Monday, April 30, 2012

Cold Rainy Day in the Park (McGorlick that is)

Our Version of a Steak House Dinner

Here at Cafe Drake we're not much for the classic steak dinner. An annual Flintstones-style slab of grass-fed beef is pretty much enough for us. So a more common "meaty" dinner around here consists of "steaks" of marinated tofu, baked in the oven until chewy and dense. Here's the method we generally follow. If you're up for it add a few drops of liquid smoke to the marinade along with a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce. Marinating for at least 2 hours produces the best results.

There are a handful of tricks you need in your arsenal to make the perfect baked potato, such as roasting at an oven temperature of 425 degrees F. And massaging the potato skin with ample amounts of sweet butter before rolling lightly in a dish of coarse salt (either sea or kosher varieties will do nicely). Luckily there's a website devoted to this important craft! Cafe Drake likes ours topped with sour cream, snipped chives and sweet Spanish paprika. Do not wrap spuds in aluminum foil - this common mistake steams rather than roasts the potato.

Curry in a Hurry


The majority of this recipe involves simmering stove top, needing a stir only now and then, leaving you free to prepare side dishes and rice. Or to just to sit down with a book and wine. If you only make one recipe from the Cafe Drake website this month, let this be it.

Begin by making a spice paste in a mini-blender or spice grinder. Add the following with a T. or so of water to ease the process along: a 1" piece of ginger, peeled and grated; 2 whole cloves;  1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces; 5 dried red chilies; 2 cardamom pods and 1 t. cumin seeds. Blend until you have a paste. Set aside.

Now fry 3 sliced onions in a large skillet with 3 T. vegetable oil. Cook the onions until they are just beginning to brown. Add the spice paste and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Toss in 1 1/2 lbs. chopped boneless, skinless chicken thighs. The pieces should be about 2 inch cubes in size. You can also substitute boneless. skinless breasts but the poultry will be dryer in texture.

Stir the chicken, onions and spice paste over a medium flame for about 3 minutes. Season thoroughly with salt and black pepper. If you like things very spicy now would be a nice time to add a chopped green chili or two. Add in 2 1/2 cups warm water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a slow simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Stir now and then.

In the last 2 minutes of cooking stir into the chicken and sauce 1/2 - 3/4 t. turmeric and 1 T. cream or half-and-half. Simmer gently, stirring for 3 more minutes. 

Serve hot with rice and bread.


Mooli is better known in this country by its Japanese moniker, daikon. The only secret to this yogurt condiment is refrigeration for at least 1/2 hour to ensure proper blending of flavors.

Peel then grate 1 average size daikon. Let sit for a minute then squeeze out as much water as you can. Transfer squeezed daikon to a bowl and add 2 cups plain yogurt, either whole milk or low-fat. Do not use fat-free. Add 1 t. ground cumin and 1-2 minced small green chilies. Add a pinch of sugar and salt to taste. Mix well and refrigerate until serving.

Happy Monday! Love, Lloyd

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Yet More Random Meals

Iron Skillet Cornbread with Romaine, Parmesan and Buttermilk Dressing

Legendary Lunch/Snack: Very lightly toast baguette slices and rub with a cut clove of garlic. Drizzle with your best olive oil and top with slices of fresh mozzarella and tomato. Run under the broiler for 1 minute or just until cheese begins to melt/soften. Drizzle with more olive oil, fleur de sel and crushed red chilies.

Cafe Drake "to-go" meal for Jen and Ben: roasted carrots, pan-fried zucchini, braised morcilla (blood sausage), rice and red lentils, grape tomatoes.

Chicken Za'atar with Bread and Roasted Tomatoes, Garlic and Summer Squash

Zucchini Matchsticks with Garlic, Chilies and Mint

Zucchini is arriving early at the markets this year and one can never have too many recipes for the versatile vegetable in your back pocket. If you work efficiently this entire side dish can be prepared within 10 minutes!

