Wednesday, February 28, 2007

February 28, 2007 Dinner with David




A last-minute monkey wrench thrown into our plans to sup at Chateau Sellers didn't deter Cafe Drake; 30 minutes later (literally, folks ) and an unexpected change of venue and we were comfortably sharing Gin and Cherry Juice cocktails with our old friend in the kitchen whilst whipping up a novel meal of macrobiotic fare. Far from tasteless, the dinner was composed of mochi casserole (a near-alien product of fermented sweet brown rice) and a sauteed wild mushroom medley with toasted sheets of nori seaweed as a condiment. David supplied a light Bordeaux that stood up to the spiciness of the mushrooms without overwhelming the delicate rice and vegetable (onions, shallots, carrots and shredded cabbage) entree. Photos above testify to the very casual but warm atmosphere.
(Cherry) Gin Rickeys
Mochi Casserole of Sweet Brown Rice with Carrots, Cabbage and Onions
Wild Mushroom Medley with Chinese Dried Red Peppers
Toasted Seaweed
2002 Chateau Le Prieure St-Laurent Bordeaux

Sunday, February 25, 2007

White Nights





Nothing like a snowy night to inspire and awe, and the photos above are all from Cafe Drake's neighborhood - McGorlick Park around the corner and our street itself (plus our fire escape). Spring and Salad for Dinner is just around the proverbial corner, so enjoy the white weather with warming stews and rich meals suited best for blizzard conditions.

North Brooklyn Restaurant Reviews (Part V)

(Just over the Williamsburg Bridge, await many exciting dining destinations. Hint: including Cafe Drake)

Juliette (135 North 5th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718/388-9222)
Wild Ginger (212 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211, 718/218-8828)
Lomzynianka (646 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222, 718/389-9439)

The Bistro Mania of New York in the 90s is officially over, with the vigorous proliferation of semi-casual French restaurants now merely a weekly reality. Skip Billyburg's Fado on Driggs Avenue (aging badly with an ever increasing laziness to the limited menu) and head staright to Juliette. A restaurant with a pedigree (the kitchen is manned by former chefs at Tartine and Savoy - two of our favorites), loads of open space and panache by the magnum, a friendly welcome awaits you at the door by a well-trained and courteous staff. Manhattans ($10 each) at the bar were especially potent and a reasonably priced wine list allowed us a lovely Cotes du Rhone bottle for a mere $25. A starter of Pate Facon Maison ($7) was acceptable, but alas of the "country" variety, i.e. made from pork livers, and too gritty for our personal tastes. Nice sides though included cornichons, buttered croutons and apple chutney (did they swipe the recipe from Cafe Drake?). Far better was an appetizer of Escargots ($7) where the snails were allowed to shine in a light sauce not overpowered by heaps of garlic. Praiseworthy mains included Spicy Chicken with Fries and Guacomole ($16), an old Tartine standby; Duck Magret ($22) of lucious rare sliced breast with showstopping potato gratin and braised endive sharing the plate and a mild Steak Tartare ($18) heaped with fries, toast points and salad (underdressed unfortunately). Good unpretentious food, superb table service and chic bathrooms - are we in Williamsburg anymore?

You'd be forgiven for writing off Williamsburg's Wild Ginger at first glance, with its glaring boldfaced subtitle of Vegan Cuisine, but unlike Bliss Restaurant across the avenue (think cardboard waffles, undercooked brown rice and crunchy steamed vegetables and you have an accurately grim idea of the slop on offer), Wild Ginger actually makes an effort to season its food with great care and intelligence. At least two entrees sampled were stellar: Smoked Seitan Teriyaki with Sugar Snap Peas ($12) shows off the best qualities of both the wheat-based meat substitute and the crisp Spring vegetable, while Basil Soy Protein with Asparagus and Zucchini ($12) is pleasantly pungent with herbs and spice. All main dishes come with brown rice (nicely prepared) and a lovely house salad. Starters are predictable unfortunately, although a large dish of Cold Green Tea Noodles in Sesame Sauce($6) presents a slight twist on that favorite standby. A dessert menu is needlessly ascetic (if anyone is old enough to remember the heyday of West Village macrobiotic restaurants in the 1980s, they'll recall the endless array of scrumptious tofu cheesecakes, coffee rice puddings and more) with few appetizing choices; our Black Sesame Soy Ice Cream ($3) was visually arresting but dull in taste, a rather disappointing end to an otherwise satisfying lunch.


