Logistics meant that if I stayed parentally supervised, I’d have an hour and a half commute each way to Pittsburgh. Not happening. I’d stay alone at my mom’s house while she was away for the summer. The continued sweet freedom of a college student!
Only there was no meal plan in an empty house, and though I’d been cooking small dishes like garlic green beans and herbed couscous (and yes, mac & cheese) in what passed for a dorm kitchen, this was my first chance to be cooking and feeding myself on a daily basis.
So my career as a kitchen wizard began. It’s funny that for someone who ended up so food-obsessed, I have absolutely no recollection of anything I ate or cooked that summer, save for one thing: I distinctly recall that a heaping plate of nachos and a foamy root beer float were my end-of-week reward for a job well done. Maybe even twice a week.
The root beer float specifically had to be made in a special curvy retro-style Coca-Cola glass, which I believe was acquired as part of a Denny’s or Eat’n Park promotion in high school. One can of Barq’s poured over two scoops of Breyer’s and I was in business.
Over the past year I’ve traded up from Barq’s to Maine Root (available at Whole Foods, so I don’t have to bring cases back from Portland! Hallelujah!). I also use my homemade vanilla ice cream with cloves and vanilla bean added to the custard before freezing. Maine Root already has clove, anise, and wintergreen extract in its natural brew, so one plays off the other perfectly.
(And for those of you with the foraging gene within you—not me; I’d kill someone with an unexpectedly poisonous leaf—Hank Shaw at Hunter Angler Gardener Cook has a homemade root beer recipe on tap.)
As for the nachos, it was imperative to use the broiler instead of the microwave as a cheese-melting vehicle. The tips of the tortilla chips took on a slightly charred crispness, and the cheese melted so evenly, just like on the nachos I inhaled regularly at TGI Friday’s, because I was truly a cosmopolitan lady. Seriously, how did I not starve myself and/or gain 10 pounds that summer?
Old habits die hard. Broiler nachos are still a once-in-a-while reward here at the Barber house, still made in the exact same way. Here’s what I put on my chips:
Total time: 15 minutes
Serves one hungry and poor college co-ed
- 3 big handfuls tortilla chips
- 1/3 cup cheddar cheese, grated
- 1/3 cup monterey jack cheese, grated
- 8 hot banana pepper rings, minced
- 8-10 black olives, chopped
- 3 tablespoons salsa (fresh tomato salsa is best, although I’ll cop to a fondness for Chi-Chi’s garden salsa with corn)
- 2 tablespoons sour cream
In an oven-safe dish (a ceramic or metal baking pan works fabulously), spread the chips in a single layer with slight overlap, and sprinkle both cheeses evenly on top. Sprinkle with the peppers and olives.
Place under the broiler for 5-7 minutes or until the cheese bubbles and the tortilla chips brown at the edges.
Dollop the salsa and sour cream directly on top of the nachos and go to town.