Wednesday, November 21, 2012

An Almost Purist Mac-and-Cheese

Like pizza, hot dogs and burgers during the 80s, another American (stalwart) comfort food staple - macaroni and cheese - was conferred Blank Slate status in the last decade, its utter familiarity a springboard for multiple chefs' creative tweaks and reinvention. As a culture we've moved far beyond the addition of bacon or caramelized onions to this culinary classic; some innovations sublime and decadent (lobster, shaved black truffles), others gratuitous and silly (pepperoni?). Particularly welcome seems the introduction of vegetables such as Melissa Clark's wildly popular and tweeted version with grated carrots. Cafe Drake went Back to Basics with the original recipe borrowed from Philadelphia's and NYC's historic Automat restaurant empire, tossing in halved grape tomatoes and shredded scallions because we had them on hand. The nostalgic results were deeply satisfying. Our only other adaptations were the inclusion of Parmesan, Panko crumbs and dry mustard, the latter's sharp notes buffeting the richness as does the acidity of tomatoes.

If using tomatoes: slice 10-12 grape tomatoes in half and toss lightly with kosher salt. Set aside for 30 minutes before draining accumulated liquid and patting tomatoes dry. This step is important to prevent a watery final dish.

Boil 1/2 lb. elbow noodles (or any other type of small pasta shapes you prefer) in plenty of well-salted water until just tender. Drain and set aside. Do not rinse.

While the pasta is boiling, make your cheese sauce. Begin by melting 4 T. of butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in 4 T. of flour and saute for a minute or two before adding - slowly - 3 cups of milk. Cook, stirring often, until the white sauce begins to thicken slightly. Season with salt and black pepper (you'll need a good amount of each), about 1/4 - 1/2 t. grated nutmeg, 1/2 t. dry mustard and a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. Now stir in 2 cups of grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese and stir until cheese has melted and the sauce is smooth. 

When ready, stir cheese sauce into drained pasta (a large mixing bowl is helpful here) along with the drained tomatoes and 2-3 thinly sliced scallions. Transfer all to a lightly greased casserole dish. Sprinkle about 1/4 cup grated Parmesan across the top and then do the same with an equal amount of dried bread crumbs.

Bake at 350 degrees F. for 40-50 minutes or until the casserole appears golden brown. Serve warm, not hot - allow to sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 19, 2012

El Mundo de Mexican Dried Chilies


You can use either grape or cherry tomatoes for this piquant salsa, good with, well, everything. Cafe Drake likes it best as a pre-dinner, kitchen snack with salty tortilla chips and a strong drink. 

Broil 1 lb. cherry tomatoes  - along with 1 large pasilla chile, 1/2 cup sliced onion and 1-2 jalapeno or serrano chilies, split in half - on a baking sheet for 5-7 minutes, or until blackened in spots and becoming softer. A teaspoon of vegetable oil tossed with the veggies may be used if needed. Be careful to avoid burning. After a few minutes remove from the broiler; cover for 15 minutes to allow the onions and chilies to steam. We find this easiest to do by scraping all in to a bowl and covering with a plate.

Seed the pasilla chile well (this will make a HUGE difference in the finished texture) and puree all in a processor or blender. Transfer to a bowl and season with: about 2 T. minced cilantro, 2 T. lime juice, 1 t. maple syrup (or honey or sugar) and salt to taste. Let rest for half an hour at least to mingle flavors. Best served at room temperature but store in the fridge for up to a week.


A Mexican adobo sauce is technically a chile paste slathered on meat or fish and then baked or grilled, but this recipe - adapted from Marcella Valladolid - is so thick and luscious Cafe Drake can make a meal from mere warmed tortillas dipped in the stuff! Marcella recommends this for roast chicken but as above, we coated pork chops and then baked until the meat just reached 170 degrees. We've also added dried chipotles for their smokey heat.

Heat 2 T. oil (any kind you like really) in a saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 small onion (chopped) and cook until just soft and translucent. Add 2 minced cloves of garlic and cook for another minute. Add 8 dried guajillo chilies and 2 dried chipotle chilies, all seeded and broken into small-ish pieces. Cook for a couple of minutes or until the guajillo chilies begin to darken. Now add  1 1/2 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable) and simmer for at least 5 minutes - make sure the chilies are soft.

Transfer it all to a blender and process till you get a smooth paste. No worries if a few recalcitrant chunks of dried chile resist the blender blades. Season with salt and pepper and now you're ready to coat anything you'd like before roasting or grilling - vegetables, fish, poultry, beef, pork, anything.