Deft hands in the tiny kitchen of Lomzynianka keep ever-tricky blintzes ($4.00) light and airy, and homemade boiled or fried perogis ($4.95) fresh and delicate. A sliver of a dining room festooned with deer head trophies and kitschy wallpaper, and expertly lit by small table lamps, may seem out-of-place among Greenpoint's Polish restaurant scene, given largely to a Communist-era decor, but Lomzynianka is special in many respects. The two most expensive entrees on the menu - at $7 each - are also the largest and tastiest: the Hungarian Pancake consists of a marvel of a frisbee-sized latke folded over salty, tender beef goulash, crowned with sour cream and paprika; the Polish Platter fills the hungriest of diners with bigos (slow-cooked sauerkraut with vegetables and roast pork), polski kelbasa, stuffed cabbage and a choice of perogis (potato, meat and cheese). Incredibly all of this is preceeded by complimentary selections of at least four salads, a mix of sweet vinegared red cabbage, two types of sauerkraut and lightly pickled tomatoes and cucumbers. For those with a taste for organ meats, try the Tongue with Horseradish Sauce ($5), its creamy blanket of sauce emboldened by the freshly grated root a smart counterpoint to the pleasant chalkiness of the meat beneath.

Dinner en Homage Capucine




An early death and tragic life plagued by bouts of mental illness have faded the memory of model and actress Capucine into semi-obscurity. Born in Samour, France - the hometown of one of her many famous patrons, Coco Chanel - this rarified beauty and tower of elegance quickly transformed from muse of Givenchy to international film star, sharing the screen with luminaries as diverse as John Wayne, William Holden, Rex Harrison, Jane Fonda and Peter Sellers to name a few. Her closest friend was Audrey Hepburn, and the two lived merely miles apart in Lausane, Switzerland at the time of Capucine's unfortunate end. Her obituary stated she was survived "only by three cats", but her memory still burns bright at Cafe Drake, where we post the following menu below in her honor. Suggested Filmography: Song Without End (1960), Walk on the Wild Side (1963), The Pink Panther (1963), The Honey Pot (1967), Fellini's Satyricon (1970).
SALADE SUISSE

Salad: 5 medium tomatoes (ripe, peeled, seeded & cut into wedges) /2 medium cucumbers (unpeeled & thin-sliced) /6 eggs (hard-boiled & sliced) /2 small green peppers (halved, seeded, deribbed & very thinly sliced) /1/2 cup black olives (pitted & sliced) /2 small onion (thinly sliced & separated into rings)
Dressing:
10 anchovy fillets (oil-packed, rinsed, patted dry & crushed) / 3/4 cup olive oil /1/4 cup red wine vinegar/ 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice / 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard /1/2 tablespoon oregano (finely minced) /1 small garlic clove (very finely minced) /salt /white pepper
  1. For Dressing: Combine all ingredients & refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  2. For Salad: Prepare & combine all salad ingredients except the egg slices.
  3. Present the salad, drizzle w/dressing to your taste pref, mix to distribute dressing & top w/egg slices to serve.


BRIE RACLETTE

Works of course best with raclette cheese, but its availibity tends to be spotty. Any good cheese shop will have it, but this easy version of the Swiss national dish can be prepared effectively with supermarket Brie. Air-cured dried beef is another traditional accompaniment (Bresaola), so if you like pick up a package at the deli counter of better grocery stores or the local gourmet shop.

