Tag Archives: green chile cheeseburger

BOSQUE DEL APACHE AND GREEN (RED) CHILE CHEESEBURGERS

Last week we drove south to the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in central New Mexico. The refuge sits on the bank of the Rio Grande and is one of the largest winter stopovers on the Central Flyway. There are thousands of water birds during the months of November through March. The largest colonies include snow geese, Canada geese, and Sandhill cranes; there are ducks of all sorts as well.

The main shows are always the flight at sunset when the geese and cranes settle in to ponds for safety during the night and then again at sunrise when the birds fly off in clouds to head to feeding grounds throughout the region. We were a little disappointed this year, because the evening spectacle was not as impressive as in the past. In part that is because some of the birds have already begun to head north in the spring migration.

Still, we enjoyed the birds of winter. We saw pintails, shovelers, mallards, many other ducks, and grebes. There were Gamble quails, red-winged blackbirds, herons, roadrunners, dozens of red-tailed hawks, and a merlin. Reportedly there was a trumpeter swan and a bald eagle around, though we didn’t see either one – we have seen them in the past.  We also saw a peccary and a skunk. It was a treat for anyone who enjoys wildlife.

After the evening flight, we stopped for a relaxed meal at the Buckhorn Bar in the nearby hamlet of San Antonio. This one-street town is probably the epicenter for the New Mexico green chile cheeseburger passion. Cafés and greasy spoons all across the state offer their version of this delicacy, but the Buckhorn and its big competitor, the Owl Bar and Café, sit just across the highway from one another, and both have at one time or another vied for the title of best green chile cheeseburger in the world if not the universe. Just down the interstate the McDonald’s and Burger King in Socorro, the largest nearby town, offer their versions of the sandwich, and a local gasoline station also serves a very tasty rendition, so there is no lack of opportunities to enjoy a GCCB, as the locals call it.

The standard question that is asked by the server in any New Mexico roadhouse is, “Red or green?” That means you are supposed to tell him or her whether you want red or green chile on top of whatever you order. If you can’t make up your mind, the standard reply is, “Christmas!” so that you get both red and green chile.

It has always been a puzzle to me as to why there is never a red chile cheeseburger choice, or maybe even better, a Christmas option. This is my effort to correct that culinary deficiency. For the green chile part, I roasted some Anaheim chiles – pretty conventional for a GCCB. For the red chile part, I decided to use chile colorado in two forms: the straight stuff and in mayonnaise. Forty years ago I learned to make chile colorado from our laboratory dishwasher who was from Mexico. This version is a little embellished from that recipe, but it is not very different from practically every recipe out there. The most important thing is to use ground chiles rather than commercial chili powder, which contains a mix of chiles along with garlic and onion powders, cumin and oregano, and probably a bit of MSG. The following recipe makes a lot more sauce than you will need for the cheeseburgers, so think about using the leftovers with fresh corn tortillas for enchiladas or chilaquiles.

RECIPES

Chile Colorado

Ingredients

  • ½ cup ground red chiles (your choice on the heat level)
  • 2½ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • ½ small onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tablespoons AP flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, toasted in a small  dry skillet
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crumbled between your hands
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

Method

  1. In a dry skillet over medium heat, toast the chile powder until it darkens lightly and becomes fragrant. Stir frequently and do not allow to scorch. Stir the toasted chile into the water and set aside.
  2. Wipe out the skillet, and return it to medium heat. Heat the oil and add the onions and garlic, stirring until the onion is translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Stir in the chile and water, cumin, and oregano, and bring to the boil. Then reduce to the simmer for 40 minutes until the raw taste of the flour has cooked out and the chiles have mellowed. Adjust the seasoning with salt.
  4. Cool and store in a non-reactive container. (Red chiles can present a challenge for stains)
  5. Makes about 1 pint

Red Chile Mayonnaise

Ingredients

  • ½ cup mayonnaise (homemade or commercial)
  • ¼ cup chile colorado

Method

  1. Combine the mayonnaise and chile colorado
  2. Set aside until ready to use.

Green/Red Chile (Christmas) Cheeseburger

Ingredients

  • 4 good-quality hamburger buns
  • 8 tablespoons red chile mayonnaise
  • 4 Anaheim chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and opened
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons chile colorado
  • 4 tablespoons chopped onion
  • 8 deli slices, cheddar cheese
  • condiments (lettuce, sliced tomatoes, dill pickle chips, ketchup, mustard as desired)

