16 oz Queso Fresco, 8 Meals

by Skip on March 5, 2007

in Food & Eating

Sometimes I talk myself out of buying exotic ingredients. Whether they’re expensive (meyer lemons), difficult to locate (farro), or just plain scary (uni), I can come up with many reasons to avoid a potentially awesome dish.

I had talked myself out of making macaroni with cream and cheese, Gourmet Feb. 05, for some of the above reasons. It had a number of red-button items in the ingredient list; it called for over 1 pound of chili peppers (I’m scared of spicy things, though I do often like them), and two types of Mexican cheeses: queso fresco (a firm, crumbly cow’s milk cheese, similar to a mild feta), and crema (like creme fraiche, but more viscous).

While the recipe was not on the top of my list for those reasons, I happened upon all of the ingredients in my trusty SpaHa Associated. After buying some, I realized I had forgotten the serrano chiles but decided the poblanos would be spicy enough. (I was right, though I’ve heard the serranos are not quite as aggressive as they could be)

The recipe was incredible, the balance between the chile heat and the mild, creamy cheese made it totally worth it. Roasting the chiles was another first experience for me; I probably could have charred the outsides a bit more, but I was afraid I’d overcook them. The chiles came out tender and gave the dish a significant cumulative spiciness, but nothing unbearable.

At the end of the meal I was left with 3/4 of the queso fresco wheel. For a day or so I considered remaking the macaroni, but then the Feb. 07 Gourmet came. And with it, another intriguing recipe containing about a half-pound of queso fresco: an Andean potato stew. The editors billed it as comfort food, and considering the extreme cold it sounded ideal.

The achiote seeds seemed like they’d be difficult, but I found them, surprise surprise, at the same supermarket in the spice section. And the bottle was about 25x larger than I needed, so I’ll be set with achiote for a while. Let me know if any of y’all need to, say, color some American cheese or dye some textiles (other popular uses include Mayan warpaint)

Preparation was easy and the product was satisfying. I’d say I increased the total poundage of potatoes to about 5; with the original 3 1/2, the potato stew was somewhat paltry on the potatoes (though I may have stretched it into more meals than the recipe foresaw …). For clarity, the additional potatoes were cubed, not mashed. The queso fresco muted the mild achiote heat and looked quite handsome topping the stew. The avocados were crucial.

All of that left me 4 oz queso. I ate 2 oz standing over the range waiting for the potatoes to boil, and sliced the rest and topped it with red wine vinegar (kind of gross; balsamic would have been better).

One wheel of queso fresco, 8 meals. (It might have been 10…)

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