1 1/2 lbs brie cheese, rind removed / 1 1/2 lbs tiny new potatoes or boiling potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces / 1 1/2 lbs broccoli, thick stems removed, tops cut into florets (about 1 1/2 quarts)
1 1/2 lbs mushrooms, halved or quartered if large /2 tablespoons cooking oil /1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cocktail onions (or cornichons)

  1. Heat the oven to 400°. Cut the Brie into thin slices and divide the cheese among four small ovenproof dishes or ramekins.
  2. Put the potatoes in a large saucepan of salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the broccoli florets to the pan and simmer until the potatoes and broccoli are tender, about 5 minutes longer. Remove the broccoli with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Drain the potatoes and, if using new potatoes, cut them in quarters when cool enough to handle.
  3. Meanwhile, toss the mushrooms with the oil and salt. Put the mushrooms on a baking sheet and roast until browned and tender, turning once, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and then turn the oven off.
  4. Put the dishes of cheese in the oven and leave until the cheese just melts, 5 to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pile the potatoes, broccoli, mushrooms, and cocktail onions on individual plates.
  5. Serve each portion of melted Brie immediately, along with the vegetables for dipping.

Chocolate (of course) for Dessert

Demitasse

A Good Eau-de-Vie

Note: try a Loire Valley red wine with this meal, a fruity Chinon or Saumur-Champigny. White is often traditional but a lighter red we prefer, especially with the salad and if serving the dried beef.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Never Too Many Pictures of Sailor Page


Because he is the Official Mascot of Cafe Drake. Because he is also the Official Greeter at the door of Cafe Drake. Because he is a daily comfort and inspiration. Because he survived being abandoned in the snow as a kitten and was rescued. Because he is February's Birthday Boy. Because he loves (almost) everything we cook.

I Cannot Tell a Lie About This Soup

Minorly tardy for President's Day we know we know, but this historic soup recipe is too good to not share during these chilly winter nights. Doubles easily and works fine with quality canned crab meat. Serve with dinner rolls and precede with a salad of Bibb lettuce and avocado for a full, rich meal with minimum effort.

GEORGE WASHINGTON'S CRAB SOUP

1 tbl Butter /5 tsp Flour /3 Eggs, hard boiled, sieved /1 Lemon, grated rind of /1 pinch of Salt /1 pinch White pepper /4 cups of Milk (less i fyou like it thicker) / 1/2 lb Crabmeat, cooked / 1/2 cup Heavy cream /1/2 cup Dry sherry (NOT the cream variety here) / 2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce



  1. In a 2 qt saucepan, combine butter, flour, sieved eggs, lemon rind, salt and pepper. In a separate saucepan, bring milk to a boil, remove from heat.

  2. Gradually pour in the hot milk into the egg mixture, stirring with a wire whisk. Add crabmeat, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes; do not boil.

  3. Add cream and remove from heat. Stir in sherry and Worcestershire sauce and serve piping hot.

Lazy as a Greek Sunset

When we get tired at Cafe Drake as of late, we seem to turn to Greek cuisine for a quick fix. The photo above shows tiny new potatoes, cooked whole with bell peppers, spicy green chiles and oil-cured olives. Simply throw all in a pan with liberal amounts of olive oil and salt, cover and cook until golden. We paired the potatoes with fried patties of ground lamb, chopped shallots and fresh dill, seared on each side to medium-rare perfection. A drizzle of yogurt over all and you've got a 20-minute meal fit for a Mediterranean king. Or Zorba.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Further February 2007 Soundbites

Penned in 1987 by arguably the greatest movie star in history, Elizabeth Takes Off is Ms. Taylor's third book, and it seems difficult to believe it was ghost-written given the consistently wacky nature of the prose and content. Part self-help manual on weight loss and personal grooming, part self-therapy project, throughout 300+ pages Liz schools us on healthy diet and moderate lifestyle. OK, so maybe she's not exactly the first person you'd go to for advice on either subject, but the book reads like a novel with many personal anecdotes, pages of glam photos and an entire section of recipes. We tried a few and they're all quite simple and basic and downright tasty; our favorite thus far appears below.

