Tag Archives: Pepper

Queso Cheese Dip (with a secret ingredient)

I love queso, but I am not a big fan of the “processed cheese product” that is typically used to give this dip its creamy consistency.  Besides being high in sodium, many processed cheeses are made with hormone-laden dairy and lots of preservatives.  I avoid these pitfalls in my recipe by creating a creamy organic cheese blend from scratch, using locally-grown organic peppers, spices and cheeses, sans the chemicals.

Like the velveeta version, this queso recipe will stand up to hours of heat in the crock pot without separating, and it’s a snap to put together. I kept this recipe of queso covered on warm in the slow cooker for four hours yesterday before serving, and it held steady the whole time!

The secret ingredient that makes it so creamy and low maintenance is butternut squash puree.  The squash adds a lovely golden color to the cheese and enhances the texture, keeping it from getting stringy as it melts. A basic roux in the early part of the recipe also helps to stabilize the cheese.

As you can see, I added venison taco meat, guacamole made with local avocados, and sour cream to my queso just before serving yesterday.  The resulting appetizer was similar to the Bob Armstrong dip served at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin and Dallas.

I probably would have ended up with Kerbey Queso (cheese dip topped with guac and pico de gallo) if tomatoes had been in season at the market this weekend.  Since butternut squash is so easy to find here in Austin, I suspect I’ll get a chance to make this fabulous queso again for some Texas Longhorn tailgates, when fresh tomatoes are a plenty.

Butternut Squash Queso Cheese Dip (serves 6)
1/2 large onion, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butternut squash puree
2 ounces cream cheese
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. roasted peppers (I used organic canned, chopped hatch green chiles; fresh roasted would probably taste better, but they’re not in season right now)
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, saute minced onions in butter over medium heat until onions begin to soften.  Add flour to the pan and stir constantly for about 5 minutes, until flour is golden brown.  Add milk 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly.  Cook until milk is warmed through and turns light brown. Next, add the squash puree, stirring until combined, followed by the cheeses, peppers, and spices. Continue stirring for about 5 minutes until all the cheeses are completely melted and the mixture is creamy.  Remove queso from the stove and serve immediately or transfer to a slow cooker, covered and set to “warm” until ready to serve.

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe.

Two Healthy Salads by my Husband

Tonight, Rami and I enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had at home in quite a while.  We ate a gingery citrus cole slaw and a quinoa broccoli salad, plus whole wheat beer bread. And the best part, I didn’t cook a single thing!

Earlier tonight I was busy making chocolate chai truffles for a food swap on Monday when Rami walked in the kitchen and said, “How can I help?”

That’s a dangerous question in our house, because in a matter of minutes, he had been put in charge of making our entire dinner. He prepared two salads, Kathy Patalsky’s Napa Cabbage Cole Slaw and Amy Sherman’s Quinoa Arugula Salad, plus a loaf of whole wheat beer bread as a test for another food swap recipe.

The beer bread turned out really well (whew!) and the salads were awesome.  I’m planning a full post on the bread in advance of Monday’s swap, but in the meantime, here’s a recap of the salads:

The cabbage slaw is one of the best cabbage recipes I’ve found online.  Rami is typically not a fan of cabbage, and I don’t care for tangerines. However, in this recipe, we loved both of those foods!

Rami did make a few substitutions in Amy’s recipe according to what we had on hand: tangerines from G&S Grove instead of oranges, double the amount of regular mayo instead of vegan (sorry, Amy!!), and a green bell pepper instead of yellow.  Next time we make this, we’ll experiment by using less ginger and even more tangerines.  And the flavor of the dressing is so strong, I think I might be able to get away with adding a whole bag of sunflower sprouts to the mix.

Equally tasty was this broccolli arugula quinoa salad:

Rami was pretty liberal in his interpretation of the original recipe, which originally called for shaved asparugus, avocado, and lemons. He used  broccoli from Texas Daily Harvest (he added it to the quinoa pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking time), subbed tangerine juice for the lemon juice, and skipped the avocado.  The textures of steamed broccoli and quinoa really work well together, so next week I’ll be looking for more recipes that call for them together.

Red Enchilada Sauce

Like most Austinites who’ve been here longer than a few years, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of Tex-Mex cuisine.  I love comparing notes with fellow foodies about which restaurant’s margaritas, salsas, and enchiladas are the best in town, and although we rarely agree, it’s a nice way to build up a good appetite.

There are several excellent bloggers who write extensively about Tex-Mex home cooking; my favorites are superstars Lisa Fain of Homesick Texan and Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes. Though neither writer is based in Texas, their recipes demonstrate that staples like tacos, enchiladas, and burritos lend themselves beautifully to the peppers, greens and tomatoes that grow nearly year-round in Austin. As I’ve experimented with their recipes and others, I have learned that most Tex-Mex food is easy to prepare with everyday ingredients and tools in your kitchen. Take for example this vegan enchilada sauce. If you can use a knife, a stove, and blender, you’ve got what it takes to make killer Tex-Mex.

Half of the sauce from this recipe will cover a 9×13 pan of enchiladas, leaving the rest for whatever creative use you can dream up.  Here are some of my favorite things to do with enchilada sauce, besides topping enchiladas:

At breakfast

  • over a few fried eggs with tortillas
  • with soy chorizo and grits (vegan!)
  • with melted cheese, scrambled egg and chorizo on a tostada shell

At a party

For dinner

Whatever you decide to do with it, I hope you enjoy this simple, healthy enchilada sauce!

Red Enchilada Sauce (yields about 6 cups sauce)
1 yellow onion
3-5 mild or sweet peppers, any variety
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2, 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes and jalapeno peppers
1, 15-ounce can vegetable broth
3 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cumin

To prepare sauce: dice onion and peppers. Peel and mince garlic.  In a large sauce pan, cook onions, peppers, and garlic in olive oil over medium-low heat until they are very mushy, about 15 minutes.  Increase heat to medium and add tomatoes, vegetable broth, chili powder, salt, and cumin. Stir to combine. Cook sauce, covered, for 15 minutes to develop the flavors. Remove sauce from heat and allow to cool before processing it in a blender until smooth. Store finished sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days, or in the freezer for up to a month.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe.