Friday, July 29, 2011

Vegetables! They're What's For Dinner.

Cucumber and Toasted Cashew Salad

Sweet, fresh corn.

Toasted and ground cashews (see recipe for salad below)

Our tagine simmers on a very low flame at Cafe Drake.


7-Vegetable Tagine
Israeli Couscous
Cucumber and Toasted Cashew Salad
Feta Cheese
Cafe Drake's Carrot Pickles

McNeill's Dead Horse India Pale Ale

Cucumber and Toasted Cashew Salad

Cooling yet spicy, this quirky salad is guaranteed to enliven heat-fatigued taste buds. Peanuts make a perfectly acceptable substitute for the cashews and if you can't handle the heat of 8 small green chilies, reduce the number by half (but don't eliminate entirely).

Begin by dry roasting 1/3 cup of raw cashews until browned and fragrant. Be careful to not burn by shaking the pan frequently with a watchful eye. Alternately you could just purchase roasted, unsalted cashews. When roasted, set aside to cool then grind to a fine powder (via a blender or Magic Bullet etc).

Slice 2 cucumbers lengthwise and scoop out all seeds. Slice cukes into thin matchstick pieces. Place in a  colander and "drain" at room temperature for 30 minutes. Pat cukes dry and place in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Add to the bowl: 4 T. minced cilantro (use the stems as well!), the juice of 1 small lemon, 1 t. sugar, salt to taste and 8 shredded small green chilies (or 2 large jalapeno peppers). Mix well.

In a small skillet, heat over a high flame 2 T. of vegetable oil. When the oil is very hot toss in 3/4 t. black mustard seeds and wait for them to begin popping. As the mustard seeds pop, add 3/4 t. cumin seeds and a dash or two of turmeric powder. Cook only for 30 seconds or so, again using caution so as the spices don't burn.

Pour the hot oil over the cucumbers and toss well. Add the ground cashews and toss again, really really well. Taste and adjust salt or sugar as desired. This salad is better at room temperature rather than chilled.

Strictly Southern

Cafe Drake especially craves Below The Mason-Dixon Line dinners during Summer, the hot and humid weather reminding us daily (and nightly) of our southern roots. Above, a perfect weeknight "vegetable meal" of hot water cornbread, black-eyed peas and fried green tomatoes. 


The addition of Old Bay seasoning really elevates these fried tomatoes to a sublime level. Serve as a side dish or pile on thick slices of really good white bread, slathered with mayonnaise, and treat yourself to an authentic Southern specialty.

  • 4 large green tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • vegetable oil for frying (we use canola)
  1. Slice tomatoes 1/2 inch thick. Discard the ends.
  2. Whisk eggs and milk together in a medium-size bowl. Scoop flour onto a plate. Mix cornmeal, bread crumbs, Old Bay seasoning and salt and pepper(s) on another plate. Dip tomatoes into flour to coat. Dip the tomatoes into milk and egg mixture. Dredge in breadcrumbs to completely coat.
  3. In a large skillet, pour vegetable oil (enough so that there is roughly 1/3 inch of oil in the pan) and heat over a medium heat. Place tomatoes into the frying pan in batches of 4 or 5, depending on the size of your skillet. Do not crowd the tomatoes; they should not touch each other. When the tomatoes are browned, flip and fry them on the other side. Drain them on paper towels.

Dinner in 6 Minutes IS Possible

Romaine salad with cold rice, Boca burger and mustard pickles.

Ruske Drops By for a TV Dinner

Sometimes unexpected guests are best! Especially if they're as gracious and easy going as Jen Ruske. Jen popped by on a recent Sunday night with a chilled bottle of rose and we tucked into salmon croquettes, Indian puffed rice with chilies and veggies and spicy pan-fried cabbage. Cheese for dessert and all was enjoyed in the cool of the living room whilst catching up on episodes of Next Food Network Star and Breaking Bad. Not a bad way to start the week, eh?

Rolling Lawns and Sandwiches: A Picnic in Katonah, NY

The John Jay Homestead State Historic Park in Katonah, NY provided two of our favorite diversions: an historic house tour and graceful landscapes suited for shady picnics.

Frisky hedgehogs happily co-exist with park visitors. These two, followed by a pack of companions, raced by the picnic blanket without a second glance.

Can you spot Sloane? Enlarging the pic by clicking on it may help.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Indonesian Braised Cabbage

It's simply amazing how well this spicy Asian cabbage side dish plays with all other world cuisines. Including American. This is also one of those recipes that may sound less than enthralling upon reading, but delivers huge savory thrills once sampled. Begin by adding to a blender or Magic Bullet the following ingredients: 3 chopped cloves of garlic, 6 chopped shallots, 1 chopped small sweet red bell pepper, 1 t. cayenne pepper and about 4 T. of water. Puree until you have a thickish paste. Now heat 3 T. of canola oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the spice paste to the hot oil and fry carefully for 3 minutes or until everything starts to darken. Work carefully so as not to burn. Add 1 chopped head of cabbage, medium in size. You can either shred the cabbage or cut into 1-inch rough squares. Stir carefully then add 1 t. of salt and 1-2 t. sugar. Cover tightly and cook on a low flame for 10 minutes. If the cabbage begins to dry out, add a tablespoon of water as needed. Taste for seasoning and serve hot or just warm.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tofu and Sweet Corn Casserole

A lot more interesting than it sounds, this easy casserole boasts some amazingly complex flavors thanks to a quick pan-frying of the corn before baking all in the oven. If you haven't yet savored the richness of corn seasoned with soy sauce, you're in for a whole new taste sensation!

