Creamy Chile con Queso

Creamy Chile con Queso

A processed cheese product (like Velveta) is often used in making Queso because it melts more smoothly. Using evaporated milk in this recipe helps the “real” cheese melt smoother and makes for a creamier consistency. The results are pretty fantastic. You can use your favorite milder, harder cheese (like Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Colby, or a Mexican cheese blend) in this recipe, but don’t use cheeses like Mozzarella, Brie, Swiss, or Goat Cheese (or obviously, Bleu Cheese).

This Queso keeps well for several days in the fridge. It reheats very well too. You can just zap it in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds, until warmed through.

A simple dish of Chile con Queso with tortilla chips is wonderful, but you can take it to greater heights with the addition of toppings. Queso can be serious business. One of my favorite restaurants in Austin, Texas is Magnolia Café. They have the best Queso ever. Their Mag Queso is topped with avocado and Pico de Gallo. It’s amazing! The Kerbey Queso at Kerbey Lane Cafe in Austin is great too. I have also had Queso with shredded BBQ brisket, refried beans, guacamole, sour cream, and Pico that was delicious. There are no limits.

Chile con Queso

Creamy Chile con Queso

2 tablespoon butter
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
1 -2 jalapenos, to taste, seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon flour
1 12 ounce can evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (mild Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Mexican cheese blend, etc…)
1/2 14.5 ounce can petite diced tomatoes, drained
salt, to taste
dash garlic powder
1 – 4 tablespoons milk, if necessary

tortilla chips

Possible Toppings:
fresh cilantro, chopped
fresh onion, chopped
fresh avocado, diced (or guacamole)
fresh tomatoes, diced
pickled jalapeno slices
Pico de Gallo
sour cream
black beans, warmed
refried beans
shredded brisket, chicken, pork
cooked ground beef or sausage

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and jalapeno and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Whisk in the evaporated milk a little at a time, whisking well to dissolve flour lumps. Reduce heat to low and whisk in the shredded cheese, a little at a time. Continue to whisk until all of the cheese is added and the Queso is smooth. Add the drained diced tomatoes, salt, and garlic powder. If the Queso is too thick, you can add a little milk, about a tablespoon at a time, to thin to desired consistency. Serve the Queso warm, topped with desired toppings (I like fresh avocado, cilantro, pickled jalapenos, and chopped tomatoes) alongside tortilla chips.

 

 

 


Beef Fajitas

Sliced Beef Fajitas

A quick and simple marinade and the use of a cast iron skillet makes beef fajitas an easy weekday meal.

Fajitas are a quintessential Tex-Mex food. Initially, skirt steak was the meat used for fajitas, but now fajitas made with a variety of cuts of beef, as well as, chicken, pork, or shrimp (or a combination of meats) are totally acceptable. The grilled meat is usually accompanied by onions and bell peppers and served with tortillas and a variety of condiments.

This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled.

Beef Fajitas

Beef Fajitas

1 pound skirt steak (or flank steak)
2 fresh limes (get ones with thin, smooth rind so they are extra juicy)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

1 large onion, ends removed, peeled, halved and cut into slivers
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips (or do a combination of different colored peppers)

flour and/or corn tortillas, warmed

Condiments of your choice:
shredded cheese
sour cream
salsa or pico de gallo
guacamole
fresh cilantro, chopped
fresh jalapenos, sliced (or throw whole jalapenos in with the onions and bell peppers and then slice)

Combine the juice from the two limes with the cumin and salt. Add the skirt steak, turning once or twice to coat the meat. Let sit 10 minutes.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Once hot, remove the skirt steak from the cumin-lime juice marinade and add to the pan. Cook for 3 – 5 minutes on each side, or until desired doneness. Remove from the skillet and let rest on a cutting board.

Add the onion and bell pepper to the hot skillet (no need to clean out the skillet, the veggies will pick up the flavors from the steak). Cook, stirring often, until the veggies are slightly tender and browned in areas. Reduce heat to low and keep warm.

Fajita Veggies

Cut the skirt steak against the grain into somewhat thick (about 1/2-inch) slices. At this point, I like to throw the steak back into the pan with the veggies and toss to combine, but you don’t have to.

Assemble the fajitas. Place some steak and veggies into a warmed tortilla of you choice. Top with the condiments of your choice. I like mine with sour cream and fresh pico de gallo.


Corn Salsa

Corn Salsa

Corn Salsa

This colorful salsa, eaten with tortilla chips is a tasty snack. It is also a nice addition to tacos, fajitas, or rice bowls. It can even be eaten on its own as a side dish or salad of sorts. It keeps well in the fridge for a week or so.

Poblano  chiles (fresh or roasted) can be substituted for the bell pepper and jalapenos.

Corn Salsa

1 pound frozen corn
1/2 large onion, small dice (red onion looks pretty with corn)
1/2 green bell pepper, small dice (you could also use red bell peppers)
2 jalapenos, or to taste, minced
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
juice of 1/2 lime
kosher salt, to taste

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the frozen corn and cook, stirring often, until heated through and starting to char. Cooking it this way really brings out the sweetness of the corn. Let the corn cool completely.

