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Sesame-Glazed Tofu and Roasted Napa Cabbage

Tonight I revisted more Asian themes. This time moving in a slightly more Chinese direction. Mostly I was just hungry and wanted to play around. I had some napa cabbage in the fridge that needed to be used up and my pantry is still pretty light except for things like soy sauce and sesame oil. Picked up some tofu from the store, plus a carrot and some sesame seeds and was able to come up with this…

sesame tofu and roast cabbage

Not exactly the prettiest thing with it’s dull orange, green and brown tones. Almost monochomatic. But pretty happy nonetheless with the taste.

Started with the cabbage. Preheated oven to 375. Meanwhile split the cabbage I had lengthwise. Made a quick dressing of oil, a dash of sesame oil, minced clove of garlic and salt. This went onto the cabbage, making sure to get the garlic into those leaves. When the oven got hot, the cabbage went in (45 minutes in my dish, but it maybe could’ve gone for an hour.) Came out as such

roast bok choy

As for the tofu. I had this idea that I thought was genius. The trick everyone knows for frying tofu is that you have to get the water out of it, otherwise it’s just steamed in oil, not crusty and golden. The popular method is to press it with a weight, sandwiched between towels, which works fine I suppose. But I thought I could do better using a common household item: a space heater. I made a rig out of a wire rack and the empty tofu container (to trap water.)

tofu and space heater

Overall, I was happy with the results! After first doing a quick press with some towels to get the bulk of the moisture out, it went onto my rig. An occasional turn here and there to keep the drying even. After maybe half an hour it felt right. So into a hot (med-hot) pan with some oil. Didn’t take long to start browning, which I could see along the edges of the tofu near the pan. One flip and then the other side.

tofu fried

DONE!

The “glaze” as I’m calling it was pretty simple. If you’re wondering why there isn’t any ginger, because I think once in a while it would nice for sesame and ginger to have some time apart. They’re co-dependent and they need to focus on their individuality now and then. Though, admittedly, ginger would’ve been good.

2 teaspoons of ketchup

1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1 teaspoon of sesame oil

a good pinch of sesame seeds

Stir and spread over hot tofu.

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New Kitchen! Old Blog!

I let this site fall away. The glamour faded of being another “food blogger” in a virtual market where there are six blogs for every one reader (based on a statistic I just made up.) :Life got in the way, and this site has never been anything but a fun diversion shared by myself, a few friends and the occasional stumbler–welcome!

But a few things have changed:

1.) Moved to a new house with a much, much nicer kitchen!

2.) I now earn an honest living as a cook. So not only am I sharing food I’ve made; I’m dispensing real PROFESSIONAL advice here!

3.) I’m more actively pursuing a “near-vegetarian” diet. What is that? Basically, I’m trying to adjust to a diet that doesn’t assume meat as the normative, central focus of meals. That Americans in particular should for ecological, social and ethical reasons drastically cut back on meat, but that absolute vegetarianism, if it seems to harsh for many to even attempt, needn’t be 100% to have an effect. And I cook meat for my job, which includes a lot of free meals so…

Tonight is my first attempt at making something that wasn’t just “throwing something together.” This is what I was craving and this is what I made

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RICE BOWL W/ PEANUTS, PEARS AND RAW VEG W/ A JAPANESE-INSPIRED DRESSING

Okay, the name of it is longer than most sentences in this blog. Does it sound alluring?! Cold rice and raw vegetables? Pears in that shit? Why?! But this is one of the tastiest things I’ve made in a long time. Plus, aside from the condiments, which I figured I’d need to splurge on soon enough, it’s damn cheap.

STEP ONE: Cook up some rice. I made about 500 mL because the measuring cup in my kitchen–when held in the right hand, which I am–shows metric. That’s about two cups cooked if you prefer the Imperial system. Start this first. Chill when done.

STEP TWO: Prepare vegetables. Ideally about as much vegetation as rice. What kind? This is a good recipe for using what’s on hand, and since this is a cold dish, what can be cut fine/thin and raw. I used:

– Half a handful of broccoli florets.

– Half a small zucchini. Cut into very tiny ‘matchsticks.’

– Two stalks of green onion. (Halve that if you don’t like onion. I love onion!)

