Saturday, March 11, 2006

(More) Cocktails and A Salute to the Roaring 20s

"Have a cigarette, Ethel. You're attracting an awful lot of attention by not smoking."



Oh dear, I don't know what to do! Here I have the minister coming to dinner and I simply can't find out if I should serve cocktails before or after grace.



There must be legions of thirsty web surfers out there, as once again we've received requests for more cocktail recipes and inspirations. Luckily Cafe Drake has a virtual arsenal of ideas for cocktail parties, and not a little experience either. The Roaring Twenties are still not stale in our minds (if alas not in our actual memories) and we continue to plumb that glorious decade of naughty nightime fun for concoctions nearly forgotten. While it's not neccesary to throw a theme party, always incorporate a bit of Between-the-Wars joie de vivre in your planning, whether it be a Deco color combination of plum and acid green, or a commitment to watching the sun rise with your favorite guests and a bottle of Krug.

BAMBOO COCKTAIL

Though low wattage in terms of alcohol content, this amusing drink is not for everyone. Slightly tart and a little sour, the Bamboo is most refreshing in the warm months, sipped before dinner, by those who prefer a very dry apertif. We like to nibble on the little wasabi-coated dried peas while imbibing, but a nice contrast would be a sweet finger food, such as dates wrapped in bacon, brushed with terayaki sauce and cooked under the broiler.

1 1/2 jiggers dry sherry / 1 1/2 jiggers dry (Italian) vermouth

Mix above in a pitcher with ice. Stir until well chilled, then strain into a cocktail glass. A sort of masterpiece of minimalist chic, the Bamboo requires no garnish.

BUSTER BROWN

For all you bourbon lovers, here's a variant on the Old Fashioned, and easier and quicker to assemble when you need a drink fast.

1 t. simple syrup / 2 dashes fresh lemon juice / 2 dashes fresh orange juice / 2 jiggers bourbon

Stir all together and strain into chilled cocktail glass. Repeat until dinner is served.


Queens Restaurant Round-Up (Part I)



Himalayan Tearoom (33-17 31st Avenue, Astoria, New York; 718-777-7450)
Minangasli (86-10 Whitney Avenue (Macnish Street), Elmhurst, Queens; 718-429-8207)

With only four Indonesian eateries in the greater New York area, Susan McKeever and I were more than willing to brave single-digit temperatures and the confusing street maze that is Elmhurst to sample the authentic fare at Minangasli. Still shivering inside despite space heaters and instantly delivered glasses of hot tea, we glanced around the dining room hoping to warm at least to the decor. Far from tropically decorated, Minangasli's interiors belong firmly to the Eastern Bloc Communist Era school of design, awash with flurescent lights, linoleum flooring and hospital-white walls. The tiny kitchen sits in the far corner, and luckily the food turned out there compensates for the functional but bleak ambiance.

The menu is large and varied, with many an item unfamiliar to all but devotees of Indonesian cuisine. Happily the more well-known dishes are also present - satays featuring beef, chicken or lamb and gado gado, the country's official national dish (a comosed salad of rice, vegetables and egg topped with the ubiquitous peanut sauce). We began our meal with the satay combination ($5.95) - an appetizer-sized portion of mixed kebabs, all doused with a spicy and sweet peanut sauce. Also sampled as a first course was an intriguing mixture of chewy fish balls, also covered with peanut sauce and sitting amidst pools of soy sauce and shredded hard-boiled egg ($4.95). Less enticing was a side order of house-made sambal ($2.95), a spicy condiment paste redolent of anchoives and chilis. Sambal when properly mixed is a powerful but lucious accompaniment to the generally sweet flavors of Indonesia; Minangasli's version tends to be too powerfully fermented in both aroma and taste (though it would appeal certainly to fans of natto and Chinese black bean sauce).

As the entrees arrived our table began to groan under the weight of so much grub. Minangasli's prices give no hint of the generous portions. A "platter" of fried kingfish ($7.95) was lovely in its variations and harmonious flavors - fried bone-in fish sits happily next to rice cubes (white rice that has been cooked to a paste, chilled and then crafted into tiny squares; visually, they suggest nothing less than vanilla Jello) topped with more peanut sauce and separate dousings of sweetened soy sauce. Jackfruit occupies the rest of the plate and is a brilliant discovery in itself ( we also ordered a side of the vegetable, braised with coconut milk and citrus juices). Not a fruit at all, but a tropical vegetable that breaks the rule of most - it isn't starchy or bland in the least, and could almost be mistaken for an artichoke heart. Kale stewed with coconut and chiles ($4.95), supposedly a stunner of a side dish, never made it to the table, as the kitchen had run out by 1:00pm!

