Monday, September 25, 2006

Japanese Cuisine Made Easy

A couple of candid shots above (courtesy of Miki) provide insight into the tempura process (lots and lots of oil). The recipes following will allow you to create a few authentic Japanese side dishes in a manner of minutes. Don't think of these vegetables as married to a theme or concept meal though; all would fit in nicely alongside American and other world cuisines.


Quite sweet, a small artfully arranged mound of these crispy green beans will add punch to any entree. Try placing a few on a plate alongside your favorite sandwich.

1 2/3 cups green beans, parboiled for 2 minutes and cut into 2-inch pieces / 2 cups walnuts / 1 T. sugar / 1 T. soy sauce / 1 T. sake / 2 T. water
  1. After boiling, drain beans and leave to dry well.
  2. Place all remaining ingredients in a blender and process until (relatively) smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste and combine with green beans.
  3. Serve within an hour at room temperature or slightly chilled.


The subtle tone-on-tone color scheme of this dish makes it particularly elegant when served in small portions on petite white dishes (a plain saucer works well).

1/2 half head of cauliflower, trimmed in medium size pieces and steamed until just tender (can also boil) / 4 T. white sesame seeds / 1-2 T. soy sauce / 1 T. mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine, in all large supermarkets) / 2-3 T. water

  1. Drain cauliflower and let cool completely.
  2. Combine remaining ingredients in a mortar and grind until smooth with pestle. Alternately use a blender, but the texture will not be quite as enticing.
  3. Combine with cauliflower and serve at room temperature. Especially nice alongside broiled or baked fish.

SAN BAI ZU (Carrots in Sweet Vinegar)

Traditionally served with deep-fried foods to cut the oiliness with a sharp and sweet bite. Delicious with fried chicken!

2 large carrots, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks / 1 t. kosher salt / 5 T. rice vinegar / 2 T. soy sauce / 2 T. honey / 1 T. sake / cayenne pepper to taste

  1. Toss the carrots with salt and set aside for 30 minutes. Rinse and drain well.
  2. In another bowl mix the remaining ingredients very well.
  3. Add the carrots to the marinade and leave at room temperature for at least 3 hours.
  4. May be served cold but always in small portions, as a condiment.


This is a Cafe Drake variation on a centuries-old recipe, which substitutes chicken stock for the fish stock or dashi broth not so likely to be sitting in your refrigerator.

1 T. toasted sesame oil / 1 small onion, thinly sliced / 2 lbs. baby new potatoes, unpeeled (search for the smallest you can find) / 1 cup chicken or vegetable stock / 3 T. soy sauce

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions for 1 minute. Add the potatoes and stir very gently until they are all coated lightly with oil.
  2. Pour in the stock and soy sauce, cover and reduce heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes, gently stirring every 5 minutes.
  3. Remove cover and cook 5 more minutes are until liquid is almost absorbed.
  4. Transfer potatoes and onions to serving bowl and pour remaining liquid over all.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Turning Japanese in the Kitchen


The host, or kitchen samurai, relaxes, dreaming of soaking in a hot spring at the base of Mt. Fuji.

Miki alternates after dinner between cognac and kukicha tea (made from roasted tea stems).

The rice kuri simmers on the stovetop. Kuri, i.e. fresh chestnuts, are a traditional autumnal ingredient in Japanese cuisine.

Massive stalks of wheat celios add Asian visual flair.

Pressed tofu and sake are two staples of the Japanese kitchen.

Miki is blown away by the flavors!

A restful table setting in muted tones of blue, lilac and cream.

The appetizer course is served.

Miki digs into a tempura plate of fried goodness ; tofu, parsley, yams, peppers and onions.

Putting our new Japanese cookbook (a birthday gift from good friend Miki Shimada) to almost immediate good use, Cafe Drake gave a trial run of traditional Japanese cooking recently, with Ms. Shimada serving as guest and judge. While the moon rose on a Saturday night in Brooklyn, we set to work whipping up centuries-old recipes from the Land of the Rising Sun. The menu isa below. And while we won't be receiving any requests to sous chef at Nobu anytime soon, Miki assured us the home cooks of Nippon would smile in delight at our efforts. Given the reverance for seasonal changes held across the isle of Nippon, Japanese cuisine makes an excellent theme for a Fall dinner party.

Cocktails and Edamame
Carrots in Sweet Vinegar Sauce
Tokyo Deviled Egg
Sesame Shitake Mushrooms
Green Beans in Walnut Sauce
Vegetable and Tofu Tempura
Rice Kuri
Walnut Soymilk Flan with Raspberry Coulis
Kukicha Tea

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Autumn Arrives on Cool Breezes

Fall is a big time of year at Cafe Drake, loving as we do dry brisk afternoons, sepia tones, tweed, the resurgence of the gallery scene and root vegetables. As the days shorten the curtains are drawn a bit earlier, cocooning us in the soft glow of muted lamplight, while heartier stews simmer on the stove and bottles of warming rich red wines are uncorked. Soak up some autumnal splendor yourself with a picnic backdropped by blazing red leaves, sip into something comfortable and scotch-based, start that 500-page novel with tongue-twisting Russian character names, roast a chicken with wedges of acorn squash and celebrate the pleasures of a quiet night in with friends or family.

