachos immediately. If you are entertaining, have all your ingredients made and prepared. After all your guests arrive and settled down, assemble the nachos then bake in the oven. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and 4 minutes to bake. Serve right away. This isn’t an appetizer which is placed on an hors d’oeuvres table and forgotten about.
- Pass these appetizers around, or place in the center of a coffee table where everyone is sitting. Nachos are best eaten immediately. The longer they sit the soggier they become.
- Make sure you grab a couple of nachos for yourself before they disappear. Maybe this is because I am more familiar with the eating habits of teenage boys, college co-eds, and athletes, but appetizers like nachos quickly disappear.
- For a small cocktail party make one tray at a time. If you want more for later, make another tray just before you want to serve them. My sheet pan fit 24 chips.
- Don’t forget the pickled jalapeño . A slice of pickled jalapeño on each nacho makes all the difference between good nachos and great nachos. They add some heat, and the acid brightens all the other ingredients.
- 3 cups (675 ml) canola or vegetable oil
- 6 fresh corn tortillas or thick cut, restaurant style store- bought tortilla chips
- Kosher salt
- 4 oz (125 g) cheddar cheese
- 4 oz (125 g) pepper jack cheese
- 24 tortilla chips homemade or store bought
- 16 oz 453 g jar bean dip or refried beans
- 1-2 ripe avocados
- 24 - 48 slices of pickled jalapeno peppers
- Creme fraiche plus some milk for thinning
- Salsa verde
Salsa Verde (or store-bought salsa verde)
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3-4 tomatillos about 5 oz (150 g)
- 2 serrano chilies
- ½ white onion minced
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 handful of cilantro minced
In a cast iron skillet, Dutch Oven, or wok, add the oil and heat until the oil temperature reaches 375°F (190°C). Stack the tortilla chips and cut them into quarters. When the oil is hot, add a few chips to the oil and cook until starting to brown, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the chips over to the other side and finish cooking. Use a mesh spoon, or spider and remove the chips from the oil and place on paper towels to dry. Sprinkle a small pinch of Kosher salt over the chips while they are warm. Continue until all chips are fried.
Pre heat the oven to 425°F ( 218°C) with the rack in the middle position. Line a large rimmed sheet pan (18" x 13" / 46 cm x 33 cm) with aluminum foil. Set aside.
Prepare your garnishes of creme fraiche and salsa verde
Add the creme fraiche, or sour cream, to a small bowl and add the milk a tablespoon at a time and stir. Continue to add just enough milk so the creme fraiche will easily drizzle over the nachos. You do not want it too diluted, but the creme fraiche drizzles easier when it is slightly thinned out. Cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready.
If you are making the tomatillo salsa do so now before you bake the nachos. See recipe below.
Grate the cheeses using the large holes of a box grater, or food processor. Place the grated cheese in a medium size mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
Arrange the tortilla chips in a single layer on a sheet pan.
Spoon a tablespoon of bean dip over the center of each chip, spread it out into an even layer.
Slice an avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Thinly slice each avocado half lengthwise and scoop out the slices with a spoon. Arrange one slice of avocado over each chip covered with the beans. Depending on the size of your avocado, you might need to cut each slice in half to fit on the chips. I was able to get enough slices from one avocado.
Place one slice of pickled jalapeno on each chip, then cover them with grated cheese .
Place the sheet pan with the chips in the oven and bake until all the cheese has fully melted, about 4 minutes.
Immediately place the nachos on a serving platter and serve with the creme fraiche and salsa verde. You can drizzle the salsa verde and creme fraiche over the nachos and sprinkle with some chopped cilantro, or you can serve the creme fraiche and salsa verde on the side.
Peel and mince the garlic. Sprinkle the garlic with the salt and use the side of your chef's knife to make a pulp with the garlic. Move the knife back and forth pressing the side of the blade on the garlic and salt until the garlic turns into a smooth pulpy consistency. Add the garlic pulp to the bowl of a food processor, blender, or immersion blender.
Husk, wash and dice the tomatillos. Place the tomatillos in the bowl with the garlic.
Add the minced onion.
Cut the Serrano peppers in half lengthwise and cut off the stem. If you want a milder salsa, remove the seeds and the white pith. They contain most of the heat, especially the pith. Mince the serrano chilies and add them to the bowl with the tomatillos. Add the honey and process all the ingredients until you get a smooth salsa, or to your desired consistency. Stir in the minced cilantro and pour the salsa into a small serving bowl.
