Friday, July 31, 2009

Greetings From (Finally) Sunny Brooklyn

Tofu in Chile-Caramel Sauce

Light and bright with a flavor profile familiar to all devotees of Vietnamese cuisine, serve as a side dish with meats or as an entree for (pesco-) vegetarian guests. Note: confirmed carnivores also love its sweet-salty tang when confronted with wilting summer appetites. Cafe Drake enjoyed as above with stir-fried carrots and burdock, Chinese greens and garlic bread.

1 lb of tofu, cut into large squares / 2 T. oil / 1 clove minced garlic/ 1/2 onion, chopped finely / 3 T. fish sauce / 2 T. sugar / 1/2 t. or more dried red chile flakes / water / chopped green onions / chopped cilantro

  1. In order to keep the tofu firm and not falling apart, boil it in water for 2-3 minutes then drain and set aside. This really works!

  2. Heat oil over a medium flame and add garlic and onion, then tofu. Cook for a couple of minutes, turning the tofu cubes to brown evenly.

  3. Now stir in fish sauce and sugar and red chiles and about 1/2 cup of water or less.

  4. Cook a couple of more minutes or until sauce turns caramel-esque but still thin.

  5. Throw in chopped green onions and cilantro, toss well and serve hot.

Go Green with Chinese Veggies

A stroll down the aisle of any substantial Asian market will reveal countless varieties of green veggies all but unknown to the average Westerner. Cafe Drake loves exploring this leafy new terrain and finds it impossible to really screw up any Chinese greens dish. If you're not in the mood to Google, or just forgot to scribble the name of a vegetable while at the supermarket, a basic cooking strategy follows: wash greens very well to remove any grit then chop (or not) and saute in vegetable oil till tender. Season with salt and soy sauce and a bit of onion, garlic, ginger, chiles, chile oil, or toasted sesame oil as you wish. But perhaps not all in the same dish.

It helps to saute greens first then after a couple of minutes add seasonings and a bit of water to pan and cover and cook till just tender. Really, this will work with tatsoi, Chinese cabbage, bok choy, choy sum, yu choy, gai lan, chrysanthemum leaves or any others you may find.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Polenta, Punjab Style

Actually this classic Indian pilaf uses wheat, not corn, as its grain base but the results are quite similar to a very dry polenta. Only occasionally making an appearance on the more unique Indian restaurant menus, Cafe Drake simply adores this dish, perfect as a starch side with almost any cuisine of the world. Above we partnered with greenbeans in fenugreek oil (we're still working that recipe out) and watercress salad and a sweet butternut squash curry. Follow our directions below and we promise you'll fall in love as well. Spice to the heat level you desire and if you have them throw a few curry leaves into the hot oil in the beginning stages.


1/4 cup oil / 1 cup Cream of Wheat or semolina / 1 1/2 t. brown/black mustard seeds / 3 chopped shallots or scallions / 1 chopped green chile / 2-3 crumbled dry red chiles / about a T. of chopped ginger / 1 cup yogurt / salt

  1. Heat 2 T. of oil in saucepan and fry/toast semolina till golden. This will take about 5 minutes and some careful monitoring. Stir often please. Remove from pan, set aside and wipe out saucepan. Return to stove for Step 2.

  2. Heat about remaining 2 T. of the oil in saucepan and throw in mustard seeds. Cover and remove towards the end of their "popping" process. Just like popcorn but be careful not to burn.

  3. Add shallots, chiles and ginger to pan.

  4. Whisk yogurt with EXACTLY 1 1/4 cups of water till smooth.

  5. Add to pan. Now add semolina.

  6. Stir and cook over very gentle heat for about 4 minutes.

  7. Remove from heat, cover and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Mixture should be slightly dry. Fluff carefully with fork and serve warm.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Girls of Sunset Park

Or more specifically, Susan and Sloane McKeever-Duys. Cafe Drake spent a day with the delightful pair, whose bubbly company outshone even the blistering sun on this sweltering afternoon as we three braved 95-degree temps to shop in Sunset Park's sprawling Chinatown. Stops included the Bubble Green Tea shop, Hong Kong Supermarket and the justifiably revered dumpling shack Kai Feng Fu (4801 8th Avenue, Sunset Park, Brooklyn). KFF sits under the radar of all but the most nomadic and diligent of foodies, yet their tiny menu of housemade dumplings, soups and snacks is beloved by Chinese food aficionados and now we understand why. Excellent small bites included: pan-fried pork and leek dumplings, vegetable dumplings, sesame cakes (one with salted beef layered inside) and crispy scallion pancakes. Each of the four tables is adorned with a trio of sauces for dipping and sprinkling; our favorite was a homemade chili oil, with browned bits of red pepper adding a toasty note to a too often pedestrian condiment. Afterwards we sought shade and the spray of giant sprinklers in airy and leafy Sunset Park, the neighborhood's titular patch of green and scenic views.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bengali Fish Curry

A beautifully fragrant yet gently spiced preparation for fish. Cafe Drake employed salmon (because we had it in fridge) although paler-fleshed seafood is suggested in classic versions of this recipe. Above see plated with Chinese leafy greens, basmati rice and shredded Taiwanese pork chops (what did we say at Cafe Drake about leftovers?!) and dolloped with red pepper mayo.

Basically: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Now heat 3 T. or so of oil in large skillet and when hot brown 1 sliced onion and 1 clove of chopped garlic. Now add 1 T. of dry mustard, 1 t. of ground coriander and a healthy sprinkling of turmeric. Cook for a minute then add 2 chopped green chiles.

