This was one of those fun, experimental days in the kitchen! After making over 100 tamales and five dozen empanadas the day before, I needed a fun day in the kitchen. My husband Richard works at a cheese plant and for Christmas, all of the employees were given a huge bag filled with string cheese sticks. I had empanada dough left over, so the wheels started spinning! This is a deluxe version of that fried cheese stick served in restaurants. Add some freshly made salsa and you have a great-tasting, easy appetizer.
Combine all of the ingredients for the salsa into the blender. Add 1½ teaspoons of salt and pulse 4 to 5 times for a chunky salsa or blend for a few seconds more for a smoother salsa. Taste for salt, cover and set aside.
In a medium glass bowl, add the shortening and cook for 1 to 2 minutes in microwave until shortening has melted. Add the cold beer to the shortening and stir gently. Add the salt, baking powder and gradually add in the flour until the dough forms. If it is sticky, add a little more flour. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
Preheat 2 cups of canola oil to medium/high heat for 10 to 12 minutes. While the oil is heating, lightly dust a flat surface with some flour. Make a 1½-inch dough ball and flatten slightly. Roll out to about 6 inches round. Place a cheese stick down the center and add about 1½ tablespoons of salsa on top of cheese. Fold in the top and bottom of the excess dough on the ends of the cheese stick. Then roll as tightly as you can, but without squeezing, the cheese stick in the dough. Take a little bit of water on your finger to seal the seam.
Fry 2 to 3 wrapped cheese sticks at one time, turning as needed until golden brown. Drain onto a plate lined with paper towels. You can also drain on a metal cooling rack with a baking sheet underneath and keep them warm in a low-temperature oven.
Notes: The cheese sticks can be made ahead of time up to the point of wrapping the cheese sticks. They can be kept in the refrigerator for 2 days until ready to fry. Reheat leftover wrapped cheese sticks in a dry, nonstick skillet at medium heat.