Serve immediately or cover with a tight fitting lid or plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Homemade salsa is best used the same day it is made. If several hours pass before serving, hold off from adding the cilantro until just before serving.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Each year as my garden matures, the herb garden expands as well. Slowly, the herb bed has inched deeper into the precious sunny real-estate and has started replacing my lawn. I add one or two more herb plants a year and build my dream herb garden. One herb plant that is thriving is my chive plant. Fortunately, it is not growing out of control, but remains nicely contained in a tall spiky mound.
The plant grows without a lot of disturbance because I rarely use fresh chives in my cooking. However, it needed a thinning and removal of all the spent flowers before they spread their seeds. Afterwards, I was left with a large bundle of chives and a new challenge, how to use up all the chives before they go bad. This is the type of challenge I enjoy, and inspires me to look for new ideas.
I wanted to make something different, yet easily prepared and quick to finish. What I dreamed of was a recipe from Season 3 of The Great British Baking Show, Ian’s quick bread with wild garlic. While watching the episode, the smell of the wild garlic and bread traveled across the ocean and through my television, and I have craved it ever since. Unfortunately, I could not find his recipe. Rather, I came upon a recipe, which although is not British in nature, has that oniony-bready fix I was looking for.
This recipe is a savory bread with chives and cheddar cheese by Dorie Greenspan on the website, Serious Eats. It was exactly what I was craving, a savory quick bread to unload my bundle of chives, and give me some immediate satisfaction. I slightly adapted her recipe, and used Gruyère cheese, chives, garlic chives, lemon thyme and nixed the walnuts.
Dorie explains in her recipe; the French refer to just about everything made in a pan as a cake. A loaf such as this, is called, “cake salé” (meaning, salty or savory cake). This is a very light and cake-like bread that is perfect as a snack or appetizer paired with wine, beer or any cocktail. Like cake, it is light and airy in texture, but it is rich in flavor from the cheese and herbs. I also enjoyed this herb bread for lunch as avocado toast with lemon thyme and a drizzle of olive oil.
As Dorie recommends, this is a bread recipe to play around with. Use the dough as your foundation and switch up the cheese and herbs as you wish. A traditional cake salé recipe from France uses Emmentaller, Gruyère, or a mixture with Parmesan. She made her recipe with cheddar cheese and chives for a local US inspired loaf. She also recommends other add-in substitutes like nuts, diced ham, olives, pesto and cooked vegetables.
More appetizer ideas:
Making this cheese and chive herb bread is an amazing sensory treat. Every time I snipped, spread and stirred the chives, their scent came forward like an herbal wave engulfing the dough. Once in the oven, the smell of the baking herb bread filled my house with comforting aromas of melting cheese, bright onions and baking bread.
I love it when I discover something new and it turns out to be a smash hit. This recipe is so easy, I am sure to make it several times and continue to personalize it. I know something is delicious when every 5 minutes my husband and son kept repeating, “Oh, this is soo good. This is really good”. This is no exaggeration. It was all I could do to keep them from eating the whole loaf.
Cheesy Herb Bread
- 1 3/4 cup 268 g All-purpose flour
- 1 TB Baking powder
- 1/2 to 1 tsp Kosher salt amount of salt depends on the cheese and other add ins
- 1/4 tsp fresh ground white pepper
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1/3 cup 75 ml whole milk, room temperature
- 1/3 cup 75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- 3 oz 75 g coarsely grated cheese like Gruyere or cheddar
- 2 oz 50 g diced cheese like Gruyere or cheddar
- 1/2 cup 125 ml minced chives or other herbs
- 1 - 2 TB chopped lemon thyme
Set the oven rack to the middle position and pre-heat the oven to 375˚F / 190˚C / Gas Mark 5, and generously butter a loaf pan.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper until evenly combined.
In a medium mixing bowl add the eggs, then whisk until well combined and somewhat frothy. Add the milk and olive oil and whisk together.
Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon. Mix until everything is just combined. You do not want to over work the dough and there is no need for the dough to be thoroughly mixed together. Stir until everything is just mixed, it won't be smooth.
Stir in all the cheese, herbs and any other add ins you have, like chopped walnuts. The dough is thick, but carefully work in the cheese and herbs until evenly distributed. Don't overwork the dough.
Scrape into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes. The bread is done when it has a golden brown crust, and a cake tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge of your pan and remove the bread from the pan. Cool the loaf on the rack until it is at room temperature.