Add 2 chopped tomatoes, plenty of salt and about a T. of sugar. Cook until tomatoes begin to break down. Remove from heat.

Place a bit of veggie mixture on bottom of casserole dish. Fish on top. Smother fish with remaining tomato mixture. Bake for 7-10 minutes and serve hot.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Fab Weeknight Meal with Ruske

How much do we love Jen Ruske? Arriving in town on red eye from Vegas and straight to work, then long night of freelance Tue and festive dinner on Wed at Cafe Drake. We should all have JR's joie de vivre! In her infinite wisdom Ruske brought two lovely bottles ( New Zealand white and Argentinian Malbec), knowing one would never be enough for the both of us. We proceeded at Cafe Drake to dig into a tapas-style meal of Ginger Chicken Kebabs (recipe below), Jicama Salad (ditto), Rice Croquettes with Red Pepper Mayo and an herb salad of watercress, parsley, Thai basil and cilantro. After a full meal and digestive glasses of more wine, Cafe Drake and J Ruske did the only sensible thing for People Like Us and danced madly to Iggy Pop and Prince CDs . . . including the Taffy Pull, Kid N' Play, Sprinkler, Cabbage Patch and Running Man.

R.I.P. Gidget

The beloved mascot of Taco Bell died last night from a stroke at age 15. Gidget, if not TB's greasy fare, will be missed. According to Gidget's trainer Sue: "The mostly retired actor lived out her days laying in the sun – "I like to joke that it's like looking after a plant," says Chipperton – and entertaining at shoots when her trainer brought her along. "Gidget," says Chipperton, "always knew where the camera was."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Get Your Grains at Cafe Drake

There are SO many tasty and unusual grain combinations sold in the markets these days. At Trader Joe's two of our favorites are the Brown Rice Medley with Black Barley and Daikon Radish Seeds and the Basmati Rice Medley (featuring aged Indian Basmati rice and wild rice). The newest permanent addition to Cafe Drake's pantry is the Healthy Grain Multigrain mix from Sawat-D Foods. Redundant product name aside, this is a seriously complex blend of Thai Red Rice, Black Sweet Rice, Sweet Cargo Rice, split mung beans and Job's Tears; the latter grain is highly revered throughout Asia as both a delicious and healing food, said to support radiant skin and produce sedating effects on the nervous system. And um, you know you need that. See the Sawat-D multigrain pilaf above served with Taiwanese pork chops and jicama and watercress salads. As you'll notice, the cooked product gets a bit muddy in tone but does not affect taste - just make certain you've another colorful element on the plate to offset any potential visual grimness.
As above: talk about a grim looking veggie. Nevertheless do seek out on your next supermarket foray; despite outward appearances jicama is wonderfully sweet and crunchy and spot-on for lighter summer appetites.
Peel 1 large jicama and slice into thin matchsticks or a medium dice. Toss with a splash of lime juice, a sprinkle of sea salt, dash of rice wine vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir in 1/2 of a chopped red onion and serve as a side salad or relish. Also good with chopped apples and a bit of fresh oregano.

Lemongrass Iced Tea

Wash and chop about 5 stalks of fresh lemongrass, discarding the very bottoms of the stalks and any tired, dried husks.

Place in a saucepan with about 1 quart or more of water. Bring to a boil then simmer on low for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sugar or honey to taste. Cover and let tea cool to room temperature.

Strain and refrigerate. Excellent with all spicy foods and refreshing on its own as well.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Easy Summer Supper with Octavio

Hungry and confused before dinner at Cafe Drake.

Cheese. Always a welcome addition to any quick meal.

Dining in the living room after overheating the kitchen via cooking.

A favorite component of summer meals: the pickle plate.

On the menu: vegetarian Italian sausage with tomatoes, onions and chiles, alongside pasta primavera. Hey, we take of our vegetarian guests as well at Cafe Drake.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Old Dear Friend Dines at Cafe Drake

Years may have passed on the calendar, but it was mere days for all reality when Cafe Drake hosted our dear dear friend Julianne Zaleta for a Vietnamese-themed dinner. Said cuisine proved perfect on the hottest (so far) day of the year, a muggy affair, but a/c and cooling accompaniments kept JZ and CD happy as clams while we spent the evening catching up and laughing like the old days.

A festive kick-off began when Julianne brought over a bag of goodies fresh from her garden in Park Slope: baby oak leaf lettuce, nasturtiums, squash blossoms and a bouquet of purple pansies, some for the vase and some for our salad!

Starters included Vodka Collins, khakri wafers with cumin powder and a salad composed of J's offerings and topped with Vietnamese Pork Meatballs. Our main was Broiled Chicken Skewers with a homemade tamarind-garlic sauce, a brown rice pilaf, an herb plate of cilantro, mint, basil, chive buds, sliced chiles, and cucumbers and house-pickled cukes, onions and carrot ribbons.

Dinner was tasty enough, but much more delicious were the hours spent reunited.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sundown Splendor at Socrates Sculpture Park

Veggies awaiting roasting with a simple combo of kosher salt, good olive oil and fresh basil and thyme. Other twilight picnic goodies included quick cuke pickles, pimento cheese and whole wheat rolls.

The film tonight was a Laotian documentary 27 years in the making, introduced by the director/cinematographer herself!

One viewer got uncomfortably (to us) comfortable during the pre-screening.

Hearty Cab Sav from Australia, provided by Jen Ruske, went a long way towards our viewing pleasure.

The city skyline provides a dramatic backdrop to our outdoor cinema.

Jen Ruske relaxes after a filling picnic meal prior to showtime.