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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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RICH TABLE UPDATE

We just got back from a week-long visit to San Francisco where we tended our grandson while my daughter and her husband worked overtime to get their new restaurant – Rich Table – open by July 19.

The dining room before any renovations

First-day restaurant owner thinking, “What have I gotten into?”

To my wife and me it seemed impossible to believe that they had signed the lease and accepted the keys on May 1 and were planning to be open by July 19. Part of our disbelief was grounded in having been there the day they walked into the space. The previous owner occupied the space for 12 years, and so much of the clutter of over a decade was still around. The restaurant had only shut its doors for the last time the night before, so there were also the leftovers of last-minute meals and unwashed dishes.

Wonder what else is in that scary basement?

The space is in a very good part of the city, close to the performing arts centers as well as the city hall. Still, the space was in  desperate need of a major redo. And that’s exactly what Sarah and Evan did. Walls were torn out, the restroom was relocated so that it was ADA compliant and no longer opened into the middle of dining room, banquettes were tron out, and major cooking equipment, including the range led together with duct tape,  was either replaced or sent out for a total refurbishment. Carpet was pulled up, and lurking beneath was a beautiful hardwood floor just begging to be refinished and polished.  Other discoveries included beautiful wooden pillars hidden behind drywall covers and a great red support beam for the ceiling. An image of the red beam has become a part of the web site home page for Rich Table. Old furniture was out and natural wood tables with classic chairs were brought in.

“The Beam”

After the demolition was completed. the new construction began. Evan went to an old saw mill which was being torn down in Petaluma. He bought several hundred square feet of old barn wood to be used on the walls of the dining room. With the help of their designer, Sarah and Evan put together a new space with soft-colored wooden walls, a gleaming cherry-stained hardwood floor, complementary curtains, and interesting lighting.  The roughness of the wood was softened by welcoming throw pillows at the back of the banquette.

Finishing touches on the community table

The new corner of the banquette

In the meantime, the two remained busy cooking for private parties, trying out some of the dishes they plan to offer on their menu. Their goal is to provide creative, well-prepared high-end food in a relaxed atmosphere without all of the fuss and with affordable prices. A couple of the dishes which will make their menu are shown here.

Grilled artichoke and crab bouillabase with ramps

Braised oxtail with foraged spring things and flatbread

They still have lots of finishing touches to put in place, but the restaurant is close enough to being ready that we wound up having a sort of family picnic. Sarah cooked some of the food at home, then brought it to the restaurant to be finished. Our son joined us from his home in Silicon Valley. After a sparkling wine toast (New Mexico Gruet, what else?) we wound up having a  feast – nothing fancy: roasted chicken, giblet sauce, fresh-baked biscuits, ears of  corn seared on the restaurant plancha, sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts, and a delicious dessert  leftover from a private party: sort of a deconstructed Black Forest cake with rich chocolate cream served between wafers of a crisp chocolate panade and topped with macerated fresh sweet cherries and whipped cream.

The big push now begins. The reservation program is not yet set up, but the plan is for Rich Table, 199 Gough, San Francisco, to be open by the end of the month.

Ready for a toast

RECIPE

Jacques Pepin says that one of the marks of a good chef is to be able to cook a perfect omelet. The other mark is the ability to roast a perfect chicken. Here is Sarah’s recipe.

Oven-Roasted Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh four-pound baking chicken
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • good handful of your choice of fresh herbs – thyme, rosemary, sage, or tarragon are all good choices
  • ½ cup melted butter (about)

Method

  • Thoroughly clean the chicken, inside and out, with running water
  • Salt and pepper generously inside and out
  • Stuff the cavity with the chopped garlic, cut lemon, and herbs
  • Brush the chicken all over with the melted butter and place in the middle of a heavy, oven-proof pan (cast iron works the best) over a hot flame.
  • Turning frequently and basting as needed, brown the chicken on all sides
  • Move the chicken in the skillet to the middle of an oven preheated to 425º F
  • As it bakes, turn the chicken frequently and baste it with pan juices and remaining melted butter.
  • Bake for about 1 hour or less  or until the temperature of the thigh muscle reaches 165° F using an instant read thermometer
  • Remove from the oven, let rest for about 5 minutes, and then slice into serving pieces while the skin remains crisp.

Grilling corn and Brussels sprouts on the plancha

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THE FERRY BUILDING FARMERS MARKET

Susan and I have been making the Great California Loop away from a computer for over two weeks, child tending in all of our children’s houses. That doesn’t mean that we have not had some good food adventures along the way. Over the next several posts, I will describe some of those experiences.

Chefs chatting in front of the Ferry Building

And what better place to begin than San Francisco’s famous Ferry Building Farmers Market? The Saturday edition is the most popular and crowded. It is a big-city street fair with buskers a-plenty, kids on skate boards, families with babies in strollers, and lots of tourists. If you watch carefully you can see some of the best known chefs in the city shopping for their weekend menus and visiting with one another. The main reason for the market’s popularity is the amazing cornucopia of the freshest Northern California food products, and this time of the year the choices are simply amazing.

Sweet peas

Sweet Williams

We  were in a celebratory mood because Sarah and Evan finalized the contract for their new restaurant space just before we headed to the market. Sarah thought we needed to be festive so our first stop was in the bank of flower stalls at the front of the building. The fragrance of the sweet peas attracted us, and Sarah bought an armful of blossoms of all hues.

Asian pears

We passed up the Asian pears and other fresh fruits because we had already opted for fresh-churned ice cream for dessert.

Choose your asparagus

Next stop was the asparagus stall. There were bundles of thick, medium, and thin stalks arranged in orderly rows. The abundance made it hard to choose, but we finally settled on three bundles of beautiful, thick, fresh stalks before moving down the row of vendors.  Fresh dill, thyme, and oregano all made it to our shopping bag.

Beautiful vegetables

Mushrooms! Baskets filled with all varieties of the tasty fungi. Criminis, whites, Portobellos, oysters, shitakes, and my favorites – lion’s manes. There were some giant royal trumpets, but we chose a basket of the most beautiful small-size trumpets.

New potatoes

New potatoes in all colors, sizes, and shapes – a good choice for smashed potatoes.

Hog Island Oyster Company

Hog Island Oyster Company  http://www.hogislandoysters.com is one of the landmarks of the market. We often go to their restaurant for fresh oysters or clam chowder, but today we went to their food stall. They had choices of small and large local sweet oysters-in-the-shell and some crenelated beauties from British Columbia. Sarah got a dozen each of the small sweets and the BCs.

Sarah at the Prather Ranch shop

Then we went inside the Ferry Building to the Prather Ranch stall   http://www.pratherranch.com where we found some juicy lamb shanks.

Chilaquiles

A little more shopping for green garlic to braise with the lamb shanks and some baby cucumbers to turn into a salad. Then, with shopping finished we stopped off for an early lunch. There were all sorts of choices including fried chicken, porchetta sandwiches, and lots of Mexican food. We settled on plates of freshly made chilaquiles to eat al fresco on a make-do seat along a planter wall. Evan loaded up his supply for the restaurant, and Sarah and I packed ours up for what looked like a feast that evening.

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