Sometimes you just need nachos

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With everything going on, sometimes you just need nachos. I am not saying that nachos fix anything, but they don’t hurt, that’s for sure. I’ll take all the comfort I can get, plus, I need fuel for getting back up to keep fighting.

These particular nachos included pinto beans, ground bison cooked with onions, garlic and my homemade spice mix (cumin, ghost chilis, chipotles, black pepper and coriander), cheddar cheese, pickled jalapenos, greek yogurt, cilantro and (jarred, *gasp!*) salsa. It was exactly what I needed. Also, please note that I do not endorse “scoop” shaped chips, but these were on sale. What can you do?

To make up for the fact that there is no recipe in this post, here is a photo of some chopped carrots that ended up looking like a heart! I was taking a picture of the knife to send to the gift-giver that gifted it to me, and I noticed the shape of the carrots afterwards.img_0308

Nachos on the roof deck

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Always in search of the perfect nacho, I most often find them at home. My partner has a patented “one layer” method that involves laying corn chips side by side (never overlapping) on a cookie sheet and topping each carefully with cheese. The other toppings are added later, as seen in this photo: pinto beans, sour cream, lime-cabbage slaw, pico, and guacamole. Eaten on a roof deck at sunset, doesn’t get much more perfect.

Missing but desired: pickled jalapeños, black olives (I know, not for everyone), maybe some carnitas?

Taco Salad on the Terrace with TSCP

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I brought Stone Soup to work with me! Taco Salad on the Terrace (out in San Francisco). Everyone signed up to bring one or two ingredients, and then each person builds their own salad, buffet style. Some folks went all out, braising pork overnight, while other folks opened a tub of sour cream or salsa and called it a day. That is the beauty of Stone Soup, the foodies can cook if they like, but if you don’t like to cook or don’t have the time, most ingredients can be bought and served with little prep. We had chopped lettuce, cilantro, green onions, tomatoes, avocado, beans, veggie meat, grilled peppers and onions, sliced carrots and snow peas, and many more toppings.

With so much variety, it is easy to accommodate all types of dietary restrictions, vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, etc. The best part was that we had leftovers for the following day! Stone Soup is the gift that keeps on giving. (Photo credit to KP. Thanks!)

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Mexican Birthday Feast and Vegan Nacho Kale Chips

What’s pictured below is actually the leftovers from the Mexican birthday feast. This is because I will nearly always, without fail, prepare an epic feast, artfully plated, and then forget to take photos. I like to think it is because I am just so living life that I don’t think to take them, but it’s not great for this blog.

Mexican feast bowl

This feast was prepared for my partner on their 40th birthday, so it had to be over-the-top. Mexican is a favorite, and with a large crowd, gourmet taco bar was a good call. Offerings included: pork carnitas, crispy chorizo sausage, roasted mushrooms and onions, tofu-sesame-carrot taco filling, roasted tomatillo salsa, pineapple-ghost chili salsa, chipotle pico de gallo, fermented jalapeño apple hot sauce, pickled onions, cilantro, cabbage salad, queso fresco, crema and vegan crema, vegan habanero nacho cheese, tostones, and Mexican arancini stuffed with cheddar.

Some friends generously brought drinks and dessert including: jalapeño margaritas with sea salt foam, boozy horchata, salted caramel ice cream and a Mexican sugar cookie ice cream. I make a few toppings for a DIY sundae bar: toasted coconut, burnt pineapple compote, gluten-free citrus pound cake “croutons,” and some whipped mascarpone. No pictures of any of that sadly, but I promise it was all amazing.

The surprise leftover that really wowed me though were these kale chips that I made using the vegan nacho cheese dip. I stemmed, washed and dried one bunch of dino kale (the flat, dark green, oval-shaped kale) and then massaged it in a big bowl with about 1/4 cup of the cheese dip. Lay the kale out flat on a parchment or silicone lined cookie sheet and bake at 250 for about 40-60 minutes. The first time you do this, you may have to check on them a lot, you want them to be totally dry and crispy but not brown too much. They can get a bitter flavor if they burn.

Here’s the recipe for the nacho cheese – which is also fantastic on celery sticks or tortilla chips.