Farther east in Queens, on a lonely stretch of 31st Avenue, sits a neighborhood anomaly - Himalayan Teahouse. In a misguided and unneccesary attempt to fit into the Starbucks' genre of soulless coffee shop, inside you'll find blue pleather banquettes, matching glass lamps and tiny tables arranged along one wall. While patrons obviously come here for the vast array of teas offered ( a 5-page menu with helpful, if flowery, descriptions), the atmosphere does not encourage lingering. In fact, Octavio and I beat a hasty retreat after the last swallow, opting for the multicultural splendour of Astoria a few blocks away. We're not true tea afficiandos at Cafe Drake, and enjoy a cup now and then, but lack the fetish required to have an ecstatic experience at this sort of niche venue. So speaking as amateur reviewers, we found the two types sampled to be bland; Forever Spring had hints of peach under a simple Oolong base, while Provence was technically a tisane, infused with rose and flowery herbs (all cups democratically priced at $2.25).

To the tearoom's credit each serving arrives in a mini french press, and refills of hot water are offered gratis. So bland was my blend that I noticed no difference between the first and second steepings. Food? What's food? Or so Himalayan Teahouse would seem to ask. With a total of 5 dishes up for grabs, it's no surprise we both chose dumplings (3 of the 5 options). Portions were quite large however, and could easily serve as a light dinner. Octavio's vegetable version ($7.95) was uniquely crafted like a tiny beehive, and chocked full of grated veggies. The beef dumplings ($8.95) were traditionally shaped, and filled with a mini-meatball as opposed to ground. Subtly spiked with garlic and chives, these were tasty enough, though still close cousins to the frozen supermarket variety. The only choice of preparation is steamed; presumably frying is too unhealthy for Himalayan Teahouse, which smacks of a puritanical approach to clean living throughout the establishment (annoying!) Homemade hot sauce and a small salad of sesame seeds and cabbage both excellent however, leaving one to wonder what the chef might do if given the chance to whip out more than tea leaves and hot water.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Bollywood Glamour


Indian food is definately the favorite cuisine of Cafe Drake, and sharing with the subcontinent a certain flair for over-the-top ornamentation and elaborate meals, it's quite often we host a dinner with more than a touch of the Raj. Conjuring up a true Indian meal is an all day affair however, and it's beyond us how everyday Delhi housewives serve an average of 14 dishes per dinner! Make time soon to host an Indian-themed party, complete with sari tablecloths, exotic floral centerpieces, sitars on the stereo and a vast range of condiments. If you're pressed for time however, the recipes below will help you conjure Taj Mahal grandeur in a couple of hours flat, and leave guests gasping at the spread. Shanti shanti shanti.

LAMB CURRY

Not terribly authentic, but terrifically tasty and good for less adventurous palattes. You can always substitute beef for the lamb, but the results will be less savory.


2 ½ lbs. Boneless lamb stewing meat / 1 t. salt / Black and cayenne pepper /2 T. curry powder /3 garlic cloves, crushed / 4 scallions, trimmed and chopped / 2 onions, chopped / 2 t. butter / 1 red and 1 green bell pepper, minced / ½ cup unsweetened coconut / ½ cup chopped peanuts

  1. Toss meat with spices and garlic, scallions and onions and marinate at room temperature for 1-2 hours.
  2. Melt butter in large skillet and brown the lamb for 5 minutes. Add the peppers and sauté for 3 more minutes.
  3. Add 2 cups water and the reserved marinade ingredients.
  4. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for at least 40 minutes or so. Stir in a little more curry powder; remove from heat and set aside, covered. Serve warm, topped with coconut and peanuts.

