Making the Most of What We Have

A post dedicated to the everyday realities of winter life in the country, stocking the kitchen with essentials and realizing there's no 24-hour Korean deli on the corner anymore. Snow, ice and sub-zero wind chills may keep us often moored at Cafe Drake HRV but we'll never go hungry.

Assembling an impromptu tea tray for an afternoon visit from the neighbors.

Above, mixing pimento cheese prior to adding the other namesake ingredient. Cafe Drake HRV loved introducing our northern neighbors to this Deep South standby. We updated ours a bit by slathering on crostini and serving, along with jam-filled muffins, for an afternoon tea snack. Keep it simple with pimento cheese: blend 8 oz. of grated extra sharp cheddar with 1/3 cup mayonnaise and 4-5 T. minced roasted red peppers (jarred). Season with a healthy pinch of sugar, salt and black pepper to taste, 1 t. smoked paprika and a dash or two of hot sauce. Blend very well and refrigerate for an hour or so to firm up consistency. Enjoy with bread, crackers or crudites.

Sometimes even Cafe Drake HRV needs a break from all these heavy winter meals. Above, a light supper of brown rice, eggplant salad, carrot sambhar, pan-fried cabbage with green chilies, pappadum and a savory buttermilk "shake".
Across India buttermilk is enjoyed as a salty, lightly spiced, cool beverage. Because American buttermilk is much thicker, water must be added to replicate the soothing Indian "shake". It's so easy and satisfying, don't be put off by this unfamiliar idea! The buttermilk drink can also be served, as we did recently, as a component of any East Asian meal. Cafe Drake HRV did indeed sip at ours but mostly spooned its tangy creaminess over rice and crisp pappadums. Just add to a blender 1 cup buttermilk and 1 cup water. Throw in an ice cube or three. Season with a pinch each of salt, cayenne pepper and ground cumin. Blend to crush and incorporate the rice. Finish by stirring in a tablespoon of finely minced cilantro and slivered green chilies. Though it's difficult to think of now, embrace this 2 minute recipe for hot weather dinners; served in chilled small glasses it makes a quick and easy first course.

Are you getting tired of seeing photos of roasted chicken thighs here? Because we never bore of throwing organic, free-range poultry in the oven, along with root vegetables and breads, to create one-pan meals.
Yup, we always keep chicken thighs in the freezer. Always. And cilantro and scallions in the fridge.

And the pantry is never bare of flour or cornmeal! Making a large iron skillet of cornbread is the only way to go; leftovers can be toasted and drizzled with honey for effortless breakfasts and even when drying out days-old bread can be crumbled for stuffing. Cafe Drake HRV loves to add cornbread past its prime to sauteed onions, apples and garlic and then tuck inside cabbage leaves, to be baked until tender with tomato sauce.

Fresh hot cornbread - or even toasted leftover wedges - makes a fantastic base for lots of toppings, much like tortillas or pita bread. Above two photos: A Cafe Drake HRV riff on England's beloved Mushrooms on Toast, yet another entree you can whip up with limited supplies: in a large skillet saute 1/2 lb. sliced baby portobello mushrooms (or regular white button mushrooms, or, if feeling fancy, oyster mushrooms) in 2 T. olive oil and 1 T. butter, along with 1/2 large onion (diced), 2 cloves of garlic (minced) and 1/2 cup dried and sliced shitake mushrooms (soaked in warm water for 10 minutes). Fresh shitake mushrooms are fine as well but the chewy contrast of the dried, alongside the soft portobellos, is texturally pleasant. Cook until all the veggies are very soft, over a medium flame, adding a splash of red wine as needed to prevent sticking and to keep the mushrooms moist. When done, remove the skillet from flame and stir in about 1/2 cup sour cream. Mix just until the sour cream dissolves and then season with salt, black pepper and a dash or two of ground nutmeg. Ladle over warm cornbread for a fabulous vegetarian dinner and serve with a salad.

We talk about it and we do it! Above, toasted leftover cornbread for lunch, topped with remaining, reheated mushrooms. Sides included romaine and tomato salad, hummus and pickled carrots.
No it's not a pile of roasted shoelaces and red bell peppers; those are pencil-thin asparagus spears.

After roasting the skinny asparagus with sliced peppers we plopped it all atop lettuce dressed only with lemon juice, olive oil and finishing salt. This nutritious side salad almost stole the show from the entree.

(above two photos) But not quite. It's hard to upstage a toasted flat bread adorned with slow-cooked black beans, fresh tomatillo salsa, melted dry Jack cheese, green onions and cilantro.


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