Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Build-Your-Own Nacho Bar with Homemade Nacho Cheese Sauce & World's Best Guacamole

One of my favorite bar foods is loaded nachos. There's nothing quite as satisfying as crispy tortilla chips topping with gooey cheese, spicy taco meat, beans, salsa, guacamole, sour cream, etc etc etc etc... You get the picture. I've eaten a lot of nachos in bars, and I always like seeing how different places put their own unique spin on a popular favorite.

When I'm gathering friends in my home, I love to feed them! It's fun coming up with different menu ideas for game nights and such to keep things interesting. A relatively easy but super satisfying option for your next get-together is a build-your-own nacho bar. It's a bit more playful than a build-your-own taco bar (which is also awesome by the way), and it's perfect for football watching, or anything watching really.

Almost every component can be prepared in advance and either reheated or set out at room temperature. There are lots of options for meats that are great on nachos. I've listed a few below, but opted for a simple, straight-forward taco beef for my nacho bar.

Nearly all of the toppings can be store-bought, but I do encourage you to make a few of the fixings yourself, as homemade really does taste better. For example, my homemade pickled jalapenos are THE BEST. My refrigerator is always fully stocked with jars, and everyone who has tried them has flipped out over them. I actually will not eat a store-bought pickled jalapeno. I don't like them very much. Mine are exponentially better, and very easy to make.

I also suggest making guacamole from scratch. You can easily buy store-bought guac, but why would you when it's so simple to make yourself? You might laugh at my proclamation that my guacamole is the world's best since it seems like an outrageous joke, and only contains five ingredients (including the salt), but trust me. I will put my guacamole up against anyone's. Much like the jalapenos, I have had countless people swoon after tasting my guac. The key is the generous amount of garlic, and the ground coriander. Yes, I've made guacamole before with other ingredients, like fresh cilantro, fresh jalepeno, red onion, and chopped tomato, and although there's nothing wrong with those ingredients, I don't think you need them to create an out-of-this-world guacamole. Try my recipe and tell me what you think!

Last but certainly not least, let's discuss the nacho cheese sauce or queso. Call it whatever you want, but for a build-your-own nacho bar it's a key component! You also want to make sure you keep it hot otherwise it's just a block of soft cheese in a bowl :) Making a gooey and delicious cheese sauce is incredibly easy. You don't need to make a roux and a bechamel sauce like you normally would for macaroni and cheese. I've seen other nacho cheese sauce recipes that start that way, and I don't think it's necessary. Try the recipe below instead. It's as easy as grating cheese, tossing the cheese with cornstarch, then combining with canned evaporated milk and hot sauce. Heat and stir. Easy peasy.

I used a combination of sharp cheddar cheese and American cheese. You could replace the American with more cheddar, or try some Jack cheese, but I love the way American cheese melts and tastes (I'm talking about Land 'o Lakes, not Kraft!). This cheddar-forward sauce is definitely an improvement on a tub of melted Velveeta and Rotel, so adding a little processed cheese for texture is fine in my book.

Have you ever experienced a build-your-own nacho bar? What were your favorite toppings? Let me know in the comments!

Build-Your-Own Nacho Bar

Tortilla chips
Taco Meat (double the recipe if serving a larger crowd)
Guajillo-Braised Beef Short Ribs
Shot-and-a-Beer Braised Chicken
Achiote-Rubbed Grilled Chicken
Canned black beans or pinto beans, drained and rinsed OR canned refried beans
Canned black olives, drained and sliced
Pickled jalapenos (homemade is best!)
Salsa (homemade is best!)
Sour cream or Mexican crema
Nacho Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)
World's Best Guacamole (recipe follows)
Sliced scallions and/or fresh cilantro

All toppings (except guacamole) can be made ahead of time. Meats can even be frozen and later reheated.

Set all the nacho bar fixings into bowls. Make sure your cheese sauce is heated, and in a vessel that can keep it hot such as a small slow cooker or fondue pot (worst case scenario, leave it on low heat on your stove-top and stir it periodically). You can also keep the meat hot in the same way. Enjoy!

Nacho Cheese Sauce
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups

8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
4 ounces American cheese (preferably Land 'o Lakes), grated or chopped if pre-sliced (could substitute more cheddar or Monterey Jack if you prefer)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
2 teaspoons hot sauce, such as Frank's Red Hot

Toss the grated cheeses and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan, and add the evaporated milk and hot sauce. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring regularly until the cheese melts. Continue to stir until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken. Remove from the heat, transfer to a small slow cooker or fondue pot to keep warm. Serve immediately.

World's Best Guacamole
Makes about 2 to 2 1/2 cups

4 ripe Haas avocados
Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 1/2 tablespoons minced/crushed garlic
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or as needed
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

Halve avocados and carefully remove the pits. Add the pits to a medium mixing bowl (the pits will keep the avocados from oxidizing). Using a sharp knife, slice the avocado flesh (still in the skin) diagonally into 1/4-inch slices, then slice again in the opposite direction to create cubes. Repeat for the remaining avocado halves. Use a spoon to scoop out the flesh and add flesh to the mixing bowl. Add the lime juice, crushed garlic, salt, and ground coriander, and mix well. You want some of the avocado to mash up as you mix, but retain some of the cubes for a hybrid smooth/chunky guacamole. Serve immediately.


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