TUNA SALAD A LA LIZ TAYLOR

A defiantly Californian take on traditional tuna salad, the curious combination of ingredients actually works very well, allowing for less mayo and thereby fewer calories and minimal cholesterol. We also love that Liz wasn't giving up the mayonnaise altogether!

1 can tuna, drained & flaked / 1 t. tomato paste / 2 T. mayonnaise / 2 scallions, chopped / 1/2 pink grapefruit, segmented with pith removed / lettuce or salad green of choice

  1. Mix first 5 ingredients and place atop salad greens.




If like us you Tivo'ed Season 2 of Top Chef with high priority in your Programs To Record Queue, you'll enjoy Chowhound's extremely candid interviews with booted contestants. At Cafe Drake we personally think Marcel was robbed of the title for plebian viewer vindication (i.e. ratings) purposes, and while not overly enamoured of molecular gastronomy, it seemed clear to us he was the cook with the most ambition. Judge for yourself at : http://www.chow.com/stories/10406


Lazy Chinese New Year's Dinner 2007







At the last minute Cafe Drake invited neighbor Miki Shimada over for a makeshift, Brokedown (Ming) Palace, tore-up Chinese New Year's supper. Desperate to not ring in the Year of the Pig in a "boaring" way, we slopped out our quickest tea-infused stew ever, and Miki was gracious enough to ask for seconds.



CHINESE NEW YEAR 2007 MENU


Sour Cherry Martinis

Watercress & Shallot Salad with Toasted Sesame Vinegarette

Tea-Infused Hot Pot Stew of Chicken, Dried Tofu, Mushrooms and Root Vegetables
Chile-Soy Rice
Toasted Seaweed

Pumpkin 5-Spice Bread
Japanese Cream Puffs (courtesy of Miki)
Coffee

Port

Friday, February 16, 2007

Raiding the Pantry

Okra bubbles away happily with tomatoes, fennel seeds and pomegranate juice.

Greek-style Mac-n-Cheese straight from a taverna but assembled in haste with limited ingredients.

Every cook should be adept at constructing the 5-minute basic white sauce. Our version includes dried herbs and olive oil for a Mediterranean taste.

Some nights it's simply too cold to run out for ingredients. Or maybe the office was so mentally exhausting that day you can't bear to even assemble a shopping list. On these sad but inevitable (and hopefully rare) occasions it's best to whip up dinner from what you've got in the house. We hit The Wall recently on a frigid February night and in desperation built a meal from the most banal of food staples. Greek baked Mac-n-Cheese was assembled from a box of whole wheat ziti, the easiest of white sauces and remnants of cheddar and feta cheeses. Fading yogurt and the last egg acted as binding ingredients, while flavoring was left to dry rosemary and thyme. A package of frozen okra, simmered with tomato sauce, onions, fennel seeds and pomegranate juice filled out veggie quotient. And before you begin to feel sorry for Cafe Drake, the dinner was delicious accompanied by a toothsome but inexpensive Cotes du Rhone and a Tivo line-up of Top Design, Supernatural and Road Rules. Closer to bedtime and nestled down with a copy of The Selfish Gene we topped the evening with a bakery-bought eclair and demitasse of espresso.

Dinner with Dear Thordis

A host/ess should never delude themselves that anything but candlelight is appropriate for evening dining.


Sailor is always excited to see Thordis. And we continue to let the little dear believe Ms. Adalsteinsdottir is indeed his mother.

The spicy Indian fish stew works wonders for Thordis' cold.

A simple casual table setting for two.

Toast points serve double duty for the stew and cheese course to follow.

Sailor gets shown love from Thordis.


