Monday, January 29, 2007

Sides That Take Center Stage




A perfect meal, like a masterpiece of film or prose, must contain all stellar elements, with the co-stars every bit as good as the leading players. Below are two side dish recipes that can hold their own alongside that perfect roast chicken or flawless rack of lamb.

SQUASH BAKED CASSEROLE

Alas, another gratin, but one so savoury we can't promise leftovers for lunch the next day. You can substitute the rather esoteric cheese if needed with sliced gruyere or very good Parmesan-Reggiano.

1 2-lb. butternut or acorn squash or pumpkin, peeled and seeded and chopped / 3 whole cloves garlic / 3-4 dried red chile peppers / 1 t. whole coriander seeds / kosher salt / 1 T. butter or olive oil / 1/3 lb. sliced or shredded Kefalograviera cheese ( a hard, sheep's-milk Greek cheese often found in international food markets)


  1. Boil squash cubes, garlic and spices in salted water just to cover until tender. Keep the saucepan covered. The squash should be quite soft.
  2. Drain and cool slightly. Process all in blender with butter or oil until velvety smooth.
  3. Transfer to a small baking dish, top with cheese and heat thoroughly in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or more.
  4. Serve hot with chopped thyme or dill as a garnish.

ZUCCHINI FRITTERS

Serve unadorned, or if desired, with a drizzle of tomato sauce and/or tahini or yogurt. The fritters are als delicious topped with chopped parsley and onion.

1 lb. zucchini /1/2 large onion / 1/2 lb. potatoes /1 cup crumbled feta /3 eggs /salt /flour /oil

  1. Boil the potatoes, zucchini and onion. Mash the vegetables coarsely after draining .
  2. Strain and squeeze to remove any excess water using a paper towel.
  3. Beat the eggs, and mix them with the vegetables and the grated cheese. Add salt as desired.
  4. Shape the mixture into small balls, coat the balls with the flour and fry on both sides until they take a golden brown color.
  5. Drain on paper towels and eat immediately.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Fan Mail

We recently removed, after one day, a posting venting about the small handful of emails received from Cafe Drake web visitors who take umbrage with the site's content (callous and jaded according to a few (????), ignorant of the need for speedy food preparation amongst working single moms, irresponsibly glorifying alcohol and prescription pill abuse (guilty as charged), out-of-touch with the realities of home dining, blah blah blah). Never intentionally offending anyone, Cafe Drake merely documents our own life, while spouting a purely personal philosophy of food and entertaining. But rather than dwell on the discontents with too much time on their hands (get offline and cook that 5-course tasting menu for your kids, lady), we thought it more sane and healthy to print a few excerpted emails from virtual friends, none of whom we've met yet, but treasure for their continued patronage. Respectfully, names and email monikers have been withheld.


. . . love your website. I lived in New York for 16 years and miss the variety of foods and cuisines available there . . . you bring it all back and have many new restaurants to try on upcoming visits. - Limmerack, Ireland

Wha Up, Ireland? Hollah on your next visit and stop by Cafe Drake for a bite. Maybe we can swap for a few Gallic recipes?



you're [sic] recipes are great but sometimes difficult to prepare and often way off on the measurements . . . still, my family has loved everything I made from your webpage and especially the pumpkin pudding from last year. More desserts please? - Reading, Pennsylvania

We rarely measure (outside of baking) at Cafe Drake so all measurements should be seen as approximations. This applies particularly to spices, salt, pepper etc. Despite best efforts to estimate on major ingredients, we do fall short of perfection and consider the recipes to be guidelines. So glad you've enjoyed the dishes, however, and will work to bring more dessert recipes to the site.



The cocktails are so great on Cafe Drake and even greater are the recipes for food to eat with them. Everyone calls me the King of cocktail parties and I got most of the drinks from your website. - Kissimmee, FL

Hail to the King of Cocktail Parties! Happy to hear that the drinks and snacks are working for you down in Florida, but we're quite certain it's your own entertaining elan that has earned you the crown.

Soundbites IV: From the Mind of Cafe Drake

We've introduced - and been introduced to - a few new cocktails in this new year, and our current tops are: 1. (Courtesy of Miki Shimada) soju (or shojuh in its Japanese incarnation) shaken with fresh grapefruit juice and strained Martini-style 2. Gin, creme de cassis and fresh lemon juice, over ice and topped with soda water 3. Equal parts plum and sparkling white wines, garnished with a piece of rock candy 4. Scotch and peach nectar, shaken and strained into cocktail glass, with love.


Favorite Secret Ingredient du Jour: Dried Kumquats, or comkuots, as our $2.95 bottle from Chinatown says its rococco label. Throw a handful into a skillet sizzling with thick-cut pork chops and Madeira wine. Chop finely and toss with cold wheat berries and olive oil for a refreshing grain side dish. Add to a simple salad of greens, avocado and walnuts for a surprising sweet/tart flavor. Or do as Cafe Drake does, and simmer with a cup of raisins, sliced ginger and cider vinegar for a unique chutney. After 15 minutes, cool, add a dash of ground cloves and cayenne pepper, salt to taste, and puree in blender to a chunky consistency.





How much do we love Ryan Adams, especially his latest masterpiece, Jacksonville City Nights? Of course it's hard to go wrong teaming up on vocals with Norah Jones and national treasure Emmylou Harris, but this collection of somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs, steeped in country 70s AM radio, is good enough for us to throw a dinner party around. Cafe Drake is thinking herbed biscuits and port-wine gravy, slow-roasted pork shoulder and braised collards. Keeping with the bottom-shelf bar theme of the CD, another option is a campy revision of the beer and pretzel diet the songs' characters seem to subsit on. Regardless of your menu, this is music to fit any occasion and stir any heart.


They All Scream for Tanoreen: Restaurant Review


[En route to Bay Ridge]


Tanoreen (7704 Third Avenue, Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, 718-748-5600)

On a gray Sunday in January, during this New York winter characterized by overcast skies, we hopped in the CafeDrake-mobile and headed down 278-West to visit our always sunny friend Susan. Mama had the day off while Papa Henry tended to Baby Sloane, so we slid into a comfy 4-top all to ourselves at Tanoreen Restaurant in nearby Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. (For those not familiar with the outer boroughs of NYC, Bay Ridge was the setting for Saturday Night Fever, and came to symbolize the borough's tough-talking no nonsense Howyousedoin? attitude. Today Tony Manero would be hopelessly out of place amidst the yoga studios, health food shops and cosmopolitan dining scene.)

