Last week I wrote about the New Mexico I experienced in my 20’s. What hasn’t changed is the way the food is prepared, firmly rooted in its use of locally grown ingredients, really before it was “cool” to eat “local.” Take chile peppers for example.
Chiles require respect and dominate New Mexican cuisine. Their hot, spicy, and sometimes smokiness contribute a distinct flavor that every other vegetable must yield to. Chiles can be intimidating too. I start to feel the heat creeping up, first in my mouth, then in my throat, as my eyes water and my nose runs. Heck, this is just looking at a menu! I don’t know why, but nowadays, I am more tolerant of chile heat and not afraid to order something that will challenge my taste buds.
My favorite place to eat true New Mexican cuisine is The Shed in Santa Fe. Originally an old hacienda dated to 1692, this restaurant has remained a family owned and operated establishment since 1953. The shaded patio, which is dog-friendly, leads into an old adobe house. Every time I’ve eaten here over many visits, the food is consistently delicious. I love the blue corn enchiladas smothered in homemade red chile sauce, their specialty. All the red chiles are grown locally and ground on the premises. Spicy, plump posole (large, dried corn kernels that have been simmered for hours and result in a popcorn flavor and a chewy texture) and soft pinto beans share the plate with the enchiladas. A perfectly balanced Elite Gold Margarita with fresh lime juice, on the rocks, tempers the heat in my mouth from the chili sauce. I am in heaven. It’s a must do when in Santa Fe and is usually my very first stop.
As much as I enjoy returning to an old favorite, like The Shed, I also make a point to discover one new eatery like Rowley Farmhouse Ales, which will now be on my list to visit again. Unassuming from the outside, and situated in its own little space away from the shopping, Rowley is a pub-style brewery serving up some of the best food we had on our trip. An outside patio is as large as the inside pub and felt like a park with gravel floor, shady trees and long picnic tables with bench seating. Family style! Our neighbors eating behind us quickly became our friends as they showered Sparky with friendly pets. We ordered an IPA house beer and took a look at the menu. Again, local ingredients were combined creatively. Hum. Chicken Biscuit Sandwich. “What can be so great about this?” I asked myself. I took the risk. A perfectly fried chicken breast was wedged between a split cheddar cheese biscuit slathered with horseradish crema and topped with homemade cucumber pickles. On the side sat a ramekin of homemade catsup – tomatoey, tangy and not too sweet to accompany a mound of thin, crunchy and hot french fries. The side pickle tasted of briny, chile- infused heat. Wow. Every bite was a marriage made in heaven.
Mom ordered the Warm Prosciutto Pear Sandwich on toasted brioche. Another masterpiece. She also had onion rings which had to be the best I’ve ever tasted. Very thinly sliced and lightly batter-coated, they practically melted in your mouth. If I lived in Santa Fe, Rowley would be a weekly date. Besides the food, what else made this trip special? The place we stayed!
Santa Fe has over 500 Airbnb’s and we were lucky enough to hit the jackpot with the Quiet Country Casita on Historic Santa Fe Trail. Surrounded by acres of wooded forest, the guest house, in traditional New Mexico style, was as comfortable as I’ve ever been staying in someone else’s home. Tonie and Mark live across the way and were super helpful hosts with eating ideas and places to visit. Tonie makes an Apricot Bread for all her guests which my mom and I quickly polished off. She generously shared the recipe with me. I thought this was particularly appropriate since we are now in the peak of apricot season and farm stands selling apricots and cherries lined the New Mexico highways.
Apricot Banana Nut Bread
1/2 cup dried apricots * see my notes below
1/3 cup orange juice
1 stick butter
1 1/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe banana
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Turbinado sugar or coarse sugar
Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut each apricot in 1/4” dice.
Combine orange juice and apricots in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from the stove and let cool. The apricots will drink up the orange juice.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9 X 5 loaf pan with parchment.
Melt the butter and let cool.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the melted butter, sugar, and orange zest. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the mashed banana, apricots with juice, and nuts.
Carefully mix in flour. Do not over mix!
Scrape dough into prepared pan and spread evenly.
Sprinkle top with Turbinado sugar and bake for about 1 1/2 hours.
Check center with a toothpick to make sure inside is done.
Cool on a rack.
* I quartered fresh apricots and put them in a 150 degree oven for a few hours to release their moisture. They came out great!
Certain things catch your eye,
But pursue only those
that capture your heart.
old Indian saying
Ciao for now!