Dinner with Thordis Adalsteinsdottir
Cocktails
Malabar Fish Stew with Tomatoes, Red Snapper, Baby Pumpkin and Eastern Spices
Danish Bleu and Cheshire Farms Organic Cheddar Cheeses with Raisin Chutney
Cardamom Hot Cocao with Dark Chocolate Wedges
Grappa





Sunday, February 11, 2007

Do Something Good with Food

The folks at Barilla pasta have done a terrific service to socially conscientious cooks everywhere by offering a free download of their Celebrity Pasta Lovers' Cookbook. For every FREE download, they donate a dollar to America's Second Harvest, the nation's largest charitable organization targeting hunger around the world. The recipes are all straightforward and feature comments on cooking from stars and celebrity chefs like Mario Batalli (our fave) and Giada de Laurentis. With this kind of generosity from a major corporation it only makes sense to forward the link to everyone you know. Hint: we also found out you can download at least 2-3 times yourself on different computers (home and office for example), thereby raking in more dollars for the ultra-worth America's Second Harvest organization.



Pics Too Good Not to Post

Always keep something on hand for rowdy guests. See our Top 10 Accessories Every Host/ess Should Have posting in January 2007 archives.

The BEST wine opener in the world, the Rabbit. Thanks Mummy! See same posting referenced above.

The Mexican treat we're raving about in these pages. Find someone to smuggle a kilo for you over the border.


Cafe Drake downstairs neighbor Ion Birch, David Sellers and Sailor Page enjoy an apres-dinner conversation.


Did someone say "Evangelista"?





Crazier (than Gnarls Barkley) for Consomme


Everything old is newer than ever again, and the austere bowl of broth or consomme is such a severly elegant (in today's parlance the term would be FIERCE) way to begin a formal dinner. If you're not prone to meals of great formality, try it. You just might enjoy the determination and discipline such an evening or afternoon requires, and certainly your friends and family will appreciate the special treat.

AVOCADO BROTH

A holdover from the days of Ladies Who Lunched (famously), as with most recipes from the 1940s/50s, this thin soup feels fresh again. Presented in wide, shallow soup bowls, garnished with a tiny dollop of sour cream or snipped chives, we can almost imagine Deborah Kerr next to us daintly ladling spoonfuls into her crimson lips. If it lends a further Hollywood pedigree to this already glamorous dish, we'll let you in on a secret: it was Joan Crawford's favorite starter for dinners at her Bel-Air home.

2 cans (10-1/2 oz.each) beef broth /2 soup cans of water (this is how we measure it anyway) /4 crumbled dried chiles (or 1 T. dried chili flakes, though best to use the whole chiles) /Juice of 1 lemon /1 ripe avocado, thinly sliced

  1. Mix beef broth, water, chilies and lemon juice.
  2. Heat just to below boiling. Stir in avocado.
  3. Serve immediately. Serves at least 6 for a small first course.


SCOTCH BROTH

A veritable classic that never goes out of style or unappreciated. Ideal for a multi-course formal dinner, but equally good as a luncheon starter, perhaps preceeding a quiche-and-salad entree or hearty pasta. Most recipes require an enormous cooking time plus lots of skimming of debris from scraped bones, so we invented this (nearly) hands-free version using that crockpot gathering dust in your cabinet.

2 shoulder lamb chops (be sure to buy these cheap cuts available at all supermarkets) /1/3 cup pearl barley /1 large carrot, peeled and cubed / 2 leeks, white part only, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 cups water /salt (you're gonna need quite a bit) / pepper / 1/4 cup parsley, chopped

  1. In the slow cooker, combine the lamb, barley, carrot, leeks, celery and water.
  2. Cover and cook on low for 5 to 7 hours, until meat is very tender and falling apart; add salt and pepper to taste. (You will want to remove the meat and discard the bones most likely).
  3. Ladle into serving dishes and garnish with parsley.

TOMATO CONSOMME WITH MOZZARELLA & TOMATO GARNISH

A great way to start an Italian meal, perfect for hot or cool weather with the addition of rich fresh mozzarella. Avoid a pasta course following with cheese or even an entree based around dairy, as it tends to feel repetative we've discovered. Do not be deterred by the lengthy instructions below; they are meant as guidelines to help you stun guests with presentation and are quite simple.