Tanoreen is the sort of local spot thrown recently into the limelight, a darling of magazine writers and food editors in search of the rare gem in the rough; Time Out, New York Magazine and the Village Voice have tripped over their glowing copy to sing high praises to this establishment serving, in their own words, Levantine cuisine. For the geographically-challenged (including ourselves), this roughly translates to Middle Eastern grub borrowing heavily from the neighboring cuisines of Syria and Armenia . . . as far as we can tell.

A competent and attentive staff set things off on the right foot, going so far as to explain the contents of mysterious dishes and offering recommendations (lost somewhere in translation was our helpful waiter who began to explain dishes which could be prepared meatless, although we're a confirmed carnivorous table). Within minutes of placing our order, dishes began to stream steadily from the kitchen, beginning with a cold meze salad of browned cauliflower buds drizzled with tahini sauce and pomegranate syrup ($5.95), satisfying and deeply flavored, if perhaps a bit on the tart side. The complimentary bread basket (thin wafers of fried Damascus-style bread and warm pita) and side of house pickles (cucumber and beet) and olives was most welcome, partnering well with all food to come. (Editor's Note: As with Egyptian cuisine, if you have any aversion to tart and pickled flavors, skip to the next post below immediately.)

A warm meze (or appetizer) was next: Sambosek ($5), tiny fried pastries stuffed with ground lamb and various earthy spices, resembling nothing so much as mini-empanadas, further connecting to Latin flavor profiles via a pool of cilantro dipping sauce. A Vegetarian Mixed Platter ($13) was big enough to share, overflowing with lemony-tart grape leaves, chopped shepard's salad, moist bulghur cooked with roasted peppers, eggplant and chickpeas, tiny lentils crowned with carmelized onions and a sizeable mound of expertly-prepared dandelion greens. Blanketing every surface of the dish, including the plate's edge, are copious amounts of chopped parsley, so much that Tanoreen has at least earned the Cafe Drake distinction of most prolific use ever of that particular herb.

(A bonus to dining at Tanoreen is the neighborhood food shopping; with a span of few blocks, we picked up Italian delicacies, beautiful lamb products, pomegranate molasses, apricot syrup, Greek and Armenian cheeses, olives etc.)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Don't Chicken Out from the Breaded Cutlet

The dreaded breaded chicken cutlet in its frozen form is the main offender in many a mediocre meal, from pizza parlor Chicken Parmigiana to the mushroom-topped Polish variety to the bland Milanese Mexican torta. Our recipe below begins with fresh meat, dipped in egg and rolled in cornmeal, and lightly pan-fried to moist perfection. The thin cutlets take less than five minutes to cook thoroughly, making this a sure-fire staple for the hurried, harried or laconic home chef. Our two suggestions for serving are equally swift: either plop over a mound of pasta marinara or drape gracefully across a quick-tossed salad of mesculin greens and sliced oranges. We like it best as in the Cafe Drake photo above, sided with whole wheat ziti in a spicy tomato sauce and dusted with parsley and shaved onions.

6 Chicken Breast Cutlets /Flour -- as needed /1 Cup yellow cornmeal /1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese -- grated /1/8 Teaspoon Pepper -- fresh grind /1/8 Teaspoon Salt /2 Tablespoons Milk /2 Whole Eggs /1/2 Cup Olive Oil

  1. Mix together cornmeal, cheese, salt and pepper in a large shallow bowl.
  2. Dust each cutlet with flour, dip in eggs (beaten with a T. or so of water) then dredge in cornmeal mixture.
  3. Heat oil until moderately hot then fry each cutlet for 2-3 minutes per side, depending on thickness.
  4. Drain on paper towels and serve hot, as above, over salad or pasta.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Cafe Drake in Winter

All Praise the Lowly Rutabaga


Some vegetables never seem to get the respect they deserve, and while childhood enemies such as brussels sprouts and green peas have been re-envisioned by top chefs and creative home cooks alike, the maligned and often overlooked rutabaga continues to suffer semi-obscurity. Well, no longer shall this venerable root veggie be dismissed at Cafe Drake; we've found that even the initially-adverse warm their hearts to rutabagas if prepared correctly, that is to say as a general rule, with plenty of salt and pepper and butter and rich cream. Our mother - always an inspirational cook - prepared them boiled and mashed with cream cheese and plenty of kosher salt for Christmas dinner; we've taken to slicing them paper thin on the mandolin and deep-frying for 30 seconds until crisp and golden brown. Again, salt is essential. These rutabaga chips make a welcome replacement to frites alongside broiled skirt steak, or an elegant plating accessory to salmon or tuna tartare. Below you'll find two more recipes utilizing the sharp, unique charms of the rutabaga, and hope you'll email us any other tasty ideas of your own.

CARROT AND RUTABAGA PUREE

This side dish enhances the low-key sweetness of rutabagas with the inclusion of carrots and brown sugar. A cinch to make, the recipe can be doubled easily, and is uncommonly good with pork chops or duck.

2 rutabagas (2 1/2 lb total), peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces / 5 carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces / 3 tablespoons unsalted butter / 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar / 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  1. Cook rutabagas and carrots in boiling salted water to cover by 1 inch in a large pot until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Transfer vegetables with a slotted spoon to a blender and purée with butter, brown sugar, and salt until very smooth.
  3. If necessary, transfer purée back to pot and reheat. This should be served very warm.

RUTABAGA, TURNIP AND CARROT SOUP

As always measurements are rough estimates, but the amount below will feed six hungry diners as a hearty first course, with at least a bowl left for lunch the following day.

  1. Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-low heat. Add leek, celery and garlic and sauté until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes with juices and 2 cans broth. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes.
  3. Transfer 4 cups soup to processor. Puree until almost smooth. Return puree to pot.
  4. Add remaining 2 cans broth; bring to simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and serve.

