McCRAY: Nachos get a smackdown

Dear Rachael Ray,

I love your show. Especially your funky refrigerator and your vintage yellow stove.

My kids love your show, too. They put on princess dresses, drag out all the pans in the house and pretend to be you. Mommy sits on the couch and pretends to be the audience. (This is one of the rare times Mommy gets to sit on the couch — and for that, I love you even more).

Even my husband, who shuns the convenience food you use — like lettuce in a bag and grated cheese in a tub — likes you. Must have something to do with you being cute and inventing "meat muffins." (Yum-O!).

But we do not love your super nachos. I picked them for this week's column because I have a thing for nachos.

To be honest, I have a thing for cheese sauce. I especially crave the cheese sauce at El Pollo Loco. I love it so much, I'm sure it will launch me into the next pants size if I'm not careful.

El Pollo Loco's sauce is the best — spicy, creamy and gloppy. I searched for a recipe approximating it, and the sauce for your super nachos seemed to come close.

At first, I was just going to make the sauce, but your entire recipe intrigued me. Black beans on nachos? Black beans are healthy. Could this be a way to justify eating a plate full of chips covered in cheese?

The easiest thing about this dish was the shopping. Like a lot of your recipes, the ingredients are easy to find, although our store didn't have blue or red corn chips.

The worst thing was the prep. It took some 30 minutes to chop the ingredients for the salsa alone. Making the beef and beans mixture wasn't tough, although this also took time.

Putting together the cheese sauce was, well, horrible. My kids grated the cheese and ate some along the way, which they promptly spit out because it had tiny flakes of peppers in it. Mess No. 1.

They measured the flour and milk for the roux. Mess No. 2.

At first, I thought they got too much milk and too little flour in the pan, because the cheese sauce was watery. But I see that testers ran into this problem, too.

Oh, and the salsa. Now, this isn't your fault, Rachael, but you really need to wait for tomato season to make good salsa. Even if they are vine-ripened, tomatoes in April are just not the same as they are in, say, July.

Hope I didn't hurt your feelings, Rach, but your super nachos aren't super.

Still, I love your show.

— Kerry

What The Testers Had To Say

My husband says these give restaurant nachos a run for their money. They were not difficult to make but did require a bit of prep and some time. The cheese sauce came out a bit grainy and not as creamy as I like, but the flavor was good. The kids would have preferred it with just the cheese sauce.

— Melody Bold, Delhi

Who in the world needs a complicated recipe for nachos? Make your own pico de gallo? Here? In California? I can buy it at the store! And cheese sauce? Where is this recipe from ... South Dakota? Just grate and melt 100 percent real California cheese on top! At any rate, the meat was flavorful but not too spicy and the black beans were a nice change from refried pinto beans, but I was totally turned off by the cheese sauce. We frequently eat nachos at home ... sometimes they are just plain cheese plus toppings and sometimes they are meat and beans plus toppings, but they are always simple to throw together. In fact, I think that's the point! These just seemed too complicated. When I go the distance and make super nachos, I fry up the tortillas ... now THOSE are worth the effort.

— Karin Reenstierna, Modesto

The salsa was made, cheese grated and the bean and beef mixture was sizzling hot and smelling so good. Next thing I know, we were heating and filling tortillas to capacity with this yummy mixture. This recipe makes tasty tacos; maybe it will get to the nacho level next time.

— Carolyn Conser, Modesto

Nachos have always been an easy, popular snack to prepare. This recipe, though a bit more involved than the quick nachos I prepare, will now be a favorite. I followed the recipe for the pico de gallo, but it can be purchased in the produce section of your favorite market, which will eliminate all the chopping and reduce the prep time.

— Jan Gibson, Modesto

That's a good basic recipe for pico de gallo, although I always add a bit of acid, like lime juice. I had to make two versions of the cheese sauce, as the munchkin wanted "orange cheese" to dip his chips in. Truth be told, I thought that the version I made using cheddar had a lot more flavor than the sauce made with the pepper jack. With the latter, the peppers added some heat but, otherwise, it was bland. In the future, I'll make the sauce using cheddar or a combination of both. (I used my own taco seasoning and canned refried beans, so I can't really comment on that part of the recipe.) Here's a tip, though: Heat the chips in a 300-degree oven for about five minutes to crisp them up. That way, your toppings will stay warm and the chips won't get soggy as fast.

— Carrie Munroe, Modesto

These nachos were delicious, but entirely too much work. The chopping alone had me yearning for store-bought salsa and a packet of taco seasoning to shorten the job. That being said, we devoured the nachos. This recipe makes a lot, so prepare for guests or to have leftovers.

— Ann Griffith, Modesto

Bee staff writer Kerry McCray can be reached at 578-2358 or at