3 to 4 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes plus 1/2 tomato, cut into 4 wedges / Sea salt and freshly ground pepper /4 mozzarella cheese bocconcini, each 1 inch in diameter (usually found in the deli section of your supermarket, but also at all Italian markets and Costco etc) / 4 cherry tomatoes /About 1-1/2 teaspoons olive oil /8 large fresh basil leaves, cut into very fine chiffonade (i.e. thin strips)

(Note to Visitors Sensitive to Cafe Drake (mis) measurements: It is impossible to give a specific amount for the tomatoes because how much "water" a tomato releases depends on many factors, including the growing season and the variety. You will need enough tomato water to fill your martini glasses, so measure their capacity, probably something between 5 and 9 ounces each. We used 7 tomatoes, about 3 1/2 lbs.)

  1. Chill the martini glasses in the freezer or refrigerate an hour ahead of serving. NOTE: For the most stunning presentation, make sure the glasses are heavily frosted (a freezer gives a heavy frost).
  2. Peel, seed, and chop the tomatoes. Season lightly with salt and pepper; place in a sieve suspended over a bowl and refrigerate for several hours. As the tomatoes release their juice, it will fall into the bowl, giving you an almost gin-clear liquid with lots of flavor. NOTE: If the tomato water is not clear, pour it through a fine mesh strainer. Season the tomato water to taste with salt and pepper and refrigerate until very cold. Reserve the tomato pulp for another use.
  3. Halve or quarter the mozzarella bocconcini if they are larger than 1 inch in diameter. Thread a tomato wedge, a bocconcini piece, and a cherry tomato onto each of 4 wooden skewers 4 to 5 inches long. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil.
  4. Working quickly, divide the tomato liquid among the chilled martini glasses. Balance the skewers on top of the glasses, then sprinkle the basil chiffonade over the skewers. Serve immediately.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch- Changes






Two old axioms we stand by at Cafe Drake: a) A House is not a Home without an Animal and b) Change is Always Good. Shopworn sentiments perhaps, but both should be true to ensure a pleasant atmosphere conducive to regular entertaining, and more importantly, to one's own happiness and mental health. We've greeted 2007 with a good housecleaning and a few new additions (curtains, pillows, wallpaper, objets d'arts etc) and feel all the better for the shake-up. Minor alterations can produce major epiphanies, so treat yourself and your guests to a bold new look (at least one) this month, and carry through the progressive spirit by hosting a dinner comprised entirely of dishes new to your repetoire.

South American Dining with Las Mujeres at Casa Drake




















Cafe Drake was lucky enough recently to host dinner for three gal pals; doubly lucky for us that our guests were all lookers with hearts of gold! The evening began with festive cocktails - Pomegranate Martinis - appropriate to the occasion (not just a house full of pretty girls but also our first Official True Dinner Party of 2007). The intoxicating tartness of these drinks belies their simplicity: 2-3 LARGE measures of good gin, fresh lemon and lime juice, confectionary sugar and pomegranate molasses; shake well with ice and strain into large cocktail glasses.

First up was a broth of dried chiles and tomatoes, spiked with shrimp and herbs. The main course was a slow-stewed chicken mole, sided with baked corn spoon bread and a carrot and cilantro slaw. The ladies loved the dessert of espresso and wedges of dark chocolate (71% cacao) for dipping.

We really channeled Tallulah Bankhead with multi-servings of assorted digestifs (not to mention Lindsey's prosecco during the soup course, and deep and complex reds from Jen and Miki with the entree), including mezcal and grappa. Further Golden Age stars (namely Cyd Charisse, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire) were channeled in the wee hours as we held a dance-off in Cafe Drake's Sitting/Computer Room/Home Office. Miki was Queen of the Foxtrot, Jen brought back the 80s with a Go-Gos impersonation, while Lindsey and Drake graced the floors with a dramatic tango argentine. An exceedingly good time was had by all, at least judging from the shared full stomachs and earth-shattering hangovers the next day.