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Winter Greens/Fresh Produce

 Greenhouse garden

Greenhouse garden

So... we have gotten a bit of snow.  Mountain peaks are sprinkled with white and skiers are happier.  And despite the snow and cold, there are some green things growing.  Eager gardeners have already started cold-weather crops in greenhouses and cold frames.  I have been planting lettuces, spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, arugula, cabbages and more in planter boxes by my kitchen door.  Little plants are poking through-- and some very hardy ones have survived outdoors in protected pots and beds, occasionally dusted with snow.

 Snow on my chard

Snow on my chard

I have a little chard and kale that survived the winter, so far. I was wondering if it would be possible to find local greens for sale somewhere nearby (It seems like forever until the Downtown Growers' Market will open again). Well, guess what?  I somehow missed the fact that the village of Los Ranchos has a market which goes through the winter-- they are open on the second Saturday of each month. They are on Rio Grande Blvd, at the parking lot near the tennis courts, which is really not that far away at all.

The March Grower's Market happened on the 9th-- one of those late winter New Mexico days when the weather was changing so fast you couldn't keep up.  It snowed, it blew, it was dark and grey and then it was sunny.  The Sandias were covered with snow in the distance-- and then they were not even visible because of a giant storm cloud.  But the Market was on, no matter what-- most of the vendors snugly sheltered inside the big barn-like structure there. A three-person band played Irish music and there were greens and root vegetables everywhere-- a sight for sore eyes!

 Old seed packet

Old seed packet

 Late winter harvest, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Growers Market

Late winter harvest, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Growers Market

 Chard in March from Mananica Farm

Chard in March from Mananica Farm

 March weather in Albuquerque

March weather in Albuquerque

I got to meet some farmers whom I had not met before... Barbara and John from Mananica Farm in Algodones had lamb and wool yarn and also beautiful golden beets and greens including chard, lettuces and kale. Some really nice girls from Stray Dog Farms in the North Valley sold me carrots bundled up with a ribbon, and I met "Farmer Ric" from Sol Harvest Farm, who also sold me some pretty fine looking spinach.  These last two farms are now offering "CSA" (community supported agriculture) harvest boxes to those who wish to become members-- check their websites for more information.  This is a great way to enjoy fresh seasonal produce from local providers for much of the year, and to get it even when you can't make it to the Market.

 Baby spinach

Baby spinach

Then on Monday, I traveled down to the far South Valley to visit Richard Moore at Moore Family Farms.  I went with Gina, who runs Fresh Produce-- a company that works to connect many local growers in our area to restaurants here that want to use fresh local produce.  Gina told me that she sells about 30% of what Richard grows, and he sells the rest at the Downtown Growers' Market and by word-of-mouth.  Richard showed us what he has started inside his hoop house-- a simple curved greenhouse wrapped in plastic.  Baby plants were everywhere, and half the space was filled with greens-- mustard, spinach, kale, chard and more.  He was getting ready to start moving them out into the fields, where he will also direct-sow even more lettuces, arugula and such.  Next fall, Richard plans to build more hoop houses, out in the fields, where he will grow greens year-round.  This makes me happy, because I hope to be buying them from him!

 Moore Family Farms

Moore Family Farms

 Baby greens inside hoop house

Baby greens inside hoop house

 Hoop house

Hoop house

 Chicken in charge

Chicken in charge

 Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

The Growers' Market begins on May 18-- two months away, still.  There is plenty of time for Richard to coax his baby plants into big bunches of healthy, hearty spring greens. Look for his produce and farm fresh eggs there all season. And by then, Hartford Square should be open-- and we will be featuring fresh produce from farmers like Richard in our weekly menus at the restaurant.  Can't wait!