Quite simply, our new addiction, also courtesy of Marcella V.! Perfect on tacos, nachos, meatloaf sandwiches, mac and cheese . . . you get the far-reaching concept.

Heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a large sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup minced onion and 2 minced garlic cloves (more if you like). Saute for at least 5 minutes or until all is richly browned but not burned. Add 1/4 cup sesame seeds and 1/2 cup dried arbol chiles. Cook and stir for 5 more minutes.

While the chile/onion/seed mix is cooking heat a cast iron skillet over a high flame. Toss in 4 large tomatilloes (peeled and rinsed). Sear all over for about 10 minutes or until you have black spots covering most of the skins. When ready add to the sauce pan and cook everything together for 5 additional minutes. Press the tomatilloes with a spoon to release their juices. Cool slightly then puree in a blender with 1 cup water.

Season to taste with plenty of salt (this requires quite a bit) and black pepper. Best at room temperature or only slightly chilled.

Tomato Coconut Soup

An unusual and mild Indian soup streaked through with bits of toasty, fiery dried red chilies makes a perfect starter for meals of any stripe. Serve in smaller portions due to overall richness (though we suspect guests will politely request second helpings). The photo below doesn't do justice to the soup's serene, lovely color. Best of you can whip this up effortlessly and in mere minutes. Note: if you don't have curry leaves on hand, for heaven's sake grab a few bags and store indefinitely in freezer.

If you can find amazing tomatoes in the peak of their seasonal prime, by all means use 4 large beefsteak ones. (You'll need to peel them first however). Otherwise start with 8 canned plum tomatoes and add them to a blender along with 1/2 t. cumin seeds (toasted first if you have the time) and 1 t. kosher salt. Blend until smooth. Now add the puree to a deep saucepan. Stir in 1 cup water and simmer on medium heat for 20 minutes. Add 1 14-oz. can of coconut milk, stir well and simmer for 5 more minutes.

While the soup simmers heat 1 T. vegetable oil in a small skillet until very hot. Add 14 or so curry leaves, 1/2 t. black mustard seeds and 2 dried red chilies, torn into small pieces. Cover the skillet and once the mustard seeds have finished "popping" add to the soup pot. Taste for salt and adjust if needed. Season with black pepper and serve hot. Chopped cilantro makes a nice but optional garnish.

Strolling the Hudson Valley

The photos below were snapped at three nearby wooded areas: Falling Waters Preserve, Lighthouse Park and Esopus Meadows Preserve. Or as we call it, Our Backyard. Who knew Cafe Drake would be adding Hiking to our expanding list of hobbies?

Many grand old-growth trees in the area were felled by Super Storm Sandy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Kitchen Factory

As the holidays approach Cafe Drake is gearing up production of celebratory libations and victuals.

Current cocktail culture has mustached bartenders across the country competing to unearth - and then make "in house" - an ever more arcane arsenal of rarified, little-known liqueurs, bitters and aperitifs. Cafe Drake never turns down a ride on the bandwagon and is beginning our own batch of homemade St Elizabeth Allspice Dram.

Fresh lavender flowers snipped from the front yard await steeping in service of Lavender Syrup. With a most pronounced floral flavor, a little bit goes a long way in adding elusive perfumed notes to fruit desserts and a wide range of cocktails. Improbable though it may sound, Cafe Drake adored a shaken and strained concoction of lavender, gin, sugar and egg whites at Boerum Hill bar Henry Public.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mother Visits Us in the HRV

Although she put in long hours with a paintbrush, Mother found time to treat us to a few memorable meals in the area, including lunch at Miss Lucy's (Saugerties) and dinners at Diamond Mills (Saugerties) and the Culinary Institute of America's gorgeous Italian restaurant Caterina de' Medici. The latter was a real treat from house-cured meats to butternut squash ravioli through Roman-style oxtail and an extensive cheese plate. In return Cafe Drake offered up a few meals of our own.

Literally in our back yard, the Falling Water Nature Preserve.

A hearty breakfast

Vegetable tempura, brown rice, tomato and sesame salad and miso-broiled salmon

Not Hogwarts but the Culinary Institute of America in nearby Hyde Park

Lloyd, always happy with a visit from his grandmother, supervises the lacquering of dining room walls.

Miki and Brian Visit Cafe Drake HRV

We were so happy to have a break from breaking down boxes and the opportunity to do what we love best - cooking for friends and family. Brooklynites Miki and Brian, visiting nearby friends on Hunter Mountain, stopped by to see the new digs. A simple brunch of cauliflower and chipotle soup, cheddar and onion soft scrambled eggs, toast and pumpkin bread ensued.

Scenes from the 'Hood