I disappeared for a while down the seeming black hole of a medium-size kitchen remodel turned complete demo and overhaul that’s not even close to being 100% done (
my part is, more or less, O.V.E.R. insert naive first time renovation project expectation here). But I am back! Hopefully you enjoyed the splayed chicken photo gracing the top of the page for the past month — I sure have (eventually)!
When I put down my crowbar at the end of the day, a whisk often took its place. The Maytag Blue cheese potato chips from way back in August pretty much landed me in a monthlong cheese sauce spiral. Specifically, one involving batch after batch of homemade nacho cheese sauce — with the occasional seasoned beef and refried beans thrown in (not literally) for good measure.
See, while I may seem to be an all homemade, all the time, never have I ever had processed food that’s so not the case. Only fairly recently — because of the whole gluten-free thing — have I taken the dedication to making just about everything from scratch to the next level. (Despite being a voracious reader, I HATE reading ingredient labels. For me, taking whole — or at least minimally processed — ingredients and whipping them up into a tasty meal is a lot more enjoyable and, in some regards, easier.) Four plus years ago, I very much enjoyed eating Chili’s queso and Taco Bell Nachos Supreme (or Bel Grande or Double Decker tacos or crunchy tacos, but I digress, per usual), but never how I felt after. Sure, there are jarred quesos and recipes using processed cheese product and spicy, canned tomatoes, but I just couldn’t bring myself to use those products at home.
ANYWAY, the solution: a quick-n-easy roux (butter, millet flour, cayenne and salt), whole milk and two types of cheese — extra sharp cheddar for its super cheesy flavor, pepper jack or Monterey jack for meltability — and about five minutes is all you need for a personal-size batch of queso. If you want to scale up the quantity, go for it (just use a bigger pot, and allow more time for the milk to thicken and cheese to melt — don’t mess with the temps!). Once removed from heat, it quickly develops a thin crust on top, but give it a stir and it’ll melt back in, leaving you with a spicy, velvety cheese sauce. I imagine a large batch would keep well if placed in a slow cooker or electric fondue pot set to its lowest heat setting — perfect for a sport-related get together (GO EARTHQUAKES! GO GIANTS! GO NINERS!). Or make a large batch of cheese sauce (multiply the ingredients by four), a batch of homemade “taco seasoning” spiced beef and assemble into a Nachos Supreme-esque party platter that’s sure to be a hit at your next game-watching party or drive-through-free dinner.
Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce
Preparation Time: 1 minute
Cooking Time: 5 minutes
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (4 grams) millet flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 grams) unsalted butter
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (increase to 1/2 teaspoon if using Monterey jack)
- 3 ounces (85 grams or 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) COLD whole milk (or half and half)
- 1 ounce (28 grams or about 1/4 cup) cubed or shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 ounce (28 grams or about 1/4 cup) cubed or shredded pepper jack or Monterey jack cheese¹
- Tortilla chips, for serving
In a small saucepan (2-quart), combine butter through cayenne pepper. Set over medium heat and whisk occasionally until butter is melted and mixture begins to foam (about 30 seconds – 1 minute). Pour in about 1/4 of the milk, whisking rapidly. Once thick and smooth, whisk in another 1/4, heating once more until thick and smooth. Whisk in remaining milk. Bring mixture to rapid, full simmer, and continue to cook until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon and when you run your finger through it a distinct track remains. Immeditely reduce heat to low (as low as your stove allows) and add cheese. Switch to a spoon (the cheese tends to get annoyingly stuck in my favorite-tool-for-cheese-sauce flat whisk), and stir constantly until cheese is melted. Serve immediately with tortilla chips!
Homemade “Taco Seasoning” Spiced Beef
Preparation Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 – 20 minutes
No mystery ingredients or MSG (seriously, read some taco seasoning packet labels, it’s VERY common), are two big pros for making your own taco seasoning mix. I only wish I threw this together sooner!
This recipe makes a LARGE batch of seasoned beef. Unlike the cheese sauce, though, it can be made up to a couple days ahead of time and gently reheated as needed. For one pound of tortilla chips, one recipe of beef provides a generous amount of topping — simply multiply the cheese sauce quantities by four (and increase the pan size to a 4-quart or larger) and chop/seed two beefsteak tomatoes (and sprinkle with chopped scallion tops or chives, if desired) to complete a party- or family-size nacho platter. Lastly, for chile con queso, stir a scoop of hot, seasoned beef into hot queso (both need to be about the same temp or else the cheese will seize).
- 1 tablespoon ground cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon millet flour
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon mild smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) olive oil
- 6 ounces (1 large) finely chopped yellow onion
- 2 packed tablespoons (28 grams) minced garlic
- 1 pound ground beef (I used 85/15, grass fed)
- Water, as needed
In a small bowl, whisk together cayenne through oregano; set aside. In a large pan (4-quart or larger) over medium heat, warm oil until shimmering. Add onion, and cook onion, stirring occasionally until softened and dark brown (but not burnt) in spots. Reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle in garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until just beginning to color. Crumble in beef and sprinkle spice mixture over top; increase heat to medium. Use a spatula or spoon to break beef apart into very, very small pieces and distribute the seasonings evenly. Continue to cook until browned and cooked through (160°F). If mixture looks too dry and/or is sticking to the bottom of the pan, add a couple tablespoons of water — stir very well, scraping up all the good stuff from the pan (deglazing) and cook until mostly evaporated.