CINCO DE MAYO !! Classic Nachos

You guys.  It’s nachos.

NACHOS!

I don’t know how or when nachos became my most favorite food on the planet, but seriously, to me, there is nothing better in this world than a fat messy plate of nachos.  With or without meat, with or without beans, I could really care less.  There aren’t many nachos out there I don’t like.

Search #connoisseurofnachos on Instagram, it’s my very own hashtag for all the insane nachos I make and eat.

The recipe I’m about to share with you is one I have been perfecting for like, over 10 years.  Sheesh.  Does that date me?  I hope not.  And to be honest, this is one of those continually evolving dishes.  However I make nachos tends to reflect what I’m groovin’ on at that time.

This here plate of beauty in particular was crafted with a chipotle cheese sauce because is there anything more delicious in this world than chipotle anything?  The answer is no, there is not.

Chipotle Cheese Sauce

It was the first time I tried adding chipotle to this cheese sauce and it knocked my socks off.  I made these for myself for my birthday lunch.  I ate the whole plate (shutup) by myself (I know, I know) while sitting on my couch watching a really old move.  Shutup, it was my birthday, I can do whatever I want on my birthday.

It was amazing.

I would contend that no Cinco de Mayo party is complete without a plate of nachos.  Just sayin’.  I might even make nachos for dinner that night just cuz I can.

Cuz nachos are the greatest thing ever.

Classic Nachos
Serves: 1-4

Ingredients
Ground Beef Layer
1 lb ground beef
3/4 – 1 cup your favorite salsa
Chili powder (or chipotle chili powder) and cumin, to taste
Handful of frozen corn
Tabasco, or Chipotle Tabasco, to taste

Cheese Sauce
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cup milk, warmed for 2 minutes in the microwave
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1-2 tablespoons Tabasco, or Chipotle Tabasco, or to taste

Etc
Pico de gallo
Diced tomatoes
Pickled jalapeno peppers
Scallions
Minced cilantro
Sour cream
Tortilla chips

Directions
Prepare ground beef: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Brown your ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking into crumbles as it cooks. Drain well in a colander. Rinse the excess fat out of the skillet and return to the stovetop. Return the beef to the pan over medium heat, and add the salsa, chili powder, and cumin. Stir well to combine. Taste if desired to see if you need more seasonings. Add the corn and stir to combine. Add Tabasco to taste. Turn heat to low and stir periodically so the corn thaws.

Prepare cheese sauce: Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk quickly to combine. Whisk in the warmed milk, whisking constantly until it thickens. Once it thickens, lower the heat to low. Season with salt and pepper as desired. Add shredded cheese and whisk gently until completely melted. Taste, and if it’s too bland (it will be), add Tabasco sauce until there’s some heat. Leave on low, and whisk periodically to keep it combined.

Prepare nachos: THIS IS MY FAVORITE PART. Pour a layer of tortilla chips onto a large, oven-safe platter. Place in the oven for about 5 minutes to warm. Remove the platter from the oven, and ladle on some of the cheese sauce. Then, scoop some of the ground beef mixture all over the chips. Ladle on some more cheese sauce if desired. Then top with all your favorite toppings – pico de gallo, diced tomatoes, pickled jalapenos, scallions, cilantro, and/or sour cream. THEN YOU MUST GO FORTH AND ENJOY.

CINCO DE MAYO !! Pico de Gallo

Pico de gallo is like… the perfect condiment for Mexican food.

I use it on almost everything I make that’s Mexican.  Tacos, taco salads, nachos, quesadillas, even as a dip on its own.  Obviously you want to make sure you have the freshest, ripest ingredients as this is a raw dish with simple flavors.

Two things I find to be essential for good pico are cilantro and lime juice.  I know a lot of people hate cilantro, but I love the stuff and can’t get enough of it.  If your tastebuds don’t agree with me though, feel free to omit both – you will still get plenty of flavor from the ripe tomatoes and the tangy onion and the spicy pepper.

I really don’t have much else to say about pico except – stay tuned, as this is really only the beginning of my Cinco de Mayo series and I promise you will have uses for it as May 5th draws near!

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients
4 ripe tomatoes on the vine, or 5 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 white onion, diced fine
1 medium serrano pepper, or 1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced fine
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of cilantro, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and stir to combine. Eyeball it – don’t add all the onion if you’re not an onion fan and it looks like too much. Same with the pepper!

