Monthly Archives: August 2013

LIL’S ICE WATER CRACKERS – SANTA FÉ MONSOONS

At last the summer monsoons (Yes, that’s what they are called.) have come to Santa Fé. Clouds build over the mountains in the early afternoon and develop into towering thunderheads. By late afternoon the clouds darken and horsetails of rain begin to stream in patches over the valleys and mesas. Sometimes you get a shower. Sometimes you don’t. We have been suffering from a severe drought for the past three years, so the rains have been a welcome relief. Even though the drought has not been broken, the new moisture has helped the grasses to green and ripen, and the flowers have been encouraged to bloom. The white clouds and blue skies are an important part of the New Mexico landscape, They are among the things that have attracted so many artists over the years. Georgia O’Keeffe clearly loved the clouds, and that love is captured in her famous series of paintings, Sky Over Clouds. One of the series, Sky Over Clouds IV, has a prominent place in the Art Institute of Chicago, while others hang in museums all over the world.

Georgia O'Keefe's Sky Above Clouds, IV, Art Institute of Chicago

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky Above Clouds, IV, Art Institute of Chicago

The rains have brought water to the dry arroyo in our back yard, and the water, lightning, and thunder have encouraged the spade-foot toads from their long sleep in the mud at the bottom of the pond to serenade us all night long.

My digression on monsoons has led me far away from the food topic of this entry, but I wanted to share the good news of moisture at last. Now on to crackers.

One of the food blogs I like to follow is Dinner of Herbs. The author has been trying out a lot of different recipes for crackers lately, so I decided to look through my collection of cracker recipes. I came across an old favorite that I got from Bernard Clayton’s classic, New Complete Book of Breads, (Simon and Schuster, 1987) I’m not sure if the recipe is in the original edition, published in 1973. Marion Cunningham has also been credited with first publishing the recipe. That has some importance because there are a lot of entries on the Internet describing this or that as the “original” version. In any event, Clayton says that he got the recipe from Lillian Marshall, a noted cook and author from Kentucky, hence the name, “Lil’s Ice Water Crackers”. I have made some changes and suggestions about the recipe that you can read in the “Comments” section after the recipe.

Actually, the recipe is NOT for crackers, but instead how to turn plain saltines into something tastier and fit for company. When you read the recipe you will ask yourself how can this turn out to be anything but a pile of glop?

Trust me, you will love the results.

RECIPE

Lil’s Ice Water Crackers

Ingredients

  • 24 single saltine crackers (a sleeve of crackers contains about 36)
  • 1 quart ice water
  • 1 stick butter, melted

Method

  1. Arrange the crackers in a single layer in a 11 x 17 inch jelly roll pan with a turned up edge
  2. Pour the ice water over the crackers and let them stand for 3 minutes.
  3. Carefully remove the crackers with a spatula or slotted spoon and place them on a towel covered layers of paper towels. The crackers will be soggy and fragile so take extra care with this step.
  4. While the crackers are draining, wash and dry the jelly roll pan.
  5. Pour half of the melted butter into the pan and spread with a spatula or your fingers so that the bottom of the pan is completely coated.
  6. Arrange the crackers in the pan and drizzle the remaining butter over them.
  7. Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 475°F for 15 to 20 minutes, checking frequently to make sure that they don’t burn
  8. Serve immediately while still hot.

Comments

  • A sleeve of saltines contains about 36 crackers, but some of them will probably be broken. Also, 36 crackers may be too many to work with at one time, especially if you are just trying out this recipe. Some of the crackers might begin to disintegrate before you can transfer them. As well, if they are too close to one another, they tend to stick together.
  • The original recipe called for 2 quarts of ice water, You don’t need that much to moisten the crackers, and the amount is a bit unwieldy.
  • Three minutes is tops for the crackers to soak. Some recipes say 10 minutes, but that is too long. The crackers need to swell up, but they will start to disintegrate with long soaking.
  • Wet crackers may stick to a wet paper towel, so be sure to have enough layers of towelling to absorb all of the excess moisture.
  • Allow plenty of space between the crackers so they don’t stick together.
  • If some of the crackers do stick together, don’t worry. They may take longer to crisp than the single crackers, but the way to deal with that is to remove crackers when they are golden and crisp and return the unfinished crackers to the oven until they are fully baked.

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FAJITAS – HIGH SEASON IN SANTA FÉ

It is clearly high season in Santa Fé. Nearly everyone has visitors, and tourists jam the Plaza. Our own first visitors were two of our grandchildren, and so we tried to have kid-friendly meals that they could help make. When their parents came to visit and pick up their kids, we planned an easy meal for their arrival. We needed something that could wait in case their plane was late. Fajitas came to mind, so I started getting them ready the day before their arrival. The first thing to do was to trim and marinate the skirt steak. Skirt steak, called arracheras  by Mexican cooks, is actually the diaphragm muscle which separates the chest and abdominal cavities. It is well-flavored but tough, so it has to be prepared to make it tender. The first thing to do is to strip off the pleura and peritoneum (the linings of the chest and abdominal cavities respectively). That is an easy but necessary step, using a sharp, pointed knife to cut at  the demarcation line between the steak and the fibrous linings. An overnight soak in marinade, followed by grilling over hot coals are additional steps to create a tender meat for the fajitas. I got the recipe for the tequila marinade from The Sunset Southwest Cook Book (Lane Publishing Co., Menlo Park, CA, 1987, p. 45). If you don’t want to use tequila, just substitute more lime juice.