– One bosc pear, sliced.*

– Peanuts… like a handful-ish.

STEP THREE: Make the dressing. It’s super easy.

Take a small knob of ginger. Slice off the skin on all sides, plus cut away any exposed part not covered with skin (ginger dries out and gets woody and inedible real fast where it’s been cut.) I came up with a piece about the size of the last digit on my pointer finger. Put in on a cutting board or firm surface, and SMASH IT LIKE THE CHAINS OF CAPITALISM. When it comes to both ginger and garlic, I am a firm believer that they should almost always be crushed first. You want their delicious oils and plant phenols or whatever their flavor-substances are that are trapped in their cell walls. Smashing/crushing will make your ginger more ginger-y.

In a bowl mix with the ginger about two tablespoons of soy sauce and rice vinegar, a quick splash of toasted sesame oil, half a tablespoon to a tablespoon of miso (sub in sriracha for heat, curry paste for zing, or even peanut butter if you don’t have miso.)

Take a fork and start stirring your dressing vigorously with one hand while slowly and I mean SLOWLY drizzling in a light vegetable or canola oil in. Now a classic vinaigratte will tell you to use add at least twice as much oil as the sour base, but this is not a dressing for greens; oil makes dressings “sticky” but this is going onto sticky rice so why add a lot of calories? Aim for a 1:1 ratio and just eye-ball it.

STEP FOUR: ASSEMBLE!

Mix everything together. This dish shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes to make if you’ve got decent knife skills and cook white rice first. It’s not complicated, neither should the serving of it. Dump it in a bowl, or on a plate, or in an inverted fedora. It’s got a nice balance with the nutty, earthy sesame oil and the bright punch of the ginger; using raw vegetables/peanuts contrasts crunch with the rice. Other cliche sounding words used by food critics… this is simple, vegan, tasty and budget friendly.

Pacific Northwest Pride With A Spanish Touch

I moved to Portland a little over two years ago. This burgeoning “foodie town” hasn’t let me down much, although I’m still skeptical as with all things Portland related that there isn’t a hype factor involved a bit. One thing I wont argue with is being so close to and surrounded by one of the agricultural Meccas of the United States. The produce! So good.

Felt like cooking up something special because it was a slow Sunday and I haven’t treated myself in a while. Thought maybe I’d play to the foods of my new home in the PNW, but add a little Spanish-French touch since, well, awesome + awesome…

DSC00708

Salmon With Poblano-Hazelnut Pesto, Potatoes, Asparagus and a Garlic-Pimenton Butter

My inability to gauge portion sizes from raw ingredients lead to a rather hefty plate, which is fine by me when the food’s this good and it’s Sunday (I can nap, dammit!)

First thing is you want to start your potatoes. Depends on their size of course as to how long you need to cook them. Just stab ’em with a fork, ice pick or whatever you have handy after a while to test.

OH! But you think cooking potatoes is just that easy, do you?! Here’s the best trick I’ve learned for doing potatoes: never add potatoes to a boiling pot. See the heat and hot water that carries it takes time to travel from outside to in, when you apply that heat too fast, too hard it doesn’t make that distance very equitably. It’s a caloric class system. What you get is over-done outer parts and raw insides. Also, unless you have health reasons like hypertension, douse the water with salt. Not only does it flavor your potato but I believe something with the osmosis process makes for a more tender tater–least it seems that way to me but I’m not a scientist.

Now the fish… I got a nice bit of salmon, quintessential PNW staple. A sadly rare treat because I’m broke and I will not buy shitty fish (I used to be a fishmonger.) I went with a poaching method with this. Convinience, mostly, there were a lot of dirty dishes with this meal. One my potatoes were done I just popped the fishy right into the water, which was on a medium heat, not at a boil. Water boils at 212 degrees and fish should be cooked to 145 degrees to be safe. See what I mean?

The recipe I adapted this from suggested throwing white wine, garlic and parsley into the cooking liquid. Which is cool, but I find never adds enough flavor to be worth the trouble.

Asparagus. Blanch it for a few minutes. If you want to keep it extra green chill it in ice water after cooking. I’m told a little baking soda in the water also helps.

Now comes the fun part, the condiments!

Poblano-Hazelnut Pesto.

