The Land of Enchantment

Hatch PeppersOn my recent road trip to Austin, Texas I made a weekend stop in Las Cruces and nearby Hatch, New Mexico, proclaimed Chile Capitol of the World and home to the famous hatch chile pepper.  So highly regarded are these peppers that even neighboring Texas holds festivals in their honor.   There are different degrees of heat in these green chiles, but all are known for their bright citrus flavor.  As they say in New Mexico, the poblano is no competition.

Roasted Hatch Peppers It was dark when I pulled into the quirky Big Chile Inn in Las Cruces.  New Mexico had me as soon as I stepped out of my car and was enveloped in a sweet smoky cloud of roasting chile peppers.  I knew the next day I would be making a pilgrimage to Hatch, in search of their legendary roots.

Las Cruces’ fertile Mesilla Valley is also the depository for the Rio Grande River and a rich flood plain that grow pecans, pistachios, corn, chiles, grapes, and peppers.  While friends and family extolled the amazing sauces and dishes of New Mexico, I was far more curious about exploring this strange pocket of agriculture carved out of sheer barren desert.

The next day I browsed an artisan’s market set in the historic town square of the quaint adobe style village of Mesilla.  Locals overwhelmingly recommended Sparky’s in Hatch for one of their world famous Hatch Green Chile Cheeseburgers.

Well, ok. I’m on my way.  Some may say Sparky’s is just another hamburger joint, but don’t tell that to the locals.  On weekend afternoons, live music is a popular draw.  There is plenty of barbecue, tacos and burritos, but the burger was really delicious―loaded with melting cheddar cheese and tons of hatch chile pepper strips.   That’s it, and well worth the trip.   Love those peppers!

Hatch is about 30 miles outside of Las Cruces, heading north on Hwy 25 toward Albuquerque.

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Olives Galore

BasketAbout a week ago I packed up the car with coolers and picnic baskets and headed south out of Oregon on a road trip to Austin, Texas.

Half the fun of traveling for me is the planning and preparation of a few tasty treats to enjoy along the way.

As it turned out, I had enough for a round trip with chicken tandoori, couscous salad with marinated vegetables, hummus, fresh vegies for dipping, and even a cheese-covered frittata filled with potatoes and sautéed vegetables.

There were the planned stops along the way that further expanded my food larder.  The Olive Pit in Corning, California provided an energizing break with some serious olive tasting.  For over 50 years this roadside attraction has been an institution for travelers, and it is still run by the Craig family.  Along with the tasting room, there is a restaurant for those with more serious appetites.

Olive Pit Samples

Olive Pit Samples

On this stop I came away with a few real jewels.  I couldn’t resist their Mediterranean style olives, big fat dark green olives soaked in a mild olive oil, red wine vinegar and herb marinade; or the small crisp Picholine olives, elegant and herbal; and of course the must-have bottle of fruity California Olive Ranch’s award winning Arbequina extra virgin olive oil.

Here’s my favorite concoction for tapenade which I tend to modify based on olives on hand, and not just meaty Kalamatas.  This is good spread on nearly anything, or simply tossed with pasta.

tapenade imageTapenade

Ingredients

  •  ½  pound olives, any combination of black and green, pitted
  •  3    cloves garlic, crushed
  •  2    tablespoons capers
  •  ½  teaspoon thyme
  •  ½  teaspoon rosemary
  •  1     teaspoon lemon juice
  •  1     teaspoon Dijon mustard
  •  1     teaspoon anchovy paste, optional
  •  2    tablespoons olive oil
  •         ground pepper, plenty
  •  1     tablespoon sherry, more if needed
  1. Process all ingredients through herbs into a rough puree.  Add remaining items and process, but retain some texture.
  2. Adjust seasoning and chill well.

Spread on crostini or raw vegetables.  It will hold for weeks with a film of olive oil over surface.  Makes about 2 cups.