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.
When I look through some of my older cookbooks, like Gourmet Volumes 1 and 2, or Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, I often wonder if people still eat the same way. Some foods in these books just seem dated. Like aspic. Does anyone make aspic filled with fish or meats anymore? Yet, there are those recipes that remain as classics and stand the test of time. It is my belief that salmon mousse is a classic appetizer. No matter what decade or age, salmon mousse continues to appeal to our taste buds and senses. It is fresh and light tasting with an elegant creamy texture. In my experience over the past 30 or so years, it is one of those appetizers that people just adore.
This is a classic recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. By coincidence, this book was first published during a transitional time for me in my early 20’s. I just graduated from college and started living full-time in New York City. With eager and innocent expectations, I was ready to explore many frontiers and cooking was one of them. As a result, this cookbook taught me about foods from all over the world, with new and exciting bold flavors. Illustrated with fun drawings and a causal style, The Silver Palate Cookbook encouraged a relaxed and festive attitude towards cooking and entertaining. It inspired me to experiment, but most of all to cook. I felt like I graduated from an apprenticeship with the Joy of Cooking into a Master’s program with The Silver Palate.
For more fun appetizers try: Point Reyes Blue Baby Cheesecake
What I love about this salmon mousse recipe is the fresh salmon flavor. It is creamy without any heaviness, which is often the case with classic French inspired foods. You can serve this as a first course in ramekins or a stylized plating. Also, it is delicious as a spread served in a bowl, or shaped in a decorative mold. Generously spread the mousse on dark pumpernickel cocktail bread, toast, water crackers, cucumbers or endive. No matter how you serve salmon mousse, it has a sophisticated presentation and eating experience. There is no need to go crazy with decorative piping in fancy pastry. I prefer serving the mousse as an appetizer spread. People can help themselves and often keep coming back to the plate for more. Where ever the salmon mousse is set, that location becomes a gathering spot for feasting and interaction.
Salmon mousse happens to be one of my favorites appetizers. It is perfect for New Year’s Eve or any special occasion.
Happy New Year’s Everyone.
Airy Salmon Mousse
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 1/4 cup 60 ml cold water
- 1/4 cup 60 ml boiling water
- 1/2 cup 125 ml mayonnaise
- 1 TB fresh lemon juice
- 1 TB finely grated onion
- Dash of Tabasco
- 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
- 2 TB minced fresh dill
- 2 cups 500 ml / 305 g / 11 oz finely flaked poached salmon, or finely flaked canned salmon with the bones removed
- 1 cup 250 ml heavy cream
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the gelatin in cold water to soften. Add the boiling water and gently whisk until the gelatin is dissolved. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Add in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, grated onion, Tabasco, paprika, and fresh dill. Whisk into the gelatin until completely combined and smooth. Cover and cool in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. The mixture will look thicker and starting to gel.
In a medium size bowl whip the heavy cream until peaks form when you lift the beaters out of the cream. Set aside.
Fold the finely flaked salmon into the gelatin mixture.
Carefully fold in the whipped cream until evenly incorporated.
Pour the mousse into individual ramekins (if you are serving them as a first course) or a 4- 6 cup (1 L - 1.5 L) bowl or mold.
Refrigerate for a minimum of 4 hours. Serve chilled with water crackers, on toast crackers, pumpernickel cocktail bread, or sliced cucumber rounds.
© 2017 – 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
I am just going to pretend that the summer is not fading away, but is in full swing in all its glory. It is difficult to believe that September is a month away when summer squash, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, stone fruit, fresh herbs, and green beans are now ripening at a sprinters pace. This time of year is wonderful, with many sunny days and cooler nights, but I am not ready for fall to be around the corner. I want summer to last, as it is my favorite season.
Over this past month, I wanted to make zucchini fritters. This obsession came out of the blue. Maybe because I always wanted to make them, but never got around to do it. I like all kinds of fritters. They are fun tasting with less filler than cakes. Making fritters is like producing a solo play with just enough supporting acts to hold the production together. For this production zucchini is the star attraction with just the right amount of extra ingredients to keep its shape.
I never made fritters before, and wanted to make some that are different from the traditional zucchini pancakes I am familiar with. After some searching, I found a fritter recipe with a southwestern take on a Mediterranean classic, zucchini fritters with cheddar cheese and oregano by Deborah Madison. This recipe is from her latest cookbook, In My Kitchen, (Ten Speed Press 2017). She is one of my favorite cookbook authors and is a valuable resource for me. If you need a good vegetarian cookbook, anyone of her books are a great choices. I believe she helped change vegetarian cooking from its cardboard tasting roots in the 1970’s, to the lively and fresh cuisine it is today.
Her zucchini fritters are different. Besides using non traditional ingredients, she slices the zucchini into thin coins instead of grating them. They look beautiful and unmistakable for what they are. The zucchini slices are visible and overlap each other to form a cake with flecks of fresh herbs and clusters of crunchy cheese and bread crumbs mixed in.
