Saturday, March 21, 2009

This is Nacho Brother's Fast Food...

True Confession #1: Sometimes, I NEED nachos.

True Confession #2: Sometimes, I NEED nachos and go through the drive-thru to get them.

Okay, I feel better now. Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.

Yes, I sometimes succumb to my addiction of drive-thru loaded nachos. Why? Nacho cheese sauce.

I know that "processed" and "prefabricated" nacho cheese sauce doesn't usually--okay, almost NEVER--contain "real food." Not even dairy. But it's convenient and has a good "mouth feel." Plus all of those chemicals taste so good.

FIRST PROBLEM: Where can I find a homemade nacho cheese sauce that delivers?

Enter Drew Kime. He teaches you how to cook like your grandmother did--well, like one of my grandmothers did. Among other FABULOUS recipes, he has a great one for nacho cheese sauce.

NEXT PROBLEM: I want to make loaded nachos. I NEED pico de gallo. And guacamole. Where can I find good recipes?

Enter Ree Drummond, AKA Pioneer Woman. She has Tex-Mex and ranch food down to a science--well, as much as a non-science person can. Still, you should check her website out. In fact, if you look at the right column of my blog, you'll see a list of blogs that inspire me, with Ree and Drew on that list. Chances are, Ree and Drew both have new recipes to try this weekend--worth a look.

So, make Ree's pico and guacamole, get the ingredients ready for Drew's nacho cheese sauce, and have the tortilla chips on that you can sample Ree's handiwork while you make the nacho beef.

As for the nacho beef? No problem there. I have it under control.

Headlining in our nacho beef session today, we have...

Ground meat (this week it's bison), coriander, cumin, chili powder, oregano, tomato paste, chicken stock, diced green chiles, and chipotles in adobo. Not pictured? Onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. (I was really excited about the nachos. Sorry.)

The onion? Diversionary tactic so you don't look at the clutter on the hutch to the right or on the left side of my kitchen table.

The bison? It was cheaper than any other ground meat at the store. Plus, it's "beefier" in taste and has less fat.

Economy and nutrition--a fringe benefit to reading this blog.

So, you'll notice that this ingredient list is very similar to my chili recipe. I like my nacho/taco meat to have the same Tex-mex flavors as my chili, just without the beans and chunky veggies. AND...most importantly, I refuse to buy flavoring packets. Two reasons: too much salt, sugar, and chemicals to suit me; and they're often a "one trick pony"--I prefer to have multi-tasking ingredients.

But I digress.

To start the nacho meat, I add some olive oil to my cast iron skillet (because the bison meat's fat content is minimal) and then start browning the meat.

Now, before it gets TOO browned, I need to add my spices. Remember our lovely chili quartet?

Chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano--1-3 teaspoons of decide.

Seasoning Quartet #2: Onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Season to taste.

Mix the seasoning into the browning meat. When the meat is browned...

Add the can of chopped chiles. If you are a canning maven and plan ahead, use your own homemade roasted chiles. And send me the recipe.

Next, let's talk about chipotles. When I made chili last time I was on my last frozen chipotle and didn't have any original photos to use. So I utilized the talents of some flickr users. Today, I'm showing my own photography handiwork.

Depending on where you live, you may have a hard time finding these peppers. In my "big box" grocery store, they're located in the Mexican food section. And there's only one brand to get. If you have an even better brand to use, let me know.

Here's what they look like in the can. As soon as you open the can, you'll smell that smoky, vinegary heat. It's unmistakable.

And here's one on a separate cutting board. Be CAREFUL with these like you would be with any hot pepper.

Split your chipotle in half lengthwise. Scrap out the seeds unless you like it REALLY spicy. It will still be spicy--chipotles are smoked jalapenos. But they're worth a try. Use half if you're a cautious cook. If you're Pioneer Woman, you're probably going to use at least two. She's a spicy gal, I tell ya.

I scrape out most of the seeds--I'm a little adventurous--and then slice each half into half again so that I have a quartered seedless chipotle. Then chop as finely as you desire.

Add the chipotle to your nacho meat. But don't stop there.

