Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Bites or, Food Flavored to Make You Feel Fabulous. Over and Over.

Above, 2 photos: Plummeting temps at night have us craving heartier fare at Cafe Drake HRV. Grab the link to our fave chimichurri recipe here and when blending, add 1/2 cup or so sunflower seeds for a thicker, rib-sticking texture. Nice, as you can see, spooned graciously over steamed, sliced beets.

A dinner making the most of roadside produce stands: sweet corn fried with butter and green chilies, pasta tossed with late season tomatoes and roasted zucchini and beets with chimichurri sauce.

Much of the same for a later lunch with the addition of toasted English muffins with a schmear of roasted eggplant puree and drops of our house hot sauce.

The zucchini plants at Cafe Drake HRV require daily trimming, and still, an occasional squash goes undetected beneath the jungle foliage. Wonder how big this one have grown? Zucchini this size are tougher and less flavorful, so we chopped into large pieces and slow-cooked with red lentils for an Indian dal side dish.

Thai basil the size of a mulberry bush means lots to use in a hurry; the herb can't survive more than a week longer of cold local nights.

An Asian-influenced pesto to the rescue: 4 cups of Thai basil processed with pine nuts, garlic, a touch of ginger, soy sauce and red chilies. Good with rice, noodles, eggs and sandwich spread.

Yellow rice, zucchini with tomatoes, kale, black beans and chimichurri.

Chimichurri with sunflower seeds is showing up everywhere.

As is Cafe Drake HRV's house hot sauce. Get the recipe here.

And everything gets thrown together a few days later for the laziest lunch of the year. Reuse. Reheat. Repeat. xo

Our Favorite Cat & Dog in the World

Lloyd: "OK, I'll look this way and you look that way."

Above, two of Arabella's preferred napping positions.


Almost Vegan Pad Thai, Our Way

Pad thai is the menu item least ordered by Thai food aficionados. Although we don't include ourselves in that category of diners, Cafe Drake HRV can't remember the last time we dared sample the dreaded dish of syrupy-sweet, gooey noodles dripping with mouth-puckering sourness to boot. Yuk. Of course the real thing can be satisfying when created by a chef unwilling to make concessions to Western junk food palettes. No such chef exists in Brooklyn, for example.

The noodles have such a bad reputation and history of being truly awful that any experimentation is welcome. Hence, Cafe Drake HRV's interpretation below. We won't post the entire recipe from start to finish because it's doubtful anyone believes enough that these are really good to exert the effort involved. Our finished product was delightful however, really. The entire dish could be vegan by eliminating only the scrambled egg step; soft tofu makes a nice substitute and visual facsimile of the eggs, even more so if you mash it with a bit of heart-healthy turmeric powder before frying with the noodles.

It all begins with this tamarind sauce, used to season the noodles and veggies themselves in our version of Pad Thai. You're gonna want to make this ultra-useful kitchen staple in batches and keep in the fridge for stir-frying and simmering veggie, fish and poultry dishes alike. Cafe Drake HRV brushes the sauce, in quantity, over thick slices of tofu before broiling to chewy savoriness (close to the broiler flame, 4 minutes per side, check often for scorching and adjust rack lower as needed). Quick cooking pork cuts such as tenderloin or thinly sliced chops also welcome a bath of tamarind sauce and wear it well . . . expect a glossy lacquer finish after roasting. Let's begin. All you need to do is add the following to a blender and process until smooth: 2 T. tamarind extract, 2 T. maple syrup (or honey), 1 chopped clove of garlic, 1 T. tamari (or soy sauce), 1-2 T. chopped hot chilies (your choice) and 1 T. olive oil. That's it. We recommend tripling the recipe!

Next step is our Pad Thai finishing sauce. Feel free to use peanut instead of almond butter but do make this and keep in fridge for up to one week. A large batch makes vegatable crudite spring to life. Tossed with noodles and refrigerated, it becomes your new favorite back-from-the-bar instant snack.Cafe Drake HRV spreads it thick on toasted pita wedges before broiling for 1 minute and topping with cucumber slices. Again, just put it all in a blender or food processor and push a button: 1/2 cup almond butter, 1 T. minced ginger, 2 T. each lime juice and maple syrup, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1-3 whole dried red chilies, 1 T. sesame oil and just enough water to facilitate processing, 1/4 cup or less.