Begin by slicing 4 average sized zucchini into thin matchsticks. Now mince 2-3 cloves of garlic and add to a large skillet with roughly 2-3 T. olive oil. When the pan is very hot (taking care to not burn the garlic) add zucchini and toss very well over a medium-high flame. This works best if you have a wide skillet so that as much of the squash as possible is in a single layer. Stir constantly then add 1-2 crumbled dry red chilies and salt and black pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium and cover. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring now and then and adding a drop or two of water as needed. When the zucchini is just tender remove from heat and stir in about 3 T. finely chopped mint. If you have it a few leaves of basil is also nice. Adjust salt as needed and serve warm.

Gin Mojito

Spring may feel more like damp Autumn at the moment but no recorded weather in history can dull Cafe Drake's taste for a gin cocktail or three prior to dinner. The only way we know of to improve on a stalwart classic like the mojito is perhaps to sub gin for white rum. Our version is a tad dryer than the norm. Enjoy!

Gin Mojito
Yield: 1 drink
  • 2 ounces sugar syrup
  • 10 mint leaves
  • Crushed iced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 4 ounces of gin
Put the sugar syrup in a flat-bottomed cocktail glass and add the mint leaves. Muddle until the leaves are thoroughly crushed. Fill the glass with crushed ice. Add the lemon juice and gin. Stir gently with a spoon.
Drink and be ready for a second round.
Drink Recipe Source: Brian O’Rourke

Rainy Cold Spring Sunday: Scones, Soup and a Scary Movie

Respite from the unnatural, vaguely apocalyptic warm weather NYC has been experiencing lately arrived on Sunday. Rain lashed the ancient windows of Cafe Drake as we celebrated the justified early afternoon lighting of candles by brewing a cozy pot of vervain tea (self conscious homage to M. Proust as it's really quite bland stuff) and getting busy in the kitchen. Fresh scones first, made simply and unadorned to accompany a steaming pot of late-season pumpkin and miso soup and also serve double duty slathered with butter and red currant preserves for a 5PM snack. 


These are bare bone but delicious scones, best with lots of sweet butter and superior jams or preserves. If you'd like or actually require more, add 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots to the dry mix; savory palettes might try instead 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar and 1/2 t. dry mustard (add after incorporating butter with flour mixture). Greater success is likely if you use all COLD ingredients, especially the butter.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and move rack to the top 1/3 of your oven. Butter a baking sheet and set aside.

In a large, deep mixing bowl combine: 2 cups self-rising flour, 1 t. baking powder, 2 t. sugar and 1/2 t. salt. Mix well and then break into mix 1/2 stick butter. Rub vigorously with your fingers until the flour clumps and resembles almost very large bread crumbs.

Stir in 150 ml buttermilk (roughly 3/4 cup) and knead gently until the dough forms a ball. Do not over mix. Press the dough out into a circle about 3/4" thick - no need to get picky here. Cut into 6-8 wedges and place on baking sheet. Brush tops with 1 egg beaten with a few drops of buttermilk.

Bake for 15 minutes. Good hot, room temperature or toasted.

A break from incessant chutney duties was an hour on the sofa, reclining under throws and Lloyd, reading Shirley Hazzard short stories followed by a viewing of our childhood fave film The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane. This gentle horror-thriller manages to soothe and subtly spook at the same time, equaled in a sort of cool, nihilistic beauty only by the amazing promotional art work (samples seen above).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cafe Drake's Favorite Spring Salad Dressing

It's all about the blender this week! A charmingly retro dressing perfect for the Classic Chopped Salad of crisp romaine, radishes, scallions, tomatoes and cukes.

Throw all this in a blender and whir until smooth: 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup mayo, 2 T. olive oil, 1 T. fresh lemon juice, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 2 T. chopped fresh herbs (parsley, dill, tarragon all good here), about 2 T. chopped chives (could sub scallions in a pinch) and salt and black pepper to taste. Cafe Drake recommends really hitting this with the black pepper. Feeling decadent? Or skinny today? Toss in after blending 1/4 cup crumbled bleu or feta cheeses.

Miso Sunflower Sauce

Improbably rich yet packed with nutrients and healthy fats, this thick, multi-purpose sauce transforms steamed vegetables and brown rice into a meal worthy of intense craving. It's equally spectacular tossed with hot pasta or dolloped over firm, white flesh fish. A little goes a long way.

