Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dinner with Eva Diva

Eva is well known in Brooklyn as a Cat's Best Friend, tirelessly devoted to rescuing and placing in good homes scores of needy kitties. Cafe Drake's very own Lloyd Page came to us courtesy of Eva. Thank you thank you thank you!

We sat down recently with E. to catch up over a meal of Fenugreek Chicken, rice pilao, zucchini curry, homemade pickles and a plate of crisp condiments (various herbs, limes, scallions etc).

Sauteed Beech Mushrooms

Finding these on super sale at our local Chinese supermarket meant Cafe Drake just had to buy them. 2 packs to be precise, each a paltry 4 oz. or so. With a flavor and texture closest to oyster mushrooms, beech mushrooms (both brown and white varieties are available) don't dwindle in size as drastically as other varieties when exposed to heat. Our recipe was simple: heat 1 T. butter over a medium flame and toss in the mushrooms. Stir to coat well with butter before adding a pinch of salt and 1 T. each of mirin, soy sauce and sake (dry sherry or Chinese rice wine are both fine substitutes). Raise the heat and cook for a minute or two until most, but not all, of the liquid has been absorbed. Season again with salt and white pepper.

We served ours (see below) as part of a warm weather Japanese-influenced meal of brown rice, tofu salad and stir-fried Chinese cabbage.

It's So Easy To Eat Healthy In the Summer

Underneath (and on top of) this pile of farm-fresh produce lies the guilty pleasure of an open-faced grilled cheese (made with sharp, dry Provolone nonetheless). Want it healthier? Put a tomato on it! And sprinkle floridly with herbs and toasted sesame seeds.

Cafe Drake was looking for an inspiring curry utilizing summer's largesse of zucchini and yellow crookneck squash. We found an amazingly easy recipe here.

The same bushel of summer squash also found its way into several jars of Cafe Drake's bread and butter style pickles.

Dinner with Jen & Ben, Here & There

Sultry Saturday nights only heat up further when Cafe Drake invites fire-eaters Jen and Ben over for our trademark spicy suppers. Dinner was a simple affair above of Sikkimese Ground Beef Curry (that's Tsap Sya Ngo Tshum to you), dal with green chilies, brown basmati rice, cucumber raita and assorted pickles.

The beef curry is deceptively simple in ingredients and preparation, its ease offering little promise of the actual depth of flavor achieved.   Begin by heating 2-3 T. of grapeseed or canola oil in a large skillet. Over moderate flame saute 1 large onion (chopped roughly) and 1/2 t. turmeric for about 3 minutes or until onion begins to brown just at the edges. Add 3 t. chopped ginger and 1 cup chopped, fresh tomato. Stir-fry for 5 minutes more.

Now toss in 1 pound ground beef along with at least 1 t. salt and cook for 5 minutes or until most of the accumulated liquid is gone. You can substitute pork for the beef but cook 5-10 minutes longer.

Adjust for seasoning - you will probably want to add some fresh ground black pepper and a dash or two of cayenne. Serve hot piled atop crisp, cold leaves of a crisp lettuce such as romaine and garnish prolifically with chopped cilantro and slivered scallions.

Cafe Drake was greeted at dinner the following week at the home of Jen and Ben in our favorite way - with a chilled tumbler of that glorious cocktail confection known as the French 75.

Jen seasons the steaks prior to searing.

Ben sets the timer for oven roasting.

Dry-aged rib eye from Williamsburg butchers The Meat Hook.

A refreshing salad of sweet corn and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Working our way through a heaped plate of steak with chimichurri sauce and potato salad.

Quite replete after dinner.

Stuffed but eagerly awaiting Ruske's homemade dessert.

Chocolate and Caramel Tart. Lucky Cafe Drake - we went home with two slices!!

Lloyd Feeling Much Better; Cafe Drake's Computer Still Sick

Our recent absence from the blogosphere has more to do with computer woes than nursing our sick kitty Lloyd back to health or hot weather inertia. With limited means we present a few updates and more to follow once our laptop returns from the clinic with an outstanding bill of health!

Lloyd thumbs through back issues from Wallpaper magazine's glory days of the mid-to-late 90s.

Realizing he's read them all Lloyd rolls over for a quick pose followed by a long nap.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Happy Bastille Day!

And in honor of French revolutionaries, we present below Cafe Drake's favorite Gallic summertime treat! This recipe is courtesy of Francophile Julia Child, and is most interesting in that eschews completely vegetable or chicken stock. We promise you won't miss it.

