Red or green? When you travel to New Mexico it’s all about the chiles. I arrived in Santa Fe just in time for dinner. My taste buds were clamoring for a plate of real New Mexican food and a great margarita. And those delicious blue corn muffins? I’ll tell you about those soon. First, a few tips on what to do when visiting fantastic Santa Fe, New Mexico.
New Mexican Cuisine
New Mexican cuisine is influenced by the cuisines of Spain as well as Mexican and American Indian cultures and relies heavily on their wonderful chiles. They are generally red or green with the green chiles being the same chile as the red before it ripens on the vine.
Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen
To take care of my dinner requirement we headed to Maria’s New Mexican Kitchen, famous for their traditional New Mexican food and margaritas since 1950. I ordered chicken enchiladas with both red and green chile sauces. It definitely took care of my chile craving. Deep, rich flavor and a heat that sneaks up on you rather than hits you in the face. By the end of dinner I was smiling and breathing very clearly!
Santa Fe Photographic Workshops
My husband and photographer, Kent, had spent the week at famed Santa Fe Photographic Workshops for a special lighting class with photographer and teacher extraordinaire David Tejada. I flew in for a long weekend to explore the food, culture and history of this creative and enchanting city.
Historic Santa Fe – Since 1610
Santa Fe is renowned as a destination for fine food and dining, art, culture, shopping, and history. Founded in 1610, the city is celebrating the 400th anniversary of it’s founding this year. At 7000 feet the air is cold, dry and crisp and the skies a remarkable blue. It snowed earlier in the week and there was still a dusting of snow on the mountain tops.
Exploring Santa Fe
The first day I was on my own exploring the city on foot. This California girl was channeling her inner Pillsbury Dough Boy with many layers of clothing on to stay warm, but it was also invigorating. I headed to historic Santa Fe Plaza in the heart of the city, walking along old streets that were a part of the famed Route 66, enjoying the distinctive pueblo architecture and warm colors at every turn. I managed to stay out of trouble while browsing in and out of the many art galleries, jewelry stores and quaint shops but losing track of time my stomach reminded my I had skipped lunch.
La Fonda on The Plaza
Cold and hungry, I walked into La Fonda on the Plaza. La Fonda means “The Inn” and this historic place has been hosting travelers since 1607. A step off the Santa Fe Trail, La Fonda is steeped in history. You feel transported back through time when you step through the doors of this national treasure. A big bowl of hot, brothy chicken tortilla soup with crisp tortilla strips on top and a glass of wine warmed me up. Check out their website for history and great old black and white photographs of days longs gone in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe Cathedrals
With a happy stomach, I spent the afternoon touring the Cathedral Basilica St. Francis of Assisi, and the little jewel called Loretto Chapel. It’s reminiscent of St. Chapelle in Paris and famed for its mysterious spiral staircase. I had a terrific afternoon exploring and walking the streets, discovering the charm of Santa Fe.
Dinner Friday was at the Inn and Spa of Loretto hosted by Santa Fe Workshops for students to share their best work of the week. We were treated to more fine New Mexican cuisine and fantastic images taken by the students from various photography classes.
Santa Fe Farmers Market
When we travel, I always look for farmers markets. It’s a great way to learn about what is grown in the area and discover wonderful products produced by local artisans. Santa Fe’s Farmers Market is in the train rail yard.
My treasure hunt netted me a jar of gourmet Green Chili Mustard from Mike Jaramillo at Old Pecos Foods, a bear bottle of raw honey the color of dark brown sugar from Steve Wall at Buckin’ Bee Honey, freshly ground whole blue corn meal from Talon de Gato Farms (Cat’s Claw) Farm and bags of ground chile powder and whole chile pods from the family of Trujillo Farms. Grandma Rose, famous for her tamales, was there at the table helping eager customers.
Lavender in the Land Of Chiles
The biggest surprise in the land of chiles was lavender! I found local area lavender and lavender products like we’ve seen in the south of France. Wondering how I was going to get all of this bounty home in my suitcase I added a package of dried culinary lavender and a new lavender cookbook from growers at Purple Adobe.
What I could not bring home was wonderful goat cheese from award winning Old Windmill Dairy. They had flavors like Holy Chipotle, The Great Caper, and Pesto and Pine Nut that made for fantastic Chevre. Big flavors with the tang of fresh goat cheese. I was happy to sample them but wished I could have brought them home for a party.
With the workshop complete, Kent arrived back at our inn and announced he was starving so lunch was first priority. We walked over to Palace Avenue to find a place on our restaurant list – La Casa Sena, which means the Sena House. If you get to Santa Fe, be sure to put this restaurant on your list.
Blue Corn Muffins at La Casa Sena
Sena Plaza is one of the oldest surviving houses in Santa Fe and is across from the beautiful Cathedral Basilica of St Francis of Assisi. La Casa Sena restaurant is in an old hacienda style adobe originally built in 1868 and restored to its former grandeur in 1983. The main dining room stands where stables once stood
The restaurant is rustic and elegant inside with dark wood beamed ceilings and white tablecloths, a quiet and warm respite from the blustery, busy Saturday streets of Santa Fe. The interior courtyard must be beautiful in the spring and summer when weather is warm and flowers are blooming.
Heavenly Blue Corn Muffins
With a contemporary Southwestern menu, our lunch began with a basket of warm blue corn muffins studded with yellow corn kernels. They were hard to resist devouring smeared with soft butter before we took a picture. As I was writing this post I emailed La Casa Sena and asked if they would share the recipe and they happily agreed, saying that it’s the most requested of their recipes.