Here is a simple and quick way to use some of those delicious greens and fresh eggs in the same recipe-- just whip up a Frittata w/Hearty Greens for breakfast, brunch or a simple supper. You'll need two eggs per person, a big bunch of chopped chard or kale, olive oil, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup grated cheese per person (your choice-- experiment!), one or two finely chopped garlic cloves and about half an onion, chopped.  Oh, and by the way-- did I mention how GOOD FOR YOU dark green leafy vegetables are?  Probably better than almost anything else you could eat-- full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and phytonutrients and low in calories and carbs. What more could you want? I know-- stuff that tastes good-- so how about this: 1) Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 10" (adjust size depending on how many servings you are preparing) skillet (that can go in the oven) over medium heat, and add garlic-- cook until fragrant, for a couple of minutes, then add chopped onion & cook until soft, but not brown. 2) Add chopped dark green leafy vegetable of choice, and cook until liquid releases and cooks off, stirring frequently. 3) In the meantime, whisk desired number of eggs in a small bowl-- when greens have begun to dry up, pour eggs over them to cover.  Cook until set on bottom. 4) Grate cheese and sprinkle it over top of eggs. 5) Turn on broiler in oven and set rack about 6" below broiler.  Place skillet under broller and broil until cheese is bubbly and eggs are set on top. 6) Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes. Slice into desired number of servings and place on plates.

 Winter rainbow chard

Winter rainbow chard

Pumpkins

It is almost Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the best excuse ever to cook and eat like crazy!  And to go out and find local ingredients, like pumpkins, that we can incorporate into our Thanksgiving dinner.  We are excited, because all four kids will be home for the long weekend-- back from Boston and northern California and all staying here. Last year only the ones who live here got to be in New Mexico for Thanksgiving, so this is going to be great!  We have BIG plans.  First, some mother-daughter Turkey Trek 5-K action in the morning, to work up an extra big appetite. Then some apple cider cinnamon doughnuts and pumpkin pie scones with maybe some fancy coffee drinks to keep us going.  We are going to need a lot of fortification.

 Pumpkin harvest

Pumpkin harvest

Then we will get to work-- cooking in two kitchens, one block apart.  We will wear funny aprons and test holiday cocktails and whip up one huge yummy dinner. And run back and forth all day, until it is time to eat.  We are planning to start with a roasted butternut squash soup, followed by a local fresh roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, corn relish, herb and onion bread stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with maple syrup, and brussels sprouts with pancetta.  Then we might need to go for a walk around the block and watch a little football, or something. Once we rest our tummies and try to find that space reserved for dessert, we will tackle a classic pecan pie, some tiny pumpkin tartlets, and some cranberry chocolate tarts with rum-infused pastry cream.  A lot of cooks showing off around here!

 Cranberry Chocolate Rum Tarts

Cranberry Chocolate Rum Tarts

Here are two of those Thanksgiving holiday cocktails, mentioned above. There is a winery in nearby Placitas called Anasazi Fields.  One of their offerings is an American Cranberry, made completely from cranberries.  For a perfect pre-dinner Thanksgiving beverage, we pair it with another local favorite, a sparkling Gruet white.  Fill champagne flutes halfway with the Anasazi American Cranberry, and then carefully top off with an equal portion of Gruet's Extra Dry.  And then toast  the cooks!  Our other favorite Thanksgiving cocktail idea involves some cider from Alary Farms (which we visited in our previous blog post).  For a Thanksgiving Apple Cinnamon Martini, fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice.  Add one oz good quality vodka, one oz Calvados apple brandy, and two oz apple cider.  Shake well.  Prepare martini glass by rubbing rim with a cut apple.  Dip in sanding sugar mixed with cinnamon.  Add ice cubes, and pour apple cider martini over the ice.  Garnish w/a cinnamon stick.  And now toast the guests!

 Tiny Pumpkin Tartlets

Tiny Pumpkin Tartlets

Earlier this week we were thrilled to have an opportunity to visit one of our favorite farms, Chispas, in the South Valley.  They were offering customers a chance to come by to pick up a few Thanksgiving supplies at their farm-- and they had produce from Amyo Farms-- who we also love-- there as well.  We went on Tuesday, so we could get a head start on our prep work.  It was a pretty mild day, and we spent some time walking around the farm... the chickens were busy out in one corner, and a couple of farm workers looked just as busy in another corner.  We picked out quite a few butternut squashes, and also could not resist the little tiny green and orange pumpkins... we thought they would make very cool table decorations.  There were also some little apples to try, and some of Chispas' delicious garlic.  You can never have too much garlic, you know.  We love it that there can be a farm like this right in Albuquerque, and are grateful that they let us visit.  I already really miss the every Saturday Downtown Growers Market.  It will be a long time until May!

