Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Jackfruit Curry

The Good News: This much buzzed-about ingredient, jackfruit, not only contains high levels of multiple vitamins and minerals but, bought in a can, is shockingly cheap. Cafe Drake bought the fresh variety (also inexpensive at Asian/East Indian markets) and threw it away after a frustrating half-hour attempt to peel and chop.

Chopped jackfruit bears a striking resemblance to artichoke hearts in both texture and flavor. Cooking the fruit however renders it "meaty", hence its moniker in vegan circles as Fruit Chicken.

Jackfruit curry with basmati rice, jicama salad, roasted beets and broiled hot peppers. Click here for the jackfruit curry recipe we used. Delish!

Another Birthday for Cafe Drake

Birthdays, at this age, tend more to the bittersweet side of Life. 

Cafe Drake however enjoyed a most splendid, relaxing day wandering the grounds of our beloved Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, preceded by lunch at a Prospect Heights Jamaican vegetarian cafe (meat-free "ribs" with peppers; rice and peas; spicy shredded cabbage and carrots) and followed by an awe-inspiring meal at Williamsburg's newest - and we dare say, finest - haute American eatery, Masten Lake

Surrounded by a handful of dear friends, we started the evening off with a cunning, appropriately bittersweet cocktail tarted up by the bar ingredient of the moment, citric acid. 

Too many glasses of red, white and bubbly wine followed to recount (not to mention digestifs!) but a brief rundown of the successful victuals included: a Brie-esque Vermont cheese sided with sweetened Marcona almonds and chili sauce, tufts of torn, charred sourdough bread slicked with olive oil and sea salt, pan-fried calamari tossed alongside musky melon cubes, lime fingers and sea beans, buttery chanterelle mushrooms with an elusively spiced cream sauce and toast nuggets, duck breast paired with perfectly runny - yolks only, natch -  duck eggs and earthy King Trumpet mushrooms, a rectangle of expertly charred sable fish (skin crunchy and toasted above melting fish flesh) atop strokes of jet-black squid ink and pickled Romano beans, hand-rolled pasta "cigars" tossed with warm burrata, clam brodo and exquisite cod cheeks, fresh (who knew!!) shaved hearts of palm dressed with coconut cream, head-on prawns nestled in farro polenta and decorated with fat salmon roe. 

Shall I continue? Thanks so much to darling friends with such dear ideas of a true birthday fete!

Condiments Make the Meal

Actually, Crispy Prawn Chili "sauce" qualifies more as a small side dish, such is the reverence given to sambals and fiery hot sauces in Indonesian cuisine. Opening a jar of the stuff emits a whiff of oceanic muskiness, but seafood-phobes relax: this stuff isn't really "fishy" at all. The crunchy texture does of course come from the shells of tiny crushed crustaceans, as does the pleasantly mild brininess, but it's all perfectly harmonious with a low-level heat supplied by toasted red chilies. Perfect atop noodles or plain rice, this chili condiment sings loudest - and sweetest - when lounging on steamed tofu and vegetables. Considering a jar is less than $3, lasts forever in the fridge and can be snapped up at any Asian food store, there's no argument against purchasing. Now.

Jen and Ben Stop by Cafe Drake on Emmy Night


Whiskey Sours
Thai Coconut Crackers
Spicy Potato Waffle Chips

Red Wine Vinegar Chicken with Potato Dumplings and Oyster Mushrooms
Stewed Kohlrabi
Cucumber Raita
Beet Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Sauteed Baby Bok Choy
Spiced Veggie Pickles

Ben's Cinnamon Butter Cookies


  • 4 medium Kohlrabies (about 1 ½ pounds without leaves, 2 pounds with leaves)
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced, fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons chopped shallot
  • Salt
  • Pepper 
  • Sesame Oil

Remove kohlrabi leaves if present and save for another use. 
Peel kohlrabi globes and shred or julienne. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over MEDIUM heat. Toss kohlrabi with ginger and shallots and heat until tender-slightly crisp, 5-8 minutes. Add a few drops of water or more oil as needed.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with sesame oil ( about 1-2 teaspoons), toss again and serve. Good hot, warm or at room temperature.

Saigon Steak

Three-Ingredient Entrees are a rare breed. Such a notion is almost inconceivable to the modern home cook, seduced daily with online/print/TV intros to increasingly exotic and unique spices,herbs and vegetables. Sometimes a welcome respite from this onslaught of nascent culinary knowledge is just what you need when feeling overwhelmed in a place that should be relaxing - your kitchen.

So take a deep breath and return those grains of paradise to the spice shelf - here's a nifty dish so undemanding it can't help but endear its way into your weeknight dinner repertoire.

