Tag Archives: lime

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.
Advertisements

6 Comments

Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes, Restaurants, Travel

SOUTHWESTERN STYLE SHEPHERD’S PIE WITH PICO DE GALLO

I am sure that my UK blogger friends are looking at this thinking, “What in the hell does he know about shepherd’s pie?” They are probably right even though this is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. Detractors should be aware that the US Southwest is sheep country, and we eat a lot of lamb. It is also true that we have a hard time resisting putting green chile in just about everything. I suspect that someone has even made green chile ice cream.

Cooked lamb ready for the pie

Canned chopped green chiles

Chopped potatoes

I have tried to be true to the basic recipe while making it a uniquely Southwestern (USA, that is) by using local ingredients. That means roasted Hatch green chiles, asadero cheese ( a cheese that is made with a method similar to that used for mozzarella. Curds are cooked gently in hot water and then stretched. It is popular in Mexico and the southwestern United States, but if you can’t find it you can use mozzarella or even Monterrey jack.)  You could also use the Mexican cheese, queso fresco, and if you can’t find that, fresh farmer’s cheese will do.  As with real shepherd’s pie, the main ingredient is lamb.

Ready for the oven

Americans often like to douse their shepherd’s pie with ketchup (I hear another UK shudder), but this version seems to cry out for pico de gallo. This is a salsa made with fresh ingredients. The name means “rooster’s beak” in Spanish. There are several explanations for how the name came to be, but none sound very likely.

Baked and ready to eat

RECIPES

Southwestern Style Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 pound ground lamb
  • 8 ounces, green chiles, chopped (fresh, frozen, or canned) Heat according to your preference
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, shredded between your palms
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup water or vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup asadero cheese, chopped or grated
  • ¼ teaspoon Cholula hot sauce (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted, for top

Method

  • Heat the oil in a medium frying pan until it shimmers. Add the chopped onions and cook until translucent, stirring frequently to prevent browning.
  • Add the ground lamb and continue to stir until the lamb is lightly browned
  • Stir in the  green chiles, cumin, oregano, and garlic. Continue to cook for a few minutes until the ingredients are well combined. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the flour and stir until everything is well coated. Cook long enough (5 minutes or so) so that the flour loses its raw taste.
  • Add the water or stock and stir until the gravy thickens. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add more water if you want a thinner gravy. Set aside for final assembly
  • In the meantime, peel and cube the potatoes. Put them in a medium pot with salted water. Bring to the boil and boil for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are soft.
  • Drain the potatoes and pass them through a potato ricer. Stir in the butter, cream, and grated cheese. Add a dash of hot sauce if you wish and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper
  • Butter the insides of an oven-proof casserole. Pour the meat mixture into the prepared dish, top with the mashed potatoes, and paint with melted butter
  • Bake in the middle of a pre-heated oven at 325° for about 60 minutes or until the top is lightly browned.

Pico de Gallo

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients

  • 1 large, ripe tomato
  • ½ yellow onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 green onions, cleaned and coarsely chopped, including the green tops
  • 2 fresh Anaheim chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1 jalapeño chile, seeded and chopped (optional)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • A generous handful of cilantro leaves, chopped coarsely
  • salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Blanch the tomato for 10 seconds in boiling water. Then peel, seed, and chop coarsely
  • Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl. Adjust the seasoning, and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  • Serve like any other salsa. Use generously on the Southwestern Style Shepherd’s Pie.

Southwestern style shepherd’s pie with pico de gallo on the side

3 Comments

Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes

TOSTONES AND GUACAMOLE

When our son, Peter, was in graduate school, he stayed in a run-down house with a number of Colombiano students. The house was on Hillmont Street, so they named the house “Casa Hillmont”. During his time at Casa Hillmont, Peter’s Spanish skills improved markedly, but he also learned to cook Colombian comfort food. One favorite was and is tostones. Tostones are the one way I know of to use plantain. This banana relative usually sits neglected in the produce section of the grocery store. Neglect those plantains no longer because tostones are easy to make,  delicious as a snack, and a great substitute for corn chips with guacamole.

