Monthly Archives: February 2012

SANTA FE RESTAURANTS 3: TERRA AT ENCANTADO RESORT

This has become one of our favorite restaurants in Santa Fe. We also like it for special occasions and celebrations. In an earlier post, I mentioned that our younger daughter was visiting with her 10-month-old from San Francisco. During her visit, she and her husband completed the negotiations on space for their new restaurant. That of course called for a celebration, so we made reservations at Terra.

Part of the charm of Terra is that it is several miles north of town, and the drive is beautiful. Another part of its charm is the beautiful view of the Jémez Mountains from the deck and huge picture windows of the bar and restaurant.

We chose the earliest seating so that we could arrive before the sunset to enjoy one of New Mexico’s incomparable evening displays.

We arrived at the front door of the resort and were immediately greeted by the friendly valet. The traditional Santa Fé scent of piñon smoke hung in the air as we passed the blazing fire in the huge fireplace on the deck.

As we entered the bar, we were greeted by the bartender and welcomed into a beautiful room flanked by another fireplace – this time modern and chrome – and huge windows looking over the distant mountains. We tried to sit outside in the cool early evening, but the heaters failed to work, even with the attention of the bartender and the manager, so we came back in. That was ok, because it was warm and we still got to enjoy the beautiful sunset along with flutes of New Mexico Gruet sparkling wine and some tasty truffle French fries.

Lights in the bar at Terra

Dinner kept up the excellent experience. The room was spacious, beautifully decorated, and blessedly quiet. Another breathtaking fireplace anchored the room with a glass-enclosed wine cellar on either side.  Our server was attentive and knowledgeable but not intrusive. The wine selection was enormous. Many of choices were well beyond our budget, but there were enough modestly priced bottles that we easily found an excellent option.

The menu presented a lot of hard choices, but eventually we made our decisions, and we were not disappointed.

Diver scallop and crispy pork belly with edamame purée was beautifully presented, the flavors blended.

Crispy sweetbread salad had its high and low points: the sweetbreads were crisp yet delicate, just as sweetbreads are supposed to be, and the “potato wheel” was amazing – a single spaghetti-sized strand of potato coiled into a perfect circle and fried to a delicate golden brown. The sauce was bland and needed salt (no chef ever wants to hear that).

Crispy sweetbread salad with potato wheel

The mains, though, were flawless. The venison two ways included a creative red chile venison tamal and a perfectly roasted venison lin with Cumberland sauce.

Venison two ways

The duck cassoulet was complete with a crispy duck leg and green chile sausage along with the traditional bread crumb crust. The big surprise was that New Mexico chicos substituted for the beans.

Duck cassoulet

The hot smoked salmon was topped with a crisp “chicharrón” of salmon skin and served with a delicate cauliflower mousse flavored with almond along with roasted kale.

Hot smoked salmon

Dessert included the traditional street food, churros, but raised to a new level and accompanied by rich cajeta.

This last week, we went back with our older daughter, Carol, and her two children. The scene was just as magical, and we now had an opportunity to try more things on the imaginative menu. I had the “West of the Pecos Winter Posole”, which was unlike any posole I have ever had. A big bowl was brought to the table with a nest of shredded ham hocks, posole, and micro cilantro nestled in the middle. The server then poured a steaming pitcher of fragrant broth into the bowl. The seasoning is not for the faint-of-heart, but it was a beautiful and flavorful start.

West of the Pecos winter posole

Carol had the warm chicory salad with crispy prosciutto and topped with a glistening, perfectly poached farm egg just begging to be opened so that the yolk could flavor the whole dish.

Warm chicory salad

She also chose the Guajillo prawns with – white chocolate molé! What’s not to like about that?!

The venison from the week before looked so good, that I chose that. As before, it was well-prepared with interesting seasonings. There was a delicate “cloud” of fois gras foam as an accompaniment.

Susan chose the wild mushroom ravioli with rabbit ragu. She pronounced it delicious.