Thin rice noodles soaked for a few minutes in hot water were drained and rinsed well. We used kitchen shears to cut the noodles into manageable lengths and then mixed with our tamarind sauce.

Slivered carrots, onions, zucchini and ginger just before being stir-fried in a couple of tablespoons of grape seed oil. A couple of minutes later we added the noodles in tamarind sauce.

The tamarind noodles and veggies are cooked over the highest flame for mere minutes, along with 2 beaten eggs, chopped cherry tomatoes and 1/2 cup each of cilantro and Thai basil.

Our almost vegan Pad Thai, atop romaine leaves, with soft tofu, a soy drizzle and almond sauce on the side.

We really really want you to make the almond sauce!

Loving Compund Butters

Above 3 photos: even into September the golden raspberry bush at Cafe Drake HRV continues to reward us with sweet, ripe specimens every morning we approach it, bowl in hand, respectfully, like a supplicant.
To make Raspberry Compound Butter, allow 1 stick of butter to soften at room temperature for at least 2-3 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen. The butter should be very, very soft. Mix the butter in a bowl along with a handful of fresh raspberries and 1 or 2 T. of honey. If the berries are naturally quite sweet, go with only a tablespoon. Make sure all is incorporated fully and then stir in a large pinch of ground cinnamon. Take a piece of plastic wrap and place it on a flat surface, a 10" square size will do. Heap the butter in the center and form into a log shape. Fold in the left and right sides of the plastic wrap first, then continue to roll up like a burrito. When tightly wrapped roll the butter back and forth, gently, until you have a smooth log. This may be easier to do if you refrigerate the butter for 15 minutes to re-firm. Place back in fridge to harden and store there for a few weeks if needed. Otherwise, roll entire plastic-wrapped log in aluminum foil and freeze for up to 6 months.

The same procedure is used exactly for making a fresh herb compound butter. Cafe Drake HRV used lovage, basil, savory, dill and oregano from our garden. Start with unsalted butter and season with 1 T. Worcestershire sauce per stick. Finely minced capers - rinsed and drained - are a nice bonus.

Avial, the Masterpiece of Malabar

Avial has earned its reputation as Malabar's signature dish and is beloved throughout the subcontinent. An initial glance at the recipe below may not excite, but the sum of these simple parts boasts complex flavors beyond the scope of other more "gently spiced" Indian vegetable preparations. In an ideal world/kitchen, serve with plain basmati rice, plenty of pappadums (crispy lentil wafer breads) and onion relish.
Re-heated avial for lunch the next day, with sambar, brown rice, stir-fried lentil sprouts and hari chutney.

Cafe Drake HRV assembled this composite recipe after trying several others that just fell short of avial perfection. We think we got it right so a few rules before we begin: for this vegetarian entree to really sing there are no substitutions for black mustard seeds, coconut oil or the plantains. Schedule a quick trip to the appropriate market(s) before preparing. Secondly, if you can't commit to salting bravely then stick with other Indian dishes requiring less sodium; avial needs to be fairly salty (but eaten in small amounts and with copious amounts of rice to balance the salty tanginess). Finally, low-fat plain yogurt can be used in worst case scenarios but non-fat is bitter, chalky, prone to curdling, unacceptable here.

If you can get  beyond our officious and bossy tone, let's proceed. Peel and chop into 1/2" pieces two plantains, 1 large or two smaller carrots and 1 potato. Peel and cut into 6 wedges 1 large chayote squash. Trim and cut into 1/2" pieces a handful of string beans (or long beans). Add these to a pot with 1 1/2 cups water, 1/2 t. turmeric powder, 3/4 t. cayenne pepper and 3/4 t. salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

While the veggies are cooking, make the spice paste: combine and process in a blender 1 cup plain yogurt, 3 chopped small green chilies, 3-4 T. dried, unsweetened coconut (best if soaked for a few minutes in hot water and then drained well), a pinch of salt, 1 t. cumin seeds and 1 t. ground coriander powder. Set aside.

Drain the cooked vegetables of any remaining water by just covering the pan with a lid and pouring out and into the sink. Keep the veggies in the same pan and do not rinse. Place the pan back on your stove and add in the yogurt/coconut/spice paste. Simmer very VERY gently for 5 minutes. On another burner, heat 2 T. coconut oil over a high flame. When hot, toss in 1/2 t. black mustard seeds and allow them to pop, covering the pan so not too many escape! Immediately add a generous pinch of asafetida (also known as hing) and 12 or so curry leaves (straight from your freezer or fresh). Cook for 1 minute stirring constantly then add to the simmering veggies. Season to your liking with salt and black pepper. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Plating Challenged but Full of Flavor

We said these weren't pretty plates . . . but so much joy still from a plate of Indian leftovers courtesy of weekend house party - dhokla with raita, onion relish, rice, chickpeas, spinach and fenugreek leaves, pork vindaloo.

Open the pantry at Cafe Drake HRV and you'll always be confronted with at least 2 jars of our favorite spaghetti sauce, Rao's Marinara. A recent supermarket special in Saugerties had us grabbing up enough to last the year.

Chicken Thighs marinated in a spicy vinaigrette overnight, roasted with caraway and cumin seeds and finished with crunchy fleur de sel. Jealous of our crisp as a cracker skin seen above? It's simple. Just pat the chicken very very dry before baking at 375 degrees F. Don't brush with oil, butter or anything else.

These adorable Sugar Pie pumpkins are sprouting up everywhere in the Hudson Valley this week. At only a buck each Cafe Drake HRV brakes for roadside vendors and loads up. They store well in a cool location outside of direct sunlight and are perfect not only for desserts but soups, stews, stuffing et al.

Messy but marvelous: a large whole wheat pita brushed with olive oil and sprinkled lavishly with za'atar, toasted until lightly crisp and decorated with homemade baba ganuj, fresh pumpkin stewed with red chilies and onions, roasted vegetables and leftover pork stew.

Why Are Cheese & Bread & Tomatoes So Good Together?

Breakfast of Champions. Toasted rye and salt rolls slathered with vegetable cream cheese and studded with halved grape tomatoes (Sun Gold and Candy Store heirloom varieties).

Mexican tortas don't get simpler than this. Spread a thin layer of refried beans on a large whole wheat sandwich roll that has been cut in half lengthwise. Top with a bit of grated sharp cheddar, some chopped tomatoes and thinly sliced onion and green bell pepper. Dust with chili powder. Toast until crisp and eat with a green salad for a true 10-minute meal. If you have an extra couple of minutes to spare, treat yourself to the addition of chopped cilantro and sliced pickled jalapeno peppers. Sliced avocado adds a touch of luxury.

Early Autumn in the Kitchens of Cafe Drake HRV

We love this products for several reasons. 1) It's packaged in two separate sealed containers, allowing you to use only half and not resign a leftover cube of tofu to a slow death in the fridge. 2) It really IS extra firm in texture and doesn't fall apart when stir-fried or simmered in soups. 3) Sprouting is our latest fetish but you already knew that.

1 lb. of tofu is mashed and added to a mini food processor (above) along with a handful of sunflower seeds, 1/4 cup soaked and drained dried shitake mushrooms, a couple of chopped scallions, a chopped clove of garlic, some dried red chilies, a splash of soy sauce and about 3 T. miso. We blended all together then blended again with the addition of 2 eggs. Turned out in to a mixing bowl and supplemented with flax seed meal and bread crumbs until the mixture could be shaped into patties. Recommended is frying in 2 T. olive oil over a low, steady flame, about 4 minutes per side.

