Hold-The-Velveeta Queso

For the last few weeks, a What's Cooking reader has been in deep pursuit of a queso dip to make for Super Bowl Sunday. But not any queso - one made without the infamous Velveeta, the Halloween-orange block of the infamous "cheese food" that melts like a dream.

In spite of my trepidation (it was a maiden queso voyage for this cook), I took on the challenge. After much deliberation over what to use as my base (milk, evaporated milk, cream), I decided on the very reliable, full-fat cream, and I have to say, I think I scored a touchdown. The common complaint I hear about queso recipes is that the end result is stringy and clumpy and difficult to reheat.

With a roux (equal parts flour and fat) as my starter, this cream-based cheese sauce stays fluid and clump-free. Have a look and see what you think.

While in the throes of dipping success, I pressed my luck a bit further and tried my hand at an onion dip - without the Lipton's soup mix! The recipe (following the queso) calls for sour cream, just as you remember, but instead of the intensely salted powder in an envelope, I caramelized a bunch of onions, pureed them, and seasoned with savories such as celery seed, dry mustard, cumin and garlic powder. The resemblance to the fake thing is uncanny!

I've got to sign off, as my panel of chip tasters await. Stay tuned for tomorrow's blog, for "The Great Chip-Off," a blind taste test of supermarket potato chips.

Velveeta-Free Queso

Ingredients
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups heavy cream
8 ounces Monterey jack cheese, shredded
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt to taste
1-3 canned chiles, diced (add according to taste)
1 plum tomato, diced
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Method

In a medium saucepan, add butter and allow to melt over low heat. Add flour and stir until it is well integrated with butter and mixture is free of lumps. Color will be golden after 1 minute or so.

Add cream and stir to combine, allowing to heat up until thickened, about five minutes. Stir frequently with spoon and do not allow cream to boil. Add cheese, and whisk vigorously until completely integrated and fluid.
Taste for salt and add accordingly. Add chiles, tomato, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne, and stir to combine. Add more seasoning as you see fit.
Serve warm with your favorite chips. Can be reheated, if done gently. Makes nearly 1 quart dip.


Onion Dip, Hold the Soup Mix

Ingredients
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
salt and black pepper (white pepper would be nice here as well, because of its camouflage qualities) to taste
16 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4-1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional)


Method

Using a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat oil and add onion. Cook over low heat, until onions are soft and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Be careful not to burn onions, as they will yield a bitter result. You may cover onions to speed up cooking, but stand by to stir occasionally.

Season with salt and pepper, and completely cool. Place onions in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until onions are pureed. Spoon out into an airtight container and chill in the fridge for about an hour.

In a mixing bowl, combine sour cream, and the remaining ingredients, plus the chilled onion puree. Stir to thoroughly combine. Taste for the "onion dip" flavor that suits you and add more seasoning accordingly.

Serve immediately with chips or return to fridge until ready to serve. Makes a scant 3 cups dip.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 1, 2007; 10:51 AM ET Entertaining
Previous: Mom, Can I Be a Vegetarian? | Next: The Great Chip-Off

Comments

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Gee Kim, Velveeta is one of those food staples - just like Spam. But your Queso dip recipe looks good so I'll try it.

BTW, has anyone tried Parrano cheese? That is some yummy cheese. I use it instead of Parm.

Posted by: A Fan | February 1, 2007 10:59 AM

Kim,

What would you suggest if Monterey Jack can't be found. I tried making Nachos for friends in England and they don't have Montery Jack cheese at all. We ended up using a Mexican mix that worked well but I had no idea what to use. Most of what they have is cheddar and other types of cheese that I'm not familiar with. I know she'd love this recipe but I'm not enough a cook to tell her what a good substitute is. I know food is different in the UK is different but I never would have thought there would be no Monterey Jack!!

Posted by: Jennifer | February 1, 2007 12:04 PM

fontina is similar to monterey jack.

Posted by: cosmic mojo | February 1, 2007 12:36 PM

Jennifer, might you have access to Colby? This is a mild cheddar that could do the trick. I am also wondering something like Fontina would work. If you're headed to a cheese shop,it might be fun to ask the cheesemonger which local cheeses melt well into a sauce. Let me know; I would love to know what you end up doing!

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 1, 2007 2:41 PM

I am going to try your Queso recipe Sunday.

