Monday, June 30, 2014

The Pause That Refreshes: Cucumber Gimlets

It's hot out. You need a drink. We need a drink. 

There's a couple of ways to incorporate the refreshing coolness of cucmber into America's beloved summer standby cocktail, The Gimlet. One, you can infuse your vodka with cucumber slices by simply soaking 1/2 a peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber in 3 cups of gin (sealed in a jar) for 3 days and then strain through a coffee filter or, two, you can craft a cucumber simple syrup that should keep in the fridge for at least a week. We've talked about alcohol infusions A LOT here at Cafe Drake HRV in the past so let's make the syrup.

Bring one cup sugar and one cup water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Boil for one minute and remove from the stove. Stir in 1/2 of a regular cucumber, shredded, seeded but unpeeled. A box grater works well for this and buying a seedless cucumber makes things even simpler.

Steep the grated cuke in syrup for 30 minutes; strain through a fine mesh sieve and push down on the cucumber bits to extract as much liquid, flavor and bright green color as possible. Allow to cool before using. Store in the refrigerator, tightly covered.

To make the Cucumber Gimlet, add, per person, to a cocktail shaker: 2 1/2 oz. gin, 1 oz. cucumber syrup and a healthy squeeze of lime juice. Add some ice to the shaker, shake and strain into cocktail glasses. Serve straight up with garnish of choice - lime peel, cucumber slice, or as we did above, a single borage flower. Note that the herb borage boasts a pronounced cucumber flavor in both its leaves and flowers.

When a tamer drink is appropriate, try mixing the cucumber syrup with seltzer for a surprisingly adult soda.

Vodka may be substituted for the gin and white rum makes a spectacular novelty drink.

Homemade Thai Takeout. Better, Faster, Cheaper.

Sure, it may not be purely authentic Thai cuisine, but this Thai Chicken and Pepper Stir-Fry is a dead ringer in flavor and heat for the ubiquitous takeout menu item. Only better, way better, because it lacks the suffocating sweetness and gooey sauce sloshed about at bogus Thai slop houses.

If you spend just 10 minutes doing your mise en place, this dish will come together in only 5 more. So, read the recipe through once, prep veggies and sauce and let's go!

Heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a large, non-stick skillet or wok over high heat. When the oil is almost smoking add 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast (cut into 1" cubes or long, thin strips) and let sit, undisturbed, for one minute. Now begin to stir-fry quickly while adding 4 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook for just a minute and then add 1 large red onion (thinly sliced), 1 green bell pepper (very thinly sliced), 2-3 small green chilies (chopped coarsely) and about 4 T. ginger (cut into matchstick pieces). Stir fry for a minute before adding 4 T. fish sauce, 2 T. oyster sauce and 3 t. sugar. Again, mix these three ingredients together in a  small bowl before beginning the cooking and Life will be much easier. 

Stir fry just until chicken is cooked through. It won't take long. The veggies should retain a slight bit of crunchiness though none of their raw flavor.

Remove from heat and drop in a handful of fresh Thai basil leaves. Regular basil is fine as well. Sprinkle liberally with cayenne pepper and stir a final time.

Serve hot with rice. Above, Cafe Drake HRV enjoyed our spicy Thai chicken alongside jasmine rice, salad greens, sliced yellow tomatoes and braised kale.

So easy and tasty we've been making this a lot during hot weather and loving the briefest exposure to a hot stove. A vegetarian variation created by Cafe Drake HRV is delightful as well: substitute extra-firm tofu for the chicken, also cut into pieces the same size, approximately 1" cubes. (You MUST use extra-firm tofu for best texture.) Nix the fish sauce for 3 T. soy sauce instead and use vegetarian oyster sauce (available now at all Asian markets).

Hey Look! Arabella Woke Up.

And proceeded to bury a (toy) bone under the evergreen bushes.

Within 3 minutes she was tired and ready to head back to the sofa and a/c.

How Our Garden Grows, Part IV: The Hot Weather Arrives

Garlic scapes abound in late June at Cafe Drake HRV.

Dried garlic stored by the stove for easier access. Fresher than can be believed is the taste of garden foraged garlic.

And more garlic scapes.

Just pulled garlic curing in the sun; the fresh kind needs to dry for at least a week before being ready for cooking.

The mud room temporarily became a garlic processing plant. Bottom left and continuing clockwise: garlic scapes are separated before being stored in the fridge; a pile of garlic refuse ready for composting; garlic bulbs cut and soon to begin the drying process; piles more to go before we sleep (or nap).

left to right plantings: Asian long beans; Red Russian kale; kohlrabi (Gaps in between are from harvested salad greens, now dormant until cooler weather returns in Autumn. Look closely and you'll see a few emerging seedlings signaling our mid-Summer crop of mizuna, amaranth and assorted Japanese and Indian stir-fry greens.

