Tag Archives: Georgia O’Keeffe

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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CHILES RELLENOS

Visitors to Santa Fe usually think of it as a visual place: the clouds and mesas that so enchanted Georgia O’Keeffe, the ancient adobe buildings around the Plaza, and the color of a fiesta. There are also sounds: the quiet of a December snow, crashing thunderstorms in the middle of summer, and the calls of geese and cranes flying overhead in the spring and fall. But Santa Fe is every bit a place of wonderful smells: lilacs pushing over an adobe wall in the springtime, the smell of a winter’s piñon fire burning in a fireplace near the Plaza. This time of year, the smell is of green chiles roasting. It is a fragrance like no other, and once you experience it, you never forget it.

Chiles have been growing during the hot summer throughout the state. Perhaps the most famous chile crop comes from Hatch,, but there are also bountiful sources in Chimayó and Socorro along with many a back yard.

All sorts of chiles at the farmers market

Chiles

When the chiles are ready for harvest, they are loaded into big gunny sacks and taken by truck all over the state. In Santa Fe, growers set up stalls throughout the city where they roast the green chiles on the spot in a revolving metal mesh drum over a blazing butane flame. The tough outer coat of the chiles is charred in the process so that it can be peeled off in preparation for cooking. The roasting creates a pungent, unmistakable smell that fills the air.

The farmers market also boasts chile roasters who make the festive environment even more vibrant.

Chile roasting at the farmers market

The spin of the chile roaster

The buyer can get a whole gunny sack full of roasted chiles or even a small plastic bag. Then the task is to take them home, peel off the charred skin, and either cook or freeze them for the winter ahead.

If you don’t need a green chile supply for the whole winter, you can even do them yourself on the barbecue or, better yet, on a special device made of metal screen and designed to sit over a gas flame. The device is indispensable for the Santa Fe cook. One can be ordered from the Santa Fe Cooking School.

Chile roasting pan

Roasting chiles

Roasted chiles resting in plastic bag before peeling

Green chiles wind up in just about every Santa Fe dish you can think of, including ice cream, but probably the most popular dishes are green chile stew, green chile cheeseburger, and my favorite, chiles rellenos.

Making a chile relleno is an act of love  because the preparation takes a lot of steps, and the chiles have to be eaten immediately. A leftover chile relleno is a soggy shadow of its former self. Still, they are worth the effort, especially when they are covered with a fresh salsa roja.  Here’s how you do it.

Roasted chiles peeled and ready for batter

Cheese pieces and chiles ready for stuffing

RECIPES

Chiles Rellenos

Ingredients

  • 6 to 12 Anaheim or New Mexico chiles
  • Monterey jack cheese, one ½x½x4 inch piece of cheese for each chile
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • all-purpose flour for dredging chiles
  • peanut oil for deep-frying

Two parts of batter before combining

Coating the chiles with batter

Method

  • Purchase roasted chiles or roast your own on a chile roasting pan over a high flame, a very hot barbecue grill, or in the oven under the drill. Turn frequently until all sides of all chiles are heavily charred.
  • Immediately place the chiles in a plastic bag and allow to cool. Then remove the chiles from the bag, and under running water peel the charred skin carefully so as not to tear the flesh of the chiles.
  • Cut off the stems of the chiles, pull out the seeds and inner membranes using your fingers. Rinse out the chiles to remove any loose seeds.
  • Gently stuff each chile with one of the pieces of cheese and set aside on paper towels.
  • In the meantime, prepare the batter by combining egg yolks, milk, flour, salt and vegetable oil using a rotary egg beater. Let the mixture blend for  30 minutes while you whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  • Gently fold the yolk and milk mixture into the whipped egg whites until well combined.
  • Dredge each prepared chile into flour. Then dip the chiles individually into the combined batter.
  • While preparing the chiles, pour enough peanut oil into a deep-sided heavy pot (A cast iron skillet works well) and heat to 375°F.
  • One at a time, place the batter-coated chiles into the hot oil. Cook no more than two at a time. Otherwise the chiles may stick together.
  • Turn the chiles when well browned on the bottom and finish frying the other side. Remove from the hot oil and drain on layers of paper towels.
  • Keep the finished chiles on a plate in an oven heated to 200°F until all of the chiles are fried. Serve immediately. Otherwise they may get soggy.

Testing oil temperature with a cube of bread

Chiles rellenos frying

Quick Salsa Roja

Ingredients

  • 1 14.5ounce can, diced tomatoes
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano, crumbled
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons ground red chiles (amount and heat according to your taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • In a blender, purée the canned tomatoes, including their juice
  • Transfer the puréed tomato to a small saucepan over low heat. Bring to the simmer
  • Stir in the remaining ingredients until completely combined. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes

Finished chiles rellenos ready to serve

Assembly

  • Place two or three warm chiles rellenos on each plate
  • Top with a generous serving of the salsa
  • Add rice and/or beans (refried or other) if you desire.

Chiles rellenos with rice and fresh pear with green chile raspberry preserves and almonds

I finished the meal with rice and a fresh pear-half filled with green chile flavored raspberry preserves (no kidding) and blanched almonds.

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