To my Velveeta Queso I add one box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed. I squeeze out as much water as I can before adding it to the Velveeta. OK, OK I know I could add fresh but come on, I'm adding it to Velveeta.

Thanks for the onion dip. My favorite comfort food. With chips, of course. Lay's.

Posted by: Queso Fan | February 1, 2007 2:49 PM

Kim, I'm definitely going to try this on Sunday, this is the answer to my no Velveeta cheese dip searches! This will pair well with my salsa and guacamole and wings. Thanks! One question: would you suggest keeping it on the heat on low and then scooping some out into bowls to keep it warm?

Posted by: Jasmine | February 1, 2007 3:00 PM

Lays chips? They are sooo greasy. Have you tried the new(er) crackers that has the "well" in the middle? I think they are Ritz brand. They hold a lot of dip. Hmmm, dip!

Posted by: Another Queso Fan | February 1, 2007 3:07 PM

Don't look down your noses at Velveeta. If it weren't for grilled Velveeta sandwiches (and canned soup) lots of kids would starve. Actually I didn't know it wasn't cheese until I was in my twenties.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | February 1, 2007 3:08 PM

Ooops, I should have said "Mmmmmm, dip!"

Posted by: D'OH! | February 1, 2007 3:09 PM

Another vote here for Parrano! It has a strong body and good solid parmesan taste tempered with the creaminess of Gouda. I get it at my Giant whenever they stock it. We like it grated and flung over broccoli, cauliflower, plain diced tomatoes or cooked zucchini.

Posted by: Sharon | February 1, 2007 3:10 PM

It's not cheese? It's NOT cheese? Then what the heck IS it?

Posted by: Sharon | February 1, 2007 3:12 PM

Posted by: Anonymous | February 1, 2007 3:32 PM

Hey Jasmine,
The queso easily reheats in the microwave. If you don't have a chafing dish, I'd serve a portion and then reheat in microwave as needed. Keeping it on low on the stove will probably turn your queso into crud. Have fun!

Posted by: KIm O'Donnel | February 1, 2007 3:50 PM

Velveeta is a cheese product. Therefore, it is cheese.

I found the Parrano at Whole Foods on Rockville Pike.

Posted by: A Fan | February 1, 2007 3:51 PM

How funny! A bunch of yankees actually thinking they know anything about "chile con" queso - chile with cheese, for the spanish language impaired. Chile con queso can be made from just about any kind of cheese there is; just use your immagination fer christ sake! And I have - for almost fifty years! I was taught by my dear departed dad how to make this ambrosia way back in the early 60s - with Velveeta, green chile and and stewed toms. Sure, you can add all sorts of cr*p to it, but it is meant to be a simple thing folks, and it does not surprise me that a bunch of know_it_all yankees want to make it difficult. Get a life; all of ya. All ya need to do is this: throw some velveeta in a bowl; nuke it 'til it melts; add a big ole glob of Pace Picante sauce; heat again; dip it w/ corn tortillas; say yummmmmmmy; if ya do not eat all of it, throw it in the fridge so's you can take it out later; nuke it again and, yes, say yummmmmmmmmy again. Velveta is the poo - and it also makes great fishing bait when ya aint hungry. Sheeesh, yankees have to make ever_d*mn_sh!t difficult! Get a life...again!

:~)face

Posted by: harty from New Mexico | February 1, 2007 3:55 PM

Kim, the onion dip looks good except for celery seed. That is about the worst herb that ever grew. I don't know why people has to put it in cole slaw. Ruins the slaw every time!

Posted by: Anti celery seed | February 1, 2007 4:00 PM

Unfortunately, Kim, I don't have a microwave! Does it reheat on the stove easily as well?

And actually, another question: Did you experiment at all with using some beer in the recipe to sub for some of the cream? Do you think that would work?

Posted by: Jasmine | February 1, 2007 4:10 PM

Oh joy! A cultural lesson from New Mexico!

harty from New Mexico, here's a little fyi for you: We do have lives and our lives are apparently a little more educated than yours. Definitely more refined and mature. So, do tell, are you related to the Hatfields or the McCoys?

Posted by: Yankee No. 1 | February 1, 2007 4:11 PM

Thank you Kim!!! You've made my weekend!

