Sunday, September 25, 2005

Mushroom Bruschetta (inspired by Thordis A.)

If you're not yet acquainted with the work of Icelandic painter Thordis Adalsteinsdottir, you definitely should be. This quick-rising art star happens to be one of the nearest and dearest at Cafe Drake, but also hosts wonderful dinners herself. Recent memorable meals include a bright summer pasta of zucchini and lemon, a North American variation of an Icelandic classic dish featuring baked fish and potatoes in a mustard sauce, and a multi-course luncheon (pictures from the afternoon below). Visit her website to view her intriguing work ( and see when she may be showing at a gallery or museum near you! In honor of many lovely meals shared with together, we present below an adaptation of an Adalsteinsdottir luncheon starter that is a favorite of ours.


A perfect cocktail party food, as almost everyone likes mushrooms and certainly EVERYone likes a hot appetizer with a drink. Make the mushrooms ahead of time and re-heat and assemble crostini just before guests arrive. I once served these with an endive salad as a light luncheon entrée.

1 T. butter / 2 garlic cloves, minced / 1/3 lb. or so mushrooms, assorted varieties (washed and chopped) / ¼ cup white wine or vermouth / Salt and pepper /1 baguette, thinly sliced and toasted
  1. In a large skillet melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add the garlic and mushrooms and turn heat to high. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated from mushrooms, stirring constantly. This will only take a few minutes so be careful not to burn.
  3. Add the wine and reduce to a simmer until almost all liquid is cooked out. Season with salt and pepper and spread mushrooms on toasted bread slices. Serve hot.

Additional Suggestions: If you like the flavor of nutmeg (who doesn’t?) sprinkle a bit in during the final stage of cooking. Garnish with snipped chives or chopped hazelnuts. Also, a tiny dollop of sour cream adds a rich touch. Use a whole grain baguette if readily available; it’s both healthier and tastier I think.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Splendors of Sardegna

d.o.c. wine bar, 83 North 7th St., Williamsburg, Brooklyn. 718/963-1925
Vino Italiano, Joseph Bastianich & David Lynch. Clarkson Potter Publishing. 2005

One senses these days that the Great Carb Scare of the early 21st century is nearing its overdue end, a superstitious and pathological fear held only by a remaining few masochists only a few pounds lighter. A release from this Dark Age has naturally given rise to a reemergence of enthusiasm for Italian cuisine, that food of peasants and kings, so given to breads and rice and cornmeal and pasta. Since the world has long esteemed Italian culinaria, adventurous diners are searching for new signs of undiscovered life, and finding it among the lonely savage landscapes of Sardegna.

On a once quiet block in Williamsburg, Brooklyn the d.o.c. Wine Bar (or Denominazione di Origine – the highest Italian wine classification) has opened shop (actually for about two years), run by young family members serving the food and wine of their native island. Repeated visits to d.o.c. continually confirm the restaurant's inherent charm, as well as that of the region's cuisine. An extensive handwritten wine list awes with its comprehensive selection of novel grape varieties, in addition to nightly wine specials. Cheese and cold cut boards make up the bulk of the menu and are essential to dinner here, but also available is a selection of crostinis, pressed sandwiches, salads and pastas. Soup of the day is always a good idea at d.o.c., where we've enjoyed a chicken broth laced with grainy cheese dumplings in the winter, and a chilled potato-fennel puree in summertime, topped by a dollop of Sardegnian goat cheese. Bravely order the white sardines marinated in balsamico and you'll be plesantly surprised by their briny and tart bite (hint: one plate for a table of four should be enough).

In their numbingly thorough opus Vino Italiano, Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch describe the cuisine and wines of Sardegna as being amongst Italy's most untouched and removed from revision by the world, an “ethnicity unto itself.” Therefore, “the wines that crop up in the islan's remote boulder-strewn soils often have a similarly indefinable, incomparable quality”. The recipe below is pure Sardegna, and slightly adapted from Vino Italiano; it is so basic and delicious you will want to prepare it over and over. What better excuse to try a different Sardegnian varietal with each meal? We suggest seeking out a bottle of cannonau (the Italian version of grenache) or cargignano (a firm tannined, rich red). After sampling both of course at the charming d.o.c.