Add some of the vinegary adobo sauce from the can to your meat. One or two teaspoons is good. Any more and you'll not have enough for future chipotle use.

Now it's time for the saucy component of our nacho meat.

Add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste...

And 1/2 cup of stock or broth. You want just enough sauce to coat the meat without drowning the tortilla chips. In a pinch, I've substituted bottled pasta sauce or leftover tomato puree and just made sure it reduces to minimize soggy tortilla chips.

You can let the meat stay warm while you make Drew's nacho cheese sauce.

A couple of notes while making the cheese sauce. 1)Have some extra milk on hand if you notice the cheese sauce getting too thick after either the cream cheese melts or you've added your shredded cheese; adding milk at either point will NOT ruin the sauce. 2) If you use unsalted butter for the sauce, taste it at the end to see if it needs more salt. The cheese adds some saltiness, but it may not be enough for your taste. 3) You can definitely store the extra sauce in the refrigerator for a later use. Drew suggests reheating it in the microwave. Think of all the things you could use cheese sauce for--burritos, creamy cheesy hashbrowns, cheesy scrambled eggs...

But I digress.

Now it's time for layering the nachos. Add a layer of tortilla chips and then some beef.

Now, add some nacho cheese sauce.

The grayish stuff is heated through and mashed up beans that I didn't use in my chili. I seasoned them with my nacho spices as I waited for the beef to be ready. The black beans kind of ruined the color, but they taste good.

Layer some nacho cheese sauce over it all.

YUM--nacho cheese sauce without the chemicals.

It's a beautiful thing.

But we're not done yet. Remember the pico de gallo? That's your next layer.


Or as Pioneer Woman would say...


I was shaking from anticipation in this shot--sorry for the blurriness.

You know what makes these so good? The freshness. All of the fresh cilantro and lime juice in the pico and guac to the smell of cooking nacho meat to the natural creaminess of the nacho cheese sauce--it all comes together in a delicious marriage of spicy, creamy, fresh, and crunchy goodness.

Plus, with these nachos, you can add as much stuff as you want. No charge for extra sides or helpings.

One drawback, though: at this point, you may start to cry.

And when you get to your last chip...

And last spoonful of guacamole...

You may have to make more. A lot more.

And when you run out, you may have to do a midnight run to the "big box" store for more ingredients.

And then be obsessed with making them everyday.

And then have to run 3 miles a day on the treadmill to compensate.

Not that I would get obsessed about pico de gallo, or guacamole, or nacho cheese sauce. Not me.

Vive le nachos! --bjh

P.S. I'll update this post with the recipe later on--I need to eat some more nachos first. :)

P.P.S. I solemnly swear to never again promise a recipe to be posted on a certain day and not deliver. I foolishly underestimated my week.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Having a T-Party

I love going to antiques malls and looking for items that I could use in my kitchen. I especially love the vintage items that could have been in my Nana's kitchen--treasures such as Pyrex, Decoware, old kitchen gadgets, tablecloths, and tea towels.

However, it has been almost a year since I went antiquing. I was unemployed for a bit and then when I obtained employment, it turned out to be a significant reduction in pay. Consequently, antiquing was moved to the "not in the budget" list. I didn't even want to go to my favorite stores to window shop; it was a bit depressing to go and not be able to purchase even a tea towel.

Gadget Guy and I are doing okay, and I'm grateful that I now have a recession-proof job. However, I've missed visiting my antiquing haunts and finding treasures.

Well, this week that all changed, because...I won something from T-Party Antiques!

Susan at T-Party Antiques has a fondness for antiques and a great collection of vintage items at her website store. She also joined two friends in running a tearoom along the Connecticut coast for five years. I found out about her place too late and missed out on experiencing the T-Cozy. However, her post on making tea sandwiches helped inspire me to host my first tea party in December 2007.

Now, I read her anniversary post and commented on my favorite T-Party blog post, but I didn't expect to win. You see, I don't win random drawings or raffles. If I win a prize for anything, it's because I earned it--like the trophy for my high school science fair project and my scholarship-worthy SAT scores. I don't win at random.

Until now.

