Compound Interest

You can’t live in Austin without developing a taste for queso. I do believe that at a certain point in your residency, if you don’t profess your undying love for the gooey cheese dip, the authorities will come and escort you out. Queso is a Tex-Mex staple that’s as abundant as the bats under Congress Bridge. It’s the glue holding together every menu, sometimes literally, as a stand-alone appetizer, side dish, and topping. Given the opportunity, I have no doubt that it would be blended into frosty margaritas, too.

All you need is liquid cheese with a bit of spice to have a passable queso dip. When you’re ready to take it to the next level, consider stepping up your game with Queso Compuesto.

Compuesto translates as “compound,” which means “made up or consisting of two or more existing parts or elements.” As such, queso is still the main attraction, but now you have a dollop of guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream in the same dish. Go all the way and hide a layer of cooked taco meat at the bottom, and you can basically call that a balanced meal.

How do you serve Queso Compuesto?

  • Queso is always a stellar party starter, served as an appetizer with thick, crunchy tortilla chips.
    • Pro tip: Warm the chips first to make them seem freshly fried and extra crispy. Just spread them out on a sheet pan and bake at 350 degrees for 5 – 6 minutes, until warm to the touch. Transfer the chips to a bowl so no one burns themselves on the hot pan.
  • Ladle or spread queso over tacos, inside burritos before wrapping, or use as instant quesadilla filling.

What are some tasty variations on Queso Compuesto?

  • Mix and match your favorite components to make this queso your own. Don’t like sour cream but love extra avocado on everything? Double up the guac and ditch the crema.
  • When you’re in a rush, there’s no shame in taking shortcuts. Use prepared guacamole, pico de gallo, and sour cream. Heck, you can even use ready-made vegan queso, if you just want to use this idea as a template to color by numbers.
  • Instead of meatless taco-seasoned grounds, stick with more whole foods like black beans or refried pinto beans for protein.
  • Switch out the pico de gallo for any other salsa, hot or mild, red or green, smooth or chunky.

What can you do with leftover Queso Compuesto?

This is definitely a party-sized serving, so if you want to have a fiesta for one or two, don’t worry about the extra going to waste. It’s an incredibly versatile addition to…

  • Pasta bakes
  • Pizza
  • Chili
  • Baked potatoes

Alternately, you could always divide the components into single servings. This is a great approach for portion control, planned leftovers, and simply preventing anyone from hogging the dish!

Some people still refer to this as “Bob Armstrong Dip,” attributing the creation to the former Texas land commissioner who allegedly asked for something different, off the menu, at Matt’s El Rancho in Austin, Texas. I think you can confidently name this one after yourself for improving upon the concept by making it far healthier, vegan, gluten-free, and even more flavorful.

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Cheese Head

Cheese still looms large as a barrier for otherwise open-minded eaters dabbling with veganism. It’s not just because it tastes good, as they claim, but it’s a genuine addiction. Casein, the most abundant protein found in dairy cheese, triggers the brain’s opioid receptors exactly like hard drugs. Fragments of that protein called casomorphins attach to the same brain receptors as heroin and other narcotics, producing a hit of dopamine with every bite.

The first step towards cheese freedom isn’t necessarily abstinence. No one needs to live without cheese entirely; in this day and age, there are nearly as many plant-based options on the market as conventional wheels, slices, and shreds. No longer can anyone claim a lack of flavors or accessibility as their excuse. Of course, whenever possible, homemade is still always best.

This herb-encrusted cashew cheese is a decadent and creamy homemade dairy-free cheese alternate. Spread it on toast or crackers as thickly as you please! The most-difficult part of the process is waiting for the cashew-based ‘curds’ to solidify. You’ll want to throw a wine and cheese party the moment your prize is ready, but you’d be forgiven for wanting to save every bite for yourself.

Unlike its dairy-based doppelganger, cashew cheese is a genuinely beneficial whole food, packed with vitamins, magnesium, calcium, and is also a good source of protein and fiber. In fact, it is actually higher in vitamins and minerals than standard cheese! Now you can indulge in good conscience and good health.

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A Serious Queso the Munchies

February is upon us. Are you ready for some football?!

Okay, me neither. I am, however, ready for an afternoon of entertaining commercials paired with some winning snacks. Who could pass up the opportunity to make a meal of chips, dips, and various fried delights?

Combining those cravings into one compact comfort food canapé, I was inspired by the Twin Dragon Asian Wrapper Recipe Challenge to transform classic queso into easy, cheesy rangoons.

Chips are merely crunchy vehicles for loading up on dip, so let’s cut straight to the good stuff and double down on the filling instead. Score big points by baking or air frying these savory morsels for an equally crispy finish, without all the grease.

Whether you’re watching the game or happily grazing through the event, these spicy little pouches will be the MVPs of the day.

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Feta Accompli

Feta, the stuff of myth and legend, has been a hot commodity since Byzantine Greece, first appearing in written record in Homer’s Odyssey. Loosely described as curdled sheep’s milk, it was the Cyclops that began what could be considered the first cottage industry business out of his cave.

Not to discount the early efforts of an innovative entrepreneur, I just can’t help but think it’s high time to stop following the herd. Over 6,000 years later, we ought to collectively crawl out from under that rock and start a new narrative for feta. No more sheep, no more strife.

Celebrating a robust 50-year heritage, Follow Your Heart may not have quite the same storied lineage, but they’re certainly out there making history. Introducing the very first dairy-free crumbled feta on the modern market, the “alternative” is one so good, it’s really impossible to justify traditional methods.

Firm, squeaky curds, briny and and slightly sour, like buttery unsweetened yogurt, they’re good enough to Greek out about. Each package contains diverse proportions of gleaming white morsels, ranging from nuggets the size of marbles to tiny specks akin to sea salt or coarsely ground pepper. This varied consistency is ideal for most applications; the smaller pieces evenly coat the vegetables, grains, or proteins in the mix, while the heftier chunks stand out for bold bites of concentrated cheesy flavor.

It’s a good thing there’s such a wide range of particle sizes, including such a fine spray that defies roving fingers, because it would otherwise be too tempting to simply eat out of hand.

This feta was born to be used in recipes, and not just salads, either. Blending Greek origins with Italian inspiration, it’s right at home in pillowy soft planks of fresh baked focaccia. Here, it gets mixed into the dough itself to infuse that distinctive umami flavor throughout, with more sprinkled directly on top for an irresistible browned surface. Nothing more is needed to dress up such a simple but bold bread, though it would be pretty incredible sliced in half and filled with your favorite sandwich fixings.

Soft, tender, and buttery slabs of flat bread would be hard enough to resist, but when each slice has morsels of compellingly salty feta embedded into every bite, no amount of willpower stands a chance. Give in and take a big bite; as your teeth sink into the crisp, caramelized crust, pushing past toasted garlic and aromatic herbs, you’ll wonder why you don’t bake bread everyday. That is, until you polish off a pan in record time, perhaps. It might be dangerous to make a regular habit. The feta is both the cherry on top, and part of the essential foundation. No other cheese will do, and certainly not one made from conventional dairy.

Follow your heart, mind, and stomach to a better feta. This will go down in history as yet another innovation that makes milk moot.

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