Saturday, February 25, 2006

Tomatinis (aka Tomato Martinis)



OK, Tomatini is a way corny moniker we know, so when your guests squeal with enthusiasm over their drinks, and ask what would be the name of this most delightful libation, say "Tomato Martini". A perfect choice for those who like their Martinis dirty and find Bloody Marys too tame, the Tomatini (someone stop us with the cutsiness please) is a savoury cocktail best served with a hearty small bite before dinner. We've included our two favorite sidekicks to round out the menu for your next drinks gathering.
[Note: Before you Martini purists begin composing your indignant emails to Cafe Drake, for the record, we too believe the Martinis should only contain gin, and a martini by any other liquor is, well, not a martini. Such a novelty is this concoction however that normal rules have been set aside. If you won't betray gin and its noble legacy, you could always go back to calling them Tomatinis.]

TOMATO MARTINI

The tomato water created for the drink has several other use we've discovered; notably, as a base for gazpacho or as a poaching liquid for fish.

1 1/2 oz. vodka (should be high quality for this one) / 3 oz. tomato water / 1 oz. pepperoncini juice (or substitute the juice from a jar of gherkins if you must)

To prepare tomato water: Place pureed tomatoes (fresh or canned) in a coffee filter over a small bowl. Let the juices seep through (and push along with the back of a spoon if needed) to extract liquid.

Mix together all three ingredients in a pitcher and chill for a few minutes. Strain into cocktail glasses and garnish with a grape tomato or pickled hot pepper.



EDAMAME SPREAD

Hummos with a few twists, this is the (adapted) recipe created by City Bakery in New York. We've been known to buy a pint when lazy, but it takes less than 10 minutes to create at home. Scoop up with rice crackers or spread thickly on mini-ricecakes.

1 lb. shelled edamame (soybeans) / 1/4 cup white wine vinegar / 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar (found in the Asian food section of your supermarket) / 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil

  1. Boil soybeans for 5 minutes and then drain.
  2. Add beans and vinegars to blender and process until fairly smooth.
  3. With machine running, SLOWLY add oil in a drizzle to mixture.


LANCASHIRE CHEESE SPREAD

Very rich and comforting. As a little goes a long way, pack into a crock and surround with plenty of toast points. This spread is delicious on its own as a snack, but becomes sublime when washed down with an icy Tomato Martini.

1/2 lb. finely grated cheddar (as sharp as you can find, as good as you can afford) / 1 small onion, diced and then fried till brown / 6 slices bacon, fried till crisp and then diced / 4 T. softened butter / Cayenne pepper

  1. Mix cheese, onion and bacon together until a soft paste is formed. One tablespoon at a time, work butter into mixture.
  2. Season to taste with cayenne.
  3. Always serve near room temperature.


Friday, February 24, 2006

Jen's Spicy Rub-Down

Cafe Drake's treasured friend Jen Ruske is always an honored guest here, and a culinary inspiration to boot. Never one to shy away from challenging ingredients (quail, rabbit), Ms. Ruske has shared a secret or two from her brave cooking with us, and the spice rub below is a particularly toothsome example. Jen slathered it over prime cuts of beef once and we've been lifelong fans since, and also find it partners well with duck. Try it on your meat, game or poultry of choice and serve alongside a complimentary vegetable like sweet potatoes or butternut squash. If using chicken or turkey, be sure to rub underneath the skin as well. Extra flavor may be created by rubbing the meat with the spice mixture, then wrapping tightly in plastic. Luckily the recipe below has plenty of strong flavors that will stand up even under a short marinating time.

JEN'S SPICE RUB


4 t. paprika / 2 t. coarse salt / 1 t. ground ginger / 1 t. ground cinnamon / 1 t. cayenne pepper / 1/2 t. ground allspice

Mix all together and store in airtight container for up to 6 months.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Cats Rule!!!!


Proving he's never one to pass on leftovers, Sailor Page once again ascends to the dinner table to claim his rightful seat. Cafe Drake's mascot has requested that you all take a minute to view his own home page here. And while visiting the site, say Hi to Sailor's many friends - sweet Daphne here in Brooklyn, Api Jonnson in Berlin and kitty pals from South America to Iceland (confession: all their parents have been guests at Cafe Drake at some point or other).

Lillies in the Snow




Only recently Susan and I on a brutally cold day ventured to Woodside, Queens for an Indonesian brunch (more on that in a few days) and ended up spending an hour warming up inside a nearby Chinese supermarket, captivated by the exotic and enormous selection of meats, seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables. Far more varied than anything experienced in Chinatown, New York Supermarket (82-66 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY, 718-803-1233) offers such delectables as duck tongues, giant clam foot and even a tank of live frogs and massive water snakes! Adventerous as we are, Susan and I steered clear of amphibious food sources and loaded the cart with yam shoots, sweet pea leaves, condiments galore and impeccably fresh fish.

A complete newbie to fresh lotus root (technically the root portion of the lily flower), Cafe Drake whipped up the salad below and served it, along with rice and braised tofu and bok choy, to guest Octavio Fenech, as a light Asian dinner before heading to the local watering hole. from the pictures above, Mr. Fenech seems to approve of Cafe Drake's latest foray into Chinese cookery.


[Note: If you have difficulty finding fresh lotus root, substitute daikon or red radishes and follow the recipe exactly as below. Of course the red radishes would not need to be peeled.]

FRESH LOTUS ROOT SALAD


1 lbs. lotus root (also called lily root in Chinese markets) / 1/2 teaspoon Ginger / 4 T. sugar / 11/2 tablespoon soy sauce / 2 T. white vinegar / 1/2 T. sesame oil / 1 T. cilantro, chopped
Sesame Seeds (toasted) till desired


  1. Rinse lotus roots with cold water. Trim and discard both ends of the bulb. With a vegetable peeler, pool the skin. Diagonally cut the root into 1/8 inch thick slices; immediately plunge slices into acidulated water. Drain.
  2. Put lotus roots into a heat-proof bowl. Pour enough boiling water to cover; let sit for 5 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water. Pat dry. Refrigerate until chilled.
  3. For the dressing; in bowl, combine thoroughly the ginger, sugar soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and coriander.
  4. Put lotus root slices into a shallow bowl; pour dressing over lotus roots. Arrange on individual salad plates, garnish with sesame seeds. Serve chilled.

Winter Gatherings (and Warming Soups)






Cold weather seems to really heat things up here at Cafe Drake. When the temperature plunges, the streets are blanketed in snow and the windows fog up from the inside, we're prone to pull the drapes closed and snuggle into long leisurely meals with close friends.

Photos (from top):

"Winter White" table setting

Jen Ruske with cheese plate and wine

Your host uncorking a sparkling Pinot Noir

Thordis Adalsteinsdottir enjoying bubbly and Israeli fondue with the trimmings

We've included below two soup recipes (sort of rare on Cafe Drake, but we promise more as visitors have requested such). Perfect for chilly nights, leftovers may be reheated with marvelous results, often tasting better than the first serving, given time to gather and meld their flavors overnight.

BULA SOUP

This really is almost too simple to be believed, and yet it makes a deeply satisfying first course, or partnered with a sandwich for a hearty lunch. Bula soup's origins are unclear: its popularity throughout Rhode Island suggests a Portuguese influence, while South Carolinians claim it as a little-known regional treasure. At Cafe Drake we generally enjoy Bula soup before a main-course salad, such as a Salade Nicoise or a Ceasar topped with Broiled Salomon.


1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, cooked and well drained / 8 ounces clam juice / 8 ounces minced clams with juice / 8 ounces chicken stock / 1 1/2 cups half-and-half / 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice / 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce/ Pepper, to taste / Chilled sour cream

  1. In a blender or food processor purée spinach, clam juice, clams and juice and chicken stock.
  2. Transfer to saucepan and add half and half, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and pepper. Heat, but do not boil.
  3. Adjust seasonings and ladle into individual heatproof bowls. Top each bowl with 2 teaspoons sour cream and broil for 2 minutes.

