Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Feasting Place - Ohkay Owingeh, NM

Today, Rob and I got to play with our food. We spent the morning with Norma Naranjo, owner and instructor of The Feasting Place (Ohkay Owingeh, NM, Phone:505-927-0456). The Feasting Place is actually located in Norma's beautiful home and it is a cooking class featuring the method of baking in an horno, or adobe oven, that was used traditionally by the ancestral Native Americans of Ohkay Owingeh, from whom Norma is descended  Norma's husband, Hutch, builds hornos, and Rob got to spend some time with him learning just how that happens.

Norma mixing the empanada crust
When we arrived at The Feasting Place, we were greeted by Norma, who offered us coffee and chatted with us while we waited for the others to arrive. When Norma found out that Rob is an architect, she told us that she is contacted by many architects who are interested in the construction of the horno. We met her husband and he and Rob were out the door to discuss how one is built. Soon, the others arrived. Three lovely ladies, Melody, Dominica and Beth, who were on a road-trip together. We all introduced ourselves and then it was time to get down to business. (I have verbal permission to post everyone's pictures.)

Making empanadas
The first thing we did was make empanadas. Norma demonstrated how to mix the dough. Using her hand as a scoop she extracted around four pounds of Crisco from a huge container and placed it in a large, well used, metal bowl. As she kneaded in the approximately eight cups of flour, she explained that she doesn't know how to make a small amount. She added the cold water, by feel, not measurement, mixed it well and broke off a piece. She rolled out the dough to about 1/8 inch thickness, and with the lid to the Crisco container, cut out a perfect circle. She proceeded to fill the dough with the plum mixture that she prepared ahead of time, showed us how to fold over and seal the little pockets of goodness, cut small holes in the top, and sprinkle with a cinnamon sugar mixture.Then she handed each of us a hunk of dough and we got busy rolling, cutting, sealing and sprinkling ourselves. She's also had an apple filling.

Next Rob and Melody began spreading out prepared pizza dough and loading it up with an Italian sausage, some New Mexican chilies and mozzarella cheese. While they were busy with that, Norma showed the other two ladies and I how to put together an enchilada casserole using a chili sauce that was simmering on the stove. Dominica and Beth jumped in on that and I helped Norma load up pans of homemade bread, that had been rising since before we arrived, onto long boards to transport to the horno. When everything was assembled and ready to go into the horno we moved outside.
Everything into the horno!

Hutch removed the coals from the oven as Norma explained that the horno is heated up by building a fire inside and allowing it to burn for a couple of hours. For breads and dishes like the enchiladas, the coals are removed, but for meat dishes they are pushed to the back of the oven.

We loaded the horno with bread first. Norma pushed the pans of bread to the back of the oven. Then the empanadas went in, followed by the pizzas in the center and the enchiladas near the front and to the side. As these baked, Norma told us that the oven will hold up to 60 loaves of bread. Traditionally, the bread is placed directly onto the surface of the horno, but she uses aluminum pans, as her mother started doing when she was young, to avoid having ash on the bottom of the loaves.
Inside the horno

It wasn't long before we could see the cheese melting on the pizzas and the tops of the bread loaves beginning to brown. In about 15 minutes the pizzas were browned and ready to come out. We cut into them and started eating. This was our appetizer. Not long after, the enchiladas came out bubbling and the empanadas were ready. The bread took another 20 minutes or so (about 40 minutes total). We took turns passing around cameras and taking pictures by the horno,  while we waited. Norma informed us that we would be extracting the bread from the oven ourselves.
Perfect pizza

We could tell the bread was almost done by the yeasty aroma wafting from the horno. Finally, Norma proclaimed that the bread was ready. She showed us how to pull it out and handed me the peel. I was unable to get the peel under the pans, but because it had a hook shape on one side, I managed to pull a few pans of bread out by hooking and dragging them to the front opening. We took turns and Dominica was a natural because of her Italian heritage. Each loaf was dusted to remove ash and placed in a large tub, then taken inside and laid out on a white sheet placed across one end of the table, just as, Dominica said, her mother would do.
Removing bread from the horno

Rob and I take a turn
With everything out of the horno it was time to feast. And feast we did! Norma had prepared for us a chicken and garbanzo bean stew, tamales and a gorgeous salad with various garden greens, strawberries and nuts dressed in a homemade vinaigrette, served up with Norma's double-dimpled, ever present smile. We had all of that in addition to the enchiladas and bread. Everything was delicious and we were more than satisfied. So much so, that not one of us room left for the empanadas. That was not a problem, though. We got to take the leftovers with us!

Beth, Melody and Dominica
Norma bagged up a loaf of bread for each of us. She had us mark the empanadas as we made them so that we would know which ones were ours. Those we also bagged up. She sent the rest of the enchiladas and pizza home with us. The stew went home with the ladies.

Hugs were handed out and we left with exchanges of email addresses and promises to exchange pictures, and assurances from Norma that she would provide any of the recipes by email. We just needed to email her and let her know which recipes we wanted.

Norma and Hutch Naranjo
This was such a delightful way to learn about the Native American culture of the region. Norma and her husband are beautiful, gentle people who truly welcome people into their home. It was a joy spending the morning with them and getting to meet their grandson, who joined us as the bread was about to come out of the horno. He's a sweet and personable boy.

If you ever find yourself in New Mexico anywhere near the Espanola area, check with Norma and see if she has a class coming up. Classes are $75 per person and well worth it. You'll have a great time, learn so much and you'll leave feeling like you've made real friends. It was such a great experience. To learn more or get in on a class, go to or email Norma at   

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