Begin with a 1-2 lb. cut of either flank, skirt or London Broil-style steak. The latter is by far the cheapest and really works beautifully here given the alchemical tenderizing results of the fish sauce marinade. Cover the beef with 1/4 cup fish sauce and 3-4 minced scallions and refrigerate for 5-8 hours. Be sure to wash your hands well and keep the beef covered; as delicious as fish sauce tastes, the smell is equally grim.

When you're almost ready to eat/serve, remove the steak from the marinade and place on a baking sheet lightly brushed with oil. While pre-heating the broiler cut 3-4 scallions in half and place on the baking sheet. Place the steak atop the scallions and scatter the minced scallions from the marinade over all.

Broil until just rare. None of the cuts of beef mentioned here will withstand even medium or medium-well temperatures, i.e. they end up tough as shoe leather when overcooked. Allow no more than 3-4 minutes per side and maybe less.

Remove from broiler and let meat rest for 5 minutes before slicing thinly, on the diagonal and against the grain. All you need is some rice and a green vegetable to complete this easiest of meals!  

For those just craving a bit more complexity - not needed here by the way, really - you might add 2 stalks of minced lemongrass, a clove of crushed garlic or a few sliced chilies to the marinade. Other suitable sides might include mashed potatoes and a spinach salad.

Hot Water Cornbread (Again)

Vegetarian baked beans are even better with a healthy dose of smoked paprika; the fragrant spice adds both BBQ "realness" and depth of flavor. Cafe Drake likes our with romaine and feta salad, sauteed kohlrabi and "hot water" cornbread as seen above. 

Grab a recipe for the latter here, although instead of pan-frying we bake our hot-H2O cornbread in the oven (in a pre-heated and oiled iron skillet for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees).

Lloyd Likes Licking His Nose

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Summer Ends at Cafe Drake

And our autumn cleaning is well under way. Above, shiny spotless Cafe Drake sits empty but waiting and primed for autumnal guests.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Lamb and Polenta in Summer? Absolutely!

Despite its preeminence in sultry climes such as the Mid-East and India, Western palettes often associate lamb with heavy and rich meals more suited to cooler weather. Cafe Drake's lamb burgers/patties erase that notion when grilled in backyards and sided with green tomato pickles, rice and spicy soybeans (as seen above). The recipes for both the lamb burgers and the soybeans are linked for your convenience.

Okay, polenta in the summer sounds sort of crazy, even to us. Try the recipe below however, while resisting the temptation to heap in shredded cheddar or roasted sausages, and we think you'll discover how comforting creamy cornmeal can be. Even on a warm night. Another key to keeping a polenta meal less stodgy is the choice of accompaniments. As above, Cafe Drake partnered polenta on an August evening with a romaine salad and stir-fried Italian veggies (zucchini, onions, garlic, tomatoes and mixed bell peppers). Confession: we can't wait for November and the chance to top our polenta with braised short ribs! But this will do nicely for now. . . . . Bring two cups of water and 1 cup of whole milk to a boil in a large and heavy saucepan. While the liquids are coming to a boil, mix together 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of cornmeal. Whisk until you have a very thick but smooth paste. When the liquids are boiling, slowly stir/whisk in the cornmeal and milk mixture. Add 1 t. salt. Incorporate very well and try to whisk out any lumps that may form. Reduce the heat to quite low and gently simmer for about 10-15 minutes. You'll need to stir frequently, constantly in the last 4-5 minutes of cooking. The polenta will be very thick but creamy when ready. Remove from the heat and stir in 2-3 T. of good butter and 3/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese. You'll probably need to add more salt so season accordingly and finish with a generous grinding of black pepper.

Preserving Summer at Cafe Drake

As the height of summer harvest season crests in the Northeast, Cafe Drake has been ardently canning and pickling the freshest of vegetables for our winter table. Above, Curried Cauliflower Pickles.

Octavio Dines at Cafe Drake

Dispensing with multiple courses and complicated cocktails, Cafe Drake shared a simplified meal with longtime friend and upstairs neighbor Octavio Fenech recently, sending off the final days of Summer with plenty of food and wine but scant formality or pretense. Our menu included pan-fried shrimp (seasoned with cumin, fennel and nigella seeds), basmati rice, peas and squash, fried and salted chili peppers, okra pickles and a grape tomato salad heaped with shredded mint and cilantro. Two whites to drink with this casual, catch-up meal: a golden yellow Chardonnay (Domaine Raissac) and a dry Muscadet (Chateau de la Chesnaie).

Lloyd Hogs the Remotes