If I had a nickname in the kitchen, it would be the Approximate Chef. It’s an approach I inherited from my mother, who, as far as I know, never followed a recipe exactly and never made any dish the same way twice. So when Elaine (the editor of culture) challenged my kids and me to a rainy-day project of making cheese, I felt a pang of anxiety reading the recipe for fresh ricotta cheese in The Paley’s Place Cookbook. A parenthetical note on the page reads, “Remember, cheese making is a science and temperature is crucial.” Fortunately, one of the many advantages of cooking with kids (and with hanging around with them in general) is that such details do not deter them.
A party dip, a fondue, or a casserole—this over-the-top queso fundido has something in common with all of them. It features queso Oaxaca, the tangy Mexican string cheese, which bubbles over a layer of toasted chilies, shredded chicken, and a creamy sauce infused with allspice. At Doña Tomás, they like to serve it with a refreshing Paloma Cocktail: run a lime around the rim of a highball glass and dip it in salt spiked with ground chilies. Fill the glass with ice, add 1½ ounces of Reposado tequila, and top with a squirt of soda and a wedge of lime, squeezed, and dropped into the glass.
It’s a real show when Jimmy Shaw makes chicharrones behind the sleek counter at Loteria Grill. A blizzard of shredded Mexican manchego hits the hot griddle, then a pinch of cilantro, a sprinkle of onion, and seconds later you’re handed a fantastically lacy, golden crisp. Alas, you are not Jimmy Shaw, so here’s how to do it at home: make several smaller, less dramatic chicharrones instead of one huge one. Use a slightly lower temperature. And think of them like pancakes—the first will be ugly but good, and they’ll keep getting better.
This is a beautiful version of a classic dish, with a distinct clarity of flavor. Unlike many other renditions, this one is meatless, so the creamy white cubes of panela bob among the green avocado and cilantro in a red broth, lightly smoked with chipotle and brightened with lime. If you can, make your own chicken broth. It’s worth it.
Prepare the Red Tomato Salsa. Set aside.
If you’ve never made fresh tortillas, don’t be intimidated. Prepared masa can be bought at most Mexican markets and some restaurants; tortilla presses are readily available (even at Target). And this recipe for a flaky, fried quesadilla is about as easy as making a grilled cheese sandwich. But what a thrill it is to take this off the stove: a crackling shell filled with the earthy flavors of yellow corn, tangy cheese, and a pop of fresh epazote. Serve it with good guacamole and salsa, and maybe a few greens.
THE FILLING: In a small bowl, toss together the manchego, panela, cotija, and epazote. Set aside.
A retailer muses on the changing state of American cheese
I think I was about twenty years ago that I got up to speak at the American Cheese Society conference in San Francisco, and held up at the podium a slice of processed American cheese. Addressing the audience with my prop, I voiced a couple of predictions: two decades into the future, when they thought of American cheese, most people would no longer envision pre-sliced singles of the sort I was holding, but rather fl avorful, wellmade, interesting wheels and wedges. Furthermore, when those of us in the industry heard the word craft, we would think of skillful, hands-on production, not a multinational conglomerate cranking out processed cheese. Generally speaking, I don’t consider myself
much of a soothsayer, but I think there’s little doubt that these positive changes—and others—have been fully realized in the cheese world.
Forgo sloppy water bottles and inconvenient electric blankets in favor of a microwaveable heating pad—one disguised as a furry friend, that is. Maine Warmers are sewn of soft, hypoallergenic Berber and stuffed with faintly fragrant corn kernels to fashion a microwaveable package that can help alleviate aches and pains with ease. Snuggle up!
Soften up dry winter skin with sheep’s-milk soap. A standout for its Little Bo Peep-inspired shape, this bar
also has a high fat and mineral content that makes for supremely moisturizing lather; soothing almond oil and shea butter up the ante. To reap the benefi ts, just add water.
Be a spring-cleaning machine with help from the ultimate sidekick: an old-fashioned lambswool duster. These debrisswiping superstars have been favored for centuries thanks to their naturally lanolin-laced fibers that generate static electricity and effectively snatch up dust and dirt.