Saturday, September 29, 2007

Cafe Drake goes all Brit on Jen Lazzaro


Sloe Gin Fizzes
Arugula and Red Oak Leaf Lettuce with Roasted Fennel, Onions, Poblano and Yellow Peppers and Feta

Pork Stew with Mixed Pears
Yorkshire Pudding
Heirloom Tomato Salad with Cilantro Dressing



The traditional accompaniment to Roast Beef, Yorkshire Pudding is equally scrumptious with any heavy sauced meat entree or stew of all sorts.

2 T. meat drippings or vegetable oil (resist the urge to use olive oil) / 2 eggs / 1 cup WHOLE milk / 1 cup all-purpose flour (sorry, no whole wheat here under any circumstances) / about 1/2 t. kosher salt

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees; make certain oven is fully heated before placing pudding inside.
  2. Beat into a very smooth batter all ingredients except oil or fat.
  3. Place oil or drippings in round cake pan and turn to coat evenly.
  4. Pour batter into pan and cook in oven for roughly 25 minutes until wildly puffed up and golden.
  5. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

VIVA PUERTO RICO & Cross Postings

[The island reference in the title is purely arbitrary and only a nod to our (nearly) 20 years in NYC rendering us helpless to saying the word "viva" without completing the exclamation sin a nod to our town's dominant culture. We're fookin' crazy, we know.]

Immediately hurry over to our buddy's site 312 Sq. Feet to sample more pics from the dinner mentioned in a post below and RECIPES from the succulent kitchen of Christine Hart. A good - nay GREAT - cause awaits your consideration as well: links to a website and organization helping animals who have lost limbs and their loving owners struggling with vet bills.

Indian Summer Indian Supper with Jorge & Dorothy

A freakishly muggy and steamy Wednesday in (very) late September provided the backdrop for a Cafe Drake school night meal with long, long time pal Jorge Manahan and his girlfriend (fellow Southerner, high school alma mater kin) Dorothy of the ATL. Rob Roys in chilled cocktail glasses kicked the evening off, contrasted with goti, sweet and deep-fried chickpea fritters so beloved of India's chatwallas, sided with a dipping sauce of cilantro and yogurt chutney (general recipe to follow below). Starters at the table consisted of a lovely red wine and sambar (the southern Indian equivalent of lentil soup, pureed and spiked with lemon zest and tomatoes). Our main was a fillet of rainbow trout poached in a korma sauce (yogurt, butter, heavy cream and sweet spices), replete with dried fruit, hot chiles and mixed peppers, all nesting on a ring of mashed parsley and celery root. Simple sweets to end included chocolates, peppermint tea and espresso and generous pours of silky grappa.
Take one full bunch of well-rinsed and roughly chopped cilantro and place in blender with 1 cup or slightly less of WHOLE MILK yogurt (low fat will not work, trust Cafe Drake here), a generous sprinkling of cumin and cayenne and ground coriander. Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and a splash of white wine vinegar (again, important note here: do NOT use red wine vinegar or apple cider; if you must substitute and we really see no reason why one would, use plain white vinegar), a big pinch of kosher salt and 1 T. sugar. Blend until smooth and adjust seasoning as needed. Often, unbelievably, more sugar will be necessary. Serve with anything: roast meats, fish, steamed veggies, rice and beans, cheese toast, you name it.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Easy Sunday Night Supper with Thordis and Movie

Although we wrapped the night up with a viewing of 2004's deeply sad and disturbing (yet beautiful) tale of a doomed Toronto street hustler, Sugar, our emotional state was well-protected and overfed prior to the tragic tale. Drinks from Ginger and Blackberry Tea to potent Rob Roys were in effect as Thordis and Cafe Drake snacked on chips and salsa and chatted during the obligatory cocktail/smoking hour. Dinner was simple but hearty: vegetarian soft tacos dressed with jalapeno-spiked vinegar and cabbage slaw, brown rice and chile pilaf and smoky pinto beans slow-cooked with poblano and yellow peppers. Dessert - courtesy of Thordis - was a spectacularly piquant local artisinal cheese (a veiny stout bleu), toast points and sweet/tart fresh Italian plums.