 

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SAND HILL CRANES AND MANNY’S BUCKHORN TAVERN

Bosque del Apache

Bosque del Apache sits nearly in the center of New Mexico and it is one of our favorite places to visit, especially this time of year. It is a major bird refuge for winter water fowl. Even if you are not a birder, it is worth a three-hour drive from just about any place in the state. For that matter, serious bird watchers come from all over the United States. Snow geese and Sand Hill cranes number in the thousands, and there are many Canada geese, ducks, grebes, coots, golden eagles, and bald eagles as well.

Sand Hill crane feeding

If you plan a visit, you should do it soon, as the birds will be leaving in the next few weeks to start their northern migration to the plains and tundra of Canada. You should also plan your visit so that you arrive just before sunset or before sunrise. During the day, the cranes and geese have been feeding in nearby grain fields. When evening comes, the birds fly into the many lakes and ponds to spend a cold night safe from predators. The evening arrivals are spectacular, as large flocks fly in, making loud noises and silhouetting themselves against the mountains and the sunset. The morning flights are also beautiful, but you need to be in place well before dawn to catch the show.

Sand Hill cranes against the sunset

To get there, travel on I-25 to the little town of San Antonio. Directions from there will be clear. When you arrive, your first stop should be at the visitors’ center where friendly volunteers will tell you the current viewing sites – they tend to change over time.

In flight and ready to land

Then plan a leisurely drive around the loop to see raptors, smaller birds, dabbling ducks, geese, and cranes feeding in the fields. There is a small fee for the trip because even though this is a federal reserve, it is not well-funded. The fee is worth it. Time your tour so that before the sun has begun to set you are in place for the main event. Have your camera and binoculars at the ready because gradually the cranes will begin to come in, first by ones and twos, and eventually in great noisy flocks that continue to land in the shallow lakes even as the light fades into night.

Getting ready for the night

In the morning, the flights may be even more amazing. Usually, as if by some signal, the birds will depart in one great cloud and with noisy chatter. But they are early risers, so you will miss the even if you are not in place well before dawn.

Night time and the show is almost over

If you want to catch both the evening and morning performances, there is a small RV park nearby. Otherwise you will need to plan on staying in Socorro, a half hour or so toward the north.

Manny's Buckhorn decor

San Antonio has another claim to fame: it is home to two of the great stops on the Quest for the Best Green Chile Cheeseburger. The Owl Café is an institution, and for many years we stopped there on our trips between Santa Fé and El Paso. We always drove by a little bar on the other side of the road. It looked like a honky-tonk, and its glowing beer signs  and its name, “Manny’s Buckhorn Tavern”, seemed only to confirm that.

Buckhorn Burger - green chile cheeseburger

One night, though, we ventured in. It was not very crowded, and the crowd was clearly made up of locals. Bob Olguin, the owner and son of the founder, was behind the grill, cooking and chatting with everyone – us included. We ordered the Buckhorn burger – green chile cheeseburger – and thought we had finished the Quest.

French fries

Fried onion rings

For years, we stopped at the Buckhorn; the crowds got bigger; but Bob kept his place at the grill. Then he wound up on national TV in a throw down with Bobby Flay. Since then, the crowds have become huge, especially during tourist season, and now there is a sign directing you to wait until seated. Bob no longer works the grill, but he visits each table as customers wait for their burgers. Still, the atmosphere has not changed, and the Buckhorn burgers are as good as ever. The experience is one you shouldn’t miss.  Just be sure to get fries or onion rings with your order.

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SARAH COOKS IN SANTA FE

This last week, our daughter Sarah and her 10 month old son, Van, visited us from San Francisco. Since she is a chef, we spent a lot of time eating at some of our favorite restaurants as well as doing a lot of home cooking. Without doubt, the food highlight of the week was the dinner which Sarah cooked for us. The menu was designed to feature the foods that Susan and I especially like, but they were all done with a restaurant-quality twist.

