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Rachael Ray in Santa Fe
by Elliot Essman
If you were a tourist in Santa Fe could you eat well on a budget of $40 a day? Perhaps, but it wouldn't happen by accident. You'd have to be on a mission. You'd have to calculate every penny: entrees, beverages, tax and tip. You'd have to know how and why restaurants offer deals: for slow times, as loss leaders, to build volume. Food personality Rachael Ray has got a handle on all these variables. Every week, on Food TV's $40 A Day, she'll visit another city-New York, Denver, Chicago, Nashville, New Orleans, and San Diego to mention just a few-spend $39 and change, and squeak with delight at the good time she's having. In the process she visits obligatory tourist stops. If you (or a friend) have cable, you can catch Rachael's Santa Fe episode on March 27th at 4:00pm MST. I'll kill the suspense right now: Rachael comes in more than a dollar under budget for her three squares and a dessert. It's how she does it that makes for the drama.

Rachael's usual strategy is to have breakfast at a place that is funky, yet that serves simple food at reasonable prices: bacon and eggs, waffles, anything that can allow her to leave with $34 of her initial stake still in her wallet. In Santa Fe, however, she puts down a meatier ante, opting to try her wits at Café Pasqual's (121 Don Gaspar) and then allow the morning inspiration to fuel her through some heavy touristing. After a fascinated scan of the menu (chile relleno, smoked trout hash) she decides on the tamal dulce, "a sweet corn tamal wrapped in banana leaves served with black beans, fresh fruit, and Mexican hot chocolate." $9.95 is more than she usually pays for breakfast, but she remarks that the beverage is included, and she'll also get to browse through the restaurant's art gallery while she waits for her meal. In the meantime, we see chef Napoleon Lopez behind the scenes preparing the dish. He begins with masa harina (a prepared corn paste) but then adds some non-traditional ingredients-cloves, sultana raisins, maple syrup, banana pieces, orange-before wrapping it all with fresh corn kernels and Mexican asadero cheese in a banana leaf for baking. The bottom line, with tax and tip ($2.16) is that Rachael has taken a hit of $12.11, and she's only getting started. "Will the desert be my dining oasis," she remarks, "or will my plans to stay on budget be just a mirage?" We viewers gasp in anticipation, but then again, we do the same when we watch James Bond, since we don't know how he will escape from the clutches of the villain, even though we have total confidence he will prevail. (Knowing his tastes, I question how well 007 would do fitting in lunch, dinner, and a dessert on only $27.89, but I know Rachael is up to the task.)

Out on the street again, Rachael hits the Plaza, determined to shop with a vengeance, but unaware of the special certified status enjoyed by the handicraft vendors she finds there. Her purchases will not, of course, count against the $40 dining budget. She admires Santa Fe's inimitable art scene, but remarks that "when it comes to truly functional art, my favorite medium is food-but how can a girl decide where to go with so many choices?" The term "girl" is not wasted, as Rachael opts for the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (319 South Guadalupe). I spoke with Barry Secular, co-owner of the restaurant and the newly minted "Cowgirl Pickup" deli next door. "Having the TV crew of six in last summer along with Rachael was a four hour project," Barry tells me as I munch on a delicious brisket and bacon filled burrito. "Since our chef Patrick Lambert was out of town on taping day, those are my hands you see rubbing the red spices into the dish Rachael eventually eats."

Back on television rather than real time, Rachael scans the blackboard menu outside the restaurant: "Look at these prices," she exclaims, "All these $4.95's." Chastened by her extravagant breakfast, she chooses the $5.00 "Blue Plate Special:" half a barbecued chicken served with cole slaw, potato salad and beans, washed down with a cranberry juice. With the drink, tax and tip, Rachael has parted with a paltry $7.67, leaving $20.22 to get her through the remainder of the day, though dinner looms ominously.

But Rachael defers her date with budgetary destiny. She spends quiet time in the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. She is astonished and gratified that this is one of the few museums in the world "solely dedicated to the work of just one female artist." Inspired though she may be by large canvases depicting hill and sky, Rachael homes in on a small painting depicting rows of apples. Her thoughts are never far from food. Hitting the pavement again, she consults her guidebook, considers Mark Miller's highly regarded Coyote Café (132 West Water Street), and is encouraged to learn that Coyote has a less expensive sister restaurant, the Rooftop Cantina (note that the Cantina is only open between April and October). It is here that we finally learn how Rachael is going to accomplish her feat of fiscal legerdemain. A number of menu items are $10, $11, at most $12. She decides to order the enchiladas vegetarianas: spinach, mushrooms, onions and grilled vegetables with frijoles charros and green rice: "Ten bucks, can't beat it." A passion fruit flavored ice tea provides the perfect complement.

Enchiladas may seem prosaic, but not this particular enchilada. The chef starts by sautéing chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, then adds roasted poblano peppers and mushrooms, zucchini, diced Yukon gold potatoes, diced red and yellow bell peppers, roasted garlic, toasted oregano leaves, and spices like epazote, and hoja santa. The enchilada is then assembled using a flour tortilla, covered with Monterey Jack cheese, spinach, red and green chile sauces, then put into the oven until the cheese melts.

With drink, tax and tip, Rachael has dined for a mere $13.39, leaving her $6.83 for a final splurge. In most episodes-say in Miami or Palm Springs-Rachael extinguishes her remaining stash with a cocktail, but here in Santa Fe she craves a dessert. She wanders over to the La Fonda Hotel on the Plaza to take in the sunset, and here we think she's finally going to come to financial grief. But she orders nothing (at least not on camera) before finishing her day at The Shed (113 and a half East Palace Avenue), a Santa Fe landmark since 1953, where she orders a lemon souflée. "Every restaurant in this town is so pretty, so colorful," she remarks, glowing in the knowledge that she has finished the day with $1.83 to spare. Unfortunately, the rules of $40 A Day do not allow Rachael to carry this balance over to the next episode. It is an absolute certainty that Rachael will meet, and beat, her budget wherever she roams; the delight lies in learning exactly how.

Cowgirl BBQ Sauce
Recipe courtesy of Cowgirl Hall of Fame

1 yellow onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
one half cup ketchup
one half cup water
2 cups Worcestershire sauce
one half cup vinegar
2 and one half teaspoons ground cumin
2 and one half teaspoons chili powder
2 and one half teaspoons hot sauce
2 and one half teaspoons black pepper
2 and one half teaspoons kosher salt
one quarter cup liquid smoke flavoring
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
one half cup, plus 2 tablespoons molasses

Puree onions and celery. In a large sauce pot combine the puree and the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 minutes. Yield: about 7 cups. Top -- Food Articles Home

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