Dinner at 312 Square Feet

The humidity was criminally high as we made our way down Canal Street on a Saturday night, dodging drunken tourists and scary visitors to the final evening of the San Genaro festival a block away, but we persisted. The Light at the End of the Sticky Tunnel? 312 Sq Feet! A place most of you should have visited (virtually at least via link on the right of this page) and salve for our quickly fraying nerves. Sure enough we barely stepped inside before relaxing with a minty cocktail and soothing ciggie and love from house mascot Ronnie, the Three-Legged Kitty. Once the furball settled into Cafe Drake's lap, and the liquor hit the synapses, we knew all was well. Icing on the cake was a spread of good brown bread, St. Andre triple creme and herbed boursin cheeses, as well as an assortment of olives of every stripe, color and marinade process. Good company including Cafe Drake pal and illustrator extraordinaire Lisa Weber and longtime compadre Octavio Fenech added to hostess Christine Hart's (the brains behind 312 Sq Ft, of course) welcoming atmosphere of casually elegant comfort.

A starter of patatas bravas was genius and eye opening: delicately roasted potatoes (golden without an overwhelming brownness that results from longer times in a hotter oven) tossed with a spicy tomato sauce and chopped parsley. As if you needed another reason to visit Christine's blog, the recipe can be found under "Older Posts" at the bottom of 312 Sq Feet's home page. Tomatoes gracefully made the transition to a main course sauce as well, this time coating a huge tuna loin seasoned with lemon peel and fresh mint, sided with simple fresh Swiss chard, a silky co-star absorbing perfectly the tuna sauce's pleasant acidity. More red, white and sparkling wine, coffee and good dark chocolate brought this delightful evening to a close . . . but not before Cafe Drake snapped a few more pics and swallowed a couple of shots of port.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Cookbook Reviews September 2007

How to Eat; Nigella Lawson; 2004
Note the title of the book, and while instructional and staffed with many varied recipes, the bold wording gives a hint at Lawson's real purpose here: to (quite chattily) impart her personal philosophy on the serving and consumption of food. Basically the rules are simple and relaxed and all revolve around reclaiming a peaceful, stress-less relationship to food, whether that be lapses of dietary restrictions (go ahead and add an extra cup of cheese to that baked ziti) or the notion that home cooking should be quite separate from the refinements of restaurant dining. The concentration here is on Food as Autobiography, with many heartfelt memories of family meals for Lawson (her mother and sister - both deceased - figure prominently as characters throughout the book) and suggestions for creating the same in your own life. Above all, fussiness is eschewed in favor of good company and fellowship, in making all guests welcome and comfortable, in pleasant meals consumed by one's self with a book or DVD. Nigella imparts casualness to all meals as she serves every single one in her kitchen, granted on a gorgeous Irish farmhouse table and surrounded with Elizabethan wood paneling and fireplace. Still, Lawson never worries over a split glass of claret or a gravy stain on the tablecloth, and this infectious approach to elegant food served with a carefree attitude is admirable en extremis.

As expected and appropriate most recipes hail from the culinary traditions of her native British Isles, and while Steak and Kidney Pie is not everyone's idea of a cozy Sunday dinner, her roast chicken certainly will be; other favorites which we've sampled or earmarked for the future include Beef Fillet with Red Wine, Anchovies and Thyme; Pea, Mint and Avocado Soup; Cod Wrapped in Ham; Sage and Onion Lentils and Hazelnut Cake. The sample recipe below evokes the old English tradition of mixing port with Stilton but updates it for the truly international kitchen. We made it once and proceeded to make again two days later!

Gorgonzola with Mascarpone and Marsala Crostini

4 oz. crumbled gorgonzola / 1/2 cup mascarpone / 2 T. Marsala wine / nutmeg / chopped parsley / toasted thin slices of a baguette, drizzled with olive oil

  1. Mash the first three ingredients in a bowl.

  2. Add a sprinkle of nutmeg, stir again and keep covered in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

  3. Bring to room temperature and spread on crostini, sprinkled lightly with parsley.

World Cuisine: Morocco; Mohamed Fedal, Frederic Fetiveau, Fatema Hall; 2004

Three top chefs from one of the world's most exciting and extensive cuisines have come together to craft this tiny jewel of a cookbook. At only 120 pages there is no wasted space and rarity of rarities, almost every recipe is one you will want to recreate in your own kitchen. Thankfully overly exotic ingredients are kept to a minimum and traditional long-cooking methods requiring speciality pans and unorthodox heating sources have been rethought for the modern cook. The recipe below is a breeze to assemble and like most soups improves in flavor overnight; only add the nuts however previous to serving.