Don't be at all deterred by the somewhat long list of ingredients; most are common herbs you will already have in the kitchen (estimated amounts for dried herbs are given below, but season to your own taste). These ribs are fast to make, require no stirring or fussing and will fill the house with homey aromas.

2 tablespoons olive oil /2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary/1-1/2 tablespoons kosher salt/1-1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds, or 1-1/2 teaspoon ground fennel/ 2 teaspoons pepper/ 2 teaspoons fresh chopped sage, or 1 teaspoon dried sage
2 teaspoons fresh chopped thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme/ 2 teaspoons paprika/ 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper/1 teaspoon ground coriander/1/2 teaspoons ground allspice/6 pounds pork ribs /3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, rosemary, salt, fennel seeds, pepper, sage, thyme, paprika, red pepper, coriander, and allspice.
2. Rub spice paste all over ribs and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours, or refrigerate overnight.
3. Preheat oven to 325 F.
4. Arrange ribs on a large, rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, meaty side up.
5. Roast ribs uncovered for 2 hours or until tender. 6. Preheat broiler. Brush meaty side of ribs with balsamic vinegar and broil 6 inches from heat until browned, about 2 minutes.
7. Let stand for 5 minutes, then cut between ribs, or serve in slabs.


6 medium sweet potatoes/3/4 cup boiling water/1 teaspoon salt/3 tablespoons butter/1/2 tablespoon grated orange zest/1 tablespoon orange juice/1/3 cup honey/1/4 cup brown sugar/4 orange slices, cut in half
  1. Peel and halve sweet potatoes, place in a covered skillet. Add boiling water and salt. Simmer until tender; about 15 minutes.
  2. Drain off liquid, leaving about 1/4 cup in skillet. Dot potatoes with butter.
  3. Combine remaining ingredients and add to skillet. Cook uncovered over low heat until glazed, about 15 minutes. Baste frequently, turning potatoes once.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Baby Shower Part 2 (and recipes)

A potluck, Moroccan-themed baby shower was recently held in honor of parents-to-be, Susan and Henry. Their front parlour in Sunset Park, Brooklyn was transformed into a desert oasis, lively with well-wishers, a bar stocked with pomegranate martinis and several festively draped tables of food. Guests knoshed on a meze platter, pomegranate chicken and apricots, a tagine of lamb, pears and almonds, cardamom rice pilaf, eggplant of all manner and varieties, pistachios, dates, homebaked bread, arugula and orange salad, an Arabic pastry platter and a date and pecan-festooned three layer cake. Oh, not to mention spicy sausages in tomato sauce, marinated shaved carrots and mini meat tarts. Presents were presented, toasts offered and good cheer abounded, all under the basking glow of 8 months preggers Susan and hubby Henry. Please join Cafe Drake in extending our very best to the McKeever-Duys family. We'll keep you posted on the upcoming arrival! In the spirit of the site, below are two of our favorite Northern African recipes.


The measurements below are open to interpretation; use more or less of the spices according to your tastes. This a wonderful and simple entree, to be served with either couscous for absorbing the delicious juices, or homemade french fries dusted with sumac or zatar. Present a salad and perhaps some cheese after and you have a quick dinner for company with exotic palattes.

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup) / 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced / 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin / 1 teaspoon paprika (preferably hot) /1 teaspoon ground ginger /3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon /1/8 teaspoon cayenne /3 tablespoons olive oil /1 tablespoon cider vinegar /1 (15- to 19-oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained /2 teaspoons sugar /1 (28-oz) can whole tomatoes in juice, juice reserved and tomatoes coarsely chopped / 3 lb cultivated mussels, scrubbed and beards removed /2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

  1. Cook onion, garlic, and spices in oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until onion is softened, about 6 minutes.
  2. Stir in vinegar and simmer 1 minute. Add chickpeas, sugar, and tomatoes with their juice, then increase heat to moderate and gently simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add mussels and return to a simmer. Cover tightly with lid and cook until mussels just open wide, 3 to 6 minutes. (Discard any mussels that remain unopened after 6 minutes.
  4. Stir in parsley and serve in shallow bowls.


This fast dish is great for weeknight dinners, as it comes together quickly and provides plenty of leftovers for lunch the following day. The preserved lemons are available in all Middle Eastern and Arabic grocery stores. They can also be ordered online from many sources. Inexpensive and deliciously pungent, a jar is great to have around to accompany and roasted meats. The lemons will keep indefinately under refrigeration.

12 chicken pieces /1 teaspoon ground cinnamon /1 teaspoon ground ginger /1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric /1 teaspoon ground sweet paprika /1/2 teaspoon ground pepper /1/4 cup olive oil /2 onions, chopped /1 red bell pepper, chopped /1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped /1 1/2 cups chicken stock /4 preserved lemons, chopped /2 tablespoons lemon juice /1 cup green olives

  1. Combine chicken with spices in large bowl. Stand covered, for 1 hour.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pan. Cook chicken until well browned, but not cooked through. Transfer to larger pan.
  3. Add remaining oil to pan. Add onion and peppers. Cook over low heat for 5 minutes, stirring. Transfer to large pan with chicken pieces.
  4. Add coriander and stock, lemon rind, juice and olives.
  5. Simmer, covered, for 40 minutes, until tender and liquid has reduced.Thicken sauce with cornflour if desired. Serve over couscous or rice pilaf.