** NOTE ** Please use caution when dicing serrano or jalapeno peppers. If you touch the pepper with your bare fingers, keep your hands away from your face! Clean hands thoroughly when finished dicing. Or use rubber gloves.

CINCO DE MAYO !! Fajita Chicken

YOU GUYS!  It’s almost Cinco de Mayo!

What, am I too early?

Cinco de Mayo might be one of my most favorite food holidays.  To me, there is absolutely nothing better than a whole holiday dedicated to food that you can cover in cheese and sour cream.

Here is a great recipe I’ve adapted for chicken.  It’s originally Tyler Florence’s recipe for steak fajitas.  I found this recipe when I was following Paleo pretty closely, and I used it as a marinade for chicken that I sliced up and put on top of some sauteed peppers and onions.  Eating “fajitas” without tortillas, cheese, and sour cream really wasn’t that bad – because this marinade is so delicious.

Now that I’m not so Paleo, I can guarantee you that this chicken is also delicious with tortillas, cheese, and sour cream.  🙂

This marinade would also work great for chicken that you plan to use in enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos – whatever you want!

Fajita Chicken
Adapted from Tyler Florence’s recipe for Ultimate Fajitas

Ingredients
1 large orange, juiced
2 limes, juiced
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves
3 chipotle chilies in adobo sauce
1 handful cilantro
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 lb chicken breasts (or steak)

Directions
1. Combine all ingredients except chicken in a blender and blend until smooth. Make sure there are no chunks!

2. Pour marinade into a Ziploc bag and add chicken. Marinate for 30 minutes up to 2 hours. Grill chicken until desired doneness (internal temperature should reach 165 degrees F).

3. Slice and serve as fajitas, or filling for tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, nachos, whatever your heart desires.

Cinnamon Chip Banana Bread

Have you guys ever had cinnamon chips?

They are pretty amazing.  Every Christmas I make oatmeal cinnamon chip cookies and they are so delicious.  They’re my favorite cookie.  But I always buy too many bags of cinnamon chips.  I’m overly ambitious at Christmas-cookie-baking time.  At first I’m always like I AM NOT MAKING ALL THOSE DAMN COOKIES AGAIN THIS YEAR and them I’m like WELL MAYBE I’LL JUST MAKE ONE BATCH OF EACH COOKIE and then I’m like OKAY OKAY OKAY I’LL MAKE TWO BATCHES OF THE DROP COOKIES AND ONE BATCH OF EVERYTHING ELSE and then when it’s all over I’m always like MY NECK HURTS MY SHOULDER HURTS I AM NOT DOING THIS SHIT AGAIN NEXT YEAR.

And then I do it again next year.  Without fail.

But no matter what I always make two batches of oatmeal cinnamon chip cookies, but I buy extra cinnamon chips because again, overly ambitiousness.

So earlier this year I was wondering wtf I’m supposed to do with all these leftover cinnamon chips.  I thought they might be good in pancakes or waffles – and I have yet to try that.  In fact, hm, now that I’m typing this, banana pancakes with cinnamon chips… hmmmm…

Anyway.  I had this genius idea to put them in my banana bread and ahhhhhhhhh it was so yummy.  And so unto us, cinnamon chip banana bread was born.

I love banana bread sliced hot straight from the oven, slathered in butter.

Not quite like this.  Here I was being modest with the butter.  You know, for picture-taking purposes.  Besides.  It’s nobody’s business how much butter I eat.

So anyway.  If you’re looking for something to do with leftover cinnamon chips, or a new way to spice up your banana bread, give this a try.  What else do you use cinnamon chips for?  Cuz like I still have a bag left…

Cinnamon Chip Banana Bread

Ingredients
3 large, very ripe bananas, smashed with a fork
1/3 cup melted butter, cooled
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten,
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup cinnamon chips

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray so that the bread doesn’t stick.

2. In a large bowl, combine smashed bananas, butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla, and stir well. In another bowl, pour in the flour, baking soda, and salt. Use a whisk to stir the dry ingredients together to combine well and break up large lumps of flour. Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and fold together with a spatula gently, about 3-4 folds. Pour in cinnamon chips (yes, even though it’s not completely mixed and combined). Fold another 3-4 times. Don’t overmix, but try not to leave any large lumps of flour.