PACIFIC CLAM CHOWDER WITH RICE

While cooks on the East Coast argue over the merits of tomato vs. cream-based clam chowder, Westerners happily use both. The following recipe leans more towards the Manhattan variety, but with a few Northern California twists that add depth and freshness to a too-often bland standby.

1/2 lb. bacon / 1 large onion, diced / 1 green bell pepper, diced / 1 cup cooked rice (we prefer brown) / 2 cups chopped clams (canned) / 2 cups canned tomatoes / 1 t. thyme / Salt & Pepper / Parsley

  1. In a large saucepan, dice the bacon and fry till crisp. Remove bacon from pan.
  2. Add onion and green pepper and fry in bacon fat for 2 minutes. Add rice and clams to pot, along with all of the juice from the clams. You may want to additionally add a bottle of clam juice if a thin soup is desired.
  3. Heat all together then add tomatoes (and juices). Salt and pepper libearlly and season with thyme. Heat for only a few minutes till very hot and flavors have mixed. Add chopped parsley, stir and serve.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Brooklyn Restaurant Round-Up Part 2

Dokebi Bar & Grill (199 Grand St., 718-782-1424)
iCi Restaurant (246 DeKalb Ave., 718-789-2778)

It isn't as though Williamsburg couldn't use a Korean bbq restaurant to round out the growing ethnic diversity of the local scene. And thankfully the residents of Northern Brooklyn have not been subjected to yet another Siamese eatery (Note to Developers: people don't really like Thai food that much). And one does from time to time get cravings for late-night kimchee and cellophane noodles. And sadly, Dokebi must be relegated to the status of non-destination. Forever. Two very recent meals - lunch and dinner - have disappointed so severely we're writing this place off for good (after this scathing review, naturally. Please let Cafe Drake vent here - it's healing for us and useful consumer information for you).

While the menu is straight forward, bare bones Korean standards, the decor is less easy to identify. A victim of multiple personality disorder, the interior shifts its influences square foot by square foot. Exposed brick walls and houseplants suggest a 70s fern bar, while red dinette set chairs, and blue tiled floors echo a 50s diner sensibility. Add fairly high-tech grilling equipment atop bleached wood banquettes and you've got the industrial 80s vibe. A fine combination for a frat house mix CD, not so good for a venture advertising home-cooking at steep prices.

And now we hit the REM stage of this particular nightmare - the food. Dokebi can claim its place in the record books as offering the stingiest selection of complimentary appetizers in Korean restaurant history. Three - count 'em THREE - microscopic saucers arrived at our table, bearing bonsai versions of kimchee, pickled daikon and fried wakame. The latter was of superlative quality: warm from the oil, sweetened with a syrupy soy sauce and dusted with spices and salt. Portions being what they are at Dokebi, a mere sneeze would erase all evidence the dish had ever appeared. Salad and miso soup to follow (choose one or the other - or neither) were non-entities; the former was a mess of watercress stems with little dressing and the latter a boiling bowl of dishwater. Entrees fared much worse. The spicy beef stew ($9) is a miserable puddle of chalky brick-colored broth, enlivened only by a few shredded strings of leathery beef and annoying strips of scallion, ruler-sized in length. It's almost too painful to go into detail about the grilling debacle at our table.

Service is basic but acceptable at Dokebi, although the staff is clueless as to the menu and no help with recommendations. Or perhaps they do know the menu. All too well. And honestly can't in good conciensce recommend ANYthing. If so, hats off for their honesty. If you really want Korean food that sticks to your ribs and excites the palate in need of spice and complex saesonings, stick with Korea town on the west side of Manhattan. Or even better, venture to Elmhurst or Sunnyside in Queens for a truly memorable meal. Everything Dokebi did wrong, we can assure you Taeneung ( located at 43-01 Queens Blvd. on a lively block in Elmhurst) does right.

