Cheese Panela

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There is a restaurant in Dallas, Texas, called Javier’s, that specializes in gourmet Mexicano cuisine. No nachos at this restaurant.

I discovered Javier’s in 1979, after moving to Dallas for my first job. Since marrying 36 years ago, we go Javier’s whenever we’re in Dallas, which can be quite often. It’s that good. I just checked the website for Javier’s, and learned the restaurant opened in 1977. And, it’s still open.

Not only is the food exceptional, but also the ambiance and service. The key to its continued success, in my mind, is the fact that the owner, Javier, is always at the restaurant. Saturday, Tuesday, whenever, he’s there.

One entree we’ve always enjoyed is steak Cantinflas, which is a filet stuffed with cheese, topped with an Adobo-style sauce, and served with fresh avocado. There’s also roasted chicken mole, shrimp Guaymas, great margaritas, and coffee drinks made and flambed at the table. Spectacular.

When you’re seated at Javier’s, you are given warm chips served with two warm salsas – a thin tomato salsa that almost tastes like tomato soup, and a thicker green salsa. We’ve never been able to decide which is better. Oh, and there’s fresh butter in case you want to first dip your chip into the butter, then the warm salsa…

As an appetizer, my husband and I have often shared the Cheese Panela, which is prepared at the table. It’s melted cheese with chorizo and green chiles served in warm tortillas. It doesn’t sound extraordinary, but it is.

I never thought about why the appetizer’s name is cheese panela, until I came across the same word in a blog I discovered, Nancy’s blog called Mexican Made Meatless. Her blog is “dedicated to transforming classic Mexican dishes into modern vegan, vegetarian, and pescetarian delight.”

To quote from Nancy’s blog: I was born and raised in a traditional small town Mexican environment, in which my education in Mexican food preparation began early by watching the passion that my mother, grandmother, and aunts all put into their cooking sessions. Though the culinary bug took time to fully infect my soul, when it finally did it instilled in me a fiery passion that has lead me to devour everything about the culinary arts and helped me get to where I am today.

So while perusing her blog, I saw the word panela, and learned that it’s the actual name of a cheese. Because of my memories of cheese panela at Javier’s, I knew I’d be making this recipe, interestingly also reminiscent of the Argentinian baked provolone I made called Provoleta, topped with chimichurri.

Who can go wrong with spicy melted cheese?!!

Cheese Panela
or, Baked Panela Cheese that will Knock Your Socks Off!
printable recipe below

7oz panela cheese
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
1 teaspoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoon parsley (I used fresh)
1 teaspoon thyme (I used dried)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano (I used dried)
½ teaspoon mustard seeds
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
2 tablespoon olive or avocado oil

Drain the cheese and set aside.

In a bowl combine the oil and all of the herbs and spices. Poke little holes all around the cheese to help the seasoning absorb better. Place the cheese in with the oil and spices mixture and coat the cheese, cover with plastic wrap and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight if desired.

Because I purchased a 3-pound wheel of Panela, I trimmed it to fit the gratin pan.

Preheat the oven to 190℃ or 375°F for 10 minutes. Place the cheese in the oven-safe dish and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes.

The cheese will become soft and gooey but not melt completely. Allow to cool slightly.

Serve with either corn chips or country bread or any rustic bread. I baked some tortilla triangles.

As the cheese cools it will firm up again, so try to keep warm when enjoying.

The cheese is definitely reminiscent of what we used to order at Javier’s, although not as melty.

However, this cheese panela recipe is absolutely incredible. I love the aromatics, the spiciness, and the parsley.

The next time I made this recipe I used half panela and half Monterey Jack to make it more melty, which worked, but it’s best served over some kind of warmer.

 

 

 

Roasted Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey

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For Christmas of 2017, a dear friend who lives in Texas sent me a fabulous gift pack. In it was a jar of lavender honey.

The gifts came from Los Poblanos Farm Foods in New Mexico. The honey is “derived from bees that pollinate a unique blend of regional plants, including our very own Grosso variety of lavender.”

As soon as you open the honey jar, you smell lavender. It is utterly fragrant and delightful.

So how better to showcase this floral honey than to top it on a roasted log of goat cheese?!!

Which is what I did to start off a special meal for my one and only.

Roasted Goat Cheese with Lavender Honey
Slightly adapted NYT Cooking recipe by Sara Dickerman

1 – 8-12 ounce log or slab of a firm goat cheese, chilled
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons lavender honey, or honey of choice
Bread, toasts, crackers

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Select a small oven-to-table earthenware dish or a small ovenproof sauté pan lined with aluminum foil to help transfer the cheese to a plate after roasting.

Place the log in the dish and cover with the olive oil.

Bake until the cheese is soft and springy to the touch but not melted, about 8 minutes.

Preheat the broiler.

Heat the honey in the microwave or over a pan of simmering water until it is fluid enough to be spread with a pastry brush.

Paint the surface of the feta with it. Broil until the top of the cheese browns and just starts to bubble. (As you can tell I opted to dropper the warm honey onto the soft cheese.)

Serve immediately with breads, toasts, or crackers.

You can also include pickled or roasted vegetables, according to the recipe author.

Alternately, add fresh fruits like strawberries and peaches, or dried fruits like dates and figs.

I might do this in the future, but this time, just the crackers with the roasted goat cheese, and the sweetness of the floral honey were just a perfect combination, topped with edible flowers for some prettiness!

note: A pretty oven-to-table gratin dish would have been a better choice than messing with a piece of foil, which did not help with sliding/moving the molten log of goat cheese to the serving platter!