Now, finally, the largest garden bed is arranged in tidy rows. Left to right: okra; kohlrabi; tomatilloes; assorted basils and shiso; long beans; Tuscan kale; dill and tomatoes. Potted plants will soon be ready for transfer to the garden bed and include Thai green chilies, poblano peppers and tomatoes (Yellow Pear, Brown Cherry and Pink Brandywine).

Our trusty owl protects young plants from garden marauders.

The last of the viable lettuces, at least until the cooler days of September. We kept these going by planting in a large, shallow container, moved a couple of weeks ago to semi-shade.
Give us 12 square inches of yard and we'll create a tarragon patch! This herb loves hot weather, bright sun and moist soil.

Salad Bowl in the Lawn!

Those who love only dappled light have found a happy home on the front porch.

Rau Ram, or Vietnamese Coriander, grows like a tenacious weed, but as we learned last summer, disappears and dies as quickly if exposed to bright sun. The smokey, earthy tasting herb is also known as laksa, the ingredient giving the iconic Malaysian soup its name.

We all know gardening requires patience in spades - pun intended - and mitsuba pushes the limits. Glacially slow to germinate and then grow, the Japanese herb tolerates sun but only in controlled doses. Its perfumey, somewhat citrus-like flavor is well worth the wait.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Lazy But Crazy Good Chickpea Curry + Eggplant and Yogurt Salad

Let's start by introducing a spice you may not currently have in your rack - anardana, or ground, dried pomegranate seeds. A small box will set you back a dollar at most Indian markets and should stay fresh for 6 months if kept tightly sealed. Used throughout India and parts of the Middle East, anardana adds a sweet/sour note to sauces, chutneys, kabobs and curries. The refreshing flavor is an important part of this tangy chickpea curry you're gonna wanna make on hot summer nights; a speedy cooking time and almost no real prep makes this an ideal warm weather vegetarian entree. Serve with rice or bread and salad.

To make our Lazy Crazy Good Chickpea Curry (Pindi Chana/Chane) heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 1 small red onion (finely diced) and 1 garlic clove (minced) and about 1 T. chopped ginger. Saute for 7 or 8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are brown. Quickly add 1 t. coriander powder, 1 t. anardana powder, 1/2 t. garam masala, 1/2 t. cayenne pepper, salt to taste and 1 small hot green chili (minced). Stir constantly for 1 minute.

Mix into the skillet 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained. Add 1/2 cup of water and reduce heat to a low flame. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until about 50% of the water has been absorbed, leaving a thin but richly flavored sauce. For a more authentic consistency, mash 2 or 3 T. of chickpeas with a fork and stir to incorporate fully. Serve hot or warm with bread or rice.

Cafe Drake HRV loves this Eggplant and Yogurt Salad - a raita by any other name - alongside spicy bean curries or grilled sausages. Slice 1 large eggplant into halves, lengthwise, and place on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Make a few gashes across the eggplant halves and prick all over with a sharp knife to hasten cooking. Roast in a 400 degree F. oven, cut sides down, for about 30 minutes or until the eggplant's skin is crinkled and the flesh fully cooked. Allow to cool and then scrape flesh in to a mixing bowl. Discard the skin.

Add to the eggplant 1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, 1/4 cup diced red onion, a pinch or two of ginger powder, 1 minced small green chili, at least 1/2 t. salt and a T. or two of minced cilantro. Mix very well and chill for 30 minutes to allow flavors to meld. Just before serving sprinkle with 1/2 t. garam masala and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Also excellent as a dip with toasted pita wedges.

Hmmm. Wonder What Arabella's Doing Right Now?

Odds are pretty good that while you're here visiting Cafe Drake HRV, Arabella's stretched out somewhere, maybe napping, maybe just chilling.

At some point our pit bull mascot managed to haul herself from one sofa to another. All the way in the next room. Go Arabella!

" A world without throw pillows is no world I wanna live in." - Arabella Page

How to Make a Red Shiso Condiment (Shiso Furikake)

Red shiso is the colorful, somewhat bitter cousin of the green herb shiso and although its culinary applications are limited by an astringent aftertaste, the beautiful purple-red leaves can be plucked from the garden and used for more than floral arrangement filler.

Begin with fresh red/purple shiso leaves, snipped at the base and soaked in cold water. Change the water at least twice, maybe three times, swishing leaves with vigor to dislodge any dirt nestled in the herb's deep grooves.

Carefully remove the leaves from the water, making certain all sand and grit stays on the bottom of the bowl, and place to dry on a clean dish towel. Pat dry, flip leaves and repeat. Transfer well dried shiso leaves to a large baking sheet and arrange in a single layer without overlapping edges. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees F. and place baking sheet inside. Prop the oven door open with a wooden spoon (or something of similar circumference) to allow air circulation. You'll want to dry the leaves, not bake them. This method works well for drying other fresh herbs for winter storage; Cafe Drake HRV has had especial success with dill, basil and sage.

Drying times may vary depending on a number of factors but generally count on at least 15-20 minutes. Check the herbs regularly to make sure they're not burning or browning and flip once during the entire process. Above, you'll notice the leaves have become both dry and brittle, requirements for easy grinding. When shiso is dry allow to cool and crumble with your fingers to a fine, flaky texture, sort of like fish food.