1 1/2 cups raw cashews, soaked in water overnight, drained
2 tablespoons hot sauce (I used a homemade fermented habanero sauce, very spicy, but use what you like)
1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon raw apple cider vinegar (or to taste, I like it tangy)
1 teaspoon agar powder dissolved in the vinegar plus a little water (you’ll need to heat and stir to dissolve)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup organic unrefined coconut oil

Blend all ingredients in a high-powered blender until the consistency is totally smooth. You could use a food processor or regular blender, but the texture will be more grainy. Taste and add more seasoning as you see fit – I often find that I want it to be more tangy and saltier. You can add more vinegar or a dash of lemon for tang and you can add more miso or plain salt to make it saltier. You could also stir in chopped chives or pickled jalapeños at the end.

Update #2 – DC Nacho Adventures: Part I, Wonderland Ballroom

Well, I went back. Can’t say I blame me, it is across the street from me, owned by some very nice people, and one of the favorite hangouts of our good friend/neighbors. Plus, I heard that the nachos had been updated. Apparently, you can request either “nacho cheese” (gooey neon orange sauce) or regular cheese. The chili has been permanently (at least for now) changed to a “meatier” veggie version with TVP (texturized vegetable protein) in it. I like the texture, but would like it to be more tomato-y.

That said, my prior comments stand about size, though with my “new year’s resolution,” I guess I shouldn’t be complaining about a smaller serving of fried chips and cheese…..

All told, the Wonderland nachos are back in my favor 🙂

DC Nacho Adventures: Part III: El Tamarindo (a.k.a the nacho from hell)

Where to begin? I am not even going to bother with scoring this one, but I will try to provide some context.

It was late at night, I’ll admit, around midnight, so my expectations were lower than normal. I was delighted to find a place serving late night american/mexican food, so I was willing to relax my standards. Good thing.

The nachos looked good when they arrived, piled high with cheese, sour cream, jalapenos, but it was all down hill from there.

A distinctly funky taste was noticable – which I came to pinpoint as slightly “off” (as in moldy) cheese, so there was a little “sweat socks” vibe going on. Given the context, that did not deter me – too much. I still picked around, taking chips from the bottom with less cheese.

That’s when I noticed their “secret ingredient,” a small brown bit, about the size of a peanut, but flatter.

I’m used to finding random burnt cheese bits or whatever fell into the fryer with the chips. I don’t like it, but I wasn’t going to raise a fit over that. The size and shape concerned me though, so I examined the “bit” a little closer (this is gross, but I even smelled it).

I can’t tell you exactly what it was, but I can tell you that it had legs and some kind of scaley body. Clearly (and I say this with total confidence) it was a bug. Still not wanting to make a fuss unless I was sure – I examined the specimin closer, my appetite vanished and I waited for our waiter to check on us so we could discuss this interesting nacho topping.

The conversation was in spanish, so I may not have expressed myself as clearly as I would have liked, but I got across that I had found a bug in the nachos and that I would not be finishing them. The waiter was very appologetic after looking at the bug, and took the plate away.

I figured that he would take the nachos off the bill and we could be on our way. Then the manager comes out and explains to me that it was not a bug, but a dried cranberry. He even went back into the kitchen to bring out a dried cranberry on a plate for me to inspect. They of course looking nothing alike, after all, cranberries don’t have legs, but the manager would not be swayed. They offered to bring me a free drink, or a flan perhaps.

I couldn’t even imagine eating anything else at that point, so I declined, still certain that they would not request that we pay for the nachos.

Our bill comes, and they leave the nachos on there! Of course I am then livid – wishing I had brought up the fact of the moldy cheese, but also knowing that it probably wouldn’t have made a difference to them. I am realizing more and more eating out in DC, I have to be very clear about what I want when I speak to waiters/managers at restaurants.

It’s not enough to point out that there is a roach in your food. Instead I should say, “Excuse me, there is a bug in my nachos. Please take these away, as I feel as though I might vomit. Also, could you please take these off of my bill, as that might encourage me not to call the health department about this incident? Comp-ing our entire bill actually might be the best thing. Thanks so much.”

I’ll try that next time, but not at El Tamarindo, as I will NEVER be eating there again.

DC Nacho Adventures: Part II, Regional Food and Drink (RFD)

Regional Food and Drink
810 7th St. NW
These nachos are impressive. Huge is a good word to describe them. Realistically, it’s enough for 4 people to share, but we’re talking about me here….so of course my partner and I polished them off ourselves (almost).