Begin by draining well (with paper or kitchen towels) 1 large block of tofu. When as dry as you can get it, cut the tofu into large cubes. You should get 12-16 pieces from one standard-sized block of tofu. Set aside to dry and drain further.

Cut the kernels from 2 cobs of fresh corn. Fry for 2-3 minutes over a medium-high flame along with 1 minced clove of garlic, 2-4 dried red chilies and 3 diced shallots. In the last 30 seconds of cooking season with a generous dash of soy sauce. Remove from heat and toss well with tofu cubes.Place all in a small casserole or gratin dish.

Stir into the tofu and corn mixture, 2 T. dry sherry and at least 1 T. sweet chili sauce (available at most supermarkets and all Asian grocery stores). Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cook in broiler for 2-3 minutes or until tofu just begins to brown on top.

Serve warm with rice and a green vegetable (broccoli, as pictured above, makes a good co-star).

Making Mustard Pickles

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Hottest Night of the Year

Romantic notions of sultry July evenings be damned, outside of Tennessee Williams' melodramas there's little fun to be had when the humidity reaches 80% and the 9PM temps hover in the 90s. Alas, such is Summer in NYC, never letting us forget its natural origins as swamplands. Luckily Jen Ruske keeps the a/c pumping overtime and serves seasonal perfection on a plate with cooling Vietnamese-inspired flavors in pan-fried chicken (fish sauce, fresh mint and basil, fiery red and green chilies), zucchini and cuke spears with pesto, bowls of steamed veggies and lots of chilled Riesling.

Another Meal with Yolanda

Cafe Drake got to spend a little more time with Yolanda during her recent visit, before she headed home to Southern California, and this time we created a meal for Yolie, Noah and Yolanda's stepson Paul and stepdaughter Lily. Octavio joined us as we grazed on yogurt and herb roasted chicken thighs, Middle Eastern style wide noodles with a tahini sauce, cucumber salad, lemon and olive oil-dressed romaine salad, roasted carrots and sweet green tomato pickles.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mexico City, D.F. Street Food for your Home

Need a quick salad for dinner tonight? Follow Cafe Drake's lead, inspired by scrumptious street food consumed in Mexico City years ago (several times, over two decades), and peel and slice into match sticks 1 jicama. Sprinkle with olive oil, dust heavily with cayenne pepper and salt and finally, douse excessively with lime juice (at least 2 limes' worth). The resulting salty and sour side dish is sure to please all but the most timid of palettes. Fire eaters such as ourselves will appreciate the addition of a few sliced green chilies!

Think You're Too Good For Frozen Calamari?

Well it works splendidly in the following application:

Begin by buying 1 lb. of frozen calamari at your local supermarket (top price will be $7). Thaw overnight in the refrigerator in the calamari's original packaging. When fully thawed rinse very briefly, drain, then place in a ceramic bowl and marinate with 2 T. olive oil, 1 T. lime or lemon juice and 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic. The marination process can be between 1 and 4 hours.

When ready to cook, heat 2-3 T. olive oil in a large skillet until almost smoking. When screaming hot throw in the calamari and season heavily with salt and black pepper. Stir for 1 minute. Now add: 1 diced plum tomato and 3 chopped scallions. If you care to, add about 1 cup of razor-thin slices of bell peppers of any hue. Cook for an additional minute or until the calamari has just become opaque. Warning: overcooking will result in a dish of seasoned rubber bands!

Remove calamari from pan and garnish profusely with chopped parsley. Serve as is, with rice, or over toasted baguettes as above.

Struggles with an Advanced Camera

While we wait for our beloved Sony CyberPix battery charger, lost it seems in Lunenberg, Nova Scotia, Cafe Drake is struggling to learn the operations of a non-automatic Nikon DSL luxe camera. The video as seen above didn't really help calm our confusion.

Arepas Everywhere

Cafe Drake has often before sung the high-note praises of Latin American cornmeal cakes known as arepas, first sampled in the 1980's in Caracas, Venezuela and later hitting perfection both in the East Village and South Beach, Miami (those in the late 90s, olive-studded and layered with chorizo, hot and charred from a grill off Washington Avenue, are still the all-time faves). Recent Good Fortune had us find them freshly made and sold from a bodega in Jackson Heights, Queens. See above what we did with those arepas . . . namely, heated gently in a cast iron skillet then paired with slow-cooked dried pinto beans, grape tomato salad, capicolla, ricotta salata, salt and pepper cashews (thanks, Mummy!) and homemade green tomato pickles amongst other delicacies.

The Long Hot Summer

Although the torrid 1963 melodrama pictured above is our ideal sort of sultry Summer viewing, Cafe Drake has enough drama (and some to spare, thank you) simply trying to stay sane and semi-cool during July's perma-heatwave. Along with multiple daily iced Americanos and peach-anise iced teas, we've been up to a little else . . .

Making an OK week at Cafe Drake actually GREAT! is an annual visit form our dear friend Yolanda. This year Yolie brought along her beautiful son Noah and we have loved every minute spent together! Above are photos from a randomly constructed meal at Jen Lazzaro's flat . . .a late weeknight bash with chipotle-marinated Georgia quail and watercress salad amongst other things, i.e. lots of white and rose wines.