In a blender process till smooth: 1/4 cup warm water, 1/4 cup white ("blonde/shiro") miso, 1/2 cup sunflower butter, about 1 T. chopped ginger root and 1 t. soy sauce. If too thick add a bit more water, slowly, by the spoonful.

Two Simple but Stunning Indian Side Dishes

Moong Dal with Chopped Vegetables
Split moong beans are the creamiest of all pulses when cooked and here's a great technique for showcasing a humble, irresistible ingredient. Bring 1/2 cup yellow moong dal to a boil in about 3 cups of water. Skim the foam that rises to the surface then lower heat and add to the pan: 1 cup finely chopped cabbage, 1 small onion, chopped; 1 small tomato, diced; 1 minced clove of garlic, 1/2 t. of cumin seeds and a couple of large dashes of turmeric powder. Mix well and simmer, partially covered, for about 45 minutes or until the dal is very soft and disintegrating. You may need to add a bit more water if the mixture becomes to thick or begins sticking to pot. When the dal is almost finished cooking, heat in a small skillet 1 T. oil and when hot add 2 dried red chilies, 1/2 t. black mustard seeds and a few curry leaves. As soon as the mustard seeds begin to pop add this mixture to the cooked dal. Season with salt (you'll need quite a bit!) and black pepper to taste. Good with either rice or bread.

Zucchini in Sweet Milk Sauce is a novel side dish that jolts taste buds with the element of surprise! Cafe Drake adapted our recipe from one originally published by Indian cuisine guru Julie Sahni. If you don't have urad dal on hand you can skip its inclusion. Slice 1 lb. of thin zucchini into slices about 1/4" thick. Steam until just barely tender; this will take less than 5 minutes and do try to not overcook. In a saucepan mix: 1 cup milk, 2-3 T. brown sugar and 1/2 t. salt. Bring to a boil then lower heat to medium-low and stir in: 2 t. cornstarch dissolved in 2 T. milk or water. Stir constantly until the sauce begins to thicken. Add steamed zucchini. Turn off the heat and heat 2 T. vegetable oil in a small skillet. When the oil is hot add 1 t. urad dal. As soon as the dal turns brown add 4 dry red chilies (broken into pieces). Once the chilies darken (quickly) add all to the zucchini. Stir well, adjust for salt and pepper and serve hot.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

How We Keep Busy

The relative lack of updates on the Cafe Drake blog doesn't mean we haven't been busy, rather more that we've been too hectic in scheduling and swamped with duties over at The DP Chutney Collective. (Read more here about our latest condiment debuting locally next week, the luscious and piquant Mostarda di Frutteto). Freakish warm weather has also found us - when we can steal a moment - reading on park benches and strolling through the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens; cooler evenings we're likely to be curled up under throws with Lloyd, reading or catching up on our vast Roku and Netflix queues. See below photos from the rare-ish Night Out or two during the last week.


J-la always throws together the most amazing appetizer trays: Spanish dry chorizo, sourdough baguette, German raw cow milk cheese, dry aged Gouda, fresh Brooklyn-made mozzarella.

The Chopped "Judges": Mary Pat and Sarah

Jen's sis, nephew and nieces visiting this week from Rochester are seasoned Chopped contestants.

Sam explains his dish (cooked with Jen) to the judges.

Our well-curated Chopped "pantry."

The winning dish (uh-hum).

Cafe Drake was lucky to have Megan as our Chopped team captain.

Megan's lovely Chopped contribution of polenta 3 ways (sweet and savory) atop zucchini carpaccio.


We all gathered at Ruske's favorite fried chicken/retro bar The Commodore for a greasy-fingered salute to Jen.
Jorge, Jen L and Elfe C

Pals of Many Years: The Birthday Girl and Jorge (actual age of each "unknown"/TBD)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Few More Random Meals at Cafe Drake

So yes the nasty secret is that many weeknight meals at Cafe Drake are far from special, mainly simple and far from show-worthy. The good news that you all already know is that these hurried, insouciantly prepared dinners can be among the tastiest and most soothing to a tired soul after a long work day. Witness:

Great store-bought hummus becomes even greater drizzled with your best, most precious olive oil, slathered on toasted whole grain English muffins and adorned with smoked paprika. Olives only add to this lunch's charms.

