Since Gemma could stand on a step-stool, she has been my handy, little sous chef. She loves helping me (and her grandmothers) in the kitchen, and I’m fortunate this experience has made her a great eater. For the most part, she’ll try anything, especially if she’s had a hand in selecting or preparing it. Here’s one of my favorite videos of Gemma (a month after her 2nd birthday) making herself a Nutella sandwich…
We were so inspired by the Durham Farmer’s Market Chef Challenge, we decided to have a challenge of our own. You see, our favorite family show is Chopped. We love learning about new foods and how to prepare them and critiquing the styles and creativity of the chefs…and of course, trying to guess which chef will be crowned chopped champion. On any given night, if Gemma likes what we’re eating for dinner, I’m declared chopped champion…it’s her sweet gesture which inspires me to create more home-cooked meals for our family.
After watching Chef Katie compete on Saturday, Gemma and I discussed what type of meal we could both make our own. It had to be something she could manage without using a knife or the stove/oven on her own (she is only 4), and we were craving Mexican food. Hence, the Nacho Mama Challenge was born! Daddy was immediately declared the sole judge (good luck with that, Ben!).
With the major details decided, we set off to shop the farmer’s market for ingredients. We left with tomatoes, red peppers, a jalapeno and an onion and headed to the grocery store for a few more items before settling in the kitchen to prep for our big night. We already planned to use our leftover short rib meat and fresh cilantro at home, so we grabbed some avocado, mascarpone and black olives at the grocery. We also each selected our own bag of nacho chips to use in our individual dishes.
I did most of the prep work…slicing, dicing and mincing veggies while Gemma helped “manage the personality of the kitchen” with stories and instructions on how to do what I was already doing. Four-year-olds are quite funny, very talkative and love telling others what to do…not sure where she gets those qualities?!
The grocery didn’t have queso blanco so the cheese specialist recommended mascarpone as a substitute which turned out to be a wonderful base to unleash my creativity. I concocted two dressings, a spicy Jalapeno and Sriracha Mascarpone dressing and a mild Avocado and Cilantro Mascarpone dressing, which I warmed slightly before drizzling over my nacho creation.
It was quite a fun event…Gemma and I each with our pie plates, stacking chips and meat and veggies and cheese. We were very competitive, of course. I being told “Stop looking at my nachos!” by Gemma, and I telling Gemma “Why don’t you use toppings besides lettuce and cilantro?“. Gemma created a short-rib, lettuce and cilantro salad with tomato and avocado garnish on traditional restaurant-style tortilla chips. I threw together my “everything but the kitchen sink” blue corn nachos with several dollops of both homemade mascarpone dressings and garnished with sliced jalapeno and diced tomato. We proudly placed our nacho dishes under the broiler to melt to perfection!
At this point, Ben was likely considering his options. He had his two best girls competing for his affections with their culinary skills. His was not a position I wanted to be in, for sure, but he handled his judging like a pro! And, honestly, both nacho dishes were incredible! It was the best tasting and most fun dinner we’d made all week!
As expected, we were both declared chopped champions in our first (annual???) Nacho Mama Challenge! Woo-hoo!
Oh, and for those interested in the dressing recipes, here you go!
Jalapeno and Sriracha Mascarpone Dressing
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1-2 T Sriracha (depending on desired spiciness)
1-2 T finely diced (or minced) jalapeno (depending on desired spiciness)
Mix all ingredients together. Melt together in microwave safe dish for 20 seconds. Serve over nachos, spread on tacos or burritos, or use for dipping tortilla chips.
Avocado and Cilantro Mascarpone Dressing
1 cup mascarpone cheese
1/8 cup smashed avocado
2 T finely chopped fresh cilantro
Using a fork, blend the avocado into the cheese and mix in the cilantro. Melt together in microwave safe dish for 20 seconds. Serve over nachos, spread on tacos or burritos, or use for dipping tortilla chips.
*This is a naturally mild dressing, great for kids. If you want some heat, add a tablespoon or two of your preferred hot sauce or jalapeno.