When I received word from Susan that I had won, I never thought of looking back at the "giveaway post" to see what I had won. So when it arrived yesterday, I was eager to see what I had won.

First, I opened the tea. Mmm--orange cranberry. Harney and Sons makes a wonderful Cranberry Autumn tea with black tea, cranberry, and orange peel, but I can only drink it in the morning. T-Party's caffeine-free herbal tea will be great any time of day.

Doesn't it look delicious? Remember...good looking = good tasting.

Next, this adorable key holder. I wish I had more keys so I could hang this up and use it. I guess I'll have to find another home for it.

A vintage cake plate made by Knowles China, perfect for me to use when I make myself a birthday cake! (It will be over a week late, but hey, it's still my "birthday month.")

I adore these flowers...

SIGH. Sometimes I think I was born in the wrong decade. But then I remember how much I like the modern conveniences...especially air conditioning, dishwashers, and the internet.

I think this asymmetrical and fluted edge is delicate and homey at the same time.

Does that make sense?

Oh, did you notice the vintage calico fabric that I used as a background for the items? Yep, from T-Party also--too cute.

And finally...

The tea is delish.

So stop by Susan's T-Party for antiques, handmade items, or just a trip back in time. You may not want to leave. So make plenty of tea.

Happy T-Party Antiquing!--bjh

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Chili Secrets--Updated!

NOTE: This post has been updated with my recipe at the end of the post. Hope you like it. :)

Love, BJH


Whether you make it with or without beans, Texas- or Cincinnati-style, or somewhere in between...

Chili is a beautiful thing.

It is economical, hearty, and easy on cleanup. Plus, with all of the variations out there, you have a plethora of possible concoctions.

Now, I know there are some of you who are tempted to stop reading as soon as you see my ingredients because your chili doesn't have the same stuff. Yours may be meat-free, bean-free, veggie-free, tomato-free--or something else-free. And you may not want to change.

No problem.

What I'm going to share here is not just my chili recipe; I'm going to give you some tips to improve your chili recipe.

That's right. I've got a secret or two that just might make your chili taste even better.

So, are you ready?

Starring in our chili-making session today...

Ground beef, bell peppers in three colors, onion, garlic, red and white beans, tomato puree, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, ground coriander, ground cumin, ancho chili powder, and oregano. Not pictured? Olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Oh, and one more thing...

Chocolate for the cook. (It was rough Monday trying to adjust to Daylight Savings; I'm still in withdrawal from losing that hour of sleep.)

If you're going meat-free or like to use other meats, this recipe works well with the vegan soy crumbles or even...

Chicken sausage. Even Gadget Guy, with his love of BEEF, thought the chili was delicious with chicken sausage.

Heat your chili pot (I use a cast iron dutch oven) over medium heat for a few minutes...

And add one pound of ground beef. (Yep, the package in the ingredients photo was a two-pounder; but I don't have enough room in my freezer for THAT much chili. So, half goes in the pot to brown and the other half is used for something else.)

Now, here is one of my secrets for flavorful chili...SEASON every element of the chili.

Meaning, every time you add something to the chili pot and cook it, SEASON your pot of goodness.

My chili seasoning blend includes...

Chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano--about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. of each for 1 lb. of meat.

And salt-n-pepa, our favorite duo; I put in about 1 tsp of salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper.

After you've seasoned the meat, let it brown...

And then remove both the meat and the rendered fat from the pot. We'll add some olive oil to cook our veggies.

Now, we're ready to cook our veggies. So into, the pot we add...

About 1-2 cloves of garlic...

About 1/2 of a large onion, diced...

And the equivalent of 1 large bell pepper diced.
(I've also used frozen bell pepper strips and chopped them.)

Doesn't it look pretty?

But remember, we're not done with the veggies yet...

After sauteing the veggies for a few minutes, remember to season them with our seasoning blend;

Chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano--about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp. of each.

And our classic partners, salt-n-pepa; this time about 1/2 tsp. salt and 1/4 tsp. pepper.

This is what it looks like after seasoning.

Now, you may think this is TOO MUCH seasoning. But think about it...have you ever made chili that smelled really good but then seemed to taste a bit, well, bland?