4 cups sliced leeks, whites only
4 cups diced potatoes old or baking potatoes recommended
6 to 7 cups cold water
1½ to 2 teaspoons coarse salt or to taste
1/2 cup or more sour cream, heavy cream, or crème fraîche, optional
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives or parsley
Bring the leeks, potatoes and water to boil in the saucepan. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Purée the soup if you wish. Taste, and correct seasoning. After chilling the soup, you may wish to stir in a little more cream. Taste carefully again, and correct the seasoning. Top each serving with a sprinkle of chives or parsley.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Tindora Sabzi

Tindora, sometimes called "ivy gourd" from its green-streaked flesh, is one of those vegetables Cafe Drake has strolled past in Indian markets for years. Something seemed daunting about their unusual shape and coloring and a description once heard of the flavor being a cross between an English hothouse cucumber and a string bean. Plus, tindora curries never seem to make it on the menus of even the most authentic and uncompromising of Indian restaurants, probably due to their limited availability in the U.S. - though plentiful in mid-late summer tindora has an apparently short growing season (?)

We were enthralled by the preparation as above, culled from Sailu's Kitchen, a wonderful blog packed with innovative Indian recipes. Once you score the tindora the only remaining exotic ingredient is amchur, or powdered dried green mango. The amchur adds such a unique, floral tartness to the dish that it's hard to imagine leaving it out - if you must, substitute plenty of lemon juice to achieve the right salty/sour balance.

Cafe Drake enjoyed our tindora sabzi alongside Nawabi Murg, an East Indian chicken curry. That recipe can be found here, although as you'll see in the photographs we added tomatoes in a successful attempt to lighten the dish for the hot season.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Brinjal Pullao (Eggplant Rice Pilaf)


The version below is adapted by Cafe Drake from Ismael Merchant's Passionate Meals.

Begin by cubing 1 medium-sized eggplants in to pieces no larger than 1 1/2". IF YOU WISH, you may toss with salt, let rest for 30 minutes, then rinse, drain and pat dry. Cafe Drake never does this and has yet to suffer the disappointment of so-called "bitter" eggplant.

On to the next step: set aside chopped eggplant and rinse very well 2 cups of brown basmati rice. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat 3 T.butter and 1 T. vegetable oil over low flame. Add in: 4 small green chilies (chopped), about 2 T. shredded or minced ginger root, 1/2 t. cumin seeds, 2 t. couscous and 1/4 cup roasted salted peanuts (roughly chopped). Cook for 2-3 minutes then add 1 T. brown sugar. Cook for another minute and add in the eggplant and at least 1 t. salt. Stir well.

Add to the pot 4 cups hot water and bring to a boil. Stir in the soaked rice, reduce heat to a very low simmer and cover. Cook as normally with rice, until liquid has been absorbed and rice is tender but not mushy. For brown basmati rice this should take 35-45 minutes, maybe a bit more.

When rice is cooked, remove from heat and let rest undisturbed for 10 minutes. Remove lid, fluff gently with a fork and serve garnished with a bit of chopped cilantro. You may wish to add more salt at this point.

The brinjal pullao must always be served with a yogurt accompaniment. (Unless you really hate yogurt, sigh.) A bare-bones but classic raita above as well as buttery, pureed mustard greens and spinach spiked with ginger, chilies and garlic.

Pre-Fourth Dinner and Karaoke with Ruske

Tomato and Onion Salad with fresh herbs, perfect alongside our meal of homemade broiled Tunisian sausages, whole wheat couscous and cabbage slaw.

After dinner Jen R and Cafe Drake strolled the muggy streets to our n'hood haunt - Manhattan Inn - to enjoy assorted cocktails and piano karaoke. No crooning for us however, just observing and singing along - this talented crowd of bar patrons can really really SING!! Plus the pianist is Joe McGinty, formerly of the Psychedelic Furs!

Yet More Hot Weather Japanese Dinner Favorites

Cafe Drake counts shiso amongst our most treasured kitchen ingredients but let's face it, it's not an herb always on hand. (We keep arriving at our local green market too late on Saturday mornings to snag the paltry handful of bunches for sale, ergh). It's impossible to recreate fully the intricate flavors of fresh shiso leaves, but a very decent substitute is 2/3 mint leaves combined with 1/3 basil leaves. Shred and mix together.

Above mint/basil combo employed to make "shiso rice".

Light, cooling, easy to digest . . . the joys of Zen cuisine in summer.

Dried shitake mushrooms, simmered in dashi broth along with soy sauce, mirin and sake, are delicious chilled atop anything - rice, sandwiches and as above, with watercress salad.

A new version of Tofu Salad created from the overflow of Cafe Drake's refrigerator. Finely chop 1 peeled and seeded Kirby cucumber and combine with 1 minced, small red onion. Toss with about 1 T. of grape seed oil (or veggie) and 2 T. ponzu sauce. Marinate for 1 hour. Spoon over well-chilled soft tofu (drained in paper towels and cubed). Season with fleur de sel and serve very cold.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Meatless Sundays with Octavio

How can the chef lose when serving a 3-year, cave-aged Gouda?

Octavio enjoyed seconds of all at Cafe Drake: linguine with homemade pesto, red cabbage salad and zucchini and peppers fried with chilies, garlic and mint.

Cafe Drake's omnipresent pickle plate: house-pickled okra and ginger-sunshine cukes.