1 tablespoon olive oil /1 1/2 cups chopped leek (white and pale green parts only) /1/2 cup chopped celery /1 garlic clove, minced /2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled turnips /2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled rutabagas /2 cups 1/2-inch pieces peeled russet potatoes /2 cups sliced carrots /1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice /4 14 1/2-ounce cans vegetable broth or low-salt chicken broth

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

(Another) Curry Night with David





CURRY IN A HURRY (or weeknight meal with David after a long day's work)

Plum-tinis (on the rocks)

Shrimp and Pineapple Curry, Goan Style

Cilantro Rice

Chickpea Flour Puffs

10 Year Aged Mezcal ( a gift from David upon return from Mexico City, D.F.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

10 Accessories Every Host(ess) Should Have


(Cafe Drake newbie Karin enjoys the after-after party, courtesy of our accessories.)

Besides the obvious requisites of good food, good lighting, festive tablesetting and appropriate soundtrack, there exist additional accoutrements to a successful dinner party, and not just for the Invited, but also for those Hosting. We've compiled a list of essentials that always help to make an evening at Cafe Drake special, not only for our guests but for ourselves as well. After all, A Happy Host is a Good Host.
  1. A Great Book, at least half-read, to spur conversation should any unfortunate lapses occur. Best suited for such occasions are novels bursting with witty quotes (we're partial currently to British wits Iris Murdoch or David Lodge, as everyone will be familiar with even the obscurest Oscar Wilde-isms), and even better are witty novels with profound philosophical concerns to really set tongues wagging.
  2. Stellar Bath Salts, as every host should indulge in the pampered soak an hour prior to guests arriving. Sabon products are today's favorites; the orange/ginger-scented variety leaves one fresh and energized for the night ahead.
  3. The Pre-Arrival Drink - Social guidebooks from the 1930s onward to Oprah recommend a sip before friends show up, and we've found the advice invaluable. If, like Cafe Drake, you're prone to serving Martinis, Manhattans or Negronis et. al. during the cocktail hour, refrain from such virile libations until you've got a full house. It's perfectly acceptable to be a wee bit toasted by the first seated course, but you really shouldn't open the door on anything stronger than a glass of Cabernet.
  4. The "Rabbit" is the king among wine-openers, and will save you valuable minutes prior to serving the starter. With a lifetime guarantee, it should last till your last pour-out.
  5. Potent mouthwash always saves embarrassment when greeting at the door, especially if you've been rightfully tasting your sauces (i.e. those with garlic) or, following Cafe Drake's lead, hitting the liquor whilst cooking. Failing a handy bottle of Listerene, a few springs of fresh parsley chomped at the first ring of the bell will freshen your mouth suitably.
  6. Fine, clean linens on the bed, as there will inevitably be the (beloved) guest too soused at night's end to make it home.
  7. Your Wine Notebook to record especially memorable bottles provided by discerning guests (you're never going to fish the empties out of the recycling bin during tomorrow's hangover).
  8. House slippers: in case of rainy weather, you don't want mud and leaves tracked across the rugs, and you're not about to ask guests to remove their shoes and dine in socks (unless of course you're serving Japanese or a cuisine from Muslim locales). Semi-chic plaid pairs can be purchased for a buck from your local 99 Cent Store.
  9. An extra pack of cigarettes, on hand for the inevitable "non-smoker" who inhales half a pack when confronted with superb cocktails and victuals.
  10. Aspirins/Tranquilizers - the overly indulgent or excited guest should always have an exit remedy.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hungry in Long Island City



The Creek and the Cave (10-93 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY)
Jackson Avenue Steakhouse (12-23 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, NY)
Crossroads (47-46 11th Street, Long Island City, NY)

Although neighboring Astoria, Queens is home to dozens of fantastic restaurants of every ethnic stripe, nearby Long Island City has never managed to transform its essentially industrial landscape into anything even remotely comfortable. Block-long and wide PS1 dominates a lonely stretch of Jackson Boulevard, sparsely populated with cringe-worthy delis, Archie Bunker bars and forlorn filling stations. Current exhibits at the mega-museum, the cheapest gas in the five boroughs and a local Costco have brought us several times to LI City in recent weeks, and while we can sing the praises of PS1's January 2007 exhibits (if possible, try to make it to see SunTek Chung's witty and surreal photographs and sculpture, and to hear E.V. Day's startling sound installation in the building's spooky boiler room), finding a decent bite in the 'hood is far from easy. Without a car and a noticeable lack of public transport, the distances are far to traverse; even with a car, we found it difficult locating dining of much worth.

Decent Mexican fare with an emphasis on fresh produce and vegetarian options like tofu fajitas can be found at The Creek and the Cave, your best bet if spending the day at PS1, and far better than the museum's cafe fare of stale sandwiches and baked goods (though they have recently acquired a full liquor license - very convenient for thirsty art patrons). Time your visit at The Creek and the Cave wisely to avoid the rowdy and unpleasant happy hour crowd arriving promptly at the attached bar at 5pm; a late lunch is not recommended. A Spinach Burrito ($6.95) is both healthy and well-seasoned, and the Tacos al Carbon ($3 each) are large in portion and flavor.

Pricier and home to an older, unfriendly clientele more obnoxious than the rowdy drunks next door at The Creek and The Cave is Jackson Avenue Steakhouse. In a setting deeply devoid of charm, wildly overpriced sub-standard fare is carted from slop buckets in the kitchen to tabletops by a staff redeemed partially by their embarrassed expressions. A Tomato and Onion Salad ($5.95) was psychotically dressed with steak sauce, and a shared appetizer of Baked Clams was left uneaten by Cafe Drake ($10.95). It only gets worse with the entrees, and the real slap on the face is the sticker shock - $22 bought us cheapest steak in the house, a nauseating plate of chopped sirloin with sauteed onions, while $24 landed us eight fried shrimp direct from the freezer we suspect. Mains are priced from $22 up to $72 (Chateaubriand for two), with most hovering around 40 bucks or more, the prices having been set in an alternative universe, and we suspect none rise above tolerable.

You may have reached a personal one should you find yourself seated at Crossroads, a 70s-era diner whose best feature is an ironic wall of picture windows; the industrial vista outside, lighted by an early-setting January sun, certainly created atmosphere on our recent visit. A Turkey Club ($7.95) on whole wheat was actually satisfactory (dismal tomatoes but plenty of good mayo and crisp bacon), as were the fries and coleslaw. The Reuben ($8.95) was decent as well but comes sided with bland potato salad and limp pickles. In a state of desperation or plummeting blood sugar, Crossroads makes a viable, if unexciting, option.