SHORBA AL-DAYAY BI-L-YAUS (Chicken and Walnut Soup)

2 lbs assorted chicken pieces / 3/4 cup walnuts / 1 large onion, sliced / 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped / 2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely / chicken stock (you will need at least 1 quart) / salt & pepper / olive oil / coriander seeds / chopped parsley

  1. Heat some olive oil in a large soup-pot and fry the onion and garlic till golden but not brown.

  2. Add the chicken, ginger, coriander seeds, salt, pepper and stir well for 5 minutes. (We added a bit of cumin powder here and thought it a success)

  3. Add chicken stock to cover all ingredients, lower heat to a simmer and leave for 20-30 minutes.

  4. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, adding more stock if required.

  5. Toast walnuts in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes or so, taking great care to not burn.

  6. Garnish soup with generous sprinkle of nuts and parsley.

Restaurant Review: Ayurveda Cafe

Ayurveda Cafe (706 Amsterdam Avenue at 94th Street, New York, NY 10025)

What is it about health food restaurants that always seems to draw angry, unhappy people, generally with a misanthropic scowl and perturbed aura (to use - sarcastically - the parlance of the New Agers)? Not a restful soul to be found recently at the Upper West Side's Indian vegetarian hyped spot of the moment, the Ayurveda Cafe, but rather a bitchy waitstaff that tallied our bill incorrectly and fellow diners squeezed around us either annoyingly loud or simply too freakish for even our ultra-tolerant natures.

It doesn't help that no liquor is served on the premises and discouraged from being brought by the dietary philosophy of the establishment, as a drink might have calmed everyone down a bit. While the anxiety of menu choice is removed, Ayurveda Cafe goes so far as to offer absolutely none: that's right, you simply get served whatever the kitchen fills like dishing out that evening ($12 for a plate of 6-7 small dishes, advertised as All-You-Can-Eat but apparently no one told the dazed and confused waitresses).

High Points included the reading by Joyce Carol Oates that Thordis and I attended before dinner (hence our trek to the culinary hinterlands; Oates read from her new collection of stories at the 82nd St Barnes & Noble) and a spicy mash of peppers and soft potatoes. Also decent was a simple raita, good naan bread and a vegetable pakora surprisingly light in texture and virtually greaseless.
P.S. The photo above was taken from the website as we had no need to capture this meal for posterity. Actual portions may be smaller than they appear above.

North Brooklyn Restaurant Updates

Cafe Drake recently checked in at a few favorite drinking and dining haunts in Williamsburg & Greenpoint, Brooklyn and has mostly sad status reports to share: maybe it's owner Camille's new found fame on reality TV as early-nixed contestant on this season's Top Chef, or perhaps the kitchen can't keep up with the demand of recent teeming crowds, but Paloma is growing weaker by the moment. The banquettes are tattered, the floors in need of a sweep and the food relatively dismal. One of the bright and early adapting stars of the Greenpoint culinary scene has fallen; let's hope they can get back on track after a dry, overcooked tuna steak and mushy green peas with feta we choked down a few weeks ago.

Parish Diner needs to rethink the dinner menu - quickly! An entree this week of beer-battered cod turned out to be soggy, overfried lumps of doughy fish, with undercooked and oversweetened baked beans (note to kitchen: who uses the pinto variety for this New England standard??) and needlessly rich creamed corn. The only satisfying note was the finale: a moist and luscious blonde brownie studded with chunks of deeply dark chocolate and candied macadamia nuts.

Franklin Avenue's Brooklyn Label still draws the brunch crowds in full force and still serves a great burger. Our only complaints on a recent brunch with Jen Ruske were: fries that were crispy and excellent in texture but way too salty and a waiter so addled by Ritalin he rushed us through the meal as though a kitchen fire was breaking out, pausing at the table long enough only to COUNT HIS TIP in front of us!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

More Birthday Photos

Courtesy of Miki Shimada - thanks, Miki-san!!

Cafe Drake's Birthday Part II

We celebrated again on Friday night, this time at Cafe Drake and joined by many wonderful friends. Guests brought a literal mountain of wine, champagne and spirits bottles, amazing gifts and birthday cake and tiramisu (both with loving messages deeply felt and appreciated by Cafe Drake). A dinner buffet was served of Codfish with Tomatoes and Hot Peppers, Homemade Jerk Chicken (our first attempt at such), Green Salad with Curry Dressing, Coconut Rice and Gingered Green Peas and Tomato Salad. The photos above attempt to capture at least in part the warm and festive atmosphere. Thanks again to ALL who attended!!