Posted by: The Original Requester | February 1, 2007 4:30 PM

o joy - hatfields/mccoys? nah, Lopez, estupido. Re: "here's a little fyi" - blah blah blah. mostly it was meant to get a rise from someone like you - voila, it worked. Even funnier! educated? ROTFLMFAO at you. if'n yer so edgycated hows come you don't know sh!t 'bout chile con queso? refined and mature - nah, just bored of know-it-all yankees.

you turn, el yankee numero uno.

:~)face

Posted by: Anonymous | February 1, 2007 4:32 PM

OKAY, ENOUGH. New Mexico, Yankee No. 1, if you don't quit it, I will remove your comments from the blog and block you from using. This is NOT a place for mean-spirited spitting of words. Find another place to play. Thank you for your attention.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 1, 2007 4:35 PM

el yankee - cooking lesson, ya mean. aint nothin' cultural 'bout velveeta, green chile and salsa - unless it's made in New Yawk.

Posted by: :~)face | February 1, 2007 4:36 PM

harty from New Mexico, this Yankee knows perfectly well that the most authentic "chili con queso" (as though any native Spanish speaker would actually recognize such as food) is made with Velveeta, Budweiser and bottled salsa. (Cheez Whip can be used in a pinch.) This Yankee also likes watching NASCAR races and knows the difference between Texas, Kansas and Carolina (East!) barbeque.

However, I am not burdened by ignorance. I recognize that the queso recipe Kim developed is probably quite yummy, and I would probably serve it at a function other than a Super Bowl party. The problem with this recipe isn't uppity carpetbagger meddling, but context: Super Bowl parties are *supposed* to be tacky, junk-filled affairs. Same goes for the onion dip recipe: sounds great, but a little high-end for this weekend.

Now, go back to your tarpaper shack and make sure your rabbit-ears are adjusted so you can watch the Big Game with a minimum of snow on the TV. We'll call if we ever need a recipe for Roadkill Surprise.

Posted by: Native New Yorker | February 1, 2007 4:36 PM

you guys are too easy - adios y que le vas bien. velveeta is stiil the poo...

:~)face

Posted by: harty | February 1, 2007 4:38 PM

don't do football - grew up on a ranch with lots of horsies - I played polo, rode hunter jumpers over five-foot fences and trained in upper-level dressage. can you play polo, train a horse in dresssage, ride a horse over a five-foot fence? Football? ROTFLMFAO...

:~)face

Posted by: hart | February 1, 2007 4:44 PM

ms. odonnel - sorry fer the spitting of words. queo is easy. why make it so difficult is all i were a sayin' - by the time you fussed over all those (unnecessary) ingredients I'd be licking the bowl of my queso - yummmmmmmy.

tarpaper shack? nah, my shack are made from mesquite brances - thorns and all. keeps the yankees out. ;)

adoios (last time, promise)

Posted by: Anonymous | February 1, 2007 4:51 PM

As stated in the blog, Kim did this recipe for someone who specifically asked for a "non-velveeta" chile con queso. A lot of what goes on in this blog and the weekly chat is a discussion of getting away from processed foods, therefore this is very relevant. Sure, one could argue the classic chile con queso is made with velveeta, but the point is to break away from the standards and do some experimentation. I appreciate the time Kim put into this recipe and look forward to trying it!

Posted by: Pacifist | February 1, 2007 5:33 PM

If you guys like Parrano, you'll like Robusto too. Good stuff.

Posted by: JS | February 1, 2007 5:36 PM

Why, oh why would anyone want to make queso without Velveeta? That's un-American! You should rename this recipe Al-Qaida queso, you traitor. Heck, you probably won't even be serving Lil' Smokies at your Super Bowl party...

Posted by: Mary from Texas | February 1, 2007 5:41 PM

Also, full-on authentic (read "actual Mexican") queso dip isn't made with velveeta at all--it's made with asadero cheese.

Posted by: JS | February 1, 2007 5:42 PM

I apologize for Face (Harty). I and my ancestors have lived in New Mexico for hundreds of years and this guy sounds more like a Texan to me than a New Mexican. We have many, many educated people, but as Jeff Foxworthy says about Southerners "We can't keep the most ignorant of us off the TV", or in this case the blog. As for the queso...I also grew up with Velveeta, stewed tomatoes and green chile as the stock recipe. However, I, like the person who originally posed the question, have been searching for a good Velveeta alternative. I can't stand the thought of putting that stuff in my body. I have used cheddar with 1/2 & 1/2, which worked pretty well, but I will definitely try your recipe, it sounds good.