Plantain slices ready to fry

First frying of plantain slices

Smashing a cooked plantain slice with a can

Tostones ready to serve

Guacamole is a Central American dish which has been imported to the American Southwest and eventually to the whole world. Probably that’s because it is easy to make The mellow flavor of the obligate avocado balanced against citrus and chile accents is hard to resist, especially with a corn chip and cold margarita in hand. According to Diane Kennedy, the legendary Mexican cookbook writer, the word comes from two Nahuatl (Aztec) words, ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (mixture). Other authorities say that the word ahuacatl actually means “testicle” referring to the shape of the fruit and its tendency to grow in pairs. More than that, the Mesoamericans reportedly believed that eating the fruit contributed to sexual prowess. Those interesting facts aside, it is easy to eat a bowl of fresh guacamole by oneself.

Ingredients for my version of guacamole

There are probably as many recipes for guacamole as there are cooks who make it. Most traditional recipes include chopped tomato. For me, the version which tends to be favored in Santa Fe is the best. It uses coarsely mashed avocado, lime juice, a little chopped onion, salt, and pepper. Garlic and cilantro are acceptable additions, and chile depends upon your tolerance for heat. I do balk at one addition that you sometimes see – mayonnaise. The Aztecs never used mayonnaise! Honestly, I prefer guacamole with a kick, but because my wife has zero tolerance for chile, I make it without any zest and then sneak a little chile into my portion.

Guacamole in a molcajete ready to serve

The recipes to follow should be enough for two people. For larger groups, just increase proportions accordingly.

RECIPES

Tostones

  • cooking oil
  • 1 ripe plantain, unpeeled and cut in ½ inch  slices (about 12 slices)
  • salt
  • Add the oil to a ½ inch depth in a heavy pan and heat over a medium-high flame. Do not let it smoke
  • Peel the plantain slices and place them in the heated oil. Brown lightly, turn, and brown the other side
  • Remove the slices to absorbent paper, and using the flat end of a large can, smash each of the cooked slices
  • Immediately return the slices to the heated oil and continue frying them until they are browned on both sides
  • Remove again to the absorbent paper, sprinkle with salt, and serve while still warm

Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 1 large, ripe avocado
  • juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped finely
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 small tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped (optional)
  • cilantro leaves, chopped (optional)
  • hot sauce (eg Tabasco or Cholula) to taste (optional)
  • 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped (optional)

Method

  • Place the avocado flesh in a medium bowl and mash coarsely with a table fork
  • Add the lime juice and combine with the mashed avocado.
  • Stir in the chopped scallions, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and serve
  • Add optional ingredients according to your own taste

7 Comments

Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes

SCHOOL LUNCHES AND BENTO BOXES – WHAT IS A MOTHER TO DO?

When I was growing up, my mother would make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and put it in a brown paper sack along with some carrot sticks, an apple or orange, and some home-made cookies. When we moved to the suburbs the school had a lunch program. For twenty-five cents children could get a hot meal served in a war surplus Army metal divided tray. For a quarter you got a main dish like spaghetti, a salad, hot bread, fruit, dessert, and a little glass bottle of milk. All the kids loved lunch and lunchtime because the food was good, and it was a break from the classroom. Nobody threw anything away. The reason it was so cheap was that the meal was mostly made from “commodities” which the government had purchased from the farm subsidy program. Cheese, meat, chickens, eggs, butter, and produce were all part of the program, so it was possible to make a tasty meal from high quality ingredients. The other reason the lunches were so popular was that they were made by the “lunch ladies” who usually were mothers of some of the school children. Their kids were often your friends, and the cooks knew everyone’s name. In those days, nobody would dream of wasting food, especially in front of a mother who might tell your mother. Besides, the ladies would often make special treats like home-made potato chips to go with juicy hamburgers and all the trimmings.

My mom became one of those lunch ladies, and for many years she cooked meals which the children loved. Her fresh, hot rolls were famous as were her pumpkin pie and chocolate sheet cake. She loved “her children” and they loved her.