Sunset Park Baby Shower (Photos Part 1)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Recipes from the Vaults, Part II

Nothing like a vintage recipe to spark the creative juices when hosting a dinner party. Perusing the stacks here at Cafe Drake is a hobby dear to us, invoking the leisured grace of earlier times and more formal affairs. Below are a few such recipes - popularized in yesteryear but tested and perfected in our modern kitchen. You simply can't go wrong with these golden age jewels, but polish with your own unique spin for a cunning combination of classic and contemporary. As for those viewers who have suggested we spend a wee bit too much time glorifying the past, to quote Simone Signoret from the title of her autobiography, "Nostalgia Ain't What it Used to Be".


Quick enough to prepare after an evening at the theater (see another version in the April/May archives of this site), an opening, cocktail party We have made this dozens of times over the years, and never fail to be impressed by the sheer delight of quality ingredients prepared without fuss.
  1. Let 2 filets of beef (splurge on the finest quality you can afford) sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. With your hand rub 1 T. of freshly ground black pepper into each.
  2. Cook in very hot skillet with 2 T. butter 3-4 minutes each side.
  3. Pour 1/4 cup cognac over steaks, ignite with match and wait for flame to subside. Serve immediately with salt on the table.


Always sounds better in French, oui?

2 packages frozen petite peas / 3 small onions, sliced / 3 T. butter / 1/2 cup diced ham / chopped parsley

  1. Cook peas according to directions on package, taking care to not overcook.
  2. Steam onions in butter until just limp.
  3. Add ham and heat through for about 3 minutes.
  4. Combine with peas and a small handful of parsley.

Serve the steak and peas with either old-fashioned whipped potatoes, enriched with cream cheese, or potatoes baked whole in their jackets. Top with sour cream and fresh-snipped chives for a heightened retro effect.

September 13, 2006

On September 13 (mark your calendars now for next year) we had the pleasure of celebrating the birthday of Cafe Drake's proprietor and the 13th month anniversary of the opening of the Cafe D. website. Joined by close and dear friends, the evening was a blast, beginning with Kir Royales and present-opening at Cafe Drake, followed by dinner at the ultra-cozy d.o.c. wine bar and trattoria, and capped with drinks surrounded by giant movie screens at MonkeyTown (showing, appropriate to the style and elegance of the occasion, La Dolce Vita). Above are a few photos documenting this special night's splendor. Heartfelt thanks to all in attendance, and thanks to all who couldn't make it but sent kind wishes. Finally, gratitude is due to the visitors to this website, so many we've yet to meet, but whose comments and suggestions bolster us every day.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Labor Day 2006

PHOTOS (from top)

[Jorge gets punked. David smiles.]

[Miki moves too fast for the camera!]

[A table replete with seasonal offerings]

[The hostess relaxes]

[Salt cod simmers in broth in second step of brandade preparation]

[Susan and Henry and Jen L. share a laugh]

In a move born of true genius, Jenifer Ruske wisely held the holiday celebration on Sunday evening, a cool breezy night without the lurking spectre of work the following morning. In true Clinton Hill backyard fashion, the spread was abundant, the cocktails lethal and the hostess convivial as always (is there any personality that cannot be warmed by overproof rum punch?). The photos above will give viewers an idea of the pleasantly nostalgic mood - a fond farewell to the salad days of Summer 2006 and an eager nod to dusting off the cashmere. According to those in the know, jeans will be even skinnier, sweaters more fitted and pinstripes gracing the best-dressed legs, but generously hosting friends will be in style for seasons long past our existence. Cafe Drake contributed a casserole of brandade to the party, and the recipe follows below.


The salted, dried cod used as the base of this French classic has a disarmingly strong odor. Not to worry, as the 24 hours of soaking, in combination with fluffy potatoes, mellows the fish considerably. Years before bistro mania swept New York’s East Village, I had the perfect brandade on a snowy night in Montreal’s “area plateau”. It still remains to me the ultimate in sophisticated comfort food.

1 pound salt cod / 3 cups mashed potatoes, prepared as you like them / 1 clove garlic, chopped / Pepper to taste / 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese

  1. Soak the fish for 24 hours in fresh water under refrigeration. Change the water at least twice during this period. Rinse thoroughly.
  2. Simmer the cod in a pan with water to cover for 10-15 minutes. Remove and chop finely.
  3. Combine the chopped cod with mashed potatoes, garlic and fresh ground black pepper. You will not need any salt. Place this mixture in individual gratin dishes, or press all into a slightly buttered casserole dish.
  4. Top with the grated cheese and heat until warmed through in a 350 degree oven (20-30 minutes).

For extra flavor, I often simmer the cod in a low-sodium vegetable broth, with a few springs of thyme or sage and a sliced onion. A bay leaf and handful of peppercorns also makes a subtle variation.