PORCHETTA SARDA (Roast Pork, Sardinian Style)

2-3 lb. Pork loin / 2 T. salt / 8 cloves garlic, cut into large pieces / 1 cup vermentino wine (a Sardinian variety, but any dry white may be substituted) / 8 fresh sage leaves, chopped / 1 large bunch parsley / about ¼ cup olive oil / 1/3 cup honey / zest and juice of 1 small lemon / 1 cup chicken stock

  1. Overnight: place loin in large pan and cover with salt and up to 3 cups of water. Place in the refrigerator. Mash garlic into a paste and place in a bowl with the wine. Allow to sit at room temperature.
  2. At least 8 hours later, heat oven to 450 degrees. Rinse pork well and pat dry.
  3. Place garlic-wine mixture in a larger bowl and add to it the sage and parsley. Whisk into it all of the olive oil. Season the loin with this mixture and place in a roasting pan.
  4. Mix honey, lemon juice and the zest together, and brush over top surface of pork. Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reads 140 degrees. Bast every 10 minutes.
  5. When cooked, remove loin from pan and rest on platter for 30 minutes. This is a good time to season teh meat thoroughly with fresh ground black pepper. Meanwhile, place roasting pan onstove and scrape up cooked bits from bottom, boiling until juices thicken. Drizzle this "gravy" over pork loin, slice and serve.

Good sides might include: baked white beans or fresh fava beans cooked in olive oil; sauteed escarole or chicory or, in springtime, dandelion greens; pumpkin or acorn squash roasted with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and honey; brussels sprouts cooked with bacon and sweet onions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

May 21, 2005 Dinner at Cafe Drake

Whenever our dear friend Ms. Amee Simmons visits from Detroit Rock City it's always time to celebrate with a special meal. The menu below was from a late-spring dinner honoring one of our greatest muses. Following the menu is a recipe for a most unusual gazpacho, served cold but tasty enough to be enjoyed even in the winter months.


White Gazpacho

Chicken Marbella
Sauteed Escarole

Nutmeg Ice Cream with Fresh Blackberries and Butter Cookies

3 cups peeled, diced cucumbers / 1 clove garlic / 1/2 cup parsley / 2 T. white wine vinegar / 1 t. salt / 2 cups yogurt / 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Combine cucumbers, garlic, parsley, salt and vinegar in a blender and process until smooth.
  2. Pour in a large bowl and mix in yogurt and sour cream. Chill before serving.
  3. Serve in cold bowls, garnished with croutons and chopped parsley or snipped chives.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Fresh Corn Spoon Bread

It's almost the end of corn season, and the only thing scarier than running into He Who Walks Behind the Rows is passing up the final harvest of this most American of foods. The following recipe is a marvelous addition to your repetoire of side dishes, and goes well with virtually all meats prepared in any manner of ways. Spoon bread can also serve as a vegetarian main course; at Cafe Drake we love it alongside baked beans and cabbage salad. For an Indian Summer dinner party, try it as a starter, nestled in a pool of red pepper puree and topped with shaved Parmesan or Gruyere.


2 1/2 cups water / 1 cup yellow cornmeal / 1 t. salt / 2 T. butter / 4 eggs, beaten / 1 cup milk / 1 t. cayenne pepper / 2 cups corn kernels, fresh cut from the cob

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and butter a square casserole dish.
  2. Stir 1/2 cup of cold water into the cornmeal to prevent lumping.
  3. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil, add salt and then slowly pour in cornmeal. Cook for 1 minute stirring constantly. Beat in the butter, eggs, milk and corn until smooth.
  4. Pour in casserole and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a straw inserted in the center comes out clean.

Spoon bread is especially good with roast chicken and sliced ripe tomatoes. To drink, Cafe Drake suggests a Loire white, such as a Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume.