Tag Archives: Mexico

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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QUESO FUNDIDO (MELTED CHEESE)/QUESO FLAMEADO (FLAMED CHEESE)

 

This is one of the easiest recipes around, but it is also easy to mess up. When it is done properly it cam be ethereal. The first time I ever had it was some thirty years ago in Tlaquepaque, Mexico, a small town filled with artisans on the outskirts of Guadalajara. We had taken our children and one of their friends on a family vacation to the Mexican west coast, and this was to be our day of tourist shopping. The array of handmade goods was overwhelming. There were weavings, pottery, jewelry, worked silver, paper flowers, hand-made furniture, and the requisite “onyx” chess sets.

After a full morning of going from one vendor’s stall to another, everyone was ready for lunch. We chose a huge open air restaurant, partly because there were enough vacant seats for all of us.

The first thing we ordered was queso fundido and freshly made corn tortillas to snack on with drinks until our main dishes came. Dipping browned and molten cheese out of a dish and heaping it on a warm tortilla was a treat for all of us. There was crumbled crisp chorizo on top, but no chiles and no spice. It was just plain good eating.  We ate quickly, and that was a good thing. When queso fundido cools off, it can set up into a solid chunk of cheese.

Since then, I have enjoyed queso fundido, aka queso flameado in many places along the US-Mexico Border. Most of those versions have been good, but none as good as that in Tlaquepaque. The dish is not to be confused with another stalwart, chile con queso. In its traditional form, that dish includes melted cheese and roasted green chiles. Neither queso fundido nor chile con queso is to be confused with versions you are likely to see in fast-food Mexican restaurants: Ro-Tel mixed with melted Velveeta, or worse, Cheez Whiz mixed with bottled taco sauce.

When you make your own queso fundido, use authentic asadero cheese if you can find it, Mexican chorizo of the best quality, and corn tortillas that you make yourself.None of that is really very hard. If you can’t find asadero cheese, any yellow melting cheese like Monterey jack, American Muenster, or mozzarella will do.

Serve with your favorite salsa or even guacamole or both.

RECIPE

Queso Fundido

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces asadero cheese, coarsely grated
  • ¼ pound Mexican (not Spanish) chorizo, crumbled and lightly browned

Method

  1. Heat a shallow baking dish, about 9 inches across, in the middle of an oven preheated to 375°F for about 5 minutes or until hot.
  2. Remove the heated dish from the oven. Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly in the dish. Top with chorizo, and return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and lightly browned.
  3. Remove from the oven. Set on a heat-resistant surface. Serve immediately with warm fresh corn tortillas and spoons for dipping the melted cheese.

 

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SAN FRANCISCO AND THE PRESIDIO SOCIAL CLUB

San Francisco is one of the great cities of America with endless things to see and do. Of course, the Golden Gate Bridge is iconic, but the beautiful bay, the wonderful Victorian houses, cable cars, winding Lombard Street, the Marina and Fishermen’s Wharf, the Ferry Building Farmers Market, and Coit Tower are all landmarks on most tourists’ check lists.

Often the Presidio gets overlooked, and that’s too bad because it is one of the real treasures of the Bay Area.

The Spanish established presidios (military garrisons) to protect their territories as they moved further and further into what eventually became the American Southwest. Their advance into California was relatively late, and San Francisco Bay was not discovered until 1774. The Presidio at San Francisco was established in 1776 to protect what was then called La Boca del Puerto de San Francisco – the Mouth of the Port of San Francisco – a name that continued until the 1840s. In 1846, the straits between the Marin Headlands and Land’s End on the San Francisco side were renamed by the famous explorer, John C. Fremont, who said they had the same importance as the Golden Horn in the Bosporus. The renaming occurred two years before the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. I guess Fremont knew what he was talking about.

The Spanish also established a small pueblo named Yerba Buena to support the presidio. The little town was in the area now known as the Mission District where the Mission Dolores still stands. These were the beginnings of today’s modern San Francisco.

The garrison was a constantly occupied military base for over 200 years, under the jurisdiction of Spain, Mexico, and then the US, until it was decommissioned in 1995. At that time, the Presidio was turned over to the US National Park Service with the charge to develop the facility as if it were a national park but with the requirement that, unlike a park, it must generate enough revenues to make it self-sustaining.

That charge has been taken seriously. Military housing has been converted into apartments and beautiful residences which are well-maintained, highly desired, and often available only after spending time on a waiting list. Barracks and the world-famous Letterman General Hospital have been converted into office buildings, museums, and workshops for such companies as Disney and George Lucas Productions. There are public golf courses, abundant hiking trails, campgrounds, and beaches open year-around to the public.

Scenery is spectacular. The famous Golden Gate Bridge has its southern access from the headlands in the Presidio. The view to Land’s End, with crashing surf, rugged rock outcroppings, is a gorgeous part of the walk along the ridge leading down to Baker Beach. There are hawks, hummingbirds, many other bird species, coyotes, and smaller mammals. Chances are pretty good that you can catch a glimpse of at least one of these creatures. Flowering plants, towering trees including the beautiful but invasive eucalyptus, and plenty of herbs fill the woods along the trails.

Converted nineteenth century barracks filled with displays and museums

Converted nineteenth century barracks filled with displays and museums

Golden Gate Bridge from the East Battery

Golden Gate Bridge from the East Battery

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from near the Main Post

View of the Golden Gate Bridge from near the Main Post

The Park Service has not ignored the stomach. There are several restaurants and more in the process of development. The Presidio Social Club may be the most popular, because it is close to the Walt Disney and George Lucas facilities and is a popular place for business lunches. Still, it is large enough that you may not need to wait too long for a table.

The restaurant is actually housed in a converted barracks that once served the famous African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” who played such an important role in opening up the American West.

The Social Club  serves both lunch and dinner.  The menu is not large, but you should be able to find something to suit your fancy.

For a recent lunch, I got a grilled meatloaf sandwich with melted Gruyère cheese. The sandwich came perfectly grilled on real pain de mie, not white sandwich bread. The meatloaf was juicy and cut to just the right thickness. Gruyère cheese and Dijon mustard set it off to a T.  The side salad of baby greens was dressed exactly as it should be with enough vinaigrette to flavor the lettuce but not so much as to be cloying. Susan got the Dungeness crab Louie salad which came with mollet eggs in a very large serving with lots of fresh crab. The only downside was that there were several shells that had been missed when the crab was picked over. Sarah says that to avoid that unforgivable restaurant sin, Rich Table uses a black light which causes bits of shell to glow a bright blue – who would have thought!

For dessert we split an order of brioche beignets served with creme anglaise. There are actually four beignets to an order, but they looked so good that we dived in before I took the picture.

The wine list was small but well-chosen, and the prices were reasonable. Service was excellent, and the surroundings were attractive and historic. The restaurant is a keeper, especially if you take my advice and make a day of visiting the Presidio.

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A SHORT HISTORY OF CORN

A couple of years ago, my two daughters and I started a book about corn (maize) to include recipes for a wide range of corn-based breads from around the world. The project bogged down when I started writing a blog, but we plan to revive our effort. Here is a short excerpt from the introduction. It may be more than you want to know about corn (maize), but I hope that you will find it interesting.

Nearly every American  school child knows that when the Europeans first came to the New World, they found a virtual cornucopia of foods which they had never seen or tasted before.  The explorers took back to their homeland many foods that soon became imbedded in cuisines in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Of these edibles, eight of the current 26 top crops by tonnage have become essential to many diets, and include maize (called corn in the United States and other English-speaking countries), potatoes, tomatoes, chiles, peanuts, manioc, chocolate and vanilla, and sweet potatoes. Other important New World contributions to the global diet included beans, squash, turkeys, pineapple, and avocado, along with numerous herbs, fruits, and nuts.  Of these foods, undoubtedly corn has become the most important for providing nutrition and calories throughout the world and in all socio-economic situations.  To support this contention, consider that corn (or maize) is grown on all of the inhabited continents, China grows more corn than any other country, and corn-based dishes are served in China, India, Africa, England, France, Italy, and all of the countries of Central and South America. Refined corn is used for cooking oil, sugar substitute, and food additives. Corn serves as a major food source for animals raised a sources of meat. It is an integral and essential part of nearly every human’s diet.

History of cultivation

Maize (corn) was domesticated nearly 9,000 years ago by people living in the region of what is now the Mexican states of Michoacán, Guerrero, and Mexico. Like all modern food grains, it arose from a wild grass – in this case a large grass, Balsas teosinte, that even to this day grows in the Central Balsas River Valley. 

Balsas teosinteAlthough no one knows exactly how or how long the process of domestication developed, clever modern breeding studies have produced hybrids of teosinte and maize that give us an idea of what some of the grains may have looked like along the way.

teosinte and maize cobsIt is clear that both the Aztecs and Mayas consumed domesticated maize, and archeological records document that domestic corn spread to Panama by 7,600 years ago and to Uruguay by 4,600 years ago. Later, domesticated corn spread throughout both North and South America so that it was an important part of the diet of the native peoples throughout the New World when the Europeans arrived. The European explorers took back seed grain, and the cultivation of corn spread quickly throughout Europe and then into Africa and Asia. This rapid acceptance occurred  largely because of ease of cultivation, wide range of favorable growing conditions, and usefulness as a basic foodstuff. Now virtually every culture in the world depends upon corn and has unique and traditional dishes based upon the grain.

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