Wednesday, 28 April 2010

On the hunt for a Green Chile Cheeseburger

The chile pepper is at the very heart and soul of Mexican cuisine. Not only is it a state symbol, but more than 30,000 acres are harvested here annually, most of it around the small town of Hatch. In particular, New Mexicans take great pride in their green chile, and most places will give you the option to smother your dinner in either red or green sauce or possibly both (just ask for 'Christmas').

One of the most popular menu items involving the state's favourite pepper is the Green Chile Cheeseburger, which crops up in restaurants everywhere, regardless of the cuisine and everyone will have an opinion on where to find the best burger.

I finally got around to trying one of these the other weekend, at Isaac's Bar and Restaurant in downtown Silver (City). This cavernous place occupies a corner at the bottom of the town's main thoroughfare and attracts a lively crowd at the weekend. Slightly deterred by online reviews of surly staff and stories from colleagues with the NPS (who were lucky enough to eat in there one night when a knife fight took place. A one off incident I'm sure), we thought we'd give it a go last Sunday evening. We stuck with the lighter/sandwich menu (the main entrees are quite pricy between $10-18, although the portions did look huge), choosing the green chile burger with duck fat fries. The food arrived swiftly and we polished off our plates in an equally speedy manner. The diced green chile had just the right amount of heat, adding a tangy freshness to the burger and the fries were excellent and well-portioned. So that's another New Mexican food experience crossed off the list....and one that was slightly more successful than the cactus.

Isaac's Bar & Grill
200 North Bullard Street
Silver City, NM 88061
(575) 388-4090

Monday, 26 April 2010

Don't try this at home

We decided to BBQ the other evening and invited some coworkers who are also living in the RV park to join us. One of the ingredients available here that I've been dying to have a go at cooking are prickly pear cactus paddles. They actually sell these things at the local Walmart but at a whopping $1.59 each, we thought we'd go one better and pick-our-own.

After a short hike and some rather tedious spike removal, we were left with 3 cleaned and prepped paddles, brushed with oil and sprinkled with salt and lime juice. We watched avidly while they grilled for 20 minutes over hot coals. Was it worth the effort? Sadly no. Chewy and fibrous with a rather unpleasant texture: goodness knows what our neighbours thought of our culinary efforts. What I hadn't taken into account was the number of different species of Opuntia cacti that exist and sadly, I think we picked one that isn't considered edible. A little more research is needed before we attempt this again.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Kountry Kitchen, Silver City

The Gila Wilderness isn't renowned for its restaurant scene (unless you're part of the animal kingdom); the nearest restaurant is a 1/2 hour drive and even if you head all the way into Silver City, you're not spoilt for choice.

However,  don't be fooled by first impressions; there are a few good places to eat home-style Mexican food hidden in the back streets of this dusty mining town. What they lack in class they certainly make up for in character as we discovered at lunch last week at 'Kountry Kitchen'. One of the blog's readers suggested this place and despite my initial reluctance, mostly due to the spelling of the place, we thought we'd give it a go.

Well, it took some finding, a long low building, windows painted with garish bunnies and baskets full of eggs leftover from Easter, tucked behind a Harvest Christian Fellowship Center (whatever that might be). The decor on the inside wasn't much of an improvement; aquamarine and maroon walls festooned with fake flowers and pictures depicting Aztec scenes that looked like they'd been copied straight out of a children's book on Mesomerican history.

The obligatory salsa and chips arrived, accompanied by unusually tall glass bottles of coke (presumably 'hecho en Mexico'). The other diners were a mix of blue collar workers and local office types intermingled with a rather elderly crowd.

While the service was a little slow, all the orders appeared to be cooked 'to order' and was well worth the wait. Warm carnitas (shredded pork) tacos overflowed with crispy bits of fat and fresh diced jalapeno while the chicken enchiladas were full of flavour (thanks to the mix of dark and white meat) and a chile relleno came encased in a light almost pancake-like batter. My only complaint? The fact they're not open in the evenings and the excessive use of cheese on top of everything....but this is America. If you're looking for a bargain no-frills feed in Silver, then this is definitely a good place to come.

Kountry Kitchen
1500 N Hudson (main entrance off Bennett St, one block east)
Silver City

Opening hours: 8am - 6pm (8pm Friday) except Sunday
Main dishes: $5-$10

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tequila Lime Cooler

A friend recently recommended Rick Bayless' 'Authentic Mexican' to keep me occupied in the evenings. While I'm unable to recreate many of the recipes (lacking many basic untensils in the trailer's spartan kitchen), I did go to the trouble of making some home-made margaritas, using Mr Bayless' lime cooler as the basis. It's light and fresh and beats the commercial sweet and sour mix any day of the week.

Agua de Limon (makes 1/2 litre)

5 dark green limes
1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar
1/2 litre water (2 cups)

Carefully grate the limes (avoiding the white pith) into a bowl. Add 1/2 litre of cold water and allow the flavours to develop for an hour or so.
Strain the mixture through a very fine mesh sieve (I discovered a coffee filter workes very well), extracting as much liquid as possible from the zest. Stir in the sugar, a little at a time, and adjust the amount according to taste.

To make a 'margarita':

50ml freshly squeezed lime juice
250ml agua de limon
pinch of salt
50ml tequila
Dash of triple sec (or orange juice)

Mix the above and allow to stand for 1 hour. Add ice and serve.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Honey chipotle shrimp and roasted poblano salad

After a couple of days on the road and eating (what felt like) a lot of 'junk' food, I decided to opt for a healthier option for supper last night. I've always wanted to have a go at making tortilla 'bowls' and discovered that these can be baked, rather than fried. Brimming with fresh salad leaves, warm prawns and roasted peppers, our dinner felt very virtuous....and what do to with the bowls afterwards? I would suggest smothering with local desert honey.

Serves 2

2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lime
1/2 chipotle in adobo, finely diced
2 tbsp olive oil

300g prawns
Salad leaves of your choice
1/2 poblano pepper (or bell pepper), chargrilled and thinly sliced
2 large tortillas

Snugly place each tortilla in a glass bowl and bake in a low oven for 20 mins. Allow to dry. Place the salad, poblano pepper strips and any other salad ingredients (toasted corn, pinto beans etc.) you like into each bowl.

Pan fry the prawns in a wok and as soon as they turn pink, add the dressing. Give everything a quick stir and tip over the salad. Devour.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Life in a small community

Living in a small community where everyone knows your name is proving to be a very refreshing break from the impersonality of living in London. Just the other morning, a man in a pick-up stopped alongside me as I was walking along the (only) road in Gila Hot Springs.
Hey, you want some fresh tamales?
Hell, yes! I thought.
Sadly, I didn't have any cash on me, a big mistake in New Mexico. You can't even buy a cinema ticket using a card. Lorenzo comes up once a month, selling his tamales from the back of his truck. He showed me a selection of both meat (pork) and vegetarian (green chile and cheese) and promised to come by the trailer next time he's up. Definitely beats making your own!