And Voila! The final product . . .Tofu Croquettes

90% of the corn eaten at Cafe Drake HRV is off the cob, but we usually roast whole before hand. If you haven't used this method of preparing corn, please try it tonight. Simply stick unshucked ears of corn into the oven and roast for 10-15 minutes at 375 degrees F. Remove and allow to cool a few minutes. When you peel and shuck you'll find every bit pulls away easily, annoying corn silks and all. The famished and impatient may enjoy immediately.

Making the most of a garden still full of mint and cucumbers. Above, Cucumber Raita is useful beyond Indian meals - try it on baked potatoes or tossed with egg noodles for a zingy side dish.

Or you could just enjoy the raita with an Indian meal as above. That roasted corn was cut from the cob(s) and added to simmered yellow split peas seasoned with garlic, onions, curry leaves, black mustard seeds and green chilies.

Still a Lunchtime Staple: Two Recipes with Canned Tuna

Tuna cakes, or croquettes if you prefer, are also satisfying served as burgers on toasted buns. As above, Cafe Drake HRV topped ours with mayo (actually, Vegenaise) and sliced red onion and tomato, served with the simplest of all side dishes - stir-fried veggies.

Non-traditional burgers are a menu staple at Cafe Drake HRV and come in all shapes and flavors. A quick recipe for Tuna Burgers: take 2 cans of good tuna (Italian is best generally) and drain of olive oil, reserving in a small bowl. Mash the tuna vigorously with a fork, incorporating in 1 T. of mayonnaise at a time as you go along. You should probably need at least 3-4 tablespoons. Now stir in some chopped parsley, a few tablespoons of GRATED onion (even diced pieces may be too large and cause the burgers to fall apart or stick to the pan), 1 clove of garlic, pressed, and some salt and pepper to taste. You'll want to thicken and bind the burger so sprinkle in some dried whole wheat bread crumbs until the mixture becomes thick and not too sticky. if possible refrigerate for an hour before frying. If not, proceed by heating reserved olive oil over a medium flame - non-stick skillets work best but not essential.  Form 4 patties from the tuna mixture and pan fry until browned, crispy and cooked through. Allow 3-5 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed. Drain on a paper towel or newspaper and spritz very lightly with lemon juice. Serve with rice, spaghetti and marinara sauce or on toasted buns or rolls. If using mayo as a topping try dotting with a few drained capers.
A leftover tuna burger combined with toasted whole wheat English muffin, green salad with feta cheese, stir-fried veggies and baba ganouj.

Salad accompanying tuna cake/burger. Whoever decreed that fish and cheese shouldn't be served together (Italian food dictators, that's who) has never tried the combination of premium canned tuna and briny feta.

Tuna salad needn't include gobs of mayonnaise. Or any at all. The hottest summer days demand cool, light lunches like the one seen above. Open a can of good Italian tuna into a mixing bowl along with all of the olive oil as well. Mash lightly with a fork before stirring in 1 T. well-rinsed and drained capers, salt and black pepper and a small drizzle of your finest aged balsamic vinegar, the thickest, blackest, stickiest you own. Best enjoyed over cool, crisp blades of romaine lettuce, further enhanced with shaved red onion slices. Nice partners for this most heavenly warm weather entree include a few cornichons, Nicoise olives, garlic bread and a bottle of very cold Chenin Blanc.

Above two photos: roasted eggplant puree. We enjoy but don't embrace often, or with true devotion and love, French cuisine. The Mediterranean flavors of the southern coast inspire however; such genius is evident in the frequent pairing of fish and eggplant, either roasted or braised. Works with canned tuna as well!
Sprouts of all tails work well with tuna. Above, sprouted wheat berries are a fave at Cafe Drake HRV for their nutty taste, chewy texture and ease of sprouting. Want tuna salad but not the carbs from bread? Get a healthy dose of sweet and earthy grains instead by tossing a handful of wheat berry (or rye berry) sprouts over your salad.
Left with a half-pack of heirloom radish seeds, the rest planted last week in an attempt to cash in on the vegetable's tolerance for cooler temps, Cafe Drake HRV soaked and sprouted those remaining. The sprouts' inherent spiciness add both piquant and floral flavors as sandwich toppers, especially suited to tuna or salmon salad.