Monthly Archives: January 2012

SANTA FE RESTAURANTS 2: THE RANCH HOUSE

Santa Fe is viewed by many as at the epicenter of red or green chile – chile stews of both colors and made with chicken, pork, beef, or whatever – along with posole, and carne adobado. There is also the ubiquitous green chile cheeseburger which causes big disagreements about who cooks the best.  At the same time good barbecue is hard to find. Texan tourists certainly agree with that! Josh’s Barbecue was one of the few oases in the desert even though it was tucked away in a hard-to-find strip mall.

The bad news is that Josh’s has closed. The good news is that the Ranch House has opened. This is Josh’s new venue located at 2571 Cristos Road in a beautiful new building complete with great views of the mountains and spacious courtyards for outside dining in warmer weather. The old-time favorites are still on the menu, but there are some new and interesting additions. There are several dining rooms inside, so don’t be put off by a full parking lot, because you will probably be seated quickly and served by one of the attentive staff.

Baby back ribs with greens and cornbread

The day we visited for lunch, the place was busy but not crowded. Susan chose the baby back rib plate, and I chose the green chile chopped brisket sandwich – a new experience for me.  The ribs came with real Southern greens and cornbread with just enough sugar to compromise between Yankees who like sugar and Southerners who don’t.  The sandwich was good, too, although I think I prefer either a classic chopped brisket sandwich or an authentic green chile cheeseburger. For me, the highlight of the meal was the little fry basket filled with crispy sweet potato fries.

Green chile chopped brisket sandwich with sweet potato fries

The drink selection was good though limited. Lots of beers of course, and wine (who drinks wine with barbecue?) The specialty drinks sounded good, and the pineapple margarita was a hit.

Pineapple margarita

The Ranch House is definitely worth checking out if you are a barbecue fan. And who isn’t?

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GREEN CHILE CHICKEN STEW

Our family has lived in the Southwest for so long that we have adopted many of its traditions. For years we have made tamales on Christmas Eve, and now that is also a tradition for our children and their families, regardless of where they live. Making tamales from scratch is fun, and the fresh, finished product always tastes better than even the best store-bought versions. Posole warms the body and the soul on a cold winter evening, and it is perfect for a family gathering on New Year’s Eve. Biscochos (in El Paso) or biscochitos (in Santa Fe) have to be homemade and – like the tamales – have to be made with lard to taste like the real thing. The crisp anise-flavored cookies compete with my grandmother’s anise-flavored German springerle when it comes to dipping into a cup of hot chocolate or a glass of milk.

Chicken thighs cooking in stock with vegetables

Green chile chicken stew is in a class by itself. A hot bowl always reminds me of long-ago lunches in the lodges at the top of the runs at Taos Ski Valley or Ski Apache in Ruidoso. Our kids always ask for it when they visit us in Santa Fe, and so we try to have a pot on the stove for them when they arrive from a long cross-country drive. Our usual recipe calls for a whole chicken and makes enough for a large group. This version is quick, but by cooking the chicken in stock along with vegetables the broth becomes especially rich. If you are in a hurry, just skip adding the vegetables. The recipe makes enough for four adults. It is ideal for the late evening arrival of tired travelers.

Ready for your choice of garnishes

RECIPE

 Ingredients

4 Cups chicken stock

4 chicken thighs

1 medium onion, cut in quarters

1 medium carrot, cut in thirds

1 stalk celery cut in thirds

1 handful fresh celery leaves

3 stems fresh parsley

12 whole peppercorns

1 Roma tomato

2 Tablespoons cooking oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

4 ounces chopped green chiles

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 Tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, crushed

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the chicken stock to the boil. Add the chicken thighs, onion, carrot, celery, celery leaves, parsley, and peppercorns. Continue to cook at a very low boil for about 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
  2.  About 10 minutes before the chicken is cooked, squeeze the Roma tomato into the stock and add the pulp.
  3.  Remove from the heat. Strain the stock into a container and allow to cool so that you can remove the fat that gathers on the top. Set aside.
  4.  Remove the skin and bones from the thigh meat, chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
  5. Clean the pot and return it to the stove over a medium flame. Heat the oil, and then add the diced onions. Cover and sweat the onions for 5 minutes or until they are soft and translucent. Do not allow them to brown.
  6. Add the green chiles and minced garlic and continue to cook, uncovered. Stir frequently until the moisture has evaporated from the mixture. Add the flour and stir continuously for about 3 minutes so that the onions and chiles are completely coated and the flour has lost its raw taste.
  7. Add the strained, cooled chicken stock and cubed potatoes. Return to the boil, stirring frequently. Continue to cook at a low boil until the potatoes are soft and cooked through – about 20 to 30 minutes.
  8. Stir in the cumin, oregano, salt and pepper. Adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed and continue to simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the chicken pieces, simmer for another 10 minutes, and then serve in large soup bowls along with your choice of garnishes.

Green chle stew with the garnishes our family likes

Garnishes

There are lots of traditional choices for garnish. We always like to pass bowls of chopped fresh cilantro leaves, thin-sliced, baked corn tortilla strips, grated Monterrey jack cheese, and diced avocados along with hot sauce for those who like their soup spicier. We also like to serve hot tortillas (corn or wheat) or cornbread fresh out of the oven.