Above and the two photos below: our Sunday night fave - Asian inspired small bites. Hoisin and Chili Shrimp, Brown Rice, Burdock and Daikon.

Cafe Drake has been obsessed for years with burdock's culinary and health benefits. Both the flavor and nutrients will add swagger to any meal. Click here for an old posting with a few of our fave ways to cook this often underappreciated veggie.

Daikon is a radish we eat with fair abandon at Cafe Drake. Though we often pickle it (see our easiest method here) or grate for a Japanese-style condiment (read here all about our newest technique) most often the root veggie is braised with carrots and onions. Above we let daikon shine by itself: to make Simmered Daikon Ankake as above, begin by peeling 2 lbs. of daikon (generally 2 large daikon radishes or 4 smaller ones) and chopping into small-ish, bite-sized pieces. Place daikon in a medium saucepan with 1 cup dashi broth, easily purchased at any Asian supermarket. Cafe D. likes the powdered version for its ease of prep; choose one without MSG if allergic of course. Add to the pan 2 T. sake or dry sherry. Chinese cooking wine will work in a pinch as would probably any dry white wine in the house. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer uncovered until the daikon softens and becomes slightly translucent. Now season with 1 T. mirin (no substitute really but available in all large supermarkets in the Asian section) and about 1/2 t. salt. Finally, mix 1T. cornstarch with 1 T. water, stir well and add to daikon. Cook on low for 30 seconds until you have a somewhat thicker and clear sauce. If you don't mind a runny broth with the daikon you can skip this last step.

Shrimp tossed with hoisin sauce and chili paste and broiled for 2 minutes. With brown rice. What could be easier, really?
More brown rice - yeah, we eat a lot here - with roasted yellow (summer) squash and local sheep milk cheese from Valley Shepherd dairy farm.

Semi-successful attempt at homemade chapati bread with the easiest, fastest raita known to humans: throw this all in a blender and process just until blended well: 1 cup plain yogurt (low-fat OK, whole milk preferred, "fat-free" unacceptable), 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped mint leaves, 1/2 small onion, chopped, 3-4 chopped green chilies, 1-2 T. olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste and a pinch of cumin (ground or seeds both work here). This is fairly spicy as described here, using 3-4 Indian small green chilies. The equivalent in jalapenos would be 2 whole we would guess.

Who could resist Fairway's house-made Italian sausage? Three large links is all you need for the recipe below. You could probably get away with two if calories or excess fat is an issue.

After all these years in Italian Williamsburg - yes it still exists on a few nearby blocks in this post-Hipster Invasion nation - Cafe Drake has grown to love the classic Sicilian dish of greens and sausage. Sometimes with the addition of tiny white beans (also known as Navy beans). Excessively watery escarole is most common, yielding a brothy brew perfect for thick-cut pasta. We got crazy  - as above - and served ours with more (again, we love the stuff!) brown rice. The Cafe Drake Version: Take 3 large or 6 average sized Italian sausages - the ideal mix would be roughly half and half sweet and hot - and remove from casings. Crumble into small pieces and fry in olive oil until lightly browned. Now toss in 2 cloves of crushed garlic and cook for another minute. Because we believe the Bare Bones Version is best, all you need to add now is a LARGE amount of chopped greens, in our case above, 1 large bunch of shredded Swiss chard. Escarole works here and if you have a taste for the bitter, dandelion greens are also good. Spinach is not a good choice but finely chopped kale or collard greens will also work. Raise the heat and stir to coat leaves with oil and sausage. Add a T. or two of water, lower heat and cover. Cook until greens are just tender and eat hot.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Octavio Is A Year Older


Apricot Gimlets
Spicy Cheese Straws

Cream of Red Lentil Soup
Smoked Paprika Crouton

Seared Tuna with Pears, Mizuna, Cilantro Salad and Black Vinaigrette
Roasted Okra