Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dinner in 15 Minutes

Here's how to do it nutritiously, deliciously and with a pinch of flair: put salted water on to boil for pasta. Saute 1 onion in 2-3 T. olive oil until soft, then add cayenne pepper and paprika. Cook for 1 more minute and add 1/2 package of frozen petite peas.

Cook for 2 more minutes and remove from heat. Stir in 3/4 cup of sour cream and some salt and pepper to taste. Flake in about a cup of smoked salmon and toss in some chopped dill. By this point the pasta (you should use medium shells or elbow macaroni) will be done (about 10 minutes for al dente).

Throw in a couple of tablespoons of the pasta water then drain. Toss pasta with sauce in skillet and serve warm with a green salad.

Coconut and Tomato Soup

Another tangy and spicy South Indian soup (vegetarian as well) for the brisk nights of Autumn. If you have - or can find - toasted coriander seeds, garnish the finished product with a sparse sprinkling for added depth of flavor. Unsweetened, flaked coconut also makes a nice topping.


4 large tomatoes (peeled) / 1/2 t. cumin seeds (dry roasted in pan for 2 minutes) / salt /1 cup water or more as desired / 1 can coconut milk / 1 T. oil / about 10-15 curry leaves, torn into pieces / 1/2 t. black mustard seeds / 2-3 dried red chiles, crumbled / grated ginger as an additional, optional garnish

  1. Combine tomatoes, cumin seeds and some salt in a blender and process till smooth.

  2. In a deep pot add tomatoes and water and cook on medium heat for 20 minutes.

  3. Add coconut milk and cook another 5 minutes, stirring now and then.

  4. While the soup is cooking, heat oil in a skillet and add curry leaves, mustard seeds and chiles. When seeds "pop" remove from heat and add to soup.

  5. Mix well and serve warm.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Spicy South Indian with Jorge

Before his late night rendezvous with a lady friend in SoHo, Jorge M stopped by Cafe Drake for drinks (LOTS!) and a full-on Southern-style Indian meal.



Pork Vindaloo
Maharaji Potatoes (recipe to follow shortly)
Cucumber Salad
Mango Chutney
Mixed Indian Pickles

Oatmeal Cookies (courtesy of Miki S)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lasagne Dinner with Miki S

Gin and Tonics
Toasted Semolina Baguette with Roasted Garlic and Chile Oils and Basil Cheese

Neapolitan Lasagna (Beef & Pork Ragu and Bechamel Sauce
Braised Kale with Beefsteak Tomatoes and Green Onions

(Carinena Raso Grenacha Rose 2007
Case Collina Rosso Piceno 2005)

Dishes You Should Know How to Make: Tabouli

While perfectly good tabouli can be prepared from a box mix, fresh is always best. And quite different in texture and flavor. Make a big batch and add chopped tomatoes or cucumbers just before serving if desired. Cafe Drake regards tabouli as a rice substitute for all Middle Eastern dishes, and above we used the wheat salad as a flavorful base for broiled cheese and vegetable kabobs, sided by cumin-laced yogurt.

2 cups cracked wheat (bulghur) /2 cups very hot water /1 bunch green onions, sliced / 1/2 cup fresh chopped mint /2 cups fresh chopped parsley / Dressing:1/2 cup fresh lemon juice / 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil / 1 tablespoon pepper /2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

  1. Soak the cracked wheat in the hot water until the water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.

  2. Drain any excess water, if necessary, and squeeze dry.

  3. Combine the salad ingredients, including wheat, in a medium bowl.

  4. Mix the dressing ingredients together and stir into the salad mixture.

  5. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

R.I.P. Paul Newman

Cafe Drake sheds a tear today for the passing of Paul Newman - actor, activist, style icon and purveyor of quality organic food products.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Good news for all those prone to autumn allergies or overly susceptible during the upcoming cold and flu season: the following soup recipe is choked full of anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-viral foodstuffs. Carrying a seriously tangy gravitas, this soup is best served in small, delectable portions, elegantly spread over wide and shallow soup bowls as a light starter; or, as above, partnered with an arugula salad, sun-dried tomatoes and whole-wheat nan bread. For the latter, skip the lengthy and tricky bread preparation and opt for store-bought; our current fave brand is from Fabulous Flats, widely available in better supermarkets.