Dinner with Miki-san








PHOTOS [from top to bottom]

Dinner is served at Cafe Drake.

Miki can hardly wait for the second course.

Sailor opts for a nap over the festivities.

Struggling with scallion pancakes.

Nothing like a fresh Gimlet to start the evening right.


JANUARY 2007 DINNER WITH MIKI SHIMADA

Gimlets
Spiced Sunflower Seeds

Carrot and Sesame Soup with Marinated Cabbage Garnish
Crispy Scallion Pancakes

Broiled Eel
Mustard Mashed Potatoes

Espresso
Chocolate

Warwick Valley Harlequin Port

Thursday, January 18, 2007

From the Kitchen of : SUSAN M.

Our newest feature here at Cafe Drake is the introduction of a monthly guest columnist. Kicking things off with a hearty start is Ms. McKeever D., whom you've met many times before in these pages. Read below as Susan recalls a somewhat unusual, but delicious-sounding, dinner in Switzerland, and provides us lucky readers with a recipe to follow.

Greetings Café Drake aficionados and other web surfers with exceptional taste. When Drake asked me to contribute to Café Drake, I was excited to share a recipe and anecdote. While on vacation too long ago, I visited a great café in Geneva, Switzerland (Tivoli?). Upstairs in a cozy, candlelit room with burnt sienna plaster walls, my friend and I were seated next to two businessmen. They were the polar opposites of what not to wear to the office- one wearing a navy blazer with gold buttons and a silk ascot, the other wearing short sleeve polyester dress shirt with a brown tie. As we deliberated over what wine to order, the man with the ascot cordially offered the rest of their bottle of Black Opal cabernet, explaining it was their third bottle and they couldn’t finish it. We started talking with them in half English, half French and from what I gathered, the man with the silk ascot was a professional astrologist for large corporations (astronomist? No, he said astrologist). His friend was an industrial engineer. I was amazed that there was a niche in large corporations for astrologists at all, never mind one that provided for a good living. We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, folks. Apparently, the Fortune 500 companies that were his clients, would hire him before making big business decisions; so much for intensive planning and good strategies in the free market. Why don’t they just flip a coin?! Anyway, the conversation deteriorated from there and we won’t even get into it about why. But, they did recommend the venison and the rabbit. Both were exceptional, but I think I liked the venison a ‘hare’ more..

Whether you are an astronomist or astrologist, this recipe will surely put you on the map as a gastronomist.

Venison in a Port, Boysenberry Reduction with Fennel Gnocchi
Makes 4 to 8 servings

8 tender venison chops (marinated at least for a few hours in salt, milk and red wine)
¼ lb butter
1 clove of garlic, diced
¼ teaspoon cumin
½ pound shitake mushrooms, sliced
1/3 to ½ cup of port wine
¾ cup of venison or beef stock
2 tablespoons boysenberry jam
salt and pepper to taste

Dredge the venison in flour, salt and pepper. Heat half the butter in a large, heavy skillet. In very hot skillet, brown the dredged venison, keeping the inside rare. Transfer to warm serving plate.
Add 2 more tablespoons of butter to skillet and sauté the garlic and mushrooms, adding salt and pepper as needed. Once wilted, add remaining ingredients, turn to low heat and stir, dissolving the brown particles clinging to the skillet. Serve the venison chops with a pat of melted butter on top and port, boysenberry reduction sauce.

Fennel Gnocchi

3 medium potatoes
2 egg yolks
½ t salt
¾ to 1 cup flour
2 T chopped fennel

Boil potatoes and mash. Add egg yolks, salt and fennel and blend in food processor. Add flour and mix and knead until smooth. Roll dough into ½ inch long diameter links and sprinkle with flour as needed to prevent stickiness. Cut with fork into 1 inch pieces. Boil in salted water for 5 minutes to cook. Serve with above venison.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Beef Stew de Oaxaca

Sailor determines if the pasila chile is too spicy for his delicate palatte.


Add a variety of dried chile peppers to create a more complex flavor to the stew.


Cinnamon and winter squash add a sweet richness to Beef Stew de Oaxaca.


"Delicious as always, Daddy, and very filling."


One of our fondest travel memories south of the border is the cuisine of Oaxaca, a colonial desert town located a scenic six-hour drive south of Mexico City. Home to more than a dozen versions of mole, this dusty outpost and capital of the Oaxacan state presents visitors with an endless array of less-familiar Mexican specialties. It was here on a forlorn side street, inside a corner bar filled with tequila-guzzling locals, that we first tried the casserole known as chilaquiles, in a vegetarian form and topped with shredded cabbage and diced radishes. Salsas more often than not were based around incendiary dried chiles; others had almonds or walnuts as a soothing base, or even dried fruits stewed with tomatoes and cinnamon. The recipe below is a Cafe Drake invention re-created in the spirit of Oaxaca and its many talented chefs. Measurements are meant as always as guidelines, open to interpretation based on personal tastes. The chiles can be purchased at any Mexican food market and some supermarkets. Cue up the Nortec Collective on the stereo for beat-heavy Latin musical flair, and pour out a Petit Syrah or spicy Shiraz that can stand up to the heat.

BEEF STEW DE OAXACA

2 lbs. cubed beef stew and oil for browning / 1 small can tomato sauce / 1 clove garlic / 1 T. sugar / 1 t. salt / 3 T. vegetable oil / assorted dried chiles, about 1 cup total, soaked to cover in hot water - choose from mulato, serrano, pasila, New Mexico, arbol, ancho etc varieties / 2 cups cubed and peeled butternut squash / 1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder / 1 stick of cinnamon

  1. Brown beef in a small amount of oil for 10 minutes or so.
  2. Meanwhile, add to blender and pulse until smooth: tomato sauce, garlic, sugar and salt, oil and soaked dried chiles. Add approximately 1/2 cup of chile soaking water and reserve any remaining liquid.
  3. Add chile sauce to beef, along with squash, cinnamon and cocoa powder. Stir well, cover and simmer 1-2 hours on low heat. The cooking time will depend on the texture of the beef, the size of pieces etc.
    If the stew begins to dry out, moisten with chile soaking water.
  4. Season to taste with salt and serve hot with rice, warmed tortillas or pozole.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tofu en Casserole

Bubbling hot tofu en casserole at Cafe Drake.