I had to deal with some of the food dislikes within the family. Some don’t like onions or even things that touch onions. Some can’t tolerate piquant chiles because of food sensitivities. Some don’t like avocados. Because of all these variables, I grilled the onions separately from the meat. Instead of classic pico de gallo (rooster’s beak), I made what I call pico de gallina (hen’s beak) without the jalapeños. I omitted the guacamole, but I would encourage you to include it in your choices of fillings.

In the end, everyone seemed to enjoy the modified fajitas.

The next day  we became inveterate tourists, trying to pack in as many events as possible.

There are lots of things to choose from: the Santa Fé Opera is high on the list, the Chamber Music Festival, dancing on the Plaza, riding the Rail Runner train, visiting the Bandelier ruins, hiking in the mountains, visiting the Shidoni Foundry, swimming at the community center, visiting the many museums, and eating, eating, eating.

The first day of the visit we went to one of our favorite restaurants, Babaluu’s Cocina Cubana, a quirky place away from town with great Cuban food. My daughter and I went to Whole Foods for the picnic for our tailgate dinner that evening at the opera. The opera tailgate is totally unlike the ones you may have attended at a football game. People show up in tuxedos and long gowns with candelabra, white tablecloths, fancy silver, and elaborate food on tables in the middle of the parking lot. Years ago we spent hours getting ready a fancy feast, but we now just go to the market for wine and food.

Following our festive meal, some of us went to the opening of La Traviata. It was our twelve-year-old granddaughter’s first opera and she was excited. She watched intently to the end and shed a few tears when Violetta died.

The next day my wife and I visited the Opera Ranch, the grounds of the Santa Fé Opera where singers, musicians, and technicians gather, practice, and enjoy the beauty of the area. Afterward we had lunch at the Tesuque (Te-su’-kay) Village Market, a combination country store, wine shop, gourmet bakery, and rustic café serving typical Northern New Mexico meals like huevos rancheros and green chile cheeseburgers.  It is very popular with locals.

The kids enjoyed the Shidoni Foundry where bronze sculptures are cast on commission from all over the world. The sculpture garden is filled with some amazing, interesting, and beautiful pieces. The foundry is near the end of Bishop’s Lodge Road, named after Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy, a Frenchman who built a French-styled cathedral on the plaza of very Spanish/Mexican Santa Fé. He had a beautiful summer retreat along the road; the retreat has subsequently become a posh resort.  The archbishop was also the model for  the protagonist in Willa Cather’s famous novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop.

The kids and their parents rode the Rail Runner train. We shopped on the Plaza. We took a short hike in the mountains until we retreated in a thunderstorm. We had another great meal at another favorite restaurant,  Taberna La Boca. Finally my daughter made her famous “Law School Chicken” at the kids’ request. My granddaughter specifically forbade me from writing about “their secret family recipe.”

Then time ran out, and the visit was over.

RECIPES

Tequila Marinade

Ingredients

  • ½ cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup tequila (may substitute lime juice)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dry Mexican oregano leaves
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Method

  1. In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients.
  2. Set aside until ready to marinate skirt steak

Pico de Gallina

Ingredients

  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • ½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder (optional)
  • 1-2 fresh jalapeños, seeded and chopped (optional)

Method

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use

Fajitas

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds skirt steak, trimmed of membranes
  • 1 batch tequila marinade (recipe above)
  • 3 bell peppers (red, yellow, or green) seeded and sliced into strips
  • 2 large yellow onions, peeled and sliced into strips
  • 1 dozen large flour tortillas
  • 1 batch pico de gallina (recipe above)
  • sour cream

Method

  1. Combine the steak and marinade in a plastic zip bag. Refrigerate overnight, turning frequently to coat the steak on all sides.
  2. When you are ready to cook the fajitas, prepare a hot fire in either a charcoal or gas grill.
  3. Place the steak over the hot fire.  Grill for about 7 minutes. Then turn over and grill for an additional 7 minutes. Baste frequently with reserved marinade.
  4. Meanwhile, place the sliced peppers and onions in a fire-proof grilling basket and place on the grill. Stir or turn occasionally until caramelized on all sides.
  5. When the steak is done, transfer to a cutting board. Arrange the grilled vegetables in a serving bowl.
  6. Rest the steak, covered with aluminum foil for 5 minutes before slicing thinly on the bias.
  7. Meanwhile, warm the tortillas.
  8. Invite each diner to make his or her own fajita with sliced steak and grilled vegetables on a warmed tortilla. Add pico de gallina and/or sour cream as desired.
  9. In a group that is not avocado-averse, fresh guacamole is a welcome addition.
  10. Roll and eat.

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