– One handful of hazelnuts (Oregon’s state nut!) Blanched if you want to put in the effort. Initially I was going to make this into a Romesco type sauce, but messed up my levels. But the pesto was a serendipitous result.

– One large poblano pepper, fire roasted. Don’t have a fire? A non-stick pan on the highest heat will burn that sucker black. I found putting our tea kettle over it for pressure got a nice blackness on the skin. You want black too. You can easily scrape off the burnt skin with cold, running water and a paring knife, and that’s the only way to get a soft, roasty pepper.

– Vinegar, just a capful. I like Sherry, but apple cider is more likely in your pantry and works fine.

– Cumin. Half teaspoon ground or about as many seeds.

Take food. Put in blender. Slowly add olive oil in batches or drizzle if your machine has an open top for such. Blend until you have a workable paste and, of course, season appropriately.

Garlic-Pimenton Butter

– Garlic. I used three cloves, small-medium sorts. You *could* just mince them. I have this super-handy toaster oven that I threw them in, in their jackets, for 18 minutes. Makes for a sweeter, less zingy garlic.

– Olive oil in a pain on med-low heat. Minced garlic in! Good dash of good paprika. And when I say good paprika I mean spend money on the real stuff. A lot of cheap brands are flavorless, basically coloring agents. I don’t normally advocate spending more for quality, but paprika’s an exception, the difference is night and day.

– So while your garlic slowly softens and the paprika/pimenton dissolve, how about a pat of butter? Nice texture, great depth, loves salmon.

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Serving is pretty evident I hope from the picture! Just sliced the potatoes into rounds (careful that they’re cool), fish, asparagus and distribute the pesto over and sauce around so you can get nice even bites.

Salmon, hazelnuts and asparagus! The only thing essentially Pacific Northwest not included were rain and handlebar moustaches. But that… that’s another post.

Tuna Burger – Time Is of the Essence!!!

So the other day I came home hungry after a busy day of work and a tough workout. My stomach was crying for food like the revolutionaries of the Paris Commune cried for freedom. As a rule I do not keep any sort of snacks in my house except apples, carrots and the like; by forcing myself to take the time to cook I avoid the temptation to mindlessly stuff myself. But this situation I was in called for an expedient solution–no time to wait 40 minutes for brown rice to cook!

Solution (fast, healthy and utterly satisfying):

tuna burger sandwich

It’s a tuna burger. It couldn’t be easier, cheaper or much better for you. Takes little time for a nice, juicy payback.

1. Open a can o’ tuna and drain it. I just pressed the lid of the can down hard, inverted over the sink. Add the tuna pieces to a bowl.

2. Finely mince some onion, like a couple tablespoons, or if you don’t like onions, don’t. Pick a vegetable you do like, picky-puss. Add to tuna. Next comes a little wheat germ for body and nutrition, 1/4-1/3 cup. And you’re going to want a little heat too, right? Srirachi squirts (my choice), Tabasco sauce, horseradish, spicy mustard or black pepper all love canned tuna.

3. Add one egg yolk. When I made this for myself it had almost the consistency of a crab cake* rather than a patty. The egg is necessary to hold everything together while keeping it moist when you cook it. *That is to say, crumbly.

4. Add flour. How much? Depends on how well-drained the tuna is and how much glue-y power you require. Add in small batches and gently fold with your hands until you can form a fishy mass that holds in one piece. You can use non-wheat flour if you’re gluten intolerant, just remember while it will absorb extra moisture it wont have the same binding effect.

5. Fry your burger in a little olive oil over a med-high heat. For me, the point was to get a crust and sturdy outside shell, not to cook through. If you’re worried about under-cooked egg, go with a lower heat. The tuna, obviously, is cooked. About 4 minutes a side. Note: While this *could* be adapted for the grill, don’t try it with this recipe. You’ll just end up with tuna rubble on charcoal.

6. If you reserved the egg whites when you separated your egg, you might consider cooking them in the pan when the burger’s done for a topping.

7. Assemble sandwich on bread or a bun, top with your fixin’s and condiments of choice.

Don’t be a slave to the capitalist system! Don’t be a slave to your kitchen either.

It Can Only Be… Stir Fraud!!!