A heap of baby bok choy awaits the frying pan.

TOFU EN CASSEROLE

Gently spiced and deeply warming, tofu baked at high temperatures, nestled in an orange-spiked sauce, makes a heavenly and healthy cold-weather entree. Try it with braised baby bok choy, simmered simply in a bit of chicken stock, sesame oil and salt and pepper.

1 lb. tofu, well-drained and cut into large pieces / 2 cloves garlic, minced / 1/2 small onion, minced / 3 T. hot mustard / 3 T. peanut oil / 3 T. balsamic vinegar / 1 T. orange zest / juice of 1 orange / 1 T. honey / kosher salt and black pepper

  1. Combine all ingredients except tofu in a large bowl and mix well.
  2. Add drained tofu and toss to coat thoroughly. Let sit for 1/2 hour at room temperature.
  3. Transfer all to a casserole dish and bake in preheated oven at 450 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
  4. Remove from oven, stir and place under broiler for 3 minutes or until browned and slightly crispy on top.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Little Night Music


Back again in early 2007 with recommendations for dinner party soundtracks, Cafe Drake has been greating the new year with plenty of new music, and is happy to share our latest playlist with you below. Additional suggestions are:

for your nostalgic friends - those over 30 anyway - we're happy to report that Morrissey is on top of his game once again. The 2005 release You Are the Quarry was widely regarded as the best post-Smiths album in years, and the newest CD Ringleader of the Tormentors, heralds a return to the halcyion days of Morrissey's trademark combo of aching poignancy and sublime silliness. Best with a salad of bitter greens and hysterically vitriolic guests (no shortage thereof in these parts!)

for heavy-drinking compadres try The Walkmen's latest indie label winner, A Hundred Miles Off. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser always sounds like he's drunk anyway, so tipplers will feel in good company. There's a deeper Southern blues connection here than on previous recordings, so consider a Cajun or Gullah meal for this one, and be sure to serve the gumbo just as the madly catchy "Louisiana" hits its opening chords.

The New Young Pony Club's lightweight confection "Ice Cream" is an instant dessert classic. Play it loudly as guests assemble their own sundaes with homemade chocolate and caramel sauces.

for the highbrow crowd - those who bring wine in Channel 13 totes - you might consider Tim Hecker's Harmony in Ultraviolet. Slow-moving and defiantly austere, it's "modern" composition at its best.

DINNER AT CAFE DRAKE JANUARY 2007 MIX

Laugh - Birdie
The Girl with the Northern Soul Connection - Club 8
Mermaid Eyes - Luna
St. George & the Dragon - Nanook of the North
Spring Came, Rain Fell - Club 8
Mother's Little Helper - Stereo Total
John the Revelator - Depeche Mode
Tokyo Girls - Matinee Club
Babystritch - Stereo Total
Happy End - Tahiti 80
Brandy Alexander - The Walkmen
He Loves Anna - Waltz for Debbie
The End of the World - Twinkle
Elephant Gun - Beirut
Willow's Song - Magnet
Crystal Lake - Klaus Schulze
String of Blinking Lights - Paper Moon
Shining Bright Star - Black Strobe
Windy - Page France

Tasty Detox with Burdock

Revered in Japan as a root vegetable of great healing power, this (very) long brown tuber - sort of a cross between an overgrown carrot and a parsnip with a winter's tan - is combined with carp to create a soup for the truly ailing. More commonly, burdock appears on almost every Japanese restuarant menu by its native name, gobo, and is cooked alongside carrots in a sweet soy and sesame sauce (kimpira), rolled into sushi after being lightly pickled, or added to sukiyaki to impart a deep, woodlands aroma and flavor. A relic from our days when Cafe Drake flirted with macrobiotics, we're once again discovering the versatilty and satisfying earthiness of burdock, and present below a few easy ways to introduce it into your own kitchens. Holistic manuals describe the root as perfect for detoxing after the rich and fatty foods of the winter season, and also promoting mental health in those struggling to "process feelings of resentment." (Needless to say, you'll be linking this particular Cafe Drake post to many of your friends.) Basic prep on burdock is simple; just be careful to scrub thoroughly but never peel, as most of the flavor lives in the outer layers.


BURDOCK CHIPS

burdock roots /vegetable oil /salt to taste


  1. Make thin slices of the roots using a vegetable peeler or mandolin.
  2. Fry slices until crispy in oil heated to 325 degrees.
  3. Remove from oil, and sprinkle with salt.

KIMPIRA GOBO

2 cups prepared burdock /2 cups prepared carrots /1 Tbsp. vegetable oil /1 tsp. sesame oil /2 Tbsps. sesame seeds /1 Tbsp. soy sauce

  1. Prepare the burdock and carrots in the same way, by washing and scraping the outer skin (don't peel), then cut into matchstick-sized pieces. As you're cutting the burdock, throw the pieces into a bowl of cold water to prevent them from turning brown in the air.
  2. In a large skillet or wok, heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil together. When it's hot, sprinkle in the sesame seeds and cook, stirring, for about a minute.
  3. Drain the burdock and add it and the carrots to the pan. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for about five to seven minutes.
  4. Add soy sauce and continue stir-frying for about ten minutes. The burdock will change color from milky white to shiny gray/brown. It will be crisp, crunchy, earthy, and delicious.

CAFE DRAKE'S HEALING RICE

4 medium shiitake /1 Tbsp. vegetable oil (optional) /1 medium burdock root (about 1/4 pound) /Cold, salted water for soaking burdock root /2 cups cold water for cooking rice /1 cup long-grain brown rice /1 small carrot and/or parsnip, sliced /1/2 tsp. salt

  1. Cut shiitake caps into thin strips.
  2. Scrub burdock and whittle it off in slivers, placing them in cold salted water as you proceed. Soak five minutes.
  3. Drain burdock and place in a heavy ovenproof pan with 2 cups water, optional oil, mushrooms, rice, carrot, and salt. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  4. Remove from the stove and cover. Bake in a 350 degrees F oven 45 minutes. Let stand 15-30 minutes. Uncover, fluff, and serve.