 Pumpkin Pie Scone & Coffee

Pumpkin Pie Scone & Coffee

In the meantime, we are hunkering down with all these pumpkins and squashes, which will keep us busy for a pretty long time.  There are so many amazingly delicious things to cook with them-- like winter squash soup, butternut lasagne, butternut & sage risotto, baked acorn squash halves filled with quinoa or roasted with butter & syrup-- 

and then pumpkin pies and scones and doughnuts and muffins and bread and pumpkin spice muffins with maple syrup frosting..... I am so lucky to have good friends and family to share all this with, and am looking forward to celebrating this holiday season with all of them.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 New Mexico sunflower in fall

New Mexico sunflower in fall

Apples

Autumn means apples to me.  I resisted them for the first couple of weeks, because it just did not feel like fall yet-- too warm and still so much late-summer produce to enjoy.  But I finally couldn't wait any longer, and now I am trying out all kinds of apples....

 Old apple crates and machinery

Old apple crates and machinery

This week I found a new one-- the Stayman.  Some orchard owners from Chimayo brought about ten different kinds of apples to the Farmers Market at Albuquerque Academy.  I grew up in New England on MacIntosh apples, and I am always craving that same tart, crunchy, crispy kind of apple-- not always easy to find in New Mexico.  This one was SO good that I have no idea why I only bought four of them.  Not even enough to really bake anything with-- so the girls and I just ate them right up.  Then I needed to find out where we could get some more.

 Stayman apples

Stayman apples

I did a little research and discovered that Stayman apples have been around since the 1860's, that they are closely related to Winesaps, have a "low-chill requirement" and are suited to warm and temperate climates. Even better, there are several orchards in New Mexico that grow them!  In the interests of time and a small carbon footprint, I picked the closest one-- Alary Farm in Corrales.  (Open 9-5, Fri-Sun during apple season.)  It was a beautiful autumn day-- the kind that makes me want to go out and take a lot of pictures.  So off I went.

Alary Farm is easy to find-- on the east side of Corrales Road.  I got a big bag of Stayman apples and a gallon of cider.  The owner let me wander around the orchard, taking pictures and soaking up autumn in New Mexico.  Corrales always makes me feel a little bit like I am back in New England-- especially at this time of year when I get the most homesick.  It has an almost-rural, small-town feel to it, even though it is just minutes from Albuquerque. And it is full of orchards and gardens and places selling apples and cider.  A person could make a whole day of it out there tasting and sampling.

 Alary Orchard

Alary Orchard

 Alary Orchard salesroom

Alary Orchard salesroom

 Stayman apple on the tree

Stayman apple on the tree

The owner was telling me that they are the only ones in Corrales selling the Stayman apple, and that they also have an even later apple-- the Black Twig-- which is even crisper and stores better, but will not be ready until early November.  He also told me, sadly, that someone has been stealing his apples, in large quantities, but he has not managed to catch them at it.  He thinks that they sell them at a market somewhere.  Either that or they like to do fall baking even more than I do...

 Look for signs...

Look for signs...

These apples made me feel like cooking something up right away.  I was pretty hungry after my mini adventure, so I decided to forego baking for something quicker-- French Toast w/Caramelized Apples.  Here's what you do:  1) core and thinly slice one apple per serving.  2) sauté apples in some sweet butter. 3) sprinkle w/a few teaspoons of brown sugar mixed w/a pinch each of cinnamon & nutmeg.  Cook until sugar caramelizes and apples are turning golden brown.  Set aside to keep warm.

 Core & slice the apples

Core & slice the apples

Meanwhile, prepare the french toast: 1) mix 2 egg yolks, 2 tablespoons milk, 1 teaspoon Calvados (apple brandy) & a pinch each of cinnamon & nutmeg, per serving, w/a wire whisk.  2) soak 4-5 thick slices of french baguette in the egg mixture.  3)  toast until cooked all the way through and very brown, on a griddle over medium heat.

Arrange french toast on individual serving plates. Spoon caramelized apples over the bread.  Sprinkle with toasted walnuts, and top with a spoonful of sour cream or creme fraiche.  Enjoy at once... close your eyes and drift back out to those orchards, full of delicious New Mexico apples.  

We'll have to go back soon and look for the very last apples of the season.  And some more cider. Because we already polished that off, too.

 Saute w/butter, cinnamon & nutmeg

Saute w/butter, cinnamon & nutmeg

 French Toast w/Caramelized Apples

French Toast w/Caramelized Apples