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CHICKEN ENCHILADA CASSEROLE WITH MOLÉ ROJO

The other night we were aware that LSU was playing for the national championship in football. As former Louisianans with direct ties to LSU, we should have been planning a big TV watching party complete with gumbo or that Monday night standby in New Orleans, red beans and rice. Instead we watched an old movie and enjoyed the last of some molé rojo which one of our daughters had sent to us as a Christmas gift. To be honest, we enjoyed the old movie more than watching the drubbing administered by the Crimson Tide, and the molé made a quick meal outstanding.

Pot of freshly made molé rojo

Classic molés have the reputation of requiring many ingredients and a long cooking process. Indeed, Rick Bayless presents his “streamlined” version in his excellent cookbook, “Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico,” William Morrow and Company, New York, 1987, pp 201-203. For the recipe, go to the book, but I thought it would be interesting to provide the list of ingredients. The process involves many steps.

Ingredients

4 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined

2 medium dried mulatto chiles, stemmed seeded and deveined

1 medium dried pasilla chile, stemmed seeded and deveined

1½ Tablespoons sesame seeds

⅓ Cup lard

2 heaping Tablespoons unskinned peanuts

2 Tablespoons raisins

½ medium onion, thickly sliced

1 clove garlic, peeled

½ stale corn tortilla

1 slice dried, firm white bread

1 ripe medium tomato

3 medium tomatillos

¾ ounce Mexican chocolate, chopped

½ teaspoon dried oregano

¼ teaspoon dried thyme

1 bay leaf 8 peppercorns

3 cloves

1 inch cinnamon stick

5 Cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon sugar

Clearly, the real thing is a labor of love and considerable skill. If you can’t or don’t want to go to all the trouble, bottled versions are at hand. But you will have to be satisfied with second best. Still a handy jar serves as the basis for a quick meal.

Here is my version of quick chicken enchilada casserole – certainly not authentic – but a good supper dinner for a chilly winter evening.

Chicken enchilada casserole ready for the oven

Ingredients

2 chicken thighs

4 Cups chicken stock

1 Tablespoon Mexican oregano leaves, crumbled

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

2 ounces cheddar cheese, coarsely grated + more for sprinkling on top of the casserole

2 ounces Monterey jack cheese, coarsely grated + more for sprinkling on top of the casserole

½ medium onion, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

8 fresh corn tortillas

2 Cups molé rojo Sour cream for topping

1. In a medium sauce pan, place chicken thighs in the stock, bring to a boil, reduce to a low boil, and cook for 30 to 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked. Strain the stock and reserve for another purpose. Cool the cooked chicken, remove the meat from the bones, and chop coarsely.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken, oregano, cumin, cheeses, and onion. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper.

3. Meanwhile wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and heat for about 10 minutes at 180° in the oven until soft.

4. One at a time, fill the tortillas with the chicken mix, roll, and place seam-side down in a greased 8 x 8 inch baking dish.

5. When you have filled all of the tortillas, cover them with the molé rojo, sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese, cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 300° until the enchiladas are completely heated and the cheese has melted.

6. Serve immediately with a generous tablespoonful of sour cream.

Chicken enchilada with molé rojo and sour cream ready to eat

Serves 2

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SANTA FE RESTAURANTS I: MUSEUM HILL CAFÉ

Santa Fe is fortunate to have many excellent restaurants in all price ranges and with varied cuisines.  Santa Fe is also lucky to have a great number of outstanding museums. The museum within the Governor’s Palace, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Museum of New Mexico History, and the Museum of Art all cluster near the Plaza, and they are popular with both tourists and locals. Of course, you can make a day of it and take a lunch and/or dinner break in one of the many excellent restaurants nearby.

Less well-known is the collection of museums on Museum Hill surrounding a central plaza with a spectacular view. These include the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.  They are all extremely well done with fascinating collections and frequent travelling exhibits. There is so much to see that you cannot possibly see everything in a single day.  If you can, though, you should plan at least a full day. If you do, you will also want a nearby place for either a quick or leisurely lunch. The Museum Hill Café is the perfect place, because it is right on the central plaza with the same spectacular view.

View from Café

On a recent visit, we arrived around one in the afternoon, a little after the lunch rush. That may have been a mistake because they were out of our top choices: grilled salmon with mango salsa and smoked duck flautas with mango purée. Still, there were a lot of other excellent choices including several specials, a variety of soups and salads, as well as hot and cold sandwiches.

Even before we ordered they knew that we wanted an order of sweet potato fries served with chipotle sauce. How they knew that, I’m not sure, but they were right – and the fries were exceptionally tasty. In general I am not a big fan of sweet potato fries because they usually come from the kitchen soggy and greasy. Not so with these; they were fresh, crisp, and without a hint of grease.

Sweet potato French fires

My substitute choice was their special Asian shrimp taco plate. It was served as a beautiful array of three small soft corn tortillas loaded with shrimp, small chunks of clementine, and a spicy Asian sauce. On the side was some finely shredded Napa cabbage to heap on the tacos along with a tasty pico de gallo. I must say I soon forgot the duck flautas though I plan to return  for another try at those.

Susan ordered the vegetarian plate, which our daughter-in-law had ordered on a visit the previous week. The plate consisted of a beautiful presentation of a savory lentil dal, orzo, edamame, and a lightly dressed green salad.

The wine selection, though small, is well-chosen and excellent for lunch. We both ordered a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon blanc – light and just right with our food – and also non-filling so that there was still room for dessert.

That meant sharing a big slice of eggnog pie – a sweet and mellow ending to a relaxing lunch.

Eggnog Pie

Did I mention the view? Did I mention that the café is also very kid-friendly? There were several families enjoying themselves in a modern but tastefully decorated room with well-chosen art and the bright sun pouring in through the glass walls.

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