I love Tillamook cheese!
Actually, I love most any cheese, but Tillamook is my favorite grocery-store brand.
In high school I remember playing pre-season basketball games against the girls from Tillamook and it stunk – literally. There were dairy cows everywhere and they just don’t smell good. I didn’t appreciate what those bovines produced until the Army transplanted us to Land o’ Lakes territory. I did such a happy dance in the Fort Sill Commissary the first time I saw Tillamook cheese on the shelf. Still makes me smile!
Last week, our family paid a visit to the Tillamook Factory on the way to our vacation in Lincoln City, OR with my Cousin Melissa’s family. While we were there, we ate… and we ate… and we ate and when we finally rolled out of the place with ice cream cones in hand, we were packing a load of cheese with us to the beach rental.
Now, part of the rationale for renting a big house at the beach, instead of cramming into a hotel suite, goes like this: “We’ll have a kitchen, so we’ll cook our own meals and save a lot of money.” It’s a great theory! I’m always really good about this money-saving plan for about one night. I grope around an unfamiliar grocery store trying to figure out what to cook without my own kitchen staples and end up with a bunch of junk food that saves us about twenty-eight cents.
But, on this particular vacation I had vision. I had a Tillamook cheese variety pack! Crackers would be the logical choice, but you can eat crackers in a hotel room. I had to justify a lovely rental kitchen and feed six hungry (and very goofy) kiddos.
Thankfully, this particular kitchen was set up better than most vacation rentals for actually cooking but you still have to keep it simple when all of those cabinets are basically empty.
I decided to make chicken strips as a platform for the cheese sauce I’d been dreaming about all afternoon.
I bought a package of chicken tenders and dredged them in a stick of butter that I melted in the bottom of a 9×13 pan (in that beautiful oven). Then I rolled them in a bowl of crushed tortilla chips and lined them back up in the pan.
The great dilemma was choosing a cheese for the sauce until I discovered there wasn’t an ounce of pepper on the premises. Then, it seemed logical to use the cheese with pepper in the loaf.
I threw together a white sauce, while blessing the soul that left a small supply of four in the cabinet. For directions see the post on Basic White Sauce. The trick for adding cheese and keeping the sauce from turning out grainy is that you can’t let it get too hot. If it’s really steaming the cheese will melt badly.
The crispy little chicken tenders were good, but the cheese sauce made me happy all over. I re-heated what was left the next night and used it as dipping sauce for crackers. Yu-um!
Notice how quickly we were back to crackers? Good thing we had such a nice house to eat them in.