2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced / 2 T.butter / 1 T. vegetable oil / 1 t. cumin seeds) dry roast in pan first for 2 minutes) / 1/2 t. turmeric / 1 small tomato, chopped / 2 dried red chiles, crumbled / 1 minced fresh green chile / 2 cups whole milk / 1 cup plain yogurt / salt

  1. In a deep pan, heat oil and butter and fry ginger till brown.

  2. Add cumin and turmeric and fry for 30 seconds, then add the tomato.

  3. Cook for another 8 minutes or until tomato is very soft.

  4. Add both kinds of chiles and milk and bring to a boil.

  5. Reduce to a simmer and stir in yogurt. NOTE: The yogurt will curdle but do not fret.

  6. Remove from heat, puree well in a blender and return to warm pot.

  7. Season liberally with salt and GENTLY GENTLY reheat before serving.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

From the Decade We Hallucinated Through

Any vaguely 80's Kids - including those very young during the decade but blessed with older siblings - will recognize the frustration of struggling to find indie tunes online, or anywhere, those minor gems lost on vinyl or cassette maxi-singles forever. The Virgin Prunes' two EP releases spin-off named Princess Tinymeat? Impossible, almost, unless like Cafe Drake you burned the 5-song record onto digital media. A full-length Roman Holiday album? Ditto for bad luck.
But we can all finally at least listen to the now deeply obscure single (45 rpm) from (the equally obscure, but remembered at Cafe Drake) Flesh for Lulu: Golden Handshake Girl. Surely one of the most boss alt-pop anthems ever to grace college radio in 1987. Hit the LINK to play for your next VH1-themed dinner. [Ed: If anyone has on actual MP3, please email to us - ta!]

Chicken in a Caramel Sauce

Hailing from the home kitchens of Vietnam, this stalwart Saigon weeknight dish translates strangely into English (as posting title above indicates), but don't be scared off by the discordant name of the actual recipe. In reality, serving up such a fetching combination of sweet and salty flavors will unexpectedly shock your taste buds in the happiest of ways, leading you to wonder why you never thought of preparing poultry in a spicy syrup yourself.

When "salted caramel" desserts are rocking menus across the world, a savory preparation is only too welcome to open-minded palettes. Having preached thus, JUST TRY IT and tell us if you don't love this! Do not be scared by the list of ingredients - the meal, served with a bowl of rice - comes together in less than 30 minutes.

In the photos above you'll see we served nestled with sliced beefsteak tomatoes and sliced red onions dressed in olive oil, mint leaves and rice vinegar.


approx. 2 lbs. chicken thighs and legs (we removed excess skin) / vegetable oil / 2 cloves minced garlic / 3 T. minced fresh ginger (powdered would be OK but use less) / 1 minced shallot / 2 T. fish sauce ( or as we did, mix two anchovies with 2 T. water) / 2 T. brown sugar / 1 T. sugar / salt and lots of black pepper / several dried red chiles or 1 t. cayenne pepper / about 1/3 cup water / green onions for garnish

  1. Heat oil in a deep skillet and brown chicken on both sides over medium-high heat. Move poultry to the side of pan after 10 minutes or so and add in shallot, garlic and ginger.

  2. Stir seasonings/veggies for 2 minutes.

  3. Add fish sauce or anchovies, both kinds of sugar, salt, black pepper and chiles or cayenne.

  4. Let cook for a minute or so, fiercely boiling, then add water.

  5. Toss chicken well with all seasoning and sauce, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes.

  6. When the sauce has become a reddish and brown syrup, add green onions, remove from heat and serve with plenty of plain rice.