Mix the crumbled, dried shiso leaves with coarse salt and sugar to taste; amounts will vary according to personal preference but here's the deal: salt will bring out the zippy, citrus flavors of the shiso while the sugar tames any bitter notes. You now have Shiso Furikake, the classic Japanese condiment used to enhance rice, cold noodle salads, rice balls and even sushi rolls. A little goes a long way so don't be dismayed at the small amount created. Stored in an airtight glass jar at room temperature, the furikake should stay fresh for at  least 2-3 months. But it won't last that long. This stuff's addictive!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Easiest Dill Pickles Ever. And They Also Taste AMAZING!

Cafe Drake HRV disagrees with you - we're sorry but you do have time to make your own pickles. Our new recipe requires no overnight soaking and jars need to be processed in a hot water bath for only 10 minutes. Let's start small. Four 8 oz. canning jars and 5-6 Kirby cukes; if the cukes are very small you might even need 7. Rinse the Kirbys and slice, anyway you like, and then place in canning jars. Do not peel cukes. Set aside while you bring to a boil in a small saucepan 1 cup water, 1 cup white vinegar, 1 T. kosher salt and 1-2 t. sugar. When the brine reaches a boiling point remove from heat. Now fill each jar with: a bunch of fresh dill fronds or heads (you can't overdo it), a large pinch each of yellow mustard seeds and whole coriander seeds, 1 clove of chopped garlic and 1 small dried red chilies (flakes are OK too). Pour hot brine over jar contents, filling almost to the lid but leaving 1/2" or so head space. Seal jars, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes and let rest until cool and a proper seal develops. For best results wait at least 4 weeks before opening and devouring YOUR OWN HOMEMADE PICKLES. Easy, right?

Quesadilla Dinner No. 421

Quesadillas for Dinner. Again. Yup. With Broccoli Vinaigrette, leftover White Beans with Shallots and Herbs (grab our recipe HERE), rice, Tomato-Poblano Salsa, Yogurt Crema and Jicama Salad
The quesadillas are the easy part. Cafe Drake HRV drove a purist route recently with just slices of smoked Gouda cheese and chopped cilantro.
Jicama is so crunchy and naturally sweet that it's a favored starch at Cafe Drake HRV. This tropical tuber shines like a Latin superstar with even the simplest of preparations; above, we mixed diced jicama with chili powder, lime juice, salt and a pinch of sugar, a flavor combo well loved by Mexican street food aficionados. Sometimes Perfection is easy.

Broccoli always tastes amazing when tossed, while still warm, with a tart vinaigrette. Serve it warm as a side dish or tote along chilled to a picnic. Cafe Drake HRV used a dressing favored for Mexican vegetable salads. Do this and you'll have plenty left to drizzle over halved avocados, sliced red onions and oranges or even roasted potatoes: mix well in a jar (shaking the tightly sealed jar is easiest) 1/4 cup olive oil, 3 T. red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper, 1 t. ground coriander, 1/2 t. Dijon mustard and a pinch of cinnamon. Taste for salt and add more if needed.

Monday, June 23, 2014

June Happens

Kristin joined us for Sunday morning coffee and lavender pruning. Snipped flowers were tied in to bundles and left hanging to dry on the front porch. Very soon herbal sachets will be found in the nooks and crannies and linen drawers of Cafe Drake HRV.

We were also lucky enough to have Kristin P. accompany us to Montgomery Place's annual Summer Porch Party and Fundraiser this month.

Where's the Chicken?? Can you spot our crackling, burnished poultry thighs in the two photos above? Cafe Drake HRV typically serves meat in the manner more of side dish than entree, two tiny chicken thighs per plate. We fill the rest of that valuable real estate with salad, veggies and whole grains. Above, 5-Spice Roasted Chicken Thighs were baked atop a cookie sheet strewn with sliced red bell and poblano peppers, onions and carrots. The roasted vegetables, rich and sweet from the chicken fat, were balanced by steamed brown rice and a mizuna and tomato salad. A lavish garnish of mint and cilantro leaves, sliced green chilies and scallions completed the Vietnamese-themed dinner.

Once an army of garden invaders began feasting on our kale, we sprang in to action by rescuing any remaining greens and spraying new, emerging plants with lavender oil and cayenne pepper in hopes of warding off the interlopers. The combo above of Tuscan, Red Russian and Lacainato kale varieties is good for both braising and salads.

Quickest Summer Side Dish? Halve about a pint of baby heirloom tomatoes - gold, yellow, orange, brown - and toss in a bowl with some sliced Vidalia onion, chopped mint, chopped basil and shredded lovage leaves. Drizzle with olive oil and red wine vinegar, season with salt, black pepper and a large pinch of brown sugar, toss again and serve at room temperature. With anything. We love leftovers squished onto sandwiches and tucked into lunch omelets.