Once the corn is cooled, add the remaining ingredients and mix to combine. Taste and add more lime juice or kosher salt, if needed.


Chocolate Chip and Toffee Brickle Biscotti

Chocolate Chip and Toffee Brickle Biscotti

I like to make biscotti around Christmastime. They keep well, so I can package them with a bow and have them ready if I need a quick gift for a neighbor or to take to an appointment. They also ship well.

Chocolate Chip and Toffee Brickle Biscotti (gift)

For the first time in many, many years, I did not make my Cranberry and Pistachio Biscotti for Christmas. I just did not get around to it. I did make a batch of Chocolate Chip and Toffee Brickle Biscotti. They were well received.

Chocolate Chip and Toffee Brickle Biscotti

2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1  cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup toffee bits (I use Heath Bit o’ Brickle Toffee Bits)

Heat oven to 350° F.  Line two baking sheets with foil and spray with cooking spray.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  In a large bowl, beat butter with electric mixer until fluffy.  Beat in vanilla, sugar, and eggs, adding eggs one at a time.  Add flour mixture on low, beating just until blended.  Stir in mini chocolate chips and toffee bits.

Divide dough in half.  With lightly floured hands, shape each half into a slightly flattened log measuring 12″ X 2 1/2″.  Place one log on each baking sheet.  Bake 35 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool slightly.

With a serrated knife, cut each log into 1/3″ to 1/2″ thick slices.  Lay slices on baking sheets and bake 10 minutes. Flip slices and bake 10 minutes more, until crisp and dry.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely


Roasted Spiced Kombocha Squash

Spiced and Roasted Kombocha Squash

I bought a kombocha squash in November. I used it along with some acorn and butternut squashes to decorate for Thanksgiving. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I made this dish. Roasting brings out the sweetness of kombocha squash. I think it tastes like a combination of pumpkin and sweet potato. Other types of winter squashes (for example, acorn, butternut, or pumpkin) may be used in this recipe instead of kombocha.

Kombocha Squash

There is an element of danger preparing the kombocha squash. It isn’t the easiest thing to cut. Be super careful and try not to chop off a finger. :) This video may be helpful.

Halved Kombocha Squash

Spiced and Roasted Kombocha Squash

1 kombocha squash
2 tablespoons olive oil (or oil of your choice)
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (use salt-free for LID)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 400º F.

Using a large, sharp knife, cut the kombocha squash in half, by cutting down through the top. I find it easier to cut right next to the stem, instead of trying to cut through the stem. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and pulp and discard. Slice off the stem and bottom ends of each piece and then cut each half in half again. Using a peeler, remove the skin from all of the pieces. Cut each quarter into slices. I got about 8 slices per quarter. Place the sliced squash in a large bowl.

Sliced Kombocha Squash

Drizzle the squash with the olive oil and then add the brown sugar and spices. Toss with tongs until the squash is coated with the sugar and spices.

Spiced Kombocha Squash

Spread out evenly on a baking sheet. You may want to line your baking sheet with foil or parchment paper to ease the clean up process. Roast the squash for 20 minutes or until tender.

950


Hard Root Beer Bread

Hard Root Beer Bread 2

I bought some hard root beer not too long ago and wasn’t crazy about it. I still had some left over and didn’t want it to go to waste. I had success making a quick bread with hard apple cider, so I thought I would give making bread with the hard root beer a try. It turned out great! It smelled and tasted just like root beer and didn’t have the funky beer aftertaste. It was a big hit with the family.

Root Beer Bread

Hard Root Beer Bread

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1  12 oz. bottle hard root beer (I used Not Your Father’s Root Beer) at room temperature

Preheat oven to 375º F.

Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and brown sugar in a large bowl. Add the hard root beer and stir until just combined.

Spray a bread loaf pan with cooking spray, then pour the batter into the pan. Bake at 375º for 45 minutes. Cool completely before removing the loaf from the bread pan to slice.

Hard Root Beer Bread 3


Vietnamese Cilantro-Chile Sauce (Nuoc Mam Ngo)

Nuoc Mam Ngo

This sauce is amazing! It’s sour, sweet, herbaceous, pungent, salty, and spicy. So flavorful. It is a perfect example of what I love about Vietnamese food.

Nuoc Mam Ngo

This sauce is versatile. It can be used as a dipping sauce for spring rolls as well as a sauce for grilled chicken, beef, pork, fish, or shrimp. I served it with grilled chicken atop rice vermicelli noodles and spring rolls. So good.

Bun

It’s a spicy-hot sauce, but you could control the heat by using mild jalapenos. I used one serrano and one jalapeno and it was hot, but not too hot.

If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you could surely make this sauce in a food processor or blender.

Vietnamese Cilantro-Chile Sauce (Nuoc Mam Ngo)

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 2 chiles, stems removed and chopped
2 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 – 1/2 lime (rind and all), chopped (to taste)
1 tablespoon Vietnamese fish sauce

Add the chopped garlic and chiles to a mortar and use the pestle to pound them into a course paste. Add the sugar and cilantro and pound until smooth. Add the chopped lime and pound with the pestle until liquefied. There will be chunks of lime rind. Stir in the fish sauce and let sit for at least 10 minutes for flavors to develop.


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