It doesn’t matter if the recipe is simple as long as it’s made with love.
That’s the case for Maureen Maher Gray’s Queso Dip. While it’s only made with two ingredients, it’s the favorite of the kids at NEPA Youth Shelter After-School Teen Drop-in Center, 541 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, where Maher Gray is executive director. That’s why the recipe earned the center a $50 grocery gift card to Riccardo’s Market, 1219 Wheeler Ave., Dunmore, through Local Flavor Gives Back.
Maher Gray grew up in Arizona, and while she tried lots of different salsas, she’d never had queso or made the dip before. One day at the center, Maher Gray couldn’t figure out what to do with all the tortilla chips on hand and remembered seeing the recipe for the spicy, cheesy dip. The result was an instant hit.
“They just devour it,” Maher Gray said. “When they see it when they come through the door, they’re very excited.”
Maher Gray advised that cooks can add fresh jalapenos or green chiles to give the dip a little kick. During Halloween, one of the volunteers added chorizo, a type of pork sausage, to the dip. While they gave it a spooky name (“Vampire vomit,” Maher Gray said, laughing), it tasted delicious. Maher Gray sticks to the original recipe, but cooks can really make the dip their own.
“It’s so easy to just add to it and tailor it to how you like it and just be creative,” she said.
The Queso Dip tasted as good as Local Flavor remembers from our days after school. The creamy, melty cheese is perfectly complemented by the spicy chiles and acidic tomatoes. It’s extremely addictive and just about the best easy snack to make for a group of hungry teenagers.
The shelter is open each day from 3 to 9 p.m. to ages 14 to 19. There are about 60 regulars made up of teens from local school districts, but some either attend cyber school or have dropped out. For these teens, especially, having a hot meal and plenty of snacks is a must, Maher Gray said.
Some other favorites include Chicken Noodle Soup, Hot Chocolate and a savory recipe for Mashed Potatoes thanks to one of the center’s volunteers. Meals on Wheels of NEPA, which occupies the same building as the center, also provides a hot meal for the youths each night.
A drop-in shelter, the doors are open to any teen looking for a safe place to hang out with friends, do homework, relax or get a head start on life. The organization receives limited grants earmarked for specific projects as well as donations from local organizations. However, the shelter largely relies on private donations and fundraising to remain operational. When it comes to the teens who frequent the center, Maher Gray just wants them to have stability, and sharing a meal is part of that. She noted how they’ll move the tables so they can all eat together.
“They form community,” she said. “We really see that during mealtimes. They all want to be together.”
How to help
The shelter, 541 Wyoming Ave., Scranton, is always in need of clothing, laundry supplies, full-size personal care products and dinnerware (disposable or metal), as well as food items including snacks, drinks, canned foods, sauces, pasta, cooking oils and more. To donate, call 570-909-9671. For more information, visit nepayouthshelter.org or email email@example.com.
Maureen Maher Gray’s Queso Dip
4 pounds Velveeta Cheese
2 (10-ounce) cans Rotel Original with diced tomatoes and green chiles
Add cheese and Rotel to slow-cooker and cook on high for 4 hours.
Gia Mazur is an award-winning staff writer and beauty obsessive who joined The Times-Tribune’s Lifestyles department in 2015. She’s a product enthusiast who can’t live without an eyelash curler. A proud Virgo, Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Lipstick in Pillow Talk is her go-to. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9127; @gmazurTT