For lunch I enjoyed a La Casa Sena Classic Caesar salad and Blue Crab Enchilada in a white corn tortilla with Asadero cheese, red chile sauce, salsa fresca and sour cream. Kent had a Barbecue Shrimp Quesadilla in a white corn tortilla with Asadero cheese, avocado, tomatoes and roasted peppers.
Everything hit the spot, thanks to Executive Chef Patrick Gharrity and his team. With a menu that showcases seasonal, locally farmed and sustainably raised foods whenever possible, we were wishing we had time to go back and try La Casa Sena for dinner. Next trip!
Being in Santa Fe we focused on experiencing the flavors of New Mexico. Reading about a restaurant called Ristra really caught my eye.
Ristras are long strings of dried red chile pods that hang decoratively all over Santa Fe. Ristra Restaurant combines the flavors of the New Mexico and France.
What interested me as a chef was how Chef Grenet blended these two different cuisines, so I talked to him about it before dinner that evening. Executive Chef Xavier Grenet has been at Ristra’s helm for ten years. Chef Grenet and his wife Nathalie have since opened their own restaurant, L’Olivier, a blend of Southwestern and French cuisine. We will definitely go next time.
Chef Grenet & Dinner at Ristra
Once living and working in the suburbs of Paris and spending two years with the great Joel Robuchon, Grenet came to Santa Fe years ago and enchanted by the area, never left. He strives to use local ingredients like chiles and spices balancing them so that they compliment rather than overpower a dish.
He particularly likes red chiles from Chimayo, squash and squash blossoms when available, corn, and working with seasonal ingredients to the delight of Ristra’s diners. Grenet mentioned using the green chiles of late summer in his green chile mashed potatoes, which sounds terrific.
Dinner started with Ristra’s famous Black Mediterranean Mussels. Being a mussel lover, they were heaven for me. I loved his Southwestern twist on the classic French Moules Marninieres using chipotle, mint and aromatics. I’ll have to try that mext time I make mussels. I was happy to sop up the spicy, minty broth with bread and I appreciated that Chef left tiny diced sweet carrot, onion and celery for texture.
Kent started with the Grilled Quail Salad. Rich flavors of quail, fresh crisp greens and bacon with black olive vinaigrette. We were off to great start.
For our entrees Kent had Grilled Venison Tenderloin accompanied by sweet potato puree, poached pear, snow peas & red wine sauce. It was tender, flavorful and not at all gamey. The sweet potato puree was silky smooth, which reminded me to get a new food mill. It’s the only way I know how to make those really silky purees.
For my entrée I enjoyed Crispy King Salmon served with fennel and roasted potatoes in a saffron-pepper broth. Topping my crispy salmon was a Rouille – another classic French sauce served with fish. Made with olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic, saffron and sometimes chile peppers it has a mayonnaise kind of consistency.
Although we were full, we couldn’t resist the bittersweet chocolate soufflé that arrived for dessert. We had a wonderful dinner. Ristra is another restaurant you should put on your list when visiting Santa Fe. Thank you Chef Grenet and team.
History and Happy Endings
With only one day left we wanted to visit one of the ancient historical sites but most were too far of a drive for this trip. El Santuario de Chimayó was within reach.
This Catholic sanctuary and pilgrimage site is a National Historic Landmark located in the town of Chimayo. The tiny adobe chapel was built in the early 1800’s. About an hour from Santa Fe, we explored the grounds and took some interesting photographs. Next trip we’ll make time to venture further.
For our last evening in Santa Fe we decided on a small tapas style restaurant. It gave me a great idea for an appetizer I’ll have to try creating at home. It was a disk of polenta (corn meal) topped with a Romesco sauce, Spanish sausage and shrimp.
Originally from the Catalonia region of Spain, Romesco is one of my favorites sauces. I have both quick and long version recipes. Both are terrific but the long version has incredible rich deep flavor with dried chiles, ground almonds and hazelnuts, smoked paprika and breadcrumbs as a thickener. Here’s the recipe I use from the LA TImes Food Section. Definitely worth the effort. It’s inspiration like this that makes traveling so fun.
Our trip to Santa Fe was a delight, definitely a place we will return to. For now, I need to get back to the kitchen to make the La Casa Sena Blue Corn Muffins!
Blue Corn Muffins|Enchanting Santa Fe, New Mexico
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter allow to sit at room temp for 2 hours
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 extra large eggs
- 1 New Mexico or Anaheim green chile about ½ cup, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- ½ cup fresh corn kernels from 1 ear, or frozen works, steamed until just tender
- ½ cup grated Cheddar cheese
- ½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup blue cornmeal
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup milk
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs and chopped green chile. Add the corn, cheeses, flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and milk, and mix just until blended.
Divide the muffin dough into 12 pieces and place in a well-greased, 12-muffin pan. Bake in the oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until a cake tester comes out dry. Turn the muffins out onto a rack to cool.
Get your butter out about 2 hours before hand to allow it to come to room temperature. You will usually see this note in baking recipes as room temperature butter creams better with sugar. To roast chiles, place over a low gas flame directly on the grate and turn as it blackens and chars.
If you have an electric stovetop, broil the chile in the oven instead on a foil covered sheet pan. When it is evenly charred all over, wrap the chile up in the foil and let it stand until cool enough to handle. This allows the charred skin to steam off for easy removal. Remove the stem, spit open the chile and remove seeds. Do not rinse or you’ll lose some of the wonderful flavor