I’ll begin with their weaknesses, so that I may then wax poetic on their strengths. First, the chips – they were clearly of the bagged variety, not house made and not particularly good. Second, the beef chili (I don’t think they have a vegetarian option, but I will ask next time) was predictable – lots of grisly bits to contend with, but the flavor was generally fine. If you could sub out the beef chili for veggie or even just beans, these nachos would be a very fierce competitor, despite the chips.

As for strengths, did I mention these were huge? For normal humans, this is more nacho than you could ever eat – even for me, it was a lot. The toppings just kept going – chili, Monterey and cheddar cheese, pico, jalapenos, shredded lettuce, and sour cream. These were all piled high, more than enough to last to the bottom of the pile of chips. In this respect, these are what nachos are meant to be – abundant and overindulgent – no fighting over the tiny dollop of sour cream or the sparse jalapenos. More than enough for everyone. The quantity makes the price more than reasonable. I have contemplated bringing in my own chips….but I wonder if that would be insulting and also whether they would give me a discount or not….

Either way, these are still in the running. Although flavor-wise, I still like Wonderland better, the variety of toppings on RFD nachos is appealing. Given that I could eat two orders of Wonderland nachos ($17 bucks on nachos! Yeah right), while I could not dream of finishing even one order of RFD nachos (alone), I think RFD has the edge.

DC Nacho Adventures: Part I, The Wonderland Ballroom

The Wonderland Ballroom
1101 Kenyon St. NW
Washington DC 20010

Update: Did Wonderland get a new cook? Cutting corners in tough economic times? Not sure, but something has changed, and WB is pretty much out of the running.

My partner and I went to see a friend’s show tonight, and of course I got some veggie nachos as a Sunday treat.  When they arrived, I actually thought they had brought the wrong ones – since there appeared to be meat chili all over the chips.  It was, instead, tvp (texturized vegetable protein, a.k.a vegetarian ground beef – same texture, takes on whatever flavor you give it for the most part).  This pleased me, though the flavor of the chili was not as good.

Then I started to notice that I wasn’t noticing much cheese….poking around, I found a nice melted glob.  I was horrified to realize, however, that WB had used fake cheese to make my nachos!  Joining the ranks of ballparks and state fairs everywhere, WB had put gooey-orange-american-type cheese sauce all over the nachos.

Now, as I mentioned before, I do have a place in my heart for the fake neon cheese sauce – but it will never rank on any nacho rating system I ever have.  So….sorry Wonderland, you’re out!

I probably need not mention, but the price was still the same (too high for too small of a portion)

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Original post:

This nacho experience made me think that perhaps I should add another category to my scoring rubric – proximity to my home – Wonderland is within stumbling distance, meaning I can have their nachos almost anytime I want (or need). I decided not to dilute my scoring, however, with geographical statistics.

Since I am writing this post after having 3 nacho experiences in DC, I will tell you upfront that these are the best tasting nachos I’ve had so far. I have had them 3 times now, which says a lot considering their price. Which brings me to their weakness, size related to the cost. Their website claims that nachos are $7, but in reality you are forced to choose “large or small” (as if anyone ever wants a “small” order of nachos), and from the size of their large order, I am afraid to find out what their small looks like. The large order is $8 something, and I could easily eat two orders myself. Now I know that might not seem like it’s saying a lot, considering my love of nachos (I can eat a lot of nachos) – which is why I say that I could “easily” eat two orders – no problem. Their serving size is laughable, and for the cost, it’s almost insulting really.

As for the taste – love the chips and the vegetarian chili. These are a very wet nacho, messy as hell. With the addition of sour cream and pico, I think I have gotten some of the nachos on some part of my clothing every time. This, to me, is a good point – though if they would serve the nachos on a plate, vs. a tiny little basket, I think I’d have the room to maneuver, and spills would be less inevitable.

I don’t think their veggie chili would be something I’d want to eat as a soup all by itself, but on the nachos, it works. I appreciate that the lack of greasy meat, and the cheese is usually fully melted. They don’t have a lot of bells and whistles; they could easily add more toppings (though who knows how much they’d charge then!), but for some reason, the flavor combo pleases me.

In sum, taste-wise, I would prefer to be eating these nachos, but for the quantity and cost, I probably won’t choose to do so very often.