RED Hearts: Easy Nacho Queso

RED Hearts are guest posts on I Heart Daily from the authors of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today.

This is the first for fall in a RED Hearts series of seasonal recipes -- things you can cook or bake, usually healthy things, always easy things -- for the people you heart! Served up by Erika Kwee, 24, “the baker, photographer and typo-maker” behind vegetarian food blog The Pancake Princess.

In the spirit of football, pumpkin, and back-to-school shenanigans during the still warm and beautiful transition into fall, I think we should officially dub this next month Nacho Season.

Nachos are my new favorite party trick -- so much so, they’re what I served at my own birthday party. (Yes, I am someone with the good fortune to have been born during Nacho Season. ) I love thinking of a nacho bar as a glorified salad bar that just happens to have chips.

This version is a simple but serious upgrade from the fallback microwaved-cheese-on-chips thanks to queso, a thick and creamy-cheesy sauce that is heavenly drizzled over a plate of chips with tons of toppings. My first experience with queso was in college, sitting on the floor of a common room after a late-night food run and dipping pieces of warm tortillas into a gooey cup of melty cheese. Making perfect queso (that puts highly-processed versions to shame) is actually as easy as cooking up a little butter and flour and stirring in some freshly grated cheese.

A can or two of beans and the addition of some fresh veggies and herbs can really turn nachos into a fun and healthy party star. This queso was enough to feed about 12 of my friends with leftovers -- you can easily half or double these quantities as needed.

Easy Queso 2 tablespoons butter 4 garlic cloves 3 cups milk, divided (2 percent is best) ¼ cup flour ½ teaspoon fine sea salt 2-3 cups grated cheese, to taste (I used a blend of sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack, and colby) 1 4-oz can diced green chiles 3-4 roma tomatoes, chopped finely Melt the butter over medium heat in a pot. Mince the garlic cloves finely and cook for a minute or two in the butter, until just starting to brown.

Stir 1 ½ cups of milk into the butter mixture. Whisk the flour into the remaining 1 ½ cups of milk, then whisk flour into the pot along with the salt.

Once the mixture starts to simmer and thicken slightly, remove from heat and stir in 2 cups of cheese until melted. Taste and continue to add cheese, ½ cup at a time, until you reach a consistency and flavor that you like.

Stir in the chiles and tomatoes and serve hot with chips to hungry friends!

Topping ideas: Veggies: Shredded lettuce, tomatoes, guacamole, bell peppers, salsa, cilantro, green onions, red onions, olives Protein: Black beans, refried beans, chickpea taco “meat”

RED Hearts guest poster Erika Kwee is an author of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today, which is out in paperback.