Spicy Chicken Fingers with Salsa Santa Fe

fullsizerender-3It’s official. Autumn is here. Gone are the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Heck, they’re barely a distant memory. Stretching before us are shorter days, longer nights and a definite nip in the air.

But that’s not bad – in the world of food, that’s pretty darn good. Now we can break out the slow cooker, select a sassy bottle of red (or two) and gather round the imitation-log-effect-gas-fire with friends and loved ones. On second thought, forget the friends and loved ones – snuggle up with your dog instead.

Autumn also means football and if ever a sport cried out for food, that’s the one. I mean, why were chip ‘n dip trays invented, if not for football? Don’t like football? Who cares? Turn down the sound and focus on the food instead. Plates full of cheesy nachos, bowls of salted nuts and a go bag of Tums for your guests.

fullsizerender-4 Of course at Chile HQ, we prefer to serve something more refined to our guests, game on or not. Something that whispers elegance, sophistication and drop-that-last-one-cuz-it’s-mine. Voila! Our Spicy Chicken Fingers. Now as anyone knows, chicken don’t have fingers. Thank heavens as the idea of chickens with ten digits and a pinky ring is simply too weird for words.

When we say fingers we mean strips. Basically they are slices of white chicken breast meat. Now you could slice these yourself and save a bit of money and feel smug and virtuous. Or you could whip a package already sliced off the shelves and get over it. Your choice. We’ve added a kick of green chile to a mix of cornmeal and flour. If you have the time (and you would, if you weren’t so busy slicing up those chicken breasts), then fry one up to sample. If it’s not spicy enough you can always add in a bit more chile. Too hot already? Nah, of course not.

We serve these up with our Salsa Santa Fe mix (Red & Green). Frighteningly easy to make and dazzling in its results. Close the curtains (it’s already dark outside anyway), throw another imaginary log onto the gas fire, give Fido a tickle behind the ear, and hunker down. Summer’s over but who cares. Bring Autumn on.

fullsizerender-2 Spicy Chicken Fingers with Salsa Santa Fe

Serves 2 hungry people or 3 who just ate lunch an hour or so ago

Salsa

1 ½ Tbsp Salsa Santa Fe mix (Red & Green)

1 green onion, finely chopped green part only

Juice of half a lemon

14 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

2 Tbsp cilantro, chopped

 

Spicy chicken

12 oz. Chicken breast strips

1 egg

1/3 cup all purpose flour

1/3 cup cornmeal

1 Tbsp New Mexico green chile powder

1 tsp sea salt

Olive or vegetable oil.

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Set aside about half of the green onions and chopped cilantro to use as a garnish when you’re ready to serve the chicken. Place all of the rest of the salsa ingredients into a bowl and mix together thoroughly. Allow this to sit for about a half an hour before serving in order to allow the flavors to marry.

In a frying pan, heat a tablespoon or two of oil on medium high heat. While it’s heating, whisk the egg in a shallow bowl and add a pinch of salt. Mix the flour, cornmeal, green chile powder and sea salt in a separate bowl. Dip the chicken in the egg then the flour/cornmeal mixture. Place in the pan and fry until golden brown on one side then flip and cook on the other. Don’t crowd the pan – fry in batches if you need to and top up with additional oil as necessary. Place the cooked chicken on a serving platter and garnish the salsa and the chicken with the remaining green onions and cilantro. Serve with wedges of lemon.fullsizerender-5

Foodie Friends: Zia Diner

Any idea how many restaurants close each year? No? That’s okay, neither did we. It’s a lot. Trust us, we googled it. Stats from the National Restaurant Association say 60% of restaurants close within the first three years of business.

We have one word to say: depressing.

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So Beth Koch has a reason to smile. Heck, she’s got almost 26 reasons to smile because that’s how many years Zia Diner in Santa Fe, New Mexico has been going strong. Beth, a California native, moved to Santa Fe back in 1978. In ’89 she started working as manager of Zia Diner (“I was totally under-qualified for the job”), She’s been there ever since and now owns it. If she looks familiar you may have caught her on a segment of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives when Guy Fieri drove into town (Ian was one of the customers in that segment!).

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What’s the secret to Zia Diner’s success? “We’ve always considered ourselves a very local restaurant. From the start we wanted to re-create the feel of a ‘50’s diner, somewhere you could hang out and get great food.”

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The menu is classic diner in the best sense of the word – comfort food like Burgers made from New Mexico grass-fed all natural chuck, Hot roast turkey plate with all the trimmings and a dessert menu with waist-expanding treats like Black midnight cake, Brownie sundaes and homemade pies that will knock your socks off. “I love all kinds of cooking by my first love is baking,” Beth says.

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You’ll also find some dishes definitely not found on most diner menus like Pecan baked Idaho ruby trout with citrus parsley butter and Organic curried coconut mussels.

So what’s changed in the past 25+ years? “People want to know a lot more about where their food comes from. So we’re very particular about where we source our ingredients.” She’s proud that Zia serves grass-fed, additive-free beef, free-range and additive-free chicken and eggs, and local, organic, fair-trade Agapao Coffee. “People want to know. If I say a dessert is gluten-free, they want to know what kind of flour I’m using. They’re very aware.”

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Another thing that’s changed is that Zia uses a lot more chile. “When I started we had about three dishes on the menu with chile, including our Meatloaf with green chile and pine nuts which is still on the menu. Now we use chile in a lot more dishes like their super popular Corn, green chile and asiago pie.” Their red and green chile is so popular that they make it in 4 and 5-gallon batches. ‘I think our chile is as good or better than any other place in town.”

What’s next for Zia Diner? They’ve now running a successful catering business and added on a pastry shop as well. So stay tuned for the next 25 years!

Beth shared a favorite bar-food treat at Zia Diner, their Zia Chipotle Popcorn. Kinda sweet, kinda spicy, kinda addictive.

YUMMY SPECIAL OFFER

And kinda tastes even better when you get 25% off on Los Chileros popcorn, Cayenne, and Chipotle chile to make whipping up a batch even easier. But don’t hang around – we’re only being generous until Thursday, December 20th at midnight MST.

Zia Chipotle Popcorn

3.5 oz. Popcorn kernels
1 cup Roasted peanuts

Pop corn kernels in batches on stove or in microwave. Remove any burned or unpopped kernels. Place in large bowl with peanuts and mix.

1 ½ sticks Butter (12 Tbsp)
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. Corn syrup
¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. Brown sugar
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. Cayenne (or Red chile powder)
½ tsp. Chipotle powder
¼ tsp. Baking soda

Mix all ingredients, except baking soda, together in a pan over low heat until melted. Bring to a boil and after 30 seconds remove from heat. Stir in the baking soda. Mixture will bubble. Stir into popcorn and nut mixture thoroughly. Divide mixture onto 2 large sheet pans lined with parchment.

Bake in low 250 degree oven for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Remove from oven and allow to cool, then break into pieces.

Store in airtight container.

Travel Notes: Santa Fe Top Picks

The Chile Trail is back home in Santa Fe this week. And what better guide to all things foodie than C. Whitney-Ward. She moved to Santa Fe eight years ago (she already had the cowboy boots and the pawn jewelry) and with the addition of a few vintage fringed jackets she settled right in. Originally from Boston, she worked back east as a journalist, food editor/stylist and PR Director of the Four Seasons Hotel, Boston. She created Chasing Santa Fe two years ago and has been photographing and celebrating Santa Fe ever since. She now gets more than 9,000 hits a month and will be opening a Chasing e-store in January showcasing Santa Fe artists’ work. Check her out at www.chasingsantafe.blogspot.com.

“Chasing Santa Fe” Restaurant Picks

Whenever I meet someone new in Santa Fe the first thing they ask me is “What’s your favorite restaurant.” The answer can be daunting because I have my favorites for atmosphere, desserts, breakfast, afternoon tea/coffee, lunch and dinner; and I keep adding new favorites. But, here goes…

CHEZ MAMOU, a French bakery and cafe, opened a month ago and what a delight! It’s quite charming and when you step inside, you feel as if you’ve been transported to a cafe on the Left Bank. Sun pours through the large front window and delightful seating vignettes beg you to sit and enjoy breakfast, lunch or a late afternoon coffee and pastry. I loved the Eggs Benedict, Butterfly Palmiers and the amazing Meringue with Ganache. (CHEZ MAMOU, 317 E. Palace, next to Noëlla Jewelry, Santa Fe, 505-216-1845)
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THE BEESTRO is a nifty and delicious curbside take-out eatery on Marcy Street—next to the Design Warehouse. Owner/Chef Greg Menke opened The Beestro in October and whips up dazzling entrée salads, cold and hot sandwiches, hearty soups that you can order and drive by to pick up. The menu changes daily and everything is fresh, locally sourced and delicious. I love the Ruben Panini and the Lamb Salad.  (THE BEESTRO, 101 W. Marcy Street, Santa Fe, 505.629.8786, or check the daily menu at www.thebeestro.com)

Chasing Santa FeRESTAURANT MARTIN: I had lunch the other day at this lovely restaurant. It was delicious, but dessert was even more wonderful. Owner/Chef Martin Rios does all his own pasty and what was presented at table—a Hazlenut/Chocolate Pot de Crème—was pure theatre for the taste buds. There were bit-sized pistachio daquoise; caramel bananas, milk chocolate and Earl Grey tea ice cream; paper thin chocolate meringue wafers; and lovely fruit and herb purees. (RESTAURANT MARTIN, 526 Galisteo St., Santa Fe, 505-820-0919, www.restaurantmartinsantafe.com)

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JINJA BAR AND BISTRO: a chick Pan Asian restaurant is a favorite both for the food and crisp and friendly service. I’m a creature of habit and seem to order the same thing for lunch every time I visit—Lettuce Wraps, Tempura Shrimp and Vietnamese Spring Rolls—but they’re wonderful as is everything else on the menu. Their warm Chocolate Silk Cake with Caramel Sauce is amazing… (JINJA BAR & BISTRO, 510 N. Guadalupe, Santa Fe, 505.982.4321, www.jinjabistro.com)

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And, if you have a hankering for wonderful Brioche French Toast, LA PLAZUELA at La Fonda Hotel serves up the best! Santa Fe’s legendary CAFE PASQUAL’S has fifty million wonderful things on their menu, but their Mexican Hot Chocolate is the perfect way to begin the day.

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One of my favorite hangouts is CLAFOUTIS. I love their pastries, especially their Lemon Cake and Sugar Brioche, and every Saturday morning they have divine Beignets.

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And my latest favorite—PICCOLINO—an off-the-beaten-path Italian dine-in and take-out restaurant on Agua Fria St. The menu is huge—wonderful veal, seafood, chicken, and pasta dishes. But if you have a hankering for Italian with a New Mexico twist, I suggest the “Pasta Polloco”—sautéed chicken, red crushed pepper, garlic, butter parmesan cheese, cream, and green chile. Sensational!