Saturday, January 30, 2010

Winter Appetites

Salads often get neglected during the cold months but why not assemble a bright and fresh plate of greens and fruits embracing the hearty survivors of winter? Cafe Drake adores a seasonal salad of escarole, sliced pears, toasted pecans and leeks stewed in cream. Dress it all with a quick champagne vinaigrette sweetened with maple syrup and spiked with grainy mustard.

Making the Most of Winter Produce: Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Anjou Pears and Red Onions. Serve as a side dish or as a starter salad course, topped with crumbled bleu or feta cheese.

Bring some heat into cold kitchens with a South Indian twist on pasta! Soak 1/2 a package of rice noodles in hot water, drain and rinse well under cool water. Set aside. Now heat 3-4 T. of vegetable oil in a large skillet and fry some black mustard seeds until they pop. Add a T. or so of urad dhal (split gram beans available at all Indian grocers or online - you can prepare the dish without these if needed) and 3-4 dried red chilies and saute for 1-2 minutes or until all brown. Throw in some cumin seeds, cook for another minute then add noodles to skillet. Moisten with enough water to keep noodles from burning and cook covered on a lower heat for a minute or two. Add salt and a sprinkle of turmeric and cook another 3 minutes. Add the juice of 1/2 a lemon and some of the zest, garnish with chopped cilantro and serve warm. Great with cooked cabbage and tomato chutney as above.

Everyone loves French Onion Soup. We mean everyone. But sometimes the 2-inch thick mass of melted and chewy cheese on top can be overwhelming (not to mention a choking hazard!) In Cafe Drake's version above - served to Jen Ruske one insanely cold January schoolnight - the broth takes the leading role in an interpretation which lets its complexities shine while making the overall dish more heart and waistline friendly. Of course you can't do without the cheese and bread, so try creating nifty little cheese toasts rectangles and float above a soup slow-cooked and carefully tended to bring out the deep, rich flavors of the stewed onions and beef broth.

A vegetarian main-course soup so flavorful in its basic ingredients that it doesn't require the use of any stock is Cafe Drake's Indonesian Root Vegetable Bisque with Peanuts and Ginger. The recipe (as such) is below but please note you will need to adhere to the part about cooking the onions separately. Although this process dirties two pans instead of one it is essential to not have the onion mixture overwhelmed or diluted by cooking alongside the other vegetables. No worries as it's fairly effortless to make as is and only needs bread and a salad to create a meal worthy of any guests - vegetarians or not.

Peel and chop in small cubes: 1 large onion, 2 small parsnips, 2 carrots, 3-4 sweet potatoes and about a 2-inch piece of fresh ginger. Place in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add some salt and crushed red chilies and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover; simmer for about 30 minutes or until veggies are quite tender. Cool slightly then puree in batches and return to pot.

While the root veggies are cooking, in another pan saute another onion for 15-20 minutes until soft and slightly brown. Add a clove or two of garlic and a large handful of chopped cilantro. Add 1 cup of water and also puree in blender. Add to root veggies.

Stir in about 1/2 cup of smooth peanut butter, a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce and let it all simmer gently for 5 minutes. Adjust for salt and pepper and then squeeze half a lemon into the pot.

Stir and serve hot, garnished with chopped cilantro and/or peanuts if you choose.

A few of the components of The D P Chutney Collective's newest addition to their line of superlative condiments: Tomatillo Conserves

Monday, January 25, 2010

Late January is Always Busy at Cafe Drake

Mid-to-late January is a time when everyone needs a pick-up from the post-holiday blues. And a reason to leave the house in the frozen Northeast dead-of-winter. Wow re:last sentence. Hyphenation, much?

Miki S always gives us a reason to celebrate the dark and chilly months. And no method better than a fondue and wine tasting soiree! Miki and Jason hosted to a score of a friends who all enjoyed heartily the flowing vino, gimlets and lethal 14 day, pineapple-infused vodka digestives.

Delicious was: Swiss fondue, stuffed mushrooms, fried sausages in mustard sauce, wasabi-crusted anchovies, curried mixed nuts, assorted olives, chocolates, homemade almond tofu with peaches and two types of Spanish frittatas.

Cafe Drake wishes every month could be mid-January!

Ailing but still loving, Sailor Page continues to light his Daddy's heart.

Jicama salad and fresh lotus root salad with ginger dressing.

Cafe Drake and Lucy Lazzaro both love mama Jen's perfected Chicken Pot Pie with Parmesan Biscuit Crust.

Apricots, onions, apples, red bell peppers and golden raisins combine to create a new chutney soon to debut from The D P Chutney Collective.

Our favorite Dollar Menu item and alot of (tasty) bang for a buck: the sauerkraut and wild mushroom-stuffed sesame roll from Old Poland Bakery (190 Nassau Ave., Greenpoint, Brooklyn 11222).

