The Relentless Winter: Cold Weather Cooking from a Well-Stocked Kitchen

I. The Inevitable Return of the Egg Roll

A quick shuffle through the Cafe Drake HRV freezer will always unearth a zip-locked package of egg roll wrappers. Even when kitchen staples are dwindling after a three-day snowstorm, we generally have some cabbage, a wilted scallion or two, a rubbery carrot, a block of tofu and a bottle each of soy sauce and sesame oil on hand, the building blocks of our vegetarian egg rolls. You can grab the recipe for our variation made with chicken RIGHT HERE and adapt according to your diet preferences.

What we WERE running low on was hot Chinese mustard (note the sad little dab to the left in photo above, coaxed with a straw from the sides of the depleted jar), a wicked snafu when your meal of rice and egg rolls is dependent upon condiments!

Our quick Sweet Chili Dipping Sauce to the rescue. The Cafe Drake HRV version is less cloying and goopy than the supermarket schlock found in the "International Foods" aisle (ha) and takes less than 10 minutes to complete from scratch. Tightly covered and refrigerated, the sweet chili sauce will keep for at least a month, almost requiring that you double the recipe:combine in a saucepan 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup rice vinegar, the unseasoned kind. Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar melts. Once the mixture is boil, continue to cook on high until it begins to thicken. Stir in 1 minced habanero chile and remove from the heat. Allow the sauce to cool completely. It will thicken further as it cools. Once cool, sprinkle in just a small dash of salt to balance flavors. Our version is pretty hot, so heads up. If you prefer a less fiery dipping sauce substitute 1 jalapeno or serrano chile for the more intense habanero.

Leftover and re-heated egg rolls completed a lunch of salad and rice with dried and seasoned shiso leaves from the Cafe Drake HRV gardens. The herb condiment not only added a tangy, citrus buzz to otherwise mild rice but ensnared us with memories of the past summer and the one soon (fingers crossed) ahead.

II. The Friday Night Frijoles Refritos of Our Youth

We fondly remember cheese-drenched and baked refried beans on Taco Nights as a child; now, the frijoles are taking center stage. Above, served with grilled corn tortillas, sour cream, hot sauce and roasted vegetables.

III: Don't Forget About Canned Salmon!

Sometimes a can of salmon and a box of bread crumbs is almost all you need. Our Salmon Croquettes consist of little more, just a dab of minced onion and garlic, some parsley and an egg. Above, with Tomato Salad and Whole Wheat Garlic Bread.

IV.  International Side Dishes Add a World of Novelty

These long, twisted hot green chilies are a staple in the produce aisles of supermarkets nationwide. Hot but not searing, the peppers deepen in flavor when roasted. Toss a few with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. Roast on a baking sheet at 400 degrees F. for about 20-25 minutes. Perhaps an even better technique is to place the baking sheet under the broiler and cook on the High setting for 7 or 8 minutes. Turn the peppers every couple of minutes to prevent excess burning, although the skins will still blister and blacken slightly, adding another layer of smokey.

Wintery sides don't get cozier or more comforting than Broiled Tofu Braised with Turnips. First, broil your tofu according to our directions found in a former post. After broiling and slicing the tofu, add it to a saucepan with lots of onion, 1 peeled and sliced carrot and 3 or 4 peeled and quartered turnips. Cover all with at least 3 cups of good vegetable broth and season aggressively with soy sauce and mirin. If you don't have mirin in the house substitute cream sherry or equal parts dry sherry and sugar. Toss in a coin of peeled ginger. Simmer, partially covered, until the turnips are very soft, around 30 minutes. Add salt if needed.

Our latest batch of Chinese Cabbage Kimchi is strictly vegan, made without fish sauce, anchovies or dried shrimp. A nice alternative now and then. We let the kimchi brine for over a week in the winter as fermentation occurs more slowly in cool weather.

It may not be gorgeous but this salty and tart side salad of Broiled Eggplant with Lemon and Miso is multifunctional, pairs well with most flavors and will stay just fine in the fridge for 3 days.

Looks like we dumped it all together one day for a leftovers lunch of Rice, Roasted Peppers and Mushrooms, Braised Tofu and Turnips and Chinese Cabbage Kimchi.

V. Pasta Happens

Listen, you gotta work with what you have, and that sometimes creates strange partners on the plate: Rigatoni with Marinara and Roasted Vegetables, topped with Shaved Parmesan, Rau Ram leaves and Pickled Scallions. And yes, reader, we devoured it and it was delicious.

VI.  Another Inevitability, Okonomiyaki

It's not a Winter thing. Just because we love savory Japanese pancakes for dinner. Anytime of year. Get our recipe HERE in the Cafe Drake HRV archives.

VII. Leftovers Tweaked + A New Addition to the Side Dish Family

Braised Celery, reheated the following afternoon, turned out to be the perfect co-star to a plate of leftover pasta. We don't even like celery as a rule, so you know this must be a spectacular preparation. The key to success seems to be the stock, so use the best you can find. Too simple, really: Trim and peel the edges of 1 large bunch of celery. If the celery is young and quite fresh, you can skip the peeling process. Cut each stalk in to slices 4" or so in length and add to a deep skillet. Cover with 3 cups good quality vegetable stock (non-vegetarians can use chicken stock as well) and bring to a boil. While the stock is heating up, toss in to the pan 1 T. of butter, some salt to taste, plenty of black pepper and a pinch of ground allspice. if you like, throw a bay leaf in as well. Once the stock has reached a full boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the skillet or pan. Cook gently for 25 or 30 minutes, until the celery is soft. With a slotted spoon remove the celery from the pan and set aside. Turn the heat all the way up and boil stock until reduced by 2/3. Place the celery back in the pan, remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving warm.

For lunch we amped up the protein - and flavor - quotient of our leftover rigatoni with a fried egg, crumbled feta cheese and a drizzle of homemade Toasted Chili Oil.


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