Method

  1. Slice the hamburger buns in half, and spread the cut-side of each half with red chile mayonnaise. Toast on a hot griddle until lightly browned. Set aside.
  2. Make 4 hamburger patties from the ground beef. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Sauté  one side of the 4 hamburger patties on the griddle over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Turn the hamburgers only once. When you turn the hamburgers, coat them with the chile colorado using a pastry brush. Then top, in order, with chopped onion, cheddar cheese, and roasted green chiles. Saute for another 5 minutes or until the hamburgers are done to your liking.
  4. Place the cooked hamburger patties in the prepared buns and serve immediately with condiments as desired.
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GREEN CHILE CHEESEBURGER – MY TAKE

The journey begins at home, they say, so after writing about my search for the perfect green chile cheeseburger, it only seemed fair that I write about my version. It is based on my observations over the years. It is what I like, so I make no claims for its being in the “best” category, and I certainly would not think of entering it in any contest. I will leave that to the pros.

The first essential is roasted green chiles. You can buy them canned or frozen, but in New Mexico this is green chile season, so there are roasters at the farmers market, and farmers from Hatch and Chimayo (Hatch’s chief competitor) bring gunny sacks filled with green chiles along with roasting cages and butane burners to parking lots all over the city. They will roast as many as you want, and then it is up to you to peel them, cook with them, and put them up for the winter ahead.

Alternatively, you can roast the few that you need for a recipe at home. There are lots of ways to do that: you can roast them under the broiler in your oven; you can use your outdoor grill. The problem with that is that the wonderful roasting smell will draw neighbors and even strangers to your back yard; you can roast chiles over a gas flame; but my favorite way is to use a chile roasting grill that I purchased years ago at the Santa Fe School of Cooking. I like it so much that I have given many of them to friends on my gift list.

The second essential is to have a tasty melting cheese. Asadero is my favorite, but mozzarella, Monterey jack, cheddar, Emmental, or even Gruyère will also work. The important thing is to make sure that whatever cheese you use, the finished product is as gooey as you can make it.

The third essential is the bun, You should use the very best quality bun you can find. Kaiser rolls are good. Hamburger buns in the cello wraps are not good, but if that is all you can find, it will have to do.

Finally, of course, the most essential ingredient is the meat. I use ground beef with 93% lean, but whatever your favorite might be – from 85% to ground sirloin –  will work. You should plan on anywhere from 4 to 8 ounces of meat per burger. I do a couple of things that are considered heretical. First, I incorporate seasoning – salt, pepper, red pepper if you wish – into the meat. With burgers that big, I don’t think salt or pepper can find their way into the middle and the finished burger tastes bland. Second, that means you will have to mix the meat lightly before you shape the burgers. Just try hard not to compress the meat too much. Third, frying the burger in a cast-iron pan or on a flat grill yields a texture that is tastier to me than from a grill

One tool that helps a lot, especially if you make half-pound burgers, is an instant-read probe thermometer. It will take 7-10 minutes or longer on each side to get the right doneness, and the old thumb-pressure trick may not work as well as you are used to with steaks and smaller burgers. Here are some temperature suggestions: Rare – 130°F (54 °C); Medium-Rare – 135°F (57 °C); Medium – 145°F (63°C); Well Done – 150°f ( 66°C).  IMPORTANT: If you are worried about possible risks with undercooked ground beef, cook longer and adjust your temperature accordingly.

Sauce and extras like thick slices of onion and tomatoes, pickles, and lettuce are your option.