Elmhurst's Finest: Restaurant Reviews


Chao Thai (85-03 Whitney Avenue, Elmhurst, NY, 718-424-4999 )
Coco Restaurant (82-68 Broadway, Elmhurst, NY, 718-565-2030)

Dense with Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Latin restaurants and food markets, Elmhurst typifies the hectic, overflowing melting pot that is Queens, New York. Narrow, confusing streets and throngs of pedestrians along Broadway and Queens and Jackson Boulevards can try even the patience of a Buddhist saint, but well worth the teeming crowds and traffic are a dozen or more remarkable dining experiences. For today, we'll share two with you.

Unique is Chao Thai, with a kitchen so creative and authentic it singlehandedly may redeem a cuisine Cafe Drake had nearly washed our hands of. Let us explain: by the mid-1990s, a glut of Siamese eateries had attacked our home neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, with a total of 12 lacklustre restaurants in Northern Brooklyn serving up identical slop at each location. Differently owned but sharing essentially the same tired menu and generic flavor profile, these Thai imposters foisted their banal repertiore on diners unconcerned with subtlety or finesse. Inexplicably these charlatans flourished and today the plague continues. Well, hope springs eternal and salvation awaits in our neighboring borough.

The first glance at Chao Thai's menu heralds a change in the air; we recognized only a handful of dishes on offer! Daily specials are scrawled in Thai script on a dry-erase board, but the staff does their best to attempt translation. Cafe Drake wil return again and again until we've sampled it all, but for now, from the printed menu, highlights include: Catfish and Coriander Salad ($10), a scorching hot appetizer of pork, chiles, onions and basil called Yum Nam Sod ($6.95) and Pork Belly with Assorted Basils ($7). The classic national dish, Laab, as scarce at Brooklyn and Manhattan Thai restaurants as hot chiles, can be had here for a mere $8; the ground pork or chicken is piled atop crispy lettuce and blanketed by green and red peppers, onions, raw and fried shallots, basil and mint, and completely lacks the erstwhile sickly sweetness we'd come to associate with Siam. See photo above.

Coco Restaurant around the corner specializes in Thai and Malayasian cooking, but with Chao Thai a hard act to follow, stick with the latter cuisine. Typically boring meat and vegetable curries are emboldened here with the addition of fresh pineapple chunks, cubed apples and plenty of genuine heat. Order it hot and you'll remember the meal all the way home! Especially good is the roti canai ($2.95) and the Squid Sambal ($10), dangerously salty but addictively good. Shrimp paste is a key ingredient here, finding its way onto almost every plate, but just as the similarly prevelant coconut milk, never overwhelms the exceedingly fresh seafood flavors. Many unfamiliar vegetables abound as well, and even okra, a shy visitor to most area menus, can be had here at least two different ways. Vegetarians, don't pass on the fried radish cake ($6), grilled until charred and dressed with bean sprouts and tangy soy dressing, it's ten times lighter than any version you've had at Chinatown's greasy spoons.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Craving Cassoulet



Cassoulet is a peasant dish raised to the level of nobility through slow, careful cooking and luciously rich ingredients. Nowadays the variations are endless in modern, upscale kitchens; wily Wiley Dufresne at WD-50 even replaces the traditional duck confit with a version composed of pickled octopus. Our favorite memory of this beloved casserole is one served in the main dining room of The Griswold Inn in picture-perfect Essex, CT. Rich and warming beyond description, it certainly helped that the entree was preceeded by escargots in butter and parsley, and consumed fireside while serenaded by Christmas carolers! No matter your surroundings, you'll instantly create festive cheer if you serve cassoulet to guests, as this classic must be approached as a labor of love to be shared with dear ones. Because of the expense and effort, any host is fully justified in skipping a starter and ending only with a fruit dessert and coffee. The recipe below is our idea of a true cassoulet, and while you may groan at the complex instructions, approach preparation as the true event it is - a once-a-year extravagance guaranteed to vanquish winter blahs. A bottle of Syrah, consumed throughout the day, helps too. We've broken the process down into easy-to-follow steps, so onward without fear to the best meal you'll make in 2007!

CAFE DRAKE CASSOULET

1 lb dried white beans (preferably Great Northern) /8 1/4 cups cold water /2 cups beef broth /1 tablespoon tomato paste /2 cups chopped onion (3/4 lb) /3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic (6 large cloves) /1 (3-inch) piece celery, cut into thirds /3 fresh thyme sprigs /1 bay leaf /3 whole cloves /3 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs plus 1/2 cup chopped leaves /1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns /1 (14-oz) can stewed tomatoes, puréed or finely chopped with juice /4 confit duck legs (1 3/4 lb total) /1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil (if necessary) /1 lb cooked garlic pork sausage or smoked pork kielbasa, cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices /2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (preferably from a baguette) /1 1/2 teaspoons salt / 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Soak and cook beans: Cover beans with cold water by 2 inches in a large bowl and soak 8 to 12 hours. Drain in a colander.
Transfer beans to a 6- to 8-quart pot and bring to a boil with 8 cups cold water, broth, tomato paste, onion, and 2 tablespoons garlic. Put celery, thyme, bay leaf, cloves, parsley sprigs, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie into a bundle with string to make a bouquet garni. Add bouquet garni to beans, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until beans are almost tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in tomatoes with juice and simmer until beans are just tender, about 15 minutes more.

Prepare duck and sausage while beans simmer: Remove all skin and fat from duck legs and cut skin and fat into 1/2-inch pieces. Separate duck meat from bones, leaving it in large pieces, and transfer meat to a bowl. Add bones to bean pot.
Cook duck skin and fat with remaining 1/4 cup cold water in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring, until water is evaporated and fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until skin is crisp, 3 to 6 minutes more. Transfer cracklings with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, leaving fat in skillet. (You should have about 1/4 cup fat; if not, add olive oil.)
Brown sausage in batches in fat in skillet, then transfer to bowl with duck meat, reserving skillet.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Make bread crumb topping: Add remaining tablespoon garlic to fat in skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until pale golden, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cracklings.

Assemble casserole: Remove bouquet garni and duck bones from beans and discard, then stir in kielbasa, duck meat, remaining teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Ladle cassoulet into casserole dish, distributing meat and beans evenly. (Meat and beans should be level with liquid; if they are submerged, ladle excess liquid back into pot and boil until reduced, then pour back into casserole dish.) Spread bread crumb topping evenly over cassoulet and bake, uncovered, in lower third of oven, until bubbling and crust is golden, about 1 hour.