DHAL

Dhal, or cooked lentils or split peas, is an indispensible part of any Indian meal, including the simplest of lunches. Best served over rice, if a thicker mixture is desired simply use less water. Yellow split peas can easily be substituted for the lentils, and ground cumin will do ina pinch if the whole seeds are not available. Garam masala may be ordered inexpensively from many internet sites if you do not have easy access to it (though it often appears in the spice section of large supermarkets).

2-4 serrano (or thai chiles) / 1 t. garam masala / 1/2 cup red lentils & 1/2 cup yellow lentils / 1 med onion, chopped / 3/4 t. turmeric / 3/4 t. cayenne / 1 T. whole cumin / 1/4 bunch of cilantro / 1 tomato / 2 cloves garlic / 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger / 1/2 tsp salt /1/2 tsp pepper

  1. Boil lentils with cayenne, turmeric and salt in about 3 cups of water (you can add more, depending on how liquidy you want it). Turn the heat down once it stops boiling. It will need to boil for about 30 mins.
  2. Coarsely chop onions and finely chop ginger and serranos. Fry cumin, onions, ginger and serrano in oil for about 2 mins.
  3. Chop finely and add garlic, remaining cayenne and turmeric. Fry away until onions start to brown (you want to make sure that the ginger is cooked otherwise there will be a strong ginger taste).
  4. Chop finely and add half of the cilantro and fry for about a min. Add the tomato. Fry for about 2 mins.
  5. Add fried onion mixture to boiled dhal. Add the remaining cilantro (chop it first) and garam masala. Let simmer for about 5-10 mins.

ROASTED OKRA

1 lb. or so washed okra, untrimmed / Vegetable oil / 1-2 T. ground cumin / Salt, cayenne pepper and black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Place okra on 1 -2 cookie sheets. Do not overcrowd. Coat with oil and spices.
  3. Roast for 12-15 minutes, stirring at least once to prevent overbrowning.

Serve the dishes above with saucers of mango chutney (store bought), plain yogurt mixed with a little salt and chopped cucumbers, a "relish" of diced onion, shredded cilantro and a squeeze of lemon juice, and hot buttered basmati rice.

Mussels for Mummy's Birthday

Even Cafe Drake has a Mother, and one who celebrates her birthday tomorrow, March 11. We like to say that cooks aren't made, they're also born, and credit for both achievements must go to Ms. Page. Growing up with such a splendid chef and extraordinary hostess taught us most of what we know; the rest is a direct result of our early inspiration. Below you'll find a recipe for one of Mother's favorite Cafe Drake dishes, so simple you need not wait for a special ocassion to prepare. In fact, a nice green salad and bread for soaking up the cooking juices will round out the meal. Now if only we got the chance to prepare these more often for Mother!

STEAMED MUSSELS

2-3 lbs scrubbed and de-bearded mussels (just pull the "beard" off with a firm tug) / 1 can stewed tomatoes / 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped / 1/2 cup dry white wine (or vermouth) / 1 onion, diced / handful of chopped parsley / salt, pepper to taste

  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot and cover.
  2. Bring to a boil and cook on medium-high heat until shells open (about 3-5 minutes).
  3. Serve in wide bowls with cooking juices poured over each serving.

Another great preparation is to steam the mussels in only wine, onion and garlic. Once cooked and slightly cooled, pry off top shell and place mussels in bottom shell on a cookie sheet. Top with finely diced bacon and place under broiler for 2-3 minutes or until bacon is crisped.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Send Us Laduree!!




Tell us it's okay to be obsessed with a bakery.
In Paris.

Cafe Drake has gone mad over all things Laduree, a century and a half year-old French confectionary institution. Purveyors of insanely good macaroons, the Laduree version bears little resemblance to what you're thinking of, and is instead, composed of two discs of merengue sandwiching rich ganache filling. Flavors range from candied violet to hazelnut praline to tangerine ginger, in shades to match. Everything comes packaged in chic gift boxes in quite simply the most beautiful color palette imaginable. We even know a Laduree devotee who painted his entire apartment in custom colors mixed from the bakery's line of tea tins!

Needless to say, whenever a Paris-bound patron of Cafe Drake is kind enough to ask what we'd like brought back, we simply say anything from Laduree. (For those fans of the site both wishing to show their appreciation and soon embarking on a European tour, email us for our shipping address. And while you're at it, we'd also love a gunmetal gray cashmere Hermes throw).