Sometimes the sum really is more than the parts, especially when it all comes together in a roasting pan in a hot oven. The deceptively simple technique of an old Roman chicken classic is to toss several boneless and skinless chicken thighs with a bit of olive oil, kosher salt, plenty of fresh coarsely ground black pepper, rosemary and fennel seeds. Marinate at room temperature for 45 minutes then roast quickly in a 425 degree oven, finishing off under the broiler for an appealing golden color.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Another Healthy Side: Potato and Spinach Curry

A version of this stalwart Indian vegetarian curry appears on every Punjab menu. Cafe Drake's interpretation is easy to whip during the busiest of times and contains far less fat than the butter and cream-drenched standard.

1 1lb. of spinach, washed and trimmed / 1 T. oil / 1 t. black mustard seeds / 1 onion, sliced very thinly / 2 garlic cloves, chopped / about 1 T. of chopped or grated ginger / 1 lb. of peeled potatoes cut into small cubes / 1-2 t. cayenne pepper / 1 t. salt / about 1/2 cup water

  1. Blanch spinach in boiling water for 4 minutes, drain and squeeze very dry.
  2. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet and fry mustard seeds over high heat until they pop. Be careful to not burn and cover the skillet to avoid hot mustard seed missiles.
  3. Add onion, garlic and ginger and fry for 5 minutes over a slightly lower flame.
  4. Add potatoes, cayenne, salt and water and stir-fry for 10 minutes.
  5. Add the spinach, cover the pan, lower the heat and simmer for 10 or 15 minutes or until potatoes are quite tender.
  6. Serve hot.

Random Refrigerator View #14

Baked Clams with Pancetta and Breadcrumbs

When it comes to clams it's tough to compete with the handful of old-school Italian eateries still holding on in Williamsburg, cheerful reminders all in a willfully amnesic neighborhood hellbent on erasing its cultural heritage. Appearing on Old Italian Brooklyn menus always as Vongole Oreganato, baked and breaded clams are supremely simple to prepare at home. We must admit though they don't taste quite as good minus the atmosphere of gondola murals, red carpeting and gilded chandeliers.


Serve in the shell as a festive, nostalgic appetizer or as a main course with salad and bread. You will need to use the largest variety of clam you can obtain; giant cherrystones work well and if you're near Rhode Island by all means use quahogs.

The recipe may seem overly long but please don't be deterred as everything comes together quickly.

  • Scrub 6-8 very large clams very well, removing any beards clinging to the shells. Make sure all are fresh and tightly shut; as always discard any open shellfish that do not close firmly when tapped.
  • Place clams in a saucepan with 3-4 tablespoons of water. Cover and steam over medium heat until shells open. Remove from heat.
  • Remove clam meat from shell, chop well and set aside.
  • Strain accumulated clam juice from the pan through cheesecloth and set aside as well.
  • Scrub shells very well and set aside like everything else so far.
  • Now mince 1 onion and 3 cloves of garlic and fry gently in olive oil. After a minute or so add: some red pepper flakes, dried oregano and basil and a bit of salt and black pepper.
  • Add about 2 cups of plain, unseasoned bread crumbs to pan and cook till crumbs are golden brown.
  • Now add some of the strained clam juice and stir until breadcrumbs/onion mixture is nice and moist but not soggy or runny. At this point check for seasoning though be cautious - the clams and juice are very salty.
  • Stir chopped clams into breadcrumbs, mix well and stuff into individual cleaned clam shells.
  • Top each clam shell with a small bit of pancetta.
  • Bake for 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven and then brown for 3 minutes under the broiler.
  • Serve hot with lemon wedges.

Miki Joins Cafe Drake for Clams and Cordials

Why do cured pork products marry so well with shellfish?

Our Main Course

Waiting to be Tossed: salad ingredients of spicy baked tofu and scallions


Cafe Drake recently had the good fortune to catch up with Miki S over a casual Friday evening dinner. As always Sailor joined us for the meal - spot his regal feline grace above in the digital family portrait.


Gin and Lemon Sodas

Zucchini and Cashew Soup

Clams Oreganato in Shells
Winter Salad: Watercress, Cilantro, Scallions, Chinese Chives and Spicy Baked Tofu


Treasuring the Days with Sailor

Sailor Page, beloved mascot and co-host of Cafe Drake, has reached a new low. In weight that is. Despite his skeletal appearance during these final stages of chronic kidney disease and cancer, Sailor still never fails to greet guests at the door and lend his friendly company to all meals.

From the Test Kitchen of The D P Chutney Collective

Ingredients for Mustard Pear ChowChow stew atop the stove.

Pears, apples, shallots, green chilies and coriander seeds are but a few of the building blocks of The D P Chutney Collective's latest creation . . . soon to be taste-tested and if meeting with widespread approval, coming soon to a food fair or gourmet shop near you. Hopefully!