3. Pour into prepared baking pan. Bake for 50-60 minutes. Check it around 50 minutes to see if it’s done. Nobody likes burnt banana bread. 🙂

Roast Beef & Black Gravy

As I grumbled yesterday, it’s still pretty cold here in Philly.

I have been dying to fire up our grill and cook out every night but winter is just holding on by the skin of its teeth.

I don’t typically want to eat meals like this in warmer weather because I think it’s just in my nature to eat lighter, grilled foods in the spring and summer.  But when it’s chilly like it has been, I find myself craving a warm cozy meal like this.

(Please excuse the picture!  Another victim to failing light.  I posted another picture below, an older one from when I wrote my cookbook.  I’m not sure if it’s better or not.)

This meal is one of those meals that really scents up your house.  It’s a smell I grew up with.  One of my mom’s “famous” dishes is roast beef, mashed potatoes, and “bwack gwavy” (black gravy).  She usually made it on Sunday nights when we were all home for dinner.  It’s one of those scents that you carry with you from childhood to adulthood — whenever I smell it cooking, no matter how old I was or am, my stomach growls, my mouth waters, and I start wondering how long it is till dinner is ready.  It’s usually requested for my birthday dinner and sometimes my sister’s birthday dinner.  And though it’s a simple recipe, it took me a while to master it the way my mom has.  If you watch my mom make it, it’s effortless: she doesn’t measure anything, she just knows.  And to be honest, I’m still trying to master mashed potatoes.  I am very hit or miss with them.  So most of the time I just say screw it and make smashed potatoes.  I have never once made potatoes as silky smooth as my mom has.  But I will keep on trying.

So I’m figuring you know what roast beef and mashed potatoes are, but you may be wondering what “bwack gwavy” is.  I’m not quite sure where this recipe came from; it might be my mom’s original.  I just know she always makes it with this meal, and it’s the only time she makes it.  And yes, we usually pronounce it like that because that’s how my baby sister would say it when we were kids.  It just stuck.  Personally, I drench my roast beef and potatoes in bearnaise sauce, so I have never had a taste for “bwack gwavy”, but my husband loves it.  In fact, he mastered the gravy recipe and now I just let him make it when we are having this for dinner.

Roast Beef and Black Gravy

Next time you feel like warming up your house on a chilly day with your oven and some mouth-watering smells, consider this family dinner recipe.

Roast Beef and Black Gravy

Ingredients
For the roast:
1 eye round roast
1 packet dry onion soup mix
Water
Salt & pepper

For the gravy:
Drippings and onion soup mix from the roasting pan
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup warm water
2 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet
Salt & pepper

Directions
1. Roast your beef: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Season beef roast on all sides liberally with salt and pepper. Prepare a roasting pan by pouring the packet of onion soup mix into the bottom, and covering with water. Stir if necessary. Set the roast on a roasting rack above the water & soup mix. Roast at 350 for about an hour or an hour and a half, until desired doneness. Medium should ready about 145 degrees and medium-well should read about 155 degrees on a meat thermometer. Remove the roast to a cutting board and cover with foil until ready to serve.

2. Make the black gravy: Pour pan drippings and leftover soup mix from bottom of roasting pan into a saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/4 cup warm water until dissolved. Pour into the saucepan. Whisk the gravy to combine with the cornstarch mixture until it thickens, over medium-high heat. Whisk in 2 tablespoons Kitchen Bouquet and continue to whisk and simmer until desired doneness. Season as desired with salt and pepper. Serve over roast beef, and any starch of your choosing, like mashed potatoes.

Fresh Juice

WHO IS READY FOR SPRING?

I know I am.  This is like the winter that is never going to end.  I’m currently sitting on my couch covered in a heavy chenille blanket, with a heating pad wedged between my upper back and the back of the couch, freezing.

I am so ready for spring.

Old Man Winter needs to know when his time is up and give up and move on.

A couple years ago, my mom got me a juicer for my birthday.  I had all these grand ideas about juicing green things and drinking them so I wouldn’t have to eat them.

It really only took one sip of one green juice to ensure that I wouldn’t make that mistake ever again.

