Sunday, May 30, 2010

I am obsessed with Mexican cheese

I've always loved cheese, even throughout my college and adult years when I was lactose intolerant. Blue, provolone, curd, Parmesan, feta, string, brie, Gouda--you name it, I love them all! About a year ago I had some Oaxaca cheese on a salad at a Mexican restaurant. I can't even tell you about the salad because I was so enthralled with the cheese. It's all I remember. I loved it so much I went back the next day and had it again. I suppose that's when my love of Mexican cheese began. That loved deepened recently when Mr. C and I had chicken chilaquiles for dinner.

I've heard of chilaquiles before on Food Network, but I'd never considered making the dish. Chilaquiles is a Mexican dish that was created to help people use up leftovers. It's traditionally made using meat, cheese, corn tortillas, and chiles. I recently checked out the Everyday Food "Great Food Fast" cookbook from my library and found a recipe for chicken chilaquiles inside. (I am still on a "no cookbook" buying restriction for another month so I check out A LOT of them from the library.) I decided to give the recipe a try. Oh happy eating, am I ever glad I did! Look at this gorgeous dish:

I worried the recipe might be too complicated or time consuming, but it was surprisingly quick and easy. (I guess that's why it's in a cookbook called "Great Food Fast.") It came together in under 30 minutes. I had to buy a couple ingredients I don't usually have on hand. The recipe calls for chiles in adobo and queso fresco or queso anejo cheese. Both were easy to find at Walmart. And, happy for me, they were not expensive. There was one ingredient I couldn't find, but I was able to make do without it.

Here's the recipe. We'll chat more about it on the flip side:

Chicken Chilaquiles from Everyday Food
1 T olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped (I always used minced garlic that I buy in bulk at Costco)
1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes in puree
2 chipotle chiles in adobo (from a small can), finely chopped
1 T adobo sauce (from the same can as the chiles)
1 c water
4 c shredded chicken
1/2 c lightly packed cilantro, chopped, plus extra for garnish
1/4 c crumbled queso fresco or queso anejo cheese (can substitute feta)
4 c tortilla chips
1/4 c sour cream
Combine the oil and garlic in a large (3-4 quart) saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant and sizzling (about 1-2 minutes). Add the tomatoes with their puree (breaking tomatoes up), chipotles, adobo sauce, and water. Bring to a boil, season with salt. Reduce the heat and simmer rapidly until lightly thickened (6-8 minutes). Add the chicken and cook, stirring, until hot (about 3 minutes). Remove from heat; stir in the chopped cilantro. Divide tortilla chips among 4 shallow bowls; top with the chicken mixture and sauce. Garnish with cilantro, sour cream, and cheese.

Remember when I said there was an ingredient I couldn't find? Believe it or not it was the tomatoes in puree. Search as I might, I couldn't find any. I ended up just using regular diced tomatoes and they worked fine. The sauce may have been a little thinner than it should have been, but neither Mr. C nor I cared. It was delicious. Also, there is something to keep in mind about the spice level. Adobo sauce and chipotle chiles carry some heat. If you don't like a lot of spice, ease off on the tablespoon of sauce and the chiles. Mr. C always sweats when he eats spicy food. He was dripping with this one. Next time I think I may half the chipotle chiles and the adobo sauce. I like spice, but it was a tiny bit overwhelming. (Ironically, the leftovers the next day didn't seem as spicy.)

Now, the cheese. Ahhhhhh, the cheese. Just look at that gorgeous cheese!

The recipe actually calls for feta, but the top of the recipe page says, "For an authentic touch, use fresh Mexican place of feta." Do it. DO IT, DO IT, DO IT! The recipe recommends queso fresco which is a fresh soft cheese or queso anejo which is an aged cheese. I used the fresco and, like my experience with the salad at the Mexican restaurant, I was enthralled with it. It's a crumbly cheese so I broke off pieces like I would with feta. I had plenty left over after making our 2 plates. The extra is happily hibernating in my freezer awaiting it's next lovely appearance.

I cannot say enough about the cheese.

We loved the tortilla chips on the bottom of the dish. For the first few bites, the chips were still crispy and the texture of the dish was fabulous. The longer the sauce sits on top of the chips, the softer they get. The tortillas become almost a soft corn meal, yet they stay just as tasty. We opted not to put the sour cream on top.

This dish is so easy and so tasty. Go make it, right now! Unless you don't have any Mexican cheese. Go get some and THEN make it. It's the one ingredient that takes this recipe from delicious to out of this world. But beware! Once you try the fabulousness that is Mexican cheese, you'll be hooked.

(I'm finally posting the recipe because it's time for the cookbook to go back to the library and I need the recipe for my binder of recipes!)

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