Never in our 20+ years in NYC has this community so bonded together over a television show, especially one that exclusively features high school students behaving badly yet captures the imagination of New Yorkers of all ages. The weekly Upper East Side fab news rag, The Observer, features continual spreads and tongue-wagging items on the series' young stars and their nightly transgressions at The Waverly and Beatrice Inns. Unlike the vanilla/Middle America versions of Manhattan and Williamsburg sanitized on Seinfeld and Friends (etc), Gossip Girl actually name drops all the right restaurants, clubs, local socialites, and seedy after-hours addresses.

Maybe it also helps that they shoot continuously in our neighborhoods, bringing geographical reality to a surreal world where 15-year old lushes are served martinis at Luke and Leroy's and sip champagne on limo rides to school. Cafe Drake fell in love after the first episode and just hopes low ratings outside the 212/718 area codes doesn't deprive us of at least one more full season. In tribute Radio Cafe Drake, a/k/a FIRZ-FM - has built a brand new playlist - CAFE GOSSIP - drawn from musical artists featured on the weekly series. You don't have to be a resident of our town - or even religiously watch Gossip Girl - to appreciate this swinging mix for those who think young! Play whenever you are behaving, as the National Parents Association described GG, "mind-blowingly inappropriate and disgusting." Artists highlighted include: Lady GaGa, Cloud Cult, The Figurines, Santogold, Ne-Yo, The Fratellis, Oppenheimer, Junkie XL, The Pierces, The Fashion, The 88 among so many others.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Okra Soup

A recipe supposedly dating back to the early 19th century, this soup comes with a pedigree. A bowl of thick tomato and meat broth loaded with thinly sliced okra and onions, Okra Soup is open to many variations: some cooks discard the simmered bones altogether while others (like us) add the flaked meat back to the pot; many prefer the soup quite spicy through the addition of chile peppers and dried cayenne, while often a cruet of hot pepper vinegar is passed around at the table so each diner may spike to their own tolerance level.

1 lb. beef shank / 1 small ham hock / water / 2-3 lbs. chopped tomatoes / 1 onion, thinly sliced / about 4 cups thinly sliced okra / salt and pepper / cooked rice to garnish

  1. Cover the meat bones with 5-6 cups water, bring to a boil, skim surface of foamy debris and simmer on low for 1-2 hours.

  2. Add onions and simmer for another 15 minutes. Remove bones and flake meat and return to soup pot.

  3. Add okra, tomatoes and salt and black pepper and simmer - partially covered - an additional 2 hours or so on very low heat.

  4. Re-adjust seasoning and pour into warmed soup bowls.

  5. Serve if desired with a scoop of rice in the center of each bowl, or crusty French bread or even garlic toast.

Soup & Salad(s) with David

Whisky & Soda

Duo of Composed Salads: Carrot Ribbons and Anjou Pears with Cilantro Dressing / Red Leaf Lettuce with Creamy Tofu Dressing and Ricotta Salata

Savannah Okra Soup

Monday, September 22, 2008

Introducing Lucy Lazzaro

Cafe Drake spent a cozy evening getting to know Lucy Lazzaro a little better - and what a flirty girl she is, showering us with kisses and hugs. Good taste, that one. Besides playing with Jen's new Brussels Griffon puppy, we supped on a lusciously dense and rich beef stew, an earthy early autumnal depth achieved through slow cooking and the unusual mixture of allspice, sage and beer. We're looking forward to seeing Jen again very soon . . . and cuddling with Lucy and grabbing that stew recipe!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mini Restaurant Reviews September 2008

The Noodle House (2313 Commerce Center, North Brunswick, NJ 08902)
Curiously enough we recently found ourselves in Princeton, NJ, accompanying Jen Lazzaro on a puppy recognizance mission (think elusive, bi-polar dog breeder; think eerily empty house save for pups of all varieties; think gloomy skies and constant downpour; think well-intentioned but clueless neighbors). Even odder, Cafe Drake lunched at a Thai buffet in a North Brunswick strip mall - and loved it! The ubiquitous Asian Modern decor misstep aside, The Noodle House serves up a most impressive mid-day congo line of startlingly tasty Thai classic variants: a subtle(!) chicken and coconut soup and another spicy with dried chiles and wild mushrooms; Bangkok-style home fries (!); basil chicken; non-sticky and non-sweet pad thai noodles; roasted corn-studded rice; chive and peanut dumplings; tofu skewers with cilantro sauce; cashew and scallion fritters and a half-dozen puddings and sorbets we were too replete to sample. All for $10!