Kim,
On another note, what are the flavorings they use in those chicken and rice box mixes? I have tried to make that stuff from scratch for my kids and I can't get it right. And, they won't eat it unless it tastes like the box recipe.
-Senor Salas from Albuquerque

Posted by: BSalas | February 1, 2007 5:46 PM

Hi Kim
Couldn't wait to try this recipe, so I made it this evening (instead of dinner!!). I love it! Thanks so much for providing this.

Posted by: NC | February 1, 2007 7:17 PM

Bless you Kim! We've been trying to figure out a queso dip without Velveeta for awhile.
The onion dip recipe looks good also. May have to try it though I had so many cravings for it while I was pregnant 10 years ago I haven't been able to eat it since. But this may get me eating it again. I'm not sure if I should thank you for that or not!

Posted by: julie | February 1, 2007 7:48 PM

Kim, if you want to block me from ever posting on your chat again, then feel free to do so. However, I noticed that you didn't remove the other FIVE posts that New Mexico posted. Block away!

Posted by: Yankee No. 1 | February 1, 2007 8:27 PM

Kim, please do remove these nasty posts. More and more, I have seen flat out offensive and rude posts on these blogs, and not just yours. The Liz Kelly one, the On Balance one. People are just insane balls of anger and hate. And I guarantee you, they would NEVER say these things but for the anonymous forum. I really think the site needs to adhere to its policy, which I have yet to see enforced, of removing posts like these. what on earth do they add? Thanks. I have learned a lot from your blogs and chat and wish others wouldn't act in ways they would never dream of acting if they had to use their names and do it in public. (and least I hope that is true. these days, however, people do seem to have lost all semblance of civility)

Posted by: L | February 2, 2007 10:14 AM

Here is a really good chili con queso from far west Texas (El Paso) but it wouldn't work so well as Kim's for a party dip.

Saute in olive oil or butter, tomatoes, roasted and peeled green chilis, onions, one or two garlic cloves, one or two jalapenos diced fine. When vegetables are soft but not mushy, add grated muenster, jack or asadero cheese. When cheese is melted, serve up with flour or corn tortilla chips, or thin toasted italian bread slices. This will bring the kids in from the yard and strangers from the sidewalk.

Served over a steak or hamburger patty with pinto beans, it makes a fine supper.

Posted by: Dona Dunsmore | February 2, 2007 2:33 PM

Kim, THANKS!! I cannot wait to try out the onion dip!! I have tried to make it sans powder, but was never happy with the results -- carmelizing the onions sounds like a great tip. I'm curious about the queso -- I've never liked it, but probably because I hate velveeta!

Have a great weekend.

Posted by: SLCook | February 2, 2007 11:51 PM

Something went badly wrong. The queso was sorely bland. The amt of flour was not listed in the recipe. Perhaps my wife used too much? She did not drain the chiles. Should she have?

Any clues why this went wrong?

Posted by: John | February 6, 2007 11:07 AM

Hey John, sorry it didn't work out. Actually flour is the first ingredient mentioned in the recipe -- 1 tablespoon. I did yank my chiles out of the can and the amount suggested is merely a suggestion. In fact, another way you can do it is roast a jalapeno and slice it into the the mix.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 6, 2007 11:13 AM

I had problems with this recipe too - the cheese separated horribly and I was left with an oily, goopy mess - inedible. Any thoughts on what I did wrong? How important is the temperature and cooking time? I didn't boil the cream, but it took a loooong time to melt all that cheese over that low heat (I turned it up to med-low towards the end).

Posted by: AnyaK | February 6, 2007 1:35 PM

AnyaK, heat is critical to the success of this dip. The cream needs time to thicken, and that can take anywhere from five to 10 minutes. Ideal temp. is 160 degrees, give or take a few. At that temp, the cream more readily accepts the cheese, but you must whisk it vigorously to smooth it out.

Posted by: Kim O'Donnel | February 6, 2007 1:41 PM

Thanks for the update - I probably didn't let the cream thicken enough then. I'll give it one more shot - I think I have a candy thermometer I can use. I might suggest adding this information to the recipe, as it would have been useful ahead of time.

Posted by: AnyaK | February 6, 2007 1:48 PM

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