(It might not help that I juiced broccoli, celery, spinach, and a green apple, thinking Hey those are all green things I like well enough, they should taste good all juiced together right?!  WRONG.)

At least I can say I tried though.

So I turned my attention to juicing fruit because what tastes better than fresh fruit juice?

I had recently tried a fresh orange, carrot, and pineapple juice from a juice bar downtown and it was so good.  I hate carrots, but I actually loved the flavor of the juiced carrot with the orange and pineapple.  It kept it from being overly sweet.  So I tried my hand at that and it turned out so well that I kept going with all kinds of combinations.

And since I had a kiddo that absolutely loved helping with the juicer, she also loved the end result.  And that got me to thinking about all the other things I could make with fresh juice.

Like popsicles.

Popsicles

And ice cubes.

Ice cubes

And the awesomest thing is that you’re making the juice yourself, so you know what’s in it (and what’s not!!).  My daughter loves homemade popsicles and I love that it’s healthier for her than most of the things I can buy in a grocery store.

And think about all the fun things you could do with ice cubes.  Make strawberry juice, freeze into ice cubes, and drop into glasses of lemonade.  Make lemon juice, freeze into ice cubes, and drop into glasses of iced tea.  Make cherry juice, freeze into ice cubes, and drop into glasses of Coke.  Orange juice ice cubes into glasses of sangria.  Any flavor ice cube into a glass of Sprite or water!  The possibilities are endless.  Let your imagination run wild!

Fresh Juice

Ingredients
Orange-Carrot-Pineapple Juice:
2 oranges, peeled
3 large carrots, peeled
1 cup diced pinapple

Orange-Pineapple-Strawberry Juice
2 oranges, peeled
1 cup diced pineapple
1 cup strawberries, hulled

Directions
This is easy: Put all your ingredients into the juicer and let it do its thing.

Then: Do what you want with the juice! Drink fresh, turn into popsicles, turn into ice cubes, use it as a base for mixed drinks… Have fun!

Creamy Roasted Garlic Tortellini

Creamy.  Roasted garlic.  Tortellini.

Hands-down, without a doubt, my most favoritest pasta dish of all time.

I know I know, it doesn’t look like a whole lot in the picture.  But I can assure you that this pasta dish is so flavorful and so filling and so creamy and so slutty.

Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaany years ago, when Aaron and I were living in Spokane, I found this recipe on the internet.  I have no idea whose original recipe it is anymore – I will say right now THIS IS NOT MY RECIPE – I have not modified it in any way from its original form – but I have no idea whose it is so I give credit to whoever that person is and stuff.  Anyway.  The first time I made it was on Halloween night, and the smell of roasted garlic filled my apartment, and every time we opened our door, someone commented on how delicious something smelled.

This was back when I was learning how to cook and I was so impressed with it when I put it on the table.  It was so deliciously tasty.  So slutty.

Aaron is not a huge fan of heavy pasta dishes like I am.  This quickly became my go-to meal for when he was out of town and I had to eat alone.

I may or may not be able to eat an entire pot of it by myself.  Shhh.  Don’t tell anyone.

Creamy Roasted Garlic Tortellini
Serves 1-4 🙂

Ingredients
2 heads garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
12oz package frozen cheese tortellini
2 tablespoons butter
Salt, pepper, and minced fresh parsley to taste

Directions
1. Roast your garlic: Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Slice each head of garlic in half lengthwise. Place each half onto a large sheet of aluminum foil, cut side up. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Fold the sheet of aluminum foil up to make a packet; seal the seams well so the oil does not leak out. Place in a baking dish and roast for 45 minutes in the oven. When done, remove from the oven and cut the aluminum foil to vent some of the heat out.

2. Prepare the sauce: Pop the roasted garlic cloves out of their skins with a knife, and into a blender jar. Get every clove of garlic you can get. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the blender jar and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Whirl until the garlic is mostly pulverized. Add the rest of the heavy cream, sour cream, Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper. Whirl to combine. Sauce may be thick at this point. Set aside.

3. Cook the tortellini and sauce it up: Cook tortellini according to package directions and drain. Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add cooked tortellini and toss to coat with the butter. Pour in the sauce and stir together to combine. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add extra Parmesan if desired, or if the sauce appears too thin for your taste. Stir in minced parsley if desired just before serving.