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VOL. 38 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 25, 2014

Sorry Philly, this cheese is a native New Yorker

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It is probably no surprise to anyone that cream cheese is one of America’s most widely used cheeses. The soft, creamy, texture provides the perfect media for depth and smoothness to desserts and dips, and it makes wonderful light and flaky pastry crusts.

Cream cheese also is a main ingredient in many appetizing main dishes, such as the Chicken Enchiladas recipe printed below.

So what is cream cheese?

Cream cheese, which has a mild, slightly sweet flavor, was developed in 1872 in New York, yet named after Philadelphia, a city well known for its dairy products. Not long after, a cheese distributor commissioned production of cream cheese, called “Philadelphia Brand.”

Chicken Enchiladas

2 T butter
1 small chopped onion
3 cups chopped, cooked chicken
1/2 c roasted red pepper
One 8 ounce cream cheese, cubed
Salt & pepper to taste
1 small can sliced black olives
4 (4.5 ounce) cans diced green chilies
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dices oregano
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 14 ounce can chicken broth
3/4 cups salsa
10-12 flour tortillas
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Melt butter in skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and cook about 20 minutes. Stir in chicken and next five ingredients. Set aside.

In food processor, pulse next five ingredients until combined. Add to chicken broth and bring to boil over high heat. Remove from heat and stir in salsa. Spread 1/3 chili mixture in bottom of 13x9” pan. Spoon some chicken mixture on tortilla, roll up, and place in pan. Repeat process with remaining chicken. Top with rest of chili sauce and cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.

Originally, Philadelphia Brand Cream Cheese was made by the Phoenix Cheese Company. Kraft Cheese Company bought it in 1928.

Cream cheese, considered a “fresh cheese,” is similar to French Neufchatel in that it is made from cow’s milk, yet differs because it is unfermented and contains emulsifiers to aid in firmness and shelf life. USDA law requires whole cream cheese to contain 33 percent fat and no more than 55 percent water. Low-fat and nonfat varieties are on the market to help with that fat content.

The fresher the cheese, the better the flavor, so always buy the freshest available. And since it is highly perishable, keep refrigerated. Unlike aged cheeses, it should be discarded if mold forms. Freezing is not recommended due to a big change in texture once thawed.

Tips

  • Low-fat and non-fat varieties do not melt because of the lower fat content. However, they do come in creamy, spreadable varieties.
  • To soften in microwave for recipes, zap 1 minute for 8-ounce block, 30 seconds for 3-ounce block at 50 percent power. To soften for table use, on high setting, zap small block for 10 to 15 seconds; large blocks for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • If using cream cheese in a cheesecake, the cheese must be at room temperature in order to achieve a smooth, creamy result.
  • In most recipes, Neufchatel cheese may be substituted for cream cheese.
  • For lower fat in dips and spreads, yogurt cheese, creamed cottage cheese and low-fat/non-fat cream cheese can be used.

Cooking trivia:

Question: What is mole (other than the little creature who digs holes in your yard)?

Answer: Mole, a Mexican specialty, is a smooth sauce of onion, garlic, several chilies, ground seeds (such as sesame or pumpkin) and Mexican chocolate.

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