I haven’t really thought about this blog in a while. Cooking creativity was slumping, broken camera issues and a lacklustre pantry due to this Capitalist Crisis we’re in were the main reasons. But tonight, I made a spur of the moment decision to try something new: tofu stir-fry that has no oil whatsoever! Now some recipes I’ve tried before call for swapping oil for water (and nothing else different) and my opinion is that they all suck. It tastes steamed and bland, keeping health food stereotypes obese with justification. Mine is way better!

no-oil stir fry

No list of measurements/time.  😦 My apologizes, but I wasn’t thinking I’d post about this until I was eating it.

Pre-prep: Making rice, chopping veggies and setting your oven to something around 275-300 F.

1. Take a non-stick pan over a medium-high heat. Take tofu (always extra-firm!) and place them in thick slices onto the pan (no oil!) You could cube them now, but if you leave them lengthwise for now it’s easier to sear them. Wiggle gently and turn when just a little brown onto another side. Keep doing this until all sides are done. Carefully remove and cube your tofu to desired morselness.

2. Lower the heat a bit and begin to assemble the sauce of your choosing. If do this in an empty pan the better, as you can adjust it easier. Soy sauce, broth, minced garlic, five-spice powder and pepper was all I can remember adding to mine. You can borrow from any recipe you like with this rule: no prepared sauces or thickening agents! This is a braise, meaning liquid. Those GM Party Banned items will just turn to gel, not seep into the tofu and probably burn all over your pan.

3. When you’ve got your sauce tofu/protein goes in, veg goes in and for a nice braise you do not want things completely covered 60% is a rough basis. Too little and dry out could happen (BAD!); too much and heat just wont transfer quickly (NOT GOOD.) Then into the oven for about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your vegetables. Turn food over once or twice to give everything a dunk and check the liquid (evaporation will only be a problem if you had a pithy puddle to start with.)

4. When you feel confident in your braise’s done-ness remove (CAREFULLY) and place back on the stove top. Now you need a slurry, which is not in this case a way to describe weather in my homestates of MI and OR, but a mix of cornstarch and water. Make it in a bowl, about a tablespoon should be plenty and enough cold water till you can whisk it to solution. Never add the cornstarch directly to hot liquid because that just makes corn lumps.

5. Put the heat fairly high on the stove and wait for a boil to begin. Keep stirring and add the slurry in doses (you can always add more but never take out.) The slurry will start to thicken the sauce. When it’s to your liking, you’re finished! Serve over rice, noodles, nachos, whatever and consume. (Note: you can make slurries with other thickeners like flour or arrowroot, but only cornstarch has that oily mouthfeel to it.)

no oil stir fry 2

Though I’m not on a “diet” by any means, I’ve been working out a lot more and naturally eating well is crucial. I’m estimating that rather huge dish was about 700 calories. And use the fork for comparison, it’s an especially large plate. 700 calories in a main meal isn’t a lot for an active person’s diet. My daily needs are about five times that. But the good thing is while this had more calories than a Big Mac, it had 1.5x the protein and half the fat.

Leftover Raddichio–Riddichoulous

Some ingredients can be tricky to work with when you have leftover portions from other dishes. Happened to me with raddichio, which is an amazing but excessively bitter green. Like all members of the lettuce family the countdown was on to use it fast or risk wilted spoilage, and I’m too poor for lost produce.

Cheap, easky and delicious solution was Balsamic Roasted Raddichio with Polenta.

Polenta cooks differently depending upon the size of the grain. But if you’re usually cooking rice or pasta don’t be surprised if the recommended time is quite high. A good, evenly cooked polenta can take up to 40 minutes on a low heat if the cut is coarse–the package you’re reading is no typo.

As your pot of polenta gets lovely, you can dress your raddichio. Cut the stem portion off but you can leave them in wedges or thick pieces.. Sorry that I’m not one to measure, but the mixture is salt, pepper, olive oil and a lot of balsamic. If you can’t gauge the appropriate amounts of these things chances are you probably shouldn’t be trying this at all. Just go easy on the salt, the rest with drip off. Set your oven to a hot 450 degrees (F) and when it heats you can pop those leaves in for about 13 minutes. Let them cool and then slice or chop them to your preference.

