Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More Before and After Moments

above 3 photos: after demolition of existing walls and ceiling (Part I) new sheetrock and plaster was installed (Part II), painted (Part III) and now, finally, papered above new chair rail. Whew!

Luckily our contractor Matt is also a whiz at hanging paper.
And Now, the Partial Reveal (months later) . . .

Papered and Cleaned. Finally.

A currently unused guest room is pretty in pink.

Miles to go on this guest room but new ceiling and purple walls indicate we're moving in the right direction, yes?

A few final correcting touches ot the mural + molding and we'll be FINISHED with the dining room. For now.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Pretty Pickles

Cafe Drake HRV likes to make and can a batch of bread and butter pickles every year in late November, perfect scheduling for cracking open Christmas week and enjoying with pates and cheese platters. If your own timing isn't as impeccable fret not; our zucchini sweet and sour pickles need only a week to cure before being devoured. Let's Do This. Start by thinly slicing 2 lbs. of skinny, small zucchini as thinly or thickly as you wish. Do the same with one small onion, slicing into rings and then halving. In a large ceramic or glass bowl toss the veggies with 1/8 cup kosher salt and 2 cups of ice cubes. Leave on your counter for 3 or 4 hours. Drain the veggies well and now toss with 2 t. yellow mustard seeds, 1 t. red pepper flakes and about 1/2 t. celery seeds. Pack loosely into 2 pint-sized canning jars. Now, in a saucepan, heat to boiling: 1 1/2 cups cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 t. turmeric powder. When boiling, ladle carefully into packed jars and can according to your favorite method. You can skip the water bath altogether and just refrigerate sealed jars - after fully cooled - if you prefer AND plan on eating all within a month.

Spend Less Time in the Kitchen, More Time in Front of the Tree

Cafe Drake HRV's Quickest Cauliflower Curry Ever doesn't sacrifice flavor or authenticity for speedy prep. Even better, the curry can be served with nothing but rice and tomato and scallion garnished for a complete, balanced meal.
Store-bought slabs of fried tofu, convenient and tasty, perfect in texture, require soaking in warm water for 15 minutes to remove excess oil. Drain, pat dry and proceed using as directed in any recipe.

above two photos: a Japanese Hot Pot variation is particularly welcome on frigid snowy nights. We can help you bring it to the table in less than an hour and like the cauliflower curry above, only rice is needed to finish the meal. If you have a hot plate or other portable heating device, why not serve in front of the tree - or fireplace - with warm sake? Bring to a boil in a covered skillet or rounded casserole dish: 3 cups dashi broth (easy with the easy powdered kind bought at Asian markets; otherwise use equal parts clam juice and water or veggie broth), 3 or 4 slices of peeled ginger, 2 T. sake or dry sherry, 2 T. mirin and 2 T. soy sauce. Arrange attractively - if you care - in skillet or casserole a selection of vegetables. We used above carrots, fried tofu slabs, onions and mild green chili peppers. As some take longer than other to cook, obviously you'll be adding those veggies first and simmering for a few minutes before adding quickly done items such as mushrooms or zucchini. Turnips and potatoes cut into small wedges work especially well, as do string beans, sliced lotus roots, yams, butternut squash and more. Anyway, back to the recipe, once you have veggies added to pot reduce heat to a simmer and cover tightly. Cook until all vegetables are tender. Remove lid, raise heat to high and boil for a minute or so to slightly reduce liquid. Cover once again and serve at the table, communally, with individual bowls for each diner and lots of steaming hot rice.

above three photos: hardy Lentil Burgers, made from nothing more than bread crumbs, an egg, cooked lentils, sprouted lentils (leave these out if you don't have of course), minced onions and garlic and soy sauce and fresh herbs for seasoning. All veggie burgers, of all stripes, will hold their shape better when pan-frying if you refrigerate the mixture an hour before cooking.
Lentil Burger a la Cafe Drake HRV topped with guacamole and sweet chili jam.
above two photos: Padang food requires patience in the kitchen, not to mention an abundant pantry of exotic ingredients. We've always loved the side dish of Jackfruit Curry served with most complete meals at Indonesian restaurants so Cafe Drake HRV decided to make our own at home. We simplified and prevailed. Try this: we begin creating a spice paste of course. Don't we always when making Indonesian food? Grind to a paste (processor, blender) 10 dried red chilies, 1 cup chopped red onion (or shallots), 2 cloves of garlic, 1 T. of chopped ginger and 1 t. turmeric powder. Add a tablespoon of water or two if needed. Set aside while heating 3 T. of oil in a deep skillet. When oil is hot add the spice paste along with 1 star anise, 3 cardamom pods, 2 bay leaves and 2 kaffir lime leaves (these may be shredded if desired). Cook all over a medium flame for 4 minutes or until fragrant and browning. Add 1 large can of rinsed, drained and chopped young green jackfruit. Stir for a minute, coating with all the spices. Now add 1 can of coconut milk and 3 cans of water. Add 2 t. tamarind paste, at least 1 t. salt and 1 T. sugar. Simmer gently for 1 hour, uncovered. Stir now and then. Check for seasoning (more salt and sugar may be needed) and serve very hot with rice for soaking up this curry's heavenly sauce.

What's Faster and Easier Than Pasta? Nothing.

Cafe Drake HRV really cleaned up this past summer with a bounty of garden-fresh basil. Of course we made lots and lots of pesto and froze in small ziplock bags for emergencies such as the one witnessed above. Too tired to really put much effort into dinner and not wanting to face the arctic night air on a grocery run, yet still really really hungry, we simply boiled pasta, tossed it with the frozen pesto and reheated all over the gentlest of flames for about 10 minutes. Be sure to reserve at least 1/2 cup of the salty pasta cooking water as it helps bind the sauce and add flavor. We then rinsed some lettuce and threw onions and cherry tomatoes on top. The Moral of our Lesson: Eat Like a King without the Drudgery of a Kitchen Servant!

The Holidays at Cafe Drake HRV 2013

As always the holidays were a merry blast at Cafe Drake HRV. Our mother visited for Christmas and contributed many seasonal favorites from the family archives plus a few new classics: homemade yeast rolls, cranberry and nut casserole, Swiss fondue, chocolate mousse and Corsetiere's Despair. Christmas Eve was a multi-course affair complete with cocktails, bacon-wrapped baked butter crackers, homemade pate and pickled pomegranate seeds, rabbit braised with onions and chestnuts, rutabaga gratin and so much more. Two recipes - one old and one new - are shared below.

Baked Cranberries

An appropriate side dish for most holiday meals, equally delightful with ham, turkey or any game meats, also try sometime as an easy and quick warm dessert, topped with plenty of whipped cream. Although the amount of sugar used is large, every bit is needed to offset the stubborn tartness of the fresh berries.

Mix together 2 cups fresh cranberries, 2 cups of chopped apples (unpeeled) and 1 cup sugar. Place in a well-buttered casserole dish. Top with a mixture of 1 1/2 cups rolled oats, 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup chopped nuts (pecans seem to be the best choice by far). Now dot the casserole with chunks of butter, thoroughly, and bake uncovered for 30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree F. oven.

Corsetiere's Despair

A wonderfully retro dessert credited originally to Lexie Dean Robertson of Texas, our version comes straight from the genius mind of gourmet guru and food writer Rozanne Gold. Rich and evocative of winter in almost every way, a little goes a long way; the recipe below should satisfy at least 4-6 dinner guests.

Begin with 1/2 lb. of red and white peppermint hard candy or candy canes. Unwrap all. Coarsely chop 1/3 of the candies and grind the remaining to a very fine powder in a food processor or Magic Bullet. Whip 1 pint of heavy cream with a pinch of salt until stiff. Fold all of the powdered candy and half of the coarsely chopped into the cream and place in a souffle dish or deep mold. Sprinkle remaining crunchy bits of candy on top. Add 3-4 drops of red food coloring and slash through mixture with a knife, making dramatic swirls. Freeze until hard, about 3 hours and serve very cold.

Just Toast with Butter, Honey & Cinnamon

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Getting Merry at Cafe Drake HRV

You know the holidays have arrived at Cafe Drake HRV once we start filling the decanters with brandy, rum and cream sherry.

Hoisin Chicken Stir Fry with Green Peppers

Now here's a good use for skinless and boneless chicken breast. Cut 1 lb. into long strips and toss with 1 T. cornstarch and 1/2 t. salt. Set aside while you slice thinly 2 green bell peppers.

Over high heat in a large non-stick skillet or wok, stir-fry sliced bell peppers with 3 or 4 dried red chilies (torn into large pieces). You'll need about 3 T. of vegetable oil and just 2 or so minutes over a tall flame. Now add chicken and stir constantly for 2 minutes or until it's almost done - this doesn't take long so please don't overcook and end up with shoe leather. Now stir in 4 T. hoisin sauce along with 2 t. sugar, two large pinches of white pepper and a large splash of white wine OR dry sherry OR sake OR Chinese cooking wine. Cook for another minute or two, still stirring, and serve warm or hot with rice or noodles or roasted sweet potatoes.

Cafe Drake's 10-Minute (it's true!) Hoisin Chicken Stir Fry with Green Peppers. We had ours over brown rice and alongside Hot and Sour Soup (our recipe Coming Soon) and braised bok choy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

We Did It Our Way: Dan Dan Noodles

Cafe Drake HRV Cooking Tip # 247: You can't make a wrong turn when meals begin with pan-Asian condiments used for seasoning sauces.

Let's Make Dan-Dan Noodles! We'll begin by shrugging off any claims of "authenticity" with this recipe, a term generally considered a misnomer when applied to a Szechuan dish of so many variations. Basically, everyone makes it differently. Ours is the vegetarian version we've enjoyed countless times across the Flushing, NY's sprawling Chinatown. The ingredients may dictate a trip to a specialty market but larger grocery stores should have everything you need. Begin by frying until golden brown 1/2 cup RAW peanuts in 2 T. vegetable oil, along with 3 or 4 or 5 dried red chilies, torn into pieces. Do this over a medium-low flame and take care the peanuts don't burn to cinders; you'll be stirring a lot.

The peanuts and chilies are done when they look like this. It's OK that the dried chilies have turned black, we want them this way. Not so the peanuts so once again, invoke your "moderate level" cooking skills for the task. Allow the pan contents to cool a bit before adding to a food processor along with: 1 minced jalapeno pepper, 2 chopped cloves of garlic and 1 generous T. of minced ginger. Process until well ground then add: 2 T. soy sauce, 2 T. water, 2 T. rice vinegar, 1 T.Chinese black vinegar, 1 T. sugar and 2 t. each chili paste and sweet chili sauce. Process again until relatively smooth. Set aside while you boil 1 lb. chow mein noodles or just regular thick spaghetti.
Drain noodles and toss with your spicy peanut and chile paste. Tongs are the best tool.

Non-optional garnishes for our Dan-Dan Noodles include chopped cilantro, shaved onions, cayenne pepper and loads of sesame seeds, toasted or not.