Seasoning at every step is the key to not repeating the blandness.

Return your meat to the pot and add your broth (I have used whatever I have in the house)...

And then add your SECRET INGREDIENTS.

You know you have them...but you can keep yours a secret. I'll share mine, though.

I have two. Ready?

Chipotles and sofrito.

Chipotle adobados, originally uploaded by arimou0

Chipotles are smoked and dried jalapenos that are reconstituted in a vinegary sauce called adobo.

Hot, originally uploaded by GirlsEyeView

You have to purchase them canned, and since we're only using 1-2 in our chili, I have separated the remaining chipotles into individual plastic bags and frozen them for later use. Chipoltes will give your chili a smoky heat. If you're on the cautious side, add 1/2 of a chipotle to your pot to start and go then from there.

Sofrito is a word used for many Spanish-influenced sauces. The one I make is Puerto Rican in origin and appears in a lot of Caribbean cooking. The basic recipe for the one I use is here at Once you make your own, you will never go back to buying the jarred stuff in the store.

I chop 1-2 chipotles and add them and their residual sauce to the pot of veggies, beef, and broth. I also add about 2-3 tablespoons of sofrito at the same time.

Now it's time for the final layer of ingredients.

One can of red beans ...

And a can of cannellini beans.

When I add black beans to the mix, I only add 1/2 to 2/3 of each can so I have the equivalent of 2 cans.

Now add a 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes...

And some tomato puree. It thickens the chili nicely.

I have also used a 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes instead of the two types of canned tomato products.

Now, guess what time it is?


Chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano--this time about 1/2 to 1 tsp of each.

And about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of salt and some pepper to taste. can always add MORE, but you can't take the extra OUT.

I let my chili cook for at least another 30 minutes...

If yours gets too thick, just add a little more broth or water to loosen it up and cook for another 5-7 minutes to bring the chili back up to temperature.


Okay, all of you chili purists...stop RIGHT THERE.


Monday night, I decided that my chili was missing something...some toppings.

In fact, it needed a dose of...dairy.

SIGH...much better.

Bon Appetit!--bjh

(I'll post my recipe details later. I've got to go shopping with Gadget Guy.)

I'm back! Here's the recipe...

Blue Jeans Hostess's Chili Recipe
(Serves 6-8 normal appetites; 3-4 "hungry man" appetites)

1 lb. ground meat or sausage (can also use vegan soy crumbles)
1 large bell pepper diced (or equivalent)
1/2 large onion, diced
1-2 cloves of garlic minced
2-4 cups of soup stock or broth (vegetable or chicken preferred)
1-2 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons of sofrito
1 15-oz. can of diced tomatoes
1 28-oz. can of tomato puree
2 15-oz. cans of pinto, red, white, or black beans (or the equivalent thereof)
3-4 tsps. of the following spices, separated into the measurements given in recipe:
  • chili powder
  • coriander
  • cumin
  • oregano
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Optional condiments: sour cream, shredded cheese, diced onion, diced jalapenos, crushed tortilla chips

Mandatory cook's snack: CHOCOLATE :)


If using ground meat, brown meat in cast iron dutch oven over medium heat. While meat is browning, season with 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons each of chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano; then add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper before stirring meat to incorporate the seasoning. If using vegan soy crumbles, taste before seasoning and add as much of the chili spices as needed.

Once meat is browned, remove both the meat and rendered fat from the pot. Discard the grease and set the meat aside. Add enough olive oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pot and add the diced onion, diced bell pepper, and minced garlic. Season the vegetables with1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons each of chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute the vegetables at medium heat until tender and translucent but not too faded in color, about 6-8 minutes.

Add browned meat and enough stock or broth to almost cover the ingredients. Add chopped chipotles and sofrito mixture to chili mixture. Add the beans and diced tomatoes and stir to incorporate into chili. Add enough tomato puree to cover chili mixture; then season chili a third time with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of chili powder, coriander, cumin, and oregano and 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Add pepper to taste.

Bring chili to a simmer and cook for another 20-30 minutes, until the chili is heated through and the last batch of seasonings has had a chance to "marry" with the rest of the ingredients.