Chili con Queso

Image of a bowl of Chili con Queso with tortilla chipsSay Cheese
My sister is a foodie just like me. Weekends are planned around baking schedules. Excuses to have a get-together are whipped up so that a certain cookbook can be taken for a test drive. Entire international vacation itineraries revolve around restaurants and the foods of far-off lands. We love good food. It is because of this love of all things culinary that she gets a rather large dose of ridicule for her love of queso.

You can call it queso, cheese sauce, or even cheese dip. But, no matter what you call it if there is a tray of semi-fresh tortilla chips with bright orange cheese sauce you bet my sister is all over them. The more bright orange and weird the queso, the better. So, it should come as no surprise that at a recent get-together there was a small, gently bubbling crockpot of queso.

The good news is that this wasn’t the queso that you pump onto chips at the ballpark. This was a different animal. This was queso that she made. And, fresh queso is a totally different experience. Yes, you might have to get past the fact that it is indeed still made with Velveeta—a product my mother only bought to put in our emergency earthquake kit. But, the results are worth it.

Real queso does not have that plasticky sheen and/or texture. Real queso is actually quite good and I will bet anyone that the loudest naysayers will be the same people who park themselves by the bowl and can’t stop eating it. (Guilty)

This is the recipe she made and it comes adapted from my favorite cookbook and restaurant Tacolicious. It’s one of their most popular items on the menu. Give it a try for Cinco de Mayo and see what you think…

Chili con Queso
Yields 12 servings
Recipe adapted from Tacolicious by Sara Deseran Read more…

Beef Birria Tacos

Photo of Beef Birria Tacos with broth for dippingThe Humble Taco
Life is good at keeping you humble in big and small ways. My latest karmic reminder that I’m not as cool and all-knowing as I thought I was, came in the form of a taco.

I think I have made it obvious over the many years that I have been writing these posts that I am a big fan of Mexican cuisine. So much so that I felt confident that I had a better than average knowledge of regions, techniques, and any number of popular recipes. Imagine my surprise a few months back when I was introduced to Birria Tacos.

For something that is as ubiquitous and widely revered as Birria Tacos, you would think that someone for whom Mexican food is life would have come across it early on in the love affair. You would be wrong. And, since my introduction, I see them everywhere.

In case you are also one of those souls who is ignorant of the beauty of a Birria taco, they are essentially the taco version of a French dip. You start by making a rich and flavorful stew that you can eat as is. Or you can take the meat out, chop it up, fry up some tortillas, fill them with the chopped meat and some cheese, then grill them. To eat you dip the taco in the consume which is simply the broth from the stew and enjoy.

If you are wanting to try them yourself, I would first recommend doing a search for a local taqueria that makes them. Making your own is a bit of a process (as you might imagine) since they have to cook slow and low for a number of hours. Also, most recipes, like ours listed below, make enough for at least 8 people. If you are cool freezing some of it, then you are set. But, this might be better saved for a weekend get-together. The traditional meat used for this dish is goat. But, beef is just as popular. And, you can make Birria Tacos with lamb or pork if you want to be a rebel.

No matter which method you choose, I strongly encourage you to give these a try. Your mouth will be very happy you did…

Beef Birria Tacos
Recipe adapted from House of Yumm
Yields 8 servings Read more…

Asparagus, Tomato, and Fontina Frittata

Asparagus, Tomato, and Fontina FrittataLoving The Tall Grass
It’s been a bumpy road to discovering my love of asparagus. As a kid, I would live in fear of the dinners where I would walk through the door and smell it steaming. If we were at my grandmother’s and I saw the hollandaise on the table, I knew it would be a rough night.

Back then asparagus wasn’t as readily available year-round as it is now. So, the arrival of those fat green stalks always heralded the beginning of spring—and filled me with dread thinking about what would be for dinner. From the moment asparagus appeared in the produce section, the regular and preferred vegetable component of our dinners switched from broccoli and frozen peas to a steady diet of asparagus prepared the same way, every time.

I can trace my change of heart vis-a-vis asparagus back to one night when I was living in San Francisco and attending a six-week cooking course. One of the many recipes we made that night was this Ragout of Fava Beans, Peas, and Asparagus with Pecorino and Crispy Prosciutto.

It was a lightbulb moment for me. Until then, I had strangely only had asparagus that was, usually, over-steamed, and I am not sure how I managed it. That recipe opened my eyes and taste buds to what asparagus is supposed to taste like. It’s a totally different experience when it is grilled…or roasted.

After having now explored asparagus used in any number of ways, you might ask what my current favorite way to enjoy asparagus is. The answer: steamed but still crunchy.

Perhaps it’s the obvious link to Easter. But, I also really like asparagus paired with eggs. This Asparagus, Tomato, and Fontina Frittata recipe is a great example. It’s delicious for brunch or paired with a salad for a light lunch. And, it does work well for an Easter buffet.

Asparagus, Tomato, and Fontina Frittata
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis and the Food Network
Yields 6 servings Read more…

Roasted Pear, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Tart

Roasted Pear, Shallot, and Blue Cheese TartNew Year’s Nosh
It happened. I actually uttered the words I am tired of food the other day and my family was right there with me. After indulging in nothing but the good stuff for 36 hours we were ready to not eat. We were all very excited about the salad I made for dinner last night. But now we’re staring New Year’s in the face. What to do?

I think the best course of action is to go small and snacky. A few finger foods that are easy and perfect for grazing without being a whole big meal. Maybe a charcuterie platter which seems to be all the rage right now. Or potentially a few hot bites like these Cashel Blue, Spinach, and Smoked Salmon Tartlets or the Roasted Pear, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Tart below. The dough makes for a great bite but I have done it with pre-made puff pastry and had great results. It also works well with apples if you are so inclined.

No matter what your New Year’s celebration will look like, here’s hoping you have a safe, healthy and happy New Year!!!

Roasted Pear, Shallot, and Blue Cheese Tart
Adapted from the New York Times Cooking Section
Yields 12 servings

This sweet and savory pear tart is sophisticated enough for holiday celebrations. The topping is a comforting, mellow jumble of sweet roasted pears and shallots perfumed with thyme and pungent blue cheese.

If you want to simplify this recipe, purchase some good-quality puff pastry (like Dufour’s in our freezer) and substitute it for making your own dough. Read more…