Ingredients

  • 2 – 4 fresh Hatch green chiles
  • 2 teaspoons mayonnaise
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons ketchup
  • 2 -4 good-quality hamburger buns
  • butter
  • 1 pound 93% fresh ground beef
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 2 – 4 slices asadero cheese

Method

  1. Heat the roasting grill until the screen turns bright red. Place the fresh chiles on the grill, turning them frequently until all sides are evenly charred. Remove from the heat and place in a zippered plastic bag. Allow them to cool. Then, under running water, peel away the charred skin. If you have roasted the chiles evenly, the skin should pull away easily. Remove the stems, slit one side, and remove seeds and ribs. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup together.
  3. Butter both halves of the hamburger buns and toast on a dry, hot skillet.  Spread both tops and bottoms with the mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup mixture. Set aside.
  4. Combine the meat with salt, pepper and optional cayenne. Gently divide into 2 or 4 equal portions. Press into patties about the same size as the buns.
  5. Heat a cast-iron skilled over high heat. When it smokes slightly, add the hamburger patties. Sauté on one side for 7 to 10 minutes. Turn and sauté the other side. Check the temperature with your instant-read probe thermometer.
  6. About 2 minutes before you are ready to finish the hamburgers, top each with 1-2 roasted green chiles, a generous slice of asadero cheese, and the top half of a hamburger bun. Check the temperature again.
  7. Transfer the burgers and toppings to the bottoms of the buns and serve immediately.
  8. Have available sliced onions, tomatoes, pickles,  other condiments, and sides of your choice – potato chips, French fires, potato salad, etc., etc.

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EATING OUR WAY THROUGH DEATH VALLEY

This last week we were visiting our daughter in Los Angeles. For some time, we had wanted to see Death Valley, so it turned out to be a pleasant turn of events when we learned that Carol and her children had already made plans to go there over the weekend.

Susan collected a whole stack of guide books before the trip and had plotted out an itinerary. Unfortunately we could not leave before school got out on Friday, so we steered across LA in the midst of early rush hour traffic (When isn’t it rush hour traffic in LA?) and got out to the desert just as it was turning dark.  Clearly it is better to stay in the park at Furnace Creek, but that would have been another two hours of travel at night so we wound up staying in the little town of Lone Pine.

We arrived after 8 o’clock, and the already limited choices for dinner became even more limited as most closed at 9 PM. We chose the Mt. Whitney Restaurant even though there were no other customers. That was our first clue that this would not be a transcendent dining experience, but with two very tired, hungry kids that seemed secondary.

Mt Whitney Restaurant green chile buffalo cheeseburger

Mt Whitney Restaurant green chile buffalo cheeseburger

The menu was extensive, including meatloaf, open-faced meatloaf sandwich, clam chowder (in the desert?!) and regular, ostrich, or buffalo hamburgers. In my misguided quest for the perfect green chile cheeseburger, I ordered the buffalo version. The server, with some heavy ink and dressed in his cut-offs, high school T-shirt, and Converse low-tops, strongly recommended that the burger should be cooked at least medium. I complied with his suggestion, although since then I have wondered whether there might have been some motive to his advice. The adults ordered wine, and soon enough we were all brought a mini-screw-top bottle and an empty wine glass. The meals arrived, and although the French fries were good, we saw that our overall expectations had been realized.

The next morning we loaded up and headed to Death Valley. The drive was long and dusty, and although the map showed stops at Panamint Springs and Stovepipe Wells, there was not much until we arrived at Furnace Creek. There, crowds milled around the restaurants, bars and gift shops at the Furnace Creek Ranch. We had a pleasant lunch in the busy but not crowded café. Service was fast, efficient, and friendly. The food was surprisingly good, plentiful, and not too expensive. I got the curry chicken salad wrap, and it hit the spot.

Furnace Creek curried chicken salad wrap

Furnace Creek curry chicken salad wrap

The real pleasure palace at Furnace Creek, though, is the Furnace Creek Inn. The elegant inn sits up on a hillside surrounded by an oasis of palm trees, flowers, and green lawns. After an afternoon of sight-seeing, we stopped in for cocktails for the adults and ice cream for the children. We sat in the beautiful lounge with amazing vistas of the desert floor. The staff was very pleasant to us even though we looked like desert rats. However, we also learned that shorts and T-shirts are not permitted in the dining room for dinner. The Inn is clearly the place to stay, just make sure your credit card is paid up before you book a room.

We drove back to Lone Pine in the twilight, cleaned up, and then went out to dinner. Our first choice, Seasons, clearly had the best menu along with white linens and a good wine selection, but reservations would have helped. After a long wait with two impatient kids, we left for the restaurant next door – the Merry-Go-Round.

Merry Go Round won ton soup

Merry Go Round won ton soup

That turned out to be a good choice. Otherwise we would not have gotten some of the laughs we enjoyed over the next couple of days. We walked into the circular dining room covered in mirrored tiles to be ushered by the young server to a too-small booth. Suddenly a stout, grey-haired older man with an apron appeared from the kitchen and announced that the booth would not do. He sent us to two tables in the middle of the room. We pushed them together only to have the old man declare loudly that we needed to pull them apart again so that he could cover them with two white tablecloths. After that, he plopped a stack of menus on the middle of the tables and announced that one menu was for Chinese while the other was for American, depending upon our wishes – and for that matter, we could order from both.

The young server then finished the table with paper placemats depicting the Chinese zodiac and promptly disappeared into a small room where he got into a loud discussion with another person accompanied by startling crashes. He reappeared but no longer had any interest in us until Susan called him over and asked him to take drink orders. I ordered some Chilean wines. He then asked, “Are you familiar with that wine? I would not recommend it.” He suggested another wine, but I chose a red from Paso Robles. Obviously, he was convinced that I had still made a bad decision, because when he brought out the wines – filled completely to the brim, he set a second glass at my place with just a swallow of the wine he had recommended. He pointed out to Susan that there was a bit of cork in her glass, but that the extra protein would do her good.  After a bit of a skirmish with the young waiter about the menu (Carol asked what vegetables were in a particular dish, and he asked in reply, “Do you really want me to have to go back into the kitchen to find out?”) – we ordered Chinese, which turned out to be surprisingly good. It was prepared by the mother in the kitchen. The gray-haired man was the boss, and the reluctant server was their son.

Throughout the entire evening, Susan kept saying, “I feel like I am in ‘The Twilight Zone'”. At one point I even thought I saw Rod Serling sitting in one of the booths. Since he died in 1975, that seemed unlikely. On the other hand, everything seemed possible by then. We finished our meal just as a couple in a nearby booth were getting ready to leave. The asked for a carry-out box for a huge plate of unfinished food. The waiter brought a tiny box which didn’t work, so he tossed it from about 10 feet onto a towering pile just behind the hapless couple.  Our bill was paid, and we returned to the motel marveling at our experience.

Still Life Café

Still Life Café

The next day we toured the Alabama Hills where all of the western movies of my childhood were made. I think I even recognized a rock where Gene Autrey hid from the bad guys. Then we drove as far as we could up the road to Mount Whitney. A tour of the National Historical Monument devoted to the Japanese internment during World War II completed the morning. The exhibit was worthwhile, and even the children got a lot out of the visit. But everyone was hungry so we stopped at a recommended restaurant in the tiny town of Independence. The Still Life Café is run by a French couple, and the menu is definitely French but also definitely good. My croque monsieur was outstanding, and the pommes frites were a cut above McDonald’s.

Still Life Café croque monsieur

Croque monsieur

With all of this food, I have failed to mention our itinerary:

First stop was the Mesquite Sand Hills. Although they are not as big as either the White Sands or the Great Sand Dunes, they are still impressive and quite beautiful in the desert setting.

Mesquite Sand Dunes

Mesquite Sand Hills

Next stop was Salt Creek where we strolled along a boardwalk, watched the pup fish swimming in the salty stream, and enjoyed the desert scenery.

Salt Creek

Salt Creek

Badwater is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (-282 feet) so we had to go there, along with tourists from all over the world. The formations of mineral crystals on the surface of the water were impressive and beautiful.

Badwater (282 feet below sea level)

Badwater (282 feet below sea level)

We drove through the narrow, colorful canyon of Artists Drive and made it to Zabriskie Point just as the sun was reaching a good angle for photos. Zabriskie Point may be the most famous place in Death Valley because of the movie, but it is also one of the must-see stops.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point

Our visit to Mount Whitney (highest point in the contiguous 48 states – 14,505 feet above sea level) was our final photo-op before we headed back to LA.

Mount Whitney

Mount Whitney

But we definitely plan to visit Death Valley again.

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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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