The feature of the main course was halibut. Sarah brined thick slices of the beautiful fish for just a few minutes to remove the extra moisture that you often see when a fish like halibut is cooked. Then she sautéed serving-sized fillets in butter to just underdone, finishing off by topping each piece with herb panade (more butter along with bread crumbs, garlic, salt, and herbs) and broiling for just a couple of minutes until the fish was perfectly cooked and the panade was golden brown.

Sautéing halibut filets

The starch was a delicate purée of smoked parsnips. First, Sarah smoked the parsnips along with cream in our handy Cameron stove-top smoker. She chose hickory chips to give the parsnips a definite but subtle smoky taste. Then she simmered the parsnips until they were fork tender, puréed them with a hand-held blender, and combined them with the cream and more butter until they were smooth and silky.

Cooking the smoked parsnip purée

The vegetable was carrot stew: baby carrots simmered in fresh carrot juice that was then reduced to make a thick sauce. The sugar of the carrots and the carrot juice made the dish sweet – but not too sweet – without the addition of any sugar.

Carrot stew

As an added touch, “melted” leeks were chopped finely and cooked into a smooth, savory dish which could be shaped into quenelles to top the vegetables. Then everything came together into a beautiful presentation.

The final plate with halibut, parsnips, carrot stew and melted leeks

For Sarah, probably the best part of the week was the news she had been anxiously awaiting for months. She and her chef husband, Evan, had been working on securing space for their own restaurant in San Francisco. The contract finally was settled, so she spent time at the kitchen table reviewing and signing the documents before faxing them back to Evan. We had a celebratory dinner at Terra (I’ll say more about that in another post).

Sarah signing the lease

Later in the week, Sarah returned to San Francisco to help post the sign in the window of the new place.

Sarah and Evan getting ready to post the sign

If you want to read more about their new restaurant, check it out at the following link:

http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2012/02/05/sarah-and-evan-rich-ink-a-deal-for-a-hayes-valley-restaurant/

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MAKING SAUERKRAUT

When I was a little boy, we lived next to my grandparents. It was the Second World War, so everyone had a Victory Garden. We were no exceptions, and we even had a chicken coop where I collected eggs each morning. My grandparents, though, were serious about feeding themselves. In addition to a big garden, they had a small barn and a pond complete with ducks and a hissing goose.  Both grandparents had grown up on farms in the Dakotas, so they were used to putting up quarts and quarts of tomatoes, pickles, string beans, peas, cherries, and peaches beginning in the early spring and continuing until the first frost in the autumn.  

Harsch Steinzeug crock

My grandmother, though, had even more preserving to do when the rest of the harvest was over. She came from a large German family who had immigrated to North Dakota from Russia in the 1880s. German farmers had lived in Russia since the days of Catherine the Great, but when the Russians made it uncomfortable for them, the emigrated by the thousands to the Great Plains – especially to North Dakota. There they continued their German ways, including the production of huge quantities of sauerkraut to see them through the long winter.  

Red cabbage and red onions

Grandma continued that tradition in her back yard, so in the early fall bushels of giant cabbage heads would magically appear between her garden and the garage door. That would then become the place for an organized production line. A big wooden kraut slicer would be hauled down from storage in the garage. Big 25 gallon crocks would be brought up from the basement to be scrubbed clean. Boxes of salt would be brought from the kitchen. A kitchen chair was moved out to sit in front of a huge bowl where the cabbages would be shredded into heaping mounds. Then the packing began: shredded cabbage was layered into the crocks, salt was sprinkled on top, and the process was repeated until the crocks were completely full. Then the crocks would be lined up along a cool wall in the garage, covered with cheesecloth and big plates. Bricks would be placed on the plates for weights, and the real process began.  