La Bonne Soupe (48 West 55th Street, New York, NY 10019)

Cafe Drake and Susan McKeever-Duys found ourselves under the gun, with just shy of an hour, to grab a bite prior to City Center's Fall for Dance 2008 program of international modern and classical troupes. [Especially great was The National Canadian Ballet Company's majestic 16-man performance of Soldiers' Mass.] Half a block away from the venue we tore into crusty bread and good butter, washed down with a half-carafe of house red ($14) at La Bonne Soupe, one of the last of Midtown's family-owned, reasonably priced independent eateries. Warmly decorated in a country French style that is far more rustic farmhouse than the more typical urban bistro variety so overwhelming NYC at the moment, gingham upholstered walls, dark oak and dried flowers make La Bonne Soupe the coziest of destinations. Unfortunately the coziness may be too intense for some, given the terribly cramped seating arrangement - tables so close you'll know if the patron next to you ordered the Garlic Soup as a starter. A complimentary green salad was well dressed and a simple palette cleanser and appetizer. The Hamburgers (all $13.95) arrive in casserole dishes (no buns of familiar trimmings) and are sided with silver pails of perfect fries; the chopped sirloin patties themselves are moist and rich beyond belief, ours especially as we chose the cognac, black pepper and butter sauced version.

Shangri-La (74-15 Roosevelt Avenue, Jackson Heights, Queens, NY 11372)Still on our vision quest to indulge in every Indian buffet amongst the dozens of Jackson Heights, Queens, Cafe Drake skipped breakfast to plow through unimpeded the substantial steam table at Shangri-La. While mushy eggplant and greasy cabbage were humdrum, SL distinguished itself on an entirely different plain - that of unexpected spice profiles and seasoning intensity. A tossed salad dressed simply with yogurt is littered with scorching green chiles . . . DOZENS of them. Ginger, an important background component of most Indian flavor profiles, rises to the forefront here in a dish of ripe tomatoes and cold green peas. Neglected veggies like the lowly turnip and overlooked winter squash appear in a combination curry. Hard-boiled egg curry - a staple of poor Indian students living abroad in bed-sitters with a hotplate - is a welcome and homespun addition to the buffet. Vegetable dumplings floating in a buttermilk and fenugreek seed gravy were superb. Note to non-carnivores: although Shangri-La advertises itself as 100% vegetarian, Cafe Drake gnawed on several tiny chicken lollipops and a luscious and tender (and hot!) goat vindaloo.

The Wicked Wit of Jenifer Ruske

Bookmark another blog to your ever growing list of Firefox Favorites - the ruminations of one Jen Ruske, also know as Fun With Ruske. Ms. Ruske mixes tales of daily life in NYC with travel and leisure posts and of course special attention to food, gardening and social gatherings . . . the entire package tied up nicely with equal parts humorous invective and incisive reportage. You've met her many times before on these pages - now go observe the delightful creature in her own natural habitat.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dinner (with Happy Assistance) at Cafe Manahan

DINNER AT JORGE'S CRIB (Head Chef: Jen Ruske)

Manhattans and Rose Wine

Pan-Seared Chicken Thighs with Vermouth, Mushrooms & Fresh Tarragon
Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Smashed New Potatoes
Sauteed Spinach with Garlic
Romaine Salad with Bleu Cheese and Bacon
Roasted Jersey Hot Peppers

Various White Wines (New Zealand S. Blanc, Cali Chardonnay etc.)