2 (Quite) Inexpensive Reds You Should Know About

Villadoria Dolcetto d'Alba ($9-$12) : While the 2005 is eminently drinkable, cough up the extra three bucks for the 2002, less widely available but worth a search. Jammy and bursting with plum flavos for those who like a fruity wine, this dry dolcetta sips like a much pricier bottle. It probably won't stand up to a fine aged beef or dense bolognese sauce, but is exceedingly lovely consumed alongside crostini or milder Italian cheeses. One suggestion would be as a partner to a ricotta salatta and fresh fig plate; another is as below.

EGG AND OLIVE CROSTINI

6 eggs / 1 (3 ounce) package cream cheese, softened / 1 tablespoon lemon juice / 1 teaspoon prepared Dijon-style mustard /1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper / 2 tablespoons sliced pimento-stuffed green olives / 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives / 1 tablespoon olive oil

  1. Place eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water, cool, peel and chop.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a large baking sheet.
  3. In a medium bowl, thoroughly blend cream cheese, lemon juice, prepared Dijon-style mustard and ground black pepper. Stir in chopped eggs, olives and chives.
  4. Cut each bread slice into 4 triangles. Lay triangles flat and create a shallow hollow on the face of each. Brush with olive oil and fill with mixture from the bowl.
  5. Arrange slices on baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven 10 minutes, or until bread is lightly toasted.

Maitre d'Estournel ($10-$12): A simple Bordeaux blend of Merlot and Cabernet grapes, this thirst-quencher is so versatile and reasonably priced it may become a house wine at Cafe Drake. Appropriate for Italian or richer French dishes, we've quaffed with calamari salad, fennel and potato soup and zucchini baked in cream sauce to name just a few successful marriages. Surprise your hosts with a bottle - those with taste will appreciate not only the subtle versatility of the wine itself, but the chic label adorning it as well.

Lemon Frost Cookies


Lemon desserts are just as refreshing in Winter, after a rich and heavy meal, as they are in the heat of Summer. Don't be daunted by the length of the recipe below; we've adapted it to lazier baking standards of Cafe Drake. Try these at the end of dinner with good, strong espresso and a tiny glass of icy limoncello.

LEMON FROST COOKIES

1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature /1/2 cup granulated white sugar /3 large eggs /1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract /Zest of 1 large lemon / 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour /2 teaspoons baking powder /1/4 teaspoon salt /2 cups confectioners sugar (icing or powdered sugar), sifted /1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature /1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract /2 tablespoons milk or light cream /Assorted food colors (if desired)

  1. For Cookies: Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter and egg mixture and beat until combined.
  3. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and, with a floured rolling pan, roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/2 inch. Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into shapes. Save the scraps and reroll.
  4. Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet, spacing them a few inches apart.
    Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 8-10 minutes (baking time will vary depending on the size and shape of cookies) or until the bottoms of the cookies are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.
  5. Once the cookies have completely cooled, frost with icing.

  1. For Frosting: With an electric hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract.
  2. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little more milk or sugar, if needed.
  4. Tint the frosting with desired food color. We love a pale canary yellow tone best.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Easy Peasy Lasagne

We adore cozy Friday nights at Cafe Drake, and more often than not in winter, spend them in happy solitude . . . catching up on the week's reading, treating ourselves to an unfamiliar bottle of wine and enjoying a leisurely prepared meal in front of the television (Showtime's Masters of Horror is our must-see TV for the evening). This week's last-minute entree, brainstormed from the contents of a depleted freezer and pantry, was so inspired we decided to share it with our visitors. Endless variations are possible of course, so find creative ways to throw in those bits-and-pieces that accumulate at week's end.

GREEN PEA LASAGNE

1/2 box lasagne noodles (boiled in salted water, drained and cooled) / 1 package frozen petite peas / 2 T. olive oil (use butter if you prefer) / 1/4 cup chicken stock / 3 T. white wine / salt, pepper, thyme, mint and dill to taste (dried herbs fine) / 1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly / grated Parmesan cheese

  1. Thaw peas slightly and place in blender with oil, stock, wine and all seasonings. Blend until very smooth.
  2. Heat mixture to a low boil. Cool slightly and blend again to a velvet texture. If needed, add more wine or stock.
  3. Taste for seasoning. The sauce should be rather salty.
  4. Assemble in casserole dish beginning with a layer of sauce, followed by noodles, then cheese, noodles, sauce and so on. The top layer should be noodles completely covered by pea sauce.
  5. Sprinkle generously with Parmesan.
  6. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

We're not recommending whole-wheat pasta for once; the delicate nature of the pea sauce is better enjoyed with regular noodles. We ate ours alongside bruschetta slices and kalamata olives. A mild but drinkable Merlot and TiVo made for a memorable, no-stress dinner. (Note: previously-recorded episodes of The Duel, I Love New York and Supernatural are recommended, but not essential.)

Weeknight Snack with J-la






EASY BREEZY WEDNESDAY SUPPER

Sake Royales
Edamame

Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura
Sweet Tomato Rice

Marzipan
Grappa

Monday, January 08, 2007

Dinner with the Sellers Family




During the late stage of our convalesence, Cafe Drake was fortunate enough to be invited for a delicious and healthy dinner at the home of the Sellers clan. While Baby Julian slept angel-like in the bedroom, Mom and Dad whipped up a three-course meal soothing to body and mind. Photos above of the happy clan and the menu below testify to the delights of a great home-cooked dinner, balm to the harried, after-work soul.


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Pan-Fried Whole Brook Trout
Brocolli Rabe with Anchovies, Olives and Prosciutto

Caramel Flan
Espresso

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Soundbites III from the mind of Cafe Drake

Revealing too much is a weakness at Cafe Drake, and we generally blame it on our lethal Sidecars. In full sobriety however we're letting the cat out of the bag on a secret weapon sure to enhance many of your recipes, and leave guests wondering as to the elusive deliciousness haunting their tastebuds. The Mystery Ingredient of the Month is Chive Oil, sold mainly in Asian food markets but also in some gourmet stores and tricked-out supermarkets. Our brand of choice is Oriental Mascot, and a 5 oz. bottle can be had for under $3. (The same company also makes a Ginger Oil convenient for those too lazy to grate the real thing, and a Szechuan Pepper Oil that had us sweating more profusely than Pete Doherty at airport customs). A little goes a long way, so sprinkle sparingly over potato and root vegetable soups, or add a few drops to vinegarettes or reduced sauces. While powerful, the flavor dissipates during cooking, so like truffle oil, add towards the end of preparation; for example, after roasting cauliflower or yams, toss the hot veggies with a teaspoon of the oil for an unusual flavor boost. Or go gourmet with popcorn and moisten the cooked kernals with chive oil instead of butter. Also great atop ceviche or salmon tartare!

