How to make the most out of cheese

  • By Judyrae Kruse Herald Columnist
  • Wednesday, March 2, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Time and money — the lack of — are always a bugaboo, with money lately topping the list as the main monkeywrench.

But chicken’s cheap, comparatively speaking, especially when it’s on sale. And always a popular, so-versatile choice. So are enchiladas.

What say, then, we put the two together for something affordable and delectable, a budget-helper and a family-pleaser all in one.

What luck that Chef Heather Hunsaker, at www.foodonthetable.com, is here today to show us exactly how to get the job done, starting us off with some cheesy tips to wring the most mileage out of our cheese purchases, thereby pinching our pennies to the utmost.

Also — and I think this is a biggie — as an added bonus, this is not only a fix-it and eat-it dish, straight from the kitchen to the table, it can be assembled, wrapped and frozen for a make-ahead, quick shove-in-the-oven dinner on a night when you’re too frantically busy to scramble together a from-scratch meal.

That said, Heather says, “Storing cheese properly is crucial to insure it stays fresh. If the cheese has a rind, leave it on to keep the cheese fresh.

“Softer cheeses have a shorter storage life and should be used by the ‘use by’ date or kept no longer than five days after purchase.

“Firm and hard cheeses have less moisture and can be stored for longer periods. All cheeses should be wrapped tightly, then stored in the refrigerator.

“Cheese can be frozen for longer storage; however, freezing cheese compromises the flavor and texture. If freezing is necessary, hard or semi-hard cheese such as cheddar or Swiss freeze best and can be kept frozen for up to six months.

“Cheese naturally develops more flavors and may develop mold as it ages. Most molds look unappealing but are usually harmless. Cutting away the moldy area on hard cheese allows you to preserve and use the remaining cheese.

Soft cheeses, such as cream cheese and ricotta, should be discarded immediately if moldy.

“Cheese can be a bit temperamental when cooking with it; however, it is not difficult. High heat is the enemy of cheese. Since cheese contains high levels of protein, it becomes tough and stringy if exposed to heat for too long or at too high a temperature.

“For best results, when melting cheese for use in a cheese sauce, use shredded cheese you grate yourself. Freshly grated cheese will melt faster and have a smoother melted texture than packaged shredded cheese.”

Heather winds up with, “What better way to celebrate the power of cheese and make life a little bit cheesy, than with some creamy, cheesy chicken enchiladas?”

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m raring to make:

Chef Heather’s cheesy chicken enchiladas

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken (see note)
1 can (4 ounces) diced green chilies
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup tomatillo salsa, divided
1 cup sour cream, divided
1 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 flour tortillas
1 cup shredded colby jack cheese
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the onion and garlic and cook until tender. Add the chicken, green chilies, cream cheese, 1/2 cup of the tomatillo salsa, 1/2 cup of the sour cream, Tabasco, cumin, pepper and salt. Heat through.

Fill tortillas with chicken mixture. Roll up tightly and place tortillas seam side down in prepared baking pan.

Combine remaining 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup salsa; pour over enchiladas and sprinkle evenly with the cheeses. Bake for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and tortillas are heated through.

Makes 5 servings.

Note: Leftover shredded turkey also works great in this dish. Also, these enchiladas make a good freezer meal. Simply prepare enchiladas according to directions, but do not bake. Wrap tightly and freeze. When ready to eat, cook the frozen enchiladas in a preheated 375-degree oven for 1 hour or until heated through.

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