With the polenta… polenta is great but usually made poorly so few incorporate it as a food staple. Here’s my trick: you have to heavily season that shit. Milk, butter and salt. Start piling it in as you taste. For healthier versions go with stock and aromatics. Thing is, polenta has marvelous texture, but falls short on flavor.

I finished my lunch with a small bit of simple, store-bought marinara sauce (no shame in buying pre-made product if you use it well) and some diced red pepper and arugula for color. I sometimes go overboard with garnishing but I love color.

Oh, and I have soy milk and vegan butter substitute (I’m mainly lactose intolerant) so this was also 100% vegan. Light, simple, comforting.

Squid and Bok Choy over Curry Rice

Two point knock out with Asian style cuisine. Here I made a killer curry of squid, bok choy and rice

1/3 lbs squid
1 hunk of bok choy
1/2 cup of rice with a teaspoon of curry powder
half a bunch of cilantro
1/2 cup or so of coconut milk
1 teaspoon of soy sauce
a hefty dash of salt and pepper

Started by cooking the rice and curry powder together.

Sauteed the squid for a few minutes, added the bok choy and cooked for about five minutes

Plated the rice, squid and poured a pureee of blended coconut milk, cilantro and ginger.

Viet-Nom-Nom

New camera = new posts. The old camera died and no point writing about dishes if there are no tasty, tasty photos. My lunch today…

 

Complicated? Hell yeah. Measured? Afreaid not. Worth it? F### yes!!!

First thing you will need is pork–loin is a good cut–and marinate that for at least 24 hours. Totally transforms the meat. I used: soy sauce, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce (found in Asian markets, terribly pungent! Not for everyone), chilies, lime leaves, garlic and a touch of salt. To eventually cook this, low and slow for about three hours at 275 if you’re using a standard loin chop. Chop/shred when the meat is cool.

For the noodles, cook according to package directions. Any ol’ noodle works here. Could be rice, vermicceli… I just happened to use mung bean noodles. Dressed with a bit of coconut milk and green curry paste I warmed in a pan with a bit of a chopped cilantro.

Take your veggies and cut them thin! I used carrot, cucumber, green beans and sprouts. Nice crunch.

The soy-sriracha reduction sauce. Here I wish I wrote down measurements or remembered better. Basically though it was equal parts soy sauce, lime juice with a good hit of sugar and sriracha sauce. Bring it to a boil, then reduce and cook until it becomes thick. Intense flavor in this stuff, use sparingly and I recommend serving it on the side as I did. To make a nice spread, spoon a lump of it at one edge of the plate and drag a spoon over the top to spread. Looks elegant.

Iberian Pulled Pork

The other day I made bigos, the national dish of the Polish people (pierogi be damned.) And I had this nice big steak of pork shoulder leftover that I wanted to use as soon as possible. The resulting creation…

Pork shoulder roasted/confit over yellow split/green peas and a spicy tomato sauce. A dish I think would be loved by the old comrades of the Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo.

For the Pork:

1 pork shoulder steak, bone in
seasoned vigorously with: salt, pepper, paprika (the real kind), garlic powder, fennel seed and a bay leaf or two.

1 Roma tomato, sliced
a few slices of onion
1 jalapeno, sliced

1. Preheat an oven to 250 degrees.

2. Rub pork generously with seasonings. Transfer to a sheet of tinfoil. Place tomato, onion and chili over top and fold the foil over to seal. Lay on a baking sheet and place in the oven.

3. After about 4 hours remove the package, open carefully! (steam burns!) and remove vegetables and juices from the foil packet (don’t spill!) Re-fold the foil over the pork and return to the oven for another 40 minutes. Meanwhile…

4. Add the contents of the the vegetables and juice to a small sauce pan and begin to reduce while breaking up the large pieces (the tines of a fork work perfectly.) Stop when you get to a “sauce” consistency.

5. When the time is up on the pork, remove it from the oven and let it rest AT LEAST 15-20 minutes. Once it’s rested, transfer to a plate or cutting board and begin pulling the meat into shreds (two forks, hand in hand, do this perfectly.)

THE LEGUMES

1. Cooking yellow peas, lentils or rice according to their nature. For simplicity and the health benefits of steaming, toss the green peas over the mix 10 minutes prior to the other thing being finished.