I found it a little more challenging to shape each pancake, but it is worth the effort. Honestly, I am not sure how Deborah Madison artfully formed her fritters. She did not include instructions describing her process in the recipe. The several times I made them, I did the best I could with what I knew. If the thought of shaping these fritters intimidates you, please put the thought out of your head. This is your meal, shape your fritters anyway you want. Scooping up batter with a spoon and sliding the batter in the skillet works just as well. Yet please take Deborah Madison’s advice, do not apologize if they don’t turn out the way you want. You just made a homemade meal. No apologies are necessary. They might not look how you hoped, but they will still taste great.
More zucchini recipes: Zucchini Fritatta, Zucchini and Corn Salad with Avocado and Pistachios, Marinated Zucchini
I made some changes to her recipe. First, she uses fresh oregano and a lot of it. It was too much oregano for me, (which is hard to believe because I am always adding more fresh herbs than a recipes calls for). Also oregano can get very bitter, so it is not one of my favorites. I replaced the oregano with basil. I love basil with zucchini and it worked with the cheddar. Feel free to experiment with other herbs you like, and if you love oregano, go for it.
Other variations included corn meal and corn flour independently, instead of bread crumbs. I love zucchini and corn together and experimented with corn meal to see how it would taste and work. The corn meal is grittier and does not absorb the liquid as well as bread crumbs and corn flour do. In the photograph above showing zucchini arranged on a slotted spatula, the batter was too thin. To absorb the extra juices, adding more cornmeal would give the batter more heft. Keep experimenting and see how you like it. Each option provided has its merits and I liked the taste of all of them. The breadcrumbs and corn meal had similar textures, and the corn flour made the fritter more pancake like.
Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways
- Follow the recipe for Zucchini fritters made with basil, cheddar and breadcrumbs.
- Substitute the bread crumbs with the same amount of corn meal or corn flour. (gluten-free option)
- Make the recipe but substitute the cheddar cheese with Comté or Emmenthal (Swiss), or Gruyère Cheese. Use bread crumbs with this cheese substitution.
- Make a traditional zucchini fritter and substitute the basil with dill, and the cheddar with feta cheese. Add some lemon zest as well.
With all these different variations, you can make zucchini fritters for days and use up your abundant supply of zucchini before the summer is over.
Serve the cheddar basil zucchini fritter as a vegetable side dish, or an appetizer with tomatillo salsa and yogurt. They are also delicious paired with a sauce of parsley and capers.
Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways
- 1 TB olive oil
- 1 lb zucchini
- 1 large shallot thinly sliced
- Kosher Salt
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1/2 - 1 cup bread crumbs or corn meal, or corn flour
- 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/3 cup chopped basil
- 3 TB chopped parsley
- 1 -2 TB olive oil for cooking
Prepare the Zucchini.
Evenly and thinly slice the zucchini into coins. If you have a mandoline this will make your job quite easy. No more than a quarter inch. Heat up 1 TB of olive oil in a large 10 or 12-inch skillet. Add the zucchini coins and sliced shallots and a small pinch of Kosher salt to the skillet, then stir to get an even coat of olive oil over the vegetables. Cook the zucchini over medium heat and occasionally stir them in the skillet until the slices are tender, but still have some firmness in them, and starting to look dry. (No liquid in the pan). This could take around 15 minutes depending on how thick your zucchini slices are and how hot your pan is. When done, turn off the heat.
While the zucchini is cooking, chop the herbs and get the batter ready.
Mix the eggs and 1/2 cup bread crumbs (or corn meal if using) until well combined. Add the grated cheese and chopped herbs to the egg mixture and mix. Add the cooked zucchini to the batter and gently stir to combine without breaking up the zucchini slices. Add more bread crumbs or cornmeal if the batter is too wet.
Make the Fritters
Heat 1 TB olive oil in a large skillet
Preheat oven to 200°F and place a baking sheet or oven proof plate in the oven.
Test to see if the skillet is hot enough by adding a teaspoonful of the batter to the pan. If the batter immediately sizzles, then the pan is ready. Finish cooking your sample then taste for seasoning. Correct with salt if needed.
Shape and slide one fritter at a time into the skillet. I like the fritters to look somewhat flat with the zucchini slices spread out and overlapping each other. Not mushed up. I scooped up the zucchini batter with a slotted spatula or spoon, then spread out the zucchini slices to make an even pancake. Once formed, slide your arranged fritter into the skillet. I used a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to encourage the fritter to slide off the spatula into the skillet in one piece. For each batch, 3 fritters fit comfortably into a 10-inch skillet. Patiently cook the zucchini fritters on one side for a couple of minutes, until it starts to get golden on the bottom. You want to handle them as little as possible, so flip them one time during the cooking process. With a thin flexible spatula, like a fish spatula, turn the fritter over and cook for a couple of minutes more. Move the finished zucchini fritters to the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all the batter is used.
Serve immediately as an appetizer or side dish with tomatilla salsa and yogurt or creme fraiche. Or, serve with parsley caper sauce.
I have made these fritters with bread crumbs, as the original recipe indicates, and also with corn meal and corn flour. The corn meal does not absorb the juices as well as the bread crumbs, but do add a nice texture and subtle flavor. You can add more of the filler if there is extra liquid in the bowl, or just let the juices drain out the bottom of the slotted spatula before you add the fritter to the skillet.
Any of the three options work well. The corn flour will make the fritter more pancake like.
© 2017 – 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.