Various utensils for slicing slaw

Fermenting the cabbage went on for weeks, and it was my job to check the crocks daily, skim off any scum, and add water if they looked too dry. During those days the garage was not a good place to spend much time because the dense smell of fermenting cabbage hung in the air. Finally, my grandmother pronounced the process done. At that point all of the women fired up their canning equipment and filled dozens of quart jars with the fragrant kraut until the crocks had been emptied.  

Slaw and salt ready to go in the crock

To my dismay, the supply of sauerkraut lasted all winter, and at least once a week we had the same meal for supper – sauerkraut, bland mashed potatoes, and a big sausage.  As much as I dreaded that menu, it left a lasting impression and surprisingly fond memories.  

The finished sauerkraut

For that reason, I decided to make some sauerkraut in the butler’s pantry in our home in Shreveport. All of the children were school age, and all of them regularly brought home their friends who wanted to know what was in the crock sitting on the counter.  When the children announced that it was sauerkraut their dad was making, there came a long pause and shoulder shrugs. The episode also became the basis for a favorite family story – one in which Dad gets a lot of laughs.

A bowl of sauerkraut ready to serve

I have never made sauerkraut again, so I was surprised when my Christmas gift from Susan was a beautiful had-crafted sauerkraut crock made by Harsch Steinzeug in Germany along with instructions for how to make sauerkraut. My crock is the five-liter size. You can get them up to 50 liter, but unless you have a big German family and eat sauerkraut every day, the 5-liter size seems perfect for home use.  

Once again, I am making sauerkraut. I have adapted the recipe that came with the crock into the one that follows. 

RECIPE

Ingredients

2 medium heads, red cabbage

2 medium red onions

10 grams coarse kosher salt for each kg of sliced cabbage + 15 grams for brine

water

 

  1.  Remove the outer leaves of the cabbages, quarter, and remove the core.
  2. Shred the quartered cabbage as thinly as possible. You may use an authentic wooden slaw cutter, a French-style mandoline, a plastic mandoline, or a very sharp chef’s knife. Each implement has distinct advantages and disadvantages. The wooden cutter is the most authentic, but the blade must be sharp, and it requires a lot of muscle. The French-style mandoline works very well and is adjustable, but with all of its parts it needs a lot of cleanup afterward. The plastic mandoline is inexpensive and usually not adjustable, but the slices are fine, and the blade is very sharp.  Cleanup is easy. The knife must be very sharp, and it is hard to get the cabbage shreds as thin as you would like. I prefer the plastic mandoline.
  3. Shred the red onion and combine with the cabbage.
  4. Weigh the shredded cabbage and onion. Weigh separately 10 grams of salt for each kg of cabbage and onion.
  5. Arrange a layer of shredded cabbage and onions in the bottom of the crock. Sprinkle with salt. Continue the process, alternating cabbage and onions with salt until you have filled the crock no more than four-fifths full. This is important. Otherwise you will not be able to fit the weight stones into the pot.
  6. Press down so that liquid is released and rises an inch or so above the weight stones. If it does not, pour in brine prepared by boiling then cooling 15 grams of salt in 1 liter of water.
  7. Cover the crock with the lid, Seal the lid by pouring water in the groove to that it is above the notches in the sides of the lid, and set in a cool place.
  8. In 2 or 3 days you should hear bubbling as the kraut begins to ferment. This will continue for a week or so. Do not open the crock, but continue to make sure to keep the water seal refreshed.
  9. After three weeks or so, open the crock, remove the weight stones, and dish out your first sauerkraut. Replace the weight stones and reseal to use again at another time. 

Red cabbage sauerkraut, bratwurst, German-fried potatoes, and fresh bread

Around my grandmother’s table, we had sauerkraut, sausage, and mashed potatoes at least once a week. With my first batch of kraut, I tried to reproduce that meal, substituting German-fried potatoes for the mashers. The crispy red sauerkraut was much better than that of my memories, the freshly made bratwurst from the butcher was flavorful, and the meal turned out to be a big success with everyone.

 

 

 

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