2. Season with salt, pepper and olive oil.

PRESENTATION

1. Bed of legumes/rice, shredded pork, sauce. Done.

The real great thing about this dish is it utilizes simple, cheap ingredients for the proletarian budget. Pork shoulder is one of the cheapest cuts of meat there is. Lentils and peas are pennies. Add a tomato, onion and a pepper, plus a few spices you’re likely to have, and you’re set. Did I mention this is also really easy to make?

Baked Cheese with Double Salsa.

This is a dish I made a couple days ago after getting the craving for a homemade salsa. I don’t like to go too far out of my way for food, so when I saw a good price on some tomaillos at the nearest market to me, which specializes in Mexican food I got them, and made a simple salsa verde (literally, “green sauce” in Spanish.) Because cheese and verdant, tart foods don’t generally mix I also got some chipotle peppers that went into a rich red salsa. These were layered into queso fresco and baked in a tortilla as brie is so often done. The results were colorful and delicious. Wish I’d had this written before the “Big Game.”

Salsa Verde:

1/3 onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
chilis to taste, I used two entire jalapenos but you can tone it down or up as you like
about 7 tomatillos chopped, about 2-3 cups worth
1 lime, juiced
salt

Start by sauteeing your onions, garlic and chilis in a bit of oil until they start getting soft. Maybe 8 minutes? Add the tomatillos and lime juice, plus about a teaspoon of sugar (tomatillos and lime are both sour, but you don’t want this salsa to pucker your mouth.) Cook until the ingredients are soft, that is when you can basically mash any of it with the gentile pressure of a spoon. Take it off the heat, LET IT COOL, and throw it into a blender or food processor until liquified. Why do I CAPS LOCK “let it cool?” Never put near-boiling liquid into a blender; even if you feel sure the lid is on tight, that whirlwind of liquid pain will find a way out and onto your arm.

Salsa Chipotle:

1 7oz can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (adobo is just a basic marinating sauce; if you use dried chipotle peppers just soak them and keep all their moisture, don’t drain them) diced up
1/4-1/8 cup of minced onion
a splursh of liquid; either white wine, dark beer, tomato/marinara sauce, stock, water…
1 pinch of oregano

Add all the ingredients straight to one sauce pan. When I say a “splursh” of liquid, basically it is to give a bit of something to break up the absolute power of the chipotle flavor, like 8oz or so, the approximate of a “shot.” Chipotle is hella smoky, so if you don’t cut it then you’re basically just applying smoke to the dish. I borrowed a bit of ale from a half used bottle of beer a roommate left in our fridge to nice result. Wine and tomatoes will add a tartness; beer or stock will add richness; or add juice or what you have on hand. Let it simmer until it’s reduced, thickened and the peppers are broken down.

Last preparations:

Prep your oven to 400 degrees. Take a cylinder of queso fresco and cut it into thirds against the width of the cheese (12 oz and you’ll have more than enough salsa for this  if you wanted to make two or three of these, or reserve the salsas for chips.) Place one layer of the cheese onto a large tortilla, add one of the layers of salsa, then a layer of cheese, another of the second salsa and the last cheese layer. Flip it over while tucking the tortilla over the cheese. Place on a baking tray covered with parchement paper or foil. Break and mix an egg and give the tortilla surface a wash. Place this into the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes.

*Actually, the tortilla thing is for show. If I ever do this again I think I might omit it.

Serve warm with tortilla chips or your standard crudite. Also, you might want to really pile on the salsa. I thought I had but as you can see in the second photo the layered effect was kind of lost in the end. So I spooned over the excess salsas. In fact, you might want to just make it easier and skip baking the salsas in layers of the cheese and just skip to serving them alongside. Maybe meat or vegetables instead of the salsa in layers?

Que es queso fresco?! Queso fresco is an unaged cheese–like cottage cheese, paneer or feta–that is indigenous to Spain and popular in Mexican cooking. I would describe it best as being like feta without the salt or a less chewy paneer. The great reason to look for it and use it here is that queso fresco practically does not melt. Meaning you can bake it and wont form a gooey pool as a Monterrey or Cheddar will. This is due both to the type of milk used and also the process that makes it curdle. I thought I saw a bit off spillage with mine, but it turned out to be run-off from the egg wash. Queso fresco will not melt.

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