Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Chili parlor queso

Chili parlor queso | Homesick Texan

When I started researching the history of chile con queso for my new book, periodicals and books revealed it had been a popular dish at the Johnson White House in the 1960s. That made sense, as President Johnson and his wife Lady Bird were both Texans who knew queso was a must at any gathering.

Most guests were receptive to the dish, but the White House’s French head chef RenĂ© Verdon hated it. In fact, he loathed chile con queso so much that he derisively referred to it as “chile con-crete.” When I first heard what he said, I laughed as I could imagine a person with a French accent and a sneer looking at a slow cooker burbling with queso and uttering that phrase. But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that clearly the chef had not tasted the queso because if he had I know he would have changed his mind.

Indeed, when I first moved to New York and would make queso for my friends, the Texans would of course make a beeline to the pot but the non-Texans would make faces and say, “What’s that?” When I’d explain to them what it was and how it was made, they’d be even more snobby about the dish. But I always encouraged them to take one bite. And after they dipped that first tortilla chip into the pot they’d marvel over how creamy and delicious queso can be.

Chili parlor queso | Homesick Texan

The Johnson family was proud of their state’s culinary heritage and Mrs. Johnson often shared with the press the recipes that came from the kitchen of the family’s personal chef, Zephyr Wright. Most were classics that would look familiar to any Texan, but strangely enough, the first queso recipe she gave called for aged cheddar.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

QUESO! has arrived!

Queso: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip by Lisa Fain | Homesick Texan

This time last year, I had just wrapped up a month-long tour of Texas, eating chile con queso all over my home state. It was the greatest road trip of my life. Today, I celebrate the results of that delicious research and am thrilled to announce that my latest book, QUESO! Regional Recipes for the World’s Favorite Chile Cheese Dip has at last arrived!

While I spent most of last year eating, researching, and cooking all things related to chile con queso, my obsession with the dish actually began a few years ago when I first moved to New York.

As many of you know, the classic recipe for home-style queso is to melt together a can of Rotel tomatoes with green chiles and a brick of Velveeta cheese. At that time in New York, however, the proper tomatoes were as elusive as a crisp fall day in Texas. And while you could sometimes find the proper cheese, stores only sold the tiny bricks for a crazy expensive price. I had to make do and figured out how to make queso with alternative ingredients, which lead to an all-natural chile con queso recipe. That, however, was only the beginning of my obsession.

Queso: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip by Lisa Fain | Homesick Texan

For instance, a friend from El Paso informed me that the queso in her hometown wasn’t like the processed cheese Tex-Mex liquid gold most people associate with the name, so I flew there to investigate. Then I read in one of Matt Martinez’s cookbooks (he’s the creator of Bob Armstrong dip), that instead of using Velveeta (or a similar brick processed cheese) in his queso, his family preferred regular American cheese. (Yes, there is a difference between the two, with American cheese having less stabilizers and more dairy, which makes it an actual cheese rather than simply a “cheese food,” as brick processed cheese is labelled by the FDA.)

Queso: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip by Lisa Fain | Homesick Texan

More questions arose. Where did chile con queso come from and how did it evolve? What are the regional variations of chile con queso? Why the heck does Arkansas lay claim to this dish? Can chile con queso be considered a mother sauce? I could go on.

My curiosity fueled my quest and I spent my time reading articles; paging through old cookbooks; talking to queso cooks; and making a variety of different recipes. I ended up with a spreadsheet of 215 recipes, which when I pitched the book to my agent and publisher they requested that I narrow it down to 50—a difficult task when you’ve become a queso nerd!

In the end, however, I am over the moon with the finished book. Recipes include historical quesos such as the original Mexican incarnation of the dish and the first chile con queso recipe published in Texas; classic Tex-Mex queso recipes, such as ones inspired by Felix queso and Kerbey Lane; chile con queso as it’s found along the border, such as the white cheese and chile-rich El Paso style and an assortment of skillet queso fundidos.

The are recipes for quirky quesos, such as vegan queso, a smoked cheddar and sausage Hill Country queso, and one livened up with Indian chutney; and finally, recipes where queso makes an appearance such as enchiladas, huevos rancheros, and chicken-fried steak.

Queso: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip by Lisa Fain | Homesick Texan

Besides all the cheesy goodness, there are also recipes for delicious queso add-ins such as salsas, fajitas, chili, pulled pork, bean dip, and more. If you’re curious, I even show you how to fry corn tortillas to make your own chips, and I cracked the code on the puffy tostada, too.

The mouth-watering photography was done by Aubrie Pick, and the packaging of the book is a charming size perfect for hostess gifts or stocking stuffers. (Speaking from experience, it also fits nicely into a purse or book bag if you wish to carry it around and show people how wonderful queso can be.)

Queso: Regional Recipes for the World's Favorite Chile-Cheese Dip by Lisa Fain | Homesick Texan

Because I’ve become a queso nerd, I could continue but for now I will let you go so you can grab your own copy of QUESO! and start cooking. Though if you would like to discuss queso with me in person, please come see me on tour—I would love to visit with you!

As always, thank you for reading and for your encouraging words. You make this all worthwhile and I am so grateful. This project has brought me immense joy and I’m delighted to finally share that joy with you. So, grab your chips, your cheese, your chiles, and your loved ones, and enjoy the glory of queso!

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You can buy QUESO! wherever books are sold, such as these fine establishments:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Indiebound
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If you're in New York, this Thursday, September 28, please join me at Bloomindales on 59th from 6-8. It's an evening of queso and cocktails with NY Times spirits writer Robert Simonson. We'll both be sharing food and drinks and doing demonstrations! This event is free.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Green chile cheeseburgers

Green chile cheeseburger | Homesick Texan

During a trip to El Paso a few summers ago, I got in my car one morning and drove the 80-something miles to Hatch, New Mexico. My goal was to take photos of its famed long green chiles growing in the field. While I didn't see many farms, there were plenty of shops selling chiles and such, along with restaurants offering chile-based cuisine.

After all my time on the road, I was hungry. So, on the advice of a friend I pulled into a joint called Sparky’s and ordered its green chile cheeseburger. The seasoned patty was topped with a mixture of chopped chiles and melted American cheese, all layered onto a squishy, sweet bun. It was my first-ever green chile cheeseburger and it was outstanding.

In Texas, green chile cheeseburgers are served in many places, especially this time of year when the fresh chiles are at their peak. Texans, of course, love heat so it only seems natural we would enjoy a juicy burger topped with peppers. But as much as Texans enjoy spicy food, their love for the green chile cheeseburger has nothing on New Mexicans’ deep and abiding passion for the dish.

Green chile cheeseburger | Homesick Texan

Indeed, if you ask a New Mexican where to find the best green chile cheeseburger, chances are no two answers will be the same as opinions on the matter are strong. For instance, besides Sparky’s, you’ll hear people say other New Mexican burger joints such as Blake’s or Buckhorn Tavern or Santa Fe Bite offer the best. There are also fevered debates on the correct way to prepare the burgers. Some prefer a thick patty topped with chiles before smothering the meat in a blanket of melted cheese. Others prefer their meat to be topped with cheese before adding the chiles.

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