Best eaten the day it is made, but it will keep for a day, wrapped in plastic wrap and stored on the counter.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Why make ricotta cheese and add one more thing to do in your busy day? Is it really necessary to make ricotta cheese if I am already making a lasagna that takes too long? The answer is an unflappable yes because the taste is 100 times better than store-bought. Ricotta cheese bought in grocery stores tastes gummy, gritty, and filled with additives to prevent the whey and curds from separating. Ricotta should have a pure milk flavor, not a chemical flavor.
Another good reason to make homemade ricotta is a small gesture, but a good one. Sourcing milk from small farms will reduce your carbon footprint. Additionally, milk from cows that are allowed to graze, eat a natural diet of grass, and produce hormone and antibiotic free milk, tastes better and is better for our health. Further, clean farming practices and less plastic containers in the world will ultimately make it a healthier and cleaner place.
I wanted to share this recipe because it is so simple and quick. If you are at all skeptical about starting another project, I believe this is a great way to ease into making ricotta cheese. The recipe makes a small batch, enough to use in pancakes, or to make one of my favorite appetizers, ricotta with lemon zest, mint and honey spread on toasted bread.
This recipe is from the cookbook, Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Additionally, Kenji is the founder of the website, Serious Eats, which I reference a lot. He is all about the science of cooking and puts recipes through rigorous testing to come up with the best practice to produce the tastiest results. This recipe will produce about 1 cup of fresh ricotta and could take 5-15 minutes from start to finish. Another easy bonus is, it is prepared in the microwave.
However, the recipe is not without its challenges. When I first made it, the bowl I used barely fit inside my microwave. I believe the lack of space around the bowl made an unevenness in the way the milk heated up. The temperature of the milk between the top and bottom of the bowl differed by 10 – 15 degrees. This resulted in producing less ricotta from the quart of milk than the recipe indicated. The next time I made the recipe in the microwave, I used a Pyrex mixing bowl and had better results.
Keys to Success making Ricotta
You will need an instant read thermometer. Getting the milk to 165F is crucial to making ricotta. It’s important to make sure that the milk doesn’t get too hot and start to boil.
Do not use ultra pasteurized milk. The milk carton label must inform the consumer of the type of pasteurization process. All organic milk sold in the grocery store is ultra pasteurized. This is done to make sure the milk has a longer shelf life. Ultra pasteurized milk will not turn into ricotta cheese since the good bacteria needed to help create the curds is non-existent.
Distilled vinegar produces the cleanest taste. Lemon juice will give the ricotta a distinct lemon flavor. Regardless of which acid you use, the flavors in warm and freshly made ricotta were more pronounced. The flavors mellowed after sitting in the refrigerator overnight. The ricotta became drier overnight as well.
A microwave safe bowl with a wider mouth had better results than an 2 quart liquid measuring cup. Additionally, remember that this won’t work exactly the same across all microwaves.
What to make with fresh Ricotta?
Mix one cup of ricotta cheese with zest of one lemon and 1-2 tablespoons of minced fresh mint. Spread the cheese on toasted baguette and drizzle with honey. It is a creamy, bright and slightly sweet appetizer plus it is easy to prepare.
Creamy Homemade Ricotta Cheese
- 4 cups/ 1 liter whole milk not ultra-pasteurized
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- ¼ cup distilled vinegar or fresh squeezed lemon juice about 2 lemons
Line a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheesecloth and place the strainer over a large and deep bowl. Set aside.
Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl. Gently stir. Use a bowl with a 2-quarts capacity. Place the bowl in the microwave and turn on high for 4-5 minutes.
Check the temperature of the milk, if it is not 165˚F / 74˚C, continue to microwave checking every minute or 30 seconds until the milk reaches 165˚F / 74˚C. You will see the milk curdle and the liquid (whey) become clearer and separate from the curds. If the liquid is milky and without a clear separation between the whey and the curds, the ricotta is not finished. There is a 165˚F/ 74˚C to 180˚F / 82˚C temperature window to work in.
Once the milk/ricotta cheese reached the desired temperature, take the bowl out of the microwave and lightly stir for a few seconds.
Use a spider or slotted spoon to scoop out the curds into a cheese cloth lined strainer. Scoop out as much of the curds as possible, then gently pour the remaining liquid into the strainer. Drain the ricotta to your desired texture. 5 minutes will have the creamiest and moist texture. 15-20 minutes will produce a texture that is spreadable and slightly moist. 2 hours or refrigerated overnight, will produce dry and crumbly curds.
This recipe can be made on the stove top in a large saucepan. Add all the ingredients into a medium saucepan with the heat set at medium to medium-low. Stir the milk constantly and gradually heat the milk to 165F / 74C. Continue as directed to drain the whey.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.