Tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and scallions: making a memory even tastier.
When I was a kid, one of the things we often did while on vacation was to go on factory tours. Except for a few, like the Volkswagon factory in Germany, these places usually manufactured or processed some sort of food. To this day, details from those visits make up some of my clearest childhood memories.
There was, for example, the pineapple factory in Hawaii where pineapple juice came out of a drinking fountain. And the tuna factory where two of the ladies cutting up large whole fish on a long assembly line smiled and pointed at me as I pinched my little nose in an attempt to escape the overpowering scent of tuna.
I remember watching thousands of Hershey's chocolate kisses riding stair-step conveyors at the Hershey factory in California, and being disappointed when the tour of the "real" factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania turned out to be nothing more than an amusement park type ride.
As an adult, I happily toured the Ben & Jerry's ice cream plant in Waterbury, Vermont not once but twice. I tasted ice cream right off the assembly line and saw the original note sent to Ben & Jerry from a fan—written on an ice cream carton lid—suggesting they create a flavor called Cherry Garcia.
I also discovered that through much experimenting in the early days, Ben & Jerry determined the best way to break up Heath Bars into the perfect sized chunks for their Heath Bar Crunch ice cream was to drop a case of the candy bars onto the ground from a stepladder. They employ a slightly more advanced technique now.
While touring the Jelly Belly jelly bean factory a few years ago, my mother learned that the flavored outside layer on each jelly bean is applied by tumbling them around in what look like gigantic clothes dryers. And at the on-site gift shop, Jelly Belly "seconds" are packaged up and sold as Belly Flops.
After a tour of the memorabilia-filled Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, a friend of mine had a chance to taste several flavors of soda only available outside the U.S.
Factory tours have become quite popular, especially with families, because they're interesting, usually kid-friendly, and often free. There are even books devoted to the subject. Watch It Made In The U.S.A.: A Visitor's Guide To The Best Factory Tours and Company Museums by Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg promises to "help you and your family discover information about more than 300 ordinary and extraordinary products most of us take for granted."
While factory tours are fun for people of all ages, I do think the fascinating glimpses they give us into what often seem like whole other worlds have the most profound effect on children. Every once in a while Joe still fondly recalls the tour of a potato chip factory he took with his Cub Scout troop some forty years ago.
The most memorable factory I've ever visited was actually the one closest to home. It was a tortilla factory owned by the mother of my very first friend (we "met" when we were just a few months old), and one year she treated our Brownie troop to a personal tour.
We saw enormous vats of masa, watched tortillas travel along what seemed like miles of conveyor belts, and were given handfuls of warm tortilla chips by the ladies running a machine that magically coated the chips with nacho flavored seasoning.
Even without the tortilla factory, my friend's mother stood out from the crowd. She put an antique wooden carousel horse with a tail made from real hair in the living room, zipped around in a classic Porsche roadster, and once fed us French toast for dinner. They were a family of expert skiers and had a snow cabin full of bunk beds up in the mountains. She was the only mother in the neighborhood we called by her first name, and her entire face lit up when she smiled.
She also spent a lot of time devising ways to get people to eat more tortillas. Long before the days of desktop publishing, she and her mother put out a newsletter called Tortilla Talk, which they filled with interesting recipes using tortillas and tortilla chips.
Back in early August, the first ripe tomatoes from the garden and an ongoing cottage cheese kick prompted this e-mail message to my mother: What was that stuff you used to make a long time ago with cottage cheese and salsa or tomatoes or whatever? And what did you do with it once you made it—just eat it with chips?
The recipe for 'Gayle's Caliente Cottage Cheese Dip' arrived in my inbox soon after, and I wasn't surprised to find that it was from Tortilla Talk. Below it my mother had added, Gayle could be Mrs. Pete Wilson. I've since learned that the recipe did indeed originate in the (now) former First Lady of California's kitchen.
I took the original six-ingredient recipe, applied my More More More motto to it, and came up with this colorful, veggie-packed version I've been devouring ever since. It's always nice when something that's so good for you tastes so good, too. It's even low fat.
So what memorable factory tours have you been on?
The more color, the better is what I always say.
Farmgirl Susan's Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
Makes about 3 cups
Gayle's recipe called for 3 dashes of Tabasco and a 4-ounce can of diced green chiles, which were a staple in many pantry cupboards in our neighborhood when I was growing up. I opted to use a chopped fresh jalapeno pepper instead, but canned chiles would add a nicely flavored kick.
Using yellow or orange tomatoes and/or sweet peppers will make the dip even more colorful. As always, I urge you to seek out local and organic ingredients whenever possible. They really do make a difference.
1 16-ounce container organic cottage cheese
1 cup chopped Roma, San Marzano, or other paste tomatoes (about 4 large)
1 cup chopped sweet red pepper
3 large scallions (green onions) white and green parts, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl. Feel free to add even more veggies if you like. The original recipe says to chill at least 3 hours before serving, then pass with tortilla or corn chips. Waiting a few hours, or even overnight, does improve the flavor, but, as usual, I nibbled away while I chopped and mixed, and it tasted just fine to me.
It's funny, though, how you can add so many ingredients to a container of cottage cheese and have it all fit back in the original container. This dip will keep two to three days in the fridge.
Turn it into instant coleslaw!
What else can you do with it?
Personally I think this dip tastes great just plunked in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, which is the way I've enjoyed most of the six or so batches I've made over the past few months. It's a nice (and healthier) change from plain cottage cheese. If you haven't used up all your cabbage making my Mexican Jumping Bean Slaw, simply combine some Fiesta dip with shredded cabbage for another new twist on coleslaw.
You could also use it to fill an omelette or top a baked potato. Or make a quick vegetarian burrito by stirring in a can of black beans and a can of corn into either the plain dip or the coleslaw and wrapping it all up in a flour tortilla, perhaps with an extra sprinkling of chopped fresh cilantro. You could probably even spread some on a sandwich.
Can you tell I love this stuff?
Still hungry? You'll find links to all my sweet and savory Less Fuss, More Flavor recipes in the Farmgirl Fare Recipe Index.
© FarmgirlFare.com, the always on tour foodie farm blog where Farmgirl Susan shares stories & photos of her crazy country life on 240 remote acres.