Ft. Greene is till taking baby steps in its culinary growth, but DeKalb Ave. offers not only the remarkable LouLou (see our Brooklyn Restaurant Round-Up Part 1) but also the extraordinary iCi Restaurant. We've only had one dinner here so far, but once our wallets recover we'll be returning frequently to try everything else on this exciting menu. Go ahead and commit to a minor splurge and sample an offering from each course. (Hint: if you don't drink as heavily as we do, you're apt to experience only minor sticker shock upon presentation of the bill)

Worth every penny, and under-priced at that, was a starter of Chicken Liver Schnitzel with a Shallot Compote ($9). Indescribably rich, with a powerful tongue-coating burst of allium and organ meat, the liver competed equally with my pesco-vegetarian companion's choice of Grilled Squid with Smoked Paprika ($10). After the first course we began to wonder if the chef could do any wrong, a perverse and self-lacerating question, and one mercifully answered with a kind and gentle No. In fact, we wondered here at Cafe Drake why the whole world couldn't be more like the Walleye Pike with Carrots & Cabbage ($21), sucullent and flavorful in a mustard and horseradish broth while maintaining the delicacy of the fish. Also on par was Braised Pork Shoulder ($20), displaying the benefits of slow, careful cooking. A side of mustard greens was pungent and tender. It's reasonable to assume all desserts at iCi have a wow factor, but none could shine brighter than the extra-sharp cheddar served with pickled watermelon rinds ($6), a true revelation in the sometimes staid world of cheese plates.

On a quick final sidenote, last month we remarked that Greenpoint's jewel, Paloma, had deteriorated in terms of staff. A recent dinner finds us proclaiming that service has improved (if not soared). Menu changes now reflect the restaurant's growing and sophisticated clientele and two more final words: Mint Sidecar. (More reviews next week)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Literary Lunch


At Cafe Drake we're passionate about more than just food and entertaining. Luckily these paramount interests are incorporated once a month within another favorite pastime in these parts - reading. The Fierce Bookworms, founded in September 2005, meet every fourth Sunday at a member's house to discuss a chosen book (host's choice, natch). Above are photos from a few of these gatherings, and in the spirit of things literary, below you will find a recipe for Proust's beloved popovers (madeleines would have been too obvious, oui?). For authenticity they should be served with vervain tea, although we prefer them with a full-bodied grenache or as hot passed appetizers. So rich and satisfying however, they could be paired with soup or salad for a light luncheon. Pass the fruit and nut bowls after at the table for a no-effort meal.

POPOVERS A LA PROUST

2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour / ½ teaspoon fleur de sel / ½ teaspoon baking powder / ¼ teaspoon freshly ground red peppercorns / Generous pinch finely chopped fresh herbs / 2 cups milk, at room temperature / 3 eggs, at room temperature / 1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus additional for greasing popover pan (or use vegetable oil) / 1 heaping tablespoon cheese chunks, cut into 1/8” dice (Gruyere or Manchego strongly recommended)

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F. Brush a nonstick popover or large muffin pan with melted butter. Place the pan in the oven while preheating.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pepper, baking powder, and herbs. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. In a larger bowl, whisk together the milk and melted butter to combine. Combine the eggs with the milk and butter.
  3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and gently whisk until combined. Your batter should be the consistency of heavy cream. Take care not to over-whisk when combining ingredients. Allow to rest at room temperature for 20 minutes, or up to 1 hour. Can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight. Allow to come to room temperature before proceeding.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared and heated pan to within about 1/4 inch of the rim. Drop the chopped cheese in the center of each filled cup.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes at 425° F. Make sure you do not open the oven door during this time or the steam will escape and you will lose the “pop” effect. Reduce the temperature to 350° F and continue to bake until the popovers are brown, crusty and puffed, about 20 minutes more.
  6. Remove from the oven and serve immediately, or let cool on wire racks and hold at room temperature for up to 4 hours. When ready to serve, reheat in a 350° F oven for about 10 minutes.