Then something happened. The commodity program shrunk dramatically. School boards across the country decided that they needed to cut payrolls and that they could provide lunches cheaper by contracting with big restaurant firms. The home-made lunches disappeared, and in their place came frozen TV-dinner-like meals that got heated up in the microwave. It was about the same time that a garbage barrel got placed at the end of cafeteria line where kids could dump their uneaten tray and head for the vending machines filled with soft drinks, corn snacks, and candy bars. It was about that time, too, when the decision was made to count ketchup as a vegetable to make sure of the “nutritional value” of the meal, and when childhood obesity began to inch up.

Now some schools have contracted with caterers who have the child choose from a menu of items that are popular with kids. The food is apparently better, but it is still not the solution to having the kids eat a healthy lunch.

In frustration, my daughter Carol decided to do something about it. Peanut butter sandwiches are often no longer allowed. Although she is not really concerned about some of the other food restrictions which have multiplied seemingly geometrically in the last few years –  mercury content of tunafish, dairy products in drinks, estrogens in soy products, gluten in bread – and on and on – she wanted to make a lunch her kids would eat, and so she turned to bento boxes.

Sarah's authentic bento box from the Kyoto train station

She picked up a copy of “The Just Bento Cookbook” by Makiko Itoh (one of this year’s top ten cookbooks on the Amazon list) and bought some bento boxes. Then she prepared this menu from the book: chicken kijiyaki, pan-steamed sweet potato, cucumber and turnip salad with lime, rice, and apple bunnies.

Carol's bento box in the morning

Being the good cook that she is, Carol made a point of seasoning the food to kid tastes and arranging it beautifully in the boxes.

Cameron's bento box in the afternoon

Ciara's bento box in the afternoon

Alas, with all that effort, she felt let down when her kids returned from school with their bento boxes in tow. Now, it’s on to another ploy to get her kids to eat a healthy lunch at school.

RECIPES (adapted from “The Just Bento Cookbook” by Makiko Itoh, published by Kodansha International, 2010)

Chicken Kijiyaki

1 chicken thigh, boned with skin on

1 Tablespoon rice wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

  1. Pierce the skin of the chicken with a sharp fork and place it skin-side down on a hot non-stick skillet. Saute until the skin is crisp, turn over and saute the other side until done.
  2. Remove the chicken from the pan, clean the skillet with a paper towel and return the skillet to the heat. Add the mirin, soy sauce, and sugar, stirring until the sugar is melted and the sauce is hot. Return the chicken, turning it to coat it with the sauce. Remove the chicken from the pan, let it cool, slice it, and arrange it in the bento box.

Pan-steamed Sweet Potato

1 small sweet potato, peeled and sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon honey

  1. Arrange the sweet potato slices in a single layer in a sauce pan. Add enough water to half cover the slices. Sprinkle with salt.
  2. Bring to the boil. Then cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes or until the sweet potato slices are tender. Turn once about half way through the cooking.
  3. Drain the water from the sauce pan, drizzle honey over the slices. Then let them cool completely before packing them in the bento box.

Cucumber and Turnip Salad with Lime

1 small cucumber

1/2 turnip, peeled

1 teaspoon salt

zest of 1 lime

1/2 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

  1. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and slice very thin half-moons.
  2. Slice the turnip into small, thin slices and combine with the cucumber slices
  3. Rub the vegetables all over with the salt. Let stand for 10 minutes until they are limp. Then squeeze out any excess water
  4. Add the lime zest and lime juice. Place in a covered container, and refrigerate overnight

Apple Bunnies

1 ripe, red apple

juice of 1 lime

1 Cup water

  1. Cut the apple into wedges and remove the core
  2. With a sharp paring knife, score the skin of an apple with the shape of a triangle, its base at the top of the wedge
  3. Again with the sharp knife cut through the apple just below the skin on either side of the triangle
  4. Gently remove the skin from the triangle
  5. Place the carved apple in the lime juice added to the water to prevent discoloration of the cut apple and so that the “ears” curl and

Leave a comment

Filed under Food, Photography