If you subscribe to the Hollywood and mass-media vision of post-millennial American culture, those of us who spend long days shut indoors alone or in small numbers have very few options: We are either plotting terrorist attacks, addicted to video games, honing our angst and disenfranchisement toward violent public outbursts and school shootings, or maybe just using the internet to lure unsuspecting innocents into a web of despair.
But the dark, chilly days of winter and the often attendant desire to remain inside really belong to those of us who know that settling in with a good book or staying in bed (preferably with a willing accomplice) are the best plans. Of course, those leisurely, lingering activities come with a de facto pit stop: the indulgent break for needed sustenance, the winter snack.
So what do Santa Fe chefs do when they put down their books or pull off the comforter and crawl to the kitchen on a cold, blustery day?
Naturally, it depends.
John Vollertsen, aka Chef Johnny Vee, who scribes for the magazine Local Flavor and runs the cooking school at Las Cosas, has a fine-tuned global palate and the kitchen chops to make anything from latkes to lamb shank without a second thought. But he can’t help but occasionally revert to lessons learned from the bleak Rochester, NY winters of his youth.
“Nothing hits the spot for me like a steaming bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich,” Vollertsen says, “made with Velveeta cheese, of course.” Being alone and indoors for Vollertsen, apparently, isn’t about plotting terrorist attacks or twisting between the sheets, it’s about having a cold.
“If I’m feeling a little under the weather, that combo does the trick,” he says. And what delightful beverage does he temper this meal with? “A cold glass of milk.” What a softie, right?
Mary Nearn, the executive chef for La Posada de Santa Fe, thinks the idea of a leisurely day at home is a cruel joke. Apparently with La Posada’s multiple eateries under her wing, she sleeps in a corner near the deep fryer and uses warm pans below a heap of table linens for bedding. Her favorite snack, especially when confined to the coldish far reaches of the kitchen, is a plain croissant, fresh out of the oven, and some of LaPo’s fresh hot chocolate.
“Sure, it’s not very healthy,” Nearn says, “but the chocolate warms me up, and I like the mix of the richness and textures together––it’s a treat for me.”
A more traditional approach is taken by chef Leonard Trejo. Even though he manages a malleable menu that changes weekly for Garbo’s—the house restaurant at RainbowVision—Trejo treats regional wisdom as sacrosanct. A steaming bowl of green chile stew is the ultimate winter treat for him. It’s a notion with which it’s tough to argue, especially when the stew is combined with Santa Fe Pale Ale as Trejo recommends. It’s a tough call—stay home and make a snack for yourself or go and bum around the Garbo’s kitchen hoping to con a ladle full of goodness from the merciful staff?
Co-owner of Backroad Pizza Piper Kapin is an aficionado of the wintry snack.
“My first choice would have to be homemade matzo ball soup, a red-wine-braised beef brisket with carrots and potatoes, and an extra large glass of red wine.”
Either I forgot to specify “snack” when I asked Kapin for her recommendation or she is a more advanced life-form than your average nosher.
“Gawd,” Kapin says, “I’m just such a Jew.”
Kapin says she just kind of goes with her nose and grabs whatever wine strikes her fancy, but so long as she’s not recommending Manischewitz, allow me to suggest the recession-busting miracle that is Mud House’s Central Otago pinot noir. Until frozen oceans make shipping from New Zealand impossible, that’s a go-to bottle of swill for all my snacks, including, potentially, breakfast.
Chef Michael Easton of 315 and La Lucciola Supper Club is unable to recommend anything too simple. For himself, Easton is likely to bust out some clove-flavored homemade marshmallows, toasted with a brûlée torch. And he’ll have it with a custom brandy cocktail, thank you. I suppose that’s what makes him one of the city’s most dynamic and engaging new chefs. Fortunately, he divulged his cocktail recipe to SFR.
From a bowl of canned soup to a trusty chile stew to a homemade twist on an American fireside staple, it really does depend—on mood, on history, on the ability and tools at one’s disposal—what the best winter snack is. Fortunately, there’s an option for all of us. Even terrorists.
MICHAEL EASTON’S METROPOLITAN
1 sugar cube
2 dashes angostura bitters
2 ounces Spanish brandy de Jerez
1 ounce sweet vermouth
Prep a martini glass with an orange zest, being sure to zest it over the glass and capture all the airborne oils.
Muddle the sugar cube with the bitters.
Add brandy and vermouth.
Stir with ice until cold.
Strain into glass and enjoy.
PIPER KAPIN’S MATZO BALL SOUP
2 quarts homemade chicken stock
2 carrots, peeled and cut into discs
2 celery stalks, cut into about ½ inch pieces
1 rutabaga (optional), cut into 1 inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
Matzo farfel, if you're into that kind of thing
2 tablespoons schmaltz or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons chicken stock or water
½ cup matzo meal or about 2 ground-up matzos
¼ teaspoon or a good pinch of fresh-ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon or a good pinch of salt
Whisk together the eggs, the oil/schmaltz and the chicken stock/water.
Mix matzo meal, salt and pepper in a separate bowl.
Add the wet to the dry and mix (don’t cover mix).
Put in fridge uncovered for about 20 minutes.
Bring stock to a low boil, season to taste.
Wet hands and form matzo balls into 1 inch balls. These can be made bigger too, but they do expand so make sure they are completely submerged in the stock with room to grow as they cook.
Simmering them directly in the stock can make the stock a bit murky, so you can also cook them in water separately and then add them to the soup to keep the broth less murky.
Cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes.
Remove matzo balls carefully, and then add the veggies and simmer until desired softness.
You can either re-add the matzo balls if you are serving the whole pot of soup or just add however many you want for each serving in the bowls and then store the balls separately.
Add matzo farfel and enjoy.
LA POSADA’S HOT CHOCOLATE
2 disks of Mexican chocolate
1 quart of whole milk (or skim, 2 percent, soy or heavy cream, or a combination to preference)
2 cinnamon sticks
Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and place the pan over medium to low heat. Let this mix heat slowly, otherwise the chocolate will stick and burn. You will need to stir the mix frequently.
Once the chocolate dissolves, you can turn up the heat and bring the milk just to a boil.
Strain out the cinnamon sticks and it’s ready to serve.
Top with whipped cream and chocolate shavings if you like.