If you aren't familiar with New York-based artist David Herbert (whom you've met in these pages) already, well, you should be. For those in the area, a requisite trip is a visit to Chelsea's Postmasters Gallery for his stunning new show. Cafe Drake was lucky enough to attend the opening and after-party, where we leisurely plowed our way through a variety of cheeses, salami, salad, chicken satay skewers, pork-filled Beggar's Purses, dumplings and copious amounts of Cabernet. Even tastier are the mammoth sculptures, wall hangings and works-on-paper depicting a decaying metropolis. See it for yourself, or if unable, swing by www.davidherbert.com for succulent morsels of his work. [As an aside, the corner bar two doors from the gallery, Moran's, pours out impeccable Manhattans in an uber-cozy atmosphere aglow with wood fires and vintage crystal decanters.]

Cafe Drake has long heard the siren call of Frost Restaurant (193 Frost Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718-383-8540), a nearby old-school Italian restaurant catering to the few remaining paisons in the area. Recently we paid our first visit to the near-historic establishment, and discovered solid, if not stellar, southern Italian fare served without pretense but with plenty of heart. Nearby Bamonte's will always be our favorite spot for wise guy dining, but Frost Restaurant serves respectable food at (vaguely) reasonable prices. Short on atmosphere (bright overhead lights illuminate an authentically dressed local crowd partial to velour tracksuits), one must approach dinner here as a vanishing relic, a glimpse into the formerly Sicilian majority that once called Williamsburg home. Complimentary bread and butter were standard; more unusual were the infernally hot roasted green peppers served alongside. Oil-slicked and potent with brimstone heat, the chiles were appreciated by Cafe Drake and our taste for hellfire. An Italian House Salad ($8.95) is sufficient for even two very hungry diners, and while undistinguished, supplies a dose of green largely absent from the menu (where are the expected sides of escarole or brocolli rabe?). Shrimp Scampi ($15.95) will appeal to those with a taste for nostalgia, while the Calamari Al Diablo ($14.95) is tender, spicy and again, big enough in size for two. All entrees come with a side of pasta, expertly boiled al dente and crowned with a marvelous marinara (or "gravy" as most of the patrons here would say). If you're in the 'hood, Frost Restaurant is reliably good, though better meals await at Bamonte's, Cono's or La Locanda (all within a 10-minute stroll). [Don't just listen to us, however: Frost Restaurant in 2004 was named one of the Top 100 Italian restaurants in the U.S., and has received wide praise since its opening in 1959. Hey, we never claimed our standards aren't excessively high at Cafe Drake.]

(Cook)Book Reviews - January 2007



Good cookbooks provide Cafe Drake with more than just recipes to try or draw inspiration from. The very best of the lot read as thrillingly as a deeply satisfying novel, opening doors into the authors' private worlds, and thereby sharing with us often fascinatng personalities and philosophies of living. Ina Garten's latest volume, The Barefoot Contessa at Home, is appropriately devoted to weeknight meals and easy suppers to be shared with friends, but her easygoing prose and house photos reveal a cook and celebrity close to our own heart. Garten extolls the virtues of long soaking baths prior to mealtime, and cozy afternoons on the sofa with good coffee, great scones and the Sunday Times. Any of the recipes can be made with relative ease and without trips to exotic food markets. All are downright homey and relaxed and ideal for the cook partial to unfussy yet solid classics like a Lasagne Verde or Shrimp Risotto.

Home chefs with ambitious natures with thrill to the out-of-print but still available Great Dishes of the World, published in the early 1960s and redolent of the period's love of festive novelties such as tableside cooking, foods set alight with liquor and a match and many other theatrical touches. True to its title, the comprehensive cookbook contains instructions for most of the planet's classic meals, such as Cheese Souffle, Hunter's Stew and Chicken Kiev. Author Robert Carrier presents himself both in his writing and photographs as one of a dying breed, the suave host flipping Tarragon Omelettes in a tie and cardigan, brandy snifter in tow. For a glimpse into how much we've lost in terms of dining sophistication, pick up a copy and return to the glory days, insisting your lucky guests dress for dinner! [Note: there currently exists a British reprint of this treasure - see photo above - available on Amazon UK and Amazon Canada, both of which should be bookmarked on your laptops already we hope.]


A gal after our own frequently inebriated tastes is Amy Sedaris, the wickedly talented sister of David S. and star of the much beloved (at Cafe Drake for certain) former Comedy Central show Strangers With Candy. Maybe it's the food connection we adore so much, as Amy famously sold her gourmet cupcakes as a side gig while honing her comic routine in Off-Off-Off Broadway productions (we bought them at performance intermissions in the early '90s). Now the genius Ms. Sedaris has written a guide to hosting dinner parties, and while hysterically funny and off-color in her trademark style, her contribution to the genre actually offers some real tips (how to properly freeze cocktail meatballs) and recipes (including Chicken of the Taverns and Amy's Lil' Smokey Cheeseball). Yes, I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence also spills the beans on the the legendary cupcakes , including the frosting secret that so eluded us in former Cafe Drake kitchen attempts (hint: half-and-half and we'll say no more). Run, don't walk (staggering allowed) to your nearest bookstore for a copy.

Post-Holiday Dinner with Octavio



A great way to ring in the New Year is always a casual dinner for two with an old friend. Octavio Fenech recently joined us for apres Christmas cheer and a simple meal reflective of our Dixie roots. The dessert recipe can be found below under the posting entitled The Dinner You Can Make Asleep.


EARLY YEAR DINNER WITH OCTAVIO

Fresh Daiquiris

Shrimp Creole
Toasted Cornbread
Roasted Cauliflower with Chive Oil and Feta

Pineapple Foster
Pistachio Ice Cream

Port