Monday, May 28, 2012

Got Starch?

If ajwain seeds are an acquired taste not to worry as you'll happily grab hold of their subtle earthy-bitter flavor in the first bite. A South Indian classic purported to settle upset stomachs (who knew!) and rouse lagging taste buds, Ajwain Rice is a terrific light lunch on its own, served with nothing more than a cool raita, but Cafe Drake prefers it as a vegetarian entree alongside assorted veggie dishes as seen above. Convinced? Here's how: You'll need about 2 cups of cooked rice; chilled rice is less likely to clump. In a large-ish skillet heat a couple of tablespoons of grape seed or canola oil till hot but not smoking. Toss in a small handful of raw cashews and fry until just golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain; set aside. Now reduce heat to a medium flame and add to the skillet 2 t. ajwain seeds (also known as carom seeds) and 1 t. cumin seeds. Let the spices sizzle for a few seconds then add: 1 thinly sliced onion, 5-6 curry leaves (if you have them) and 2-4 dried red chilies. Cook until onion starts to change color and add rice. Toss very well to coat rice in seasoned oil and flavor with salt to taste. Serve warm garnished with cashews.

Another unpredictable masterpiece from the always deviceful Rozanne Gold,spaghetti dressed with a Pecorino Romano, black pepper and pulverized pork rinds sauce. Smoky and infinitely savory.

Beneath the unassuming crusty surface of sliced spoon bread lies a rich and creamy bleu cheese and caramelized onion center. Easy to dress up, any spoon bread recipe can be adapted by tossing in optional add-ons in the final mixing stage prior to baking. Cafe Drake always adheres strictly to the basic recipe from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook (the entire original 1817 edition can be found here, free). Score your on bonus points by stirring in combos such as roasted peppers and grated Provolone or shredded carrots with scallions and minced garlic.

Dinner with Lobbies

Nothing screams Summer Dining louder - or with more bite (or pinch) - than a Memorial Weekend table swarming with good friends, colossal crustaceans, pots of melted butter, tangy coleslaw, smashed potatoes pan-roasted in duck fat and an army of red and rose wines. Cafe Drake crammed ourselves with all this and more (Devils on Horseback, aged cheddar and runny, gooey cheeses, cool and pitch-perfect gazpacho, carrot cupcakes frosted with citrus-y cream cheese) at Jen and Ben's lobster feast. The sweet sweet sound of cracking claws and clinking, cheering glasses still rings happily in our ears!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

6-7 Years of Early Summer at Cafe Drake

We're aged enough to collect a Lifetime Achievement Award, at least in our eyes, and we present below a few favorite yet random posts from the 2006-2011 Cafe Drake late May/early June Collection. Good, good times all! (Just note with green envy that despite a subtle weight gain Cafe Drake has garnered no more crows' feet or smiley mouth wrinkles in the half decade represented. Given that we hardly "live clean" it must be the preservative effects of all that top-shelf liquor and the veracity of the old adage "You're Only As Old As you Feel". Wait, we actually do feel old. We just never show it.) 

Seriously, Nothing keeps one as vibrant as the Janus embrace of maturity juxtaposed with freshman enthusiasm. Thanks to all our dear friends - many still here now, some far away and some gone seemingly forever -  for their contributions to our mature appreciation of  youthful pleasures.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Overdue Dinner with Jen Lazzaro

Pan-roasting orzo for a pilaf of sorts with red onions and carrots.

Turkey Schnitzel with watercress and string bean salad.

Jen L always brings charm and enthusiasm to Cafe Drake

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Vegetables. They're What's For Dinner!

Some homemade, some store-bought, all is delicious when Cafe Drake throws together a mezze platter for lunch. Above: Chilled Cucumber and Garlic Soup, hummus, labneh with fresh herbs, baba ganoush, taramasalata and assorted olives.

Messy but tasty - salads for dinner.

A quick okra side dish begins with frying 1 sliced onion in about 2 T. olive oil over a low flame until well browned. Toss 1 chopped clove of garlic and 2 dried red chilies. Cook for a minute or so then add in 1 lb. thinly sliced okra. Raise the heat and add 1/3 - 1/2 cup chicken or veggie stock along with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle in a good bit of ground cumin if you have it. Cook for 3 minutes or just until okra is tender, adjust seasonings and serve hot or warm.

Who knew rosemary, soy sauce and paprika blend so beautifully with the rich sweetness of roasted yams? Start by chopping 4 well-scrubbed (but NOT peeled) sweet potatoes into cubes a bit bigger than 1". Toss with 3 T. olive oil, 1 T. soy sauce, salt and black pepper and as much fresh or dried rosemary as you like. Dust all with sweet or smoked paprika. Roast on a baking sheet - single layer please - at 425 degrees for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan to prevent sticking and burning. Don't worry if a few of the pieces get very dark on one side or the other, they'll be delicious!

The unexpected addition of grassy heat flavors adds surprise and panache to Cafe Drake's favorite tomato salad. Use any type of tomatoes you like and chop or halve depending on size and shape. Drizzle with your best olive oil and sprinkle generously with both salt and black pepper. Add to the tomatoes loads of chopped dill and slivered green chilies (as many as you like). Crumble over all feta cheese or ricotta salata. Toss quickly and serve at once.

A Couple of More Products We Love in May 2012


Cafe Drake was in for a real treat this week, lucky enough to spend an afternoon at MOMA with our dear friend Amee and hubby Bryan and and bubbly, adorable daughter Bea. We caught up with this favored family over crisp white wine and ramp manicotti before strolling the galleries, hoping for more visits from (or to!) Ann Arbor very soon.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Derby Dinner in Sunset Park

Cafe Drake celebrated the Running of the Roses in grand style in our hometown of Brooklyn, courtesy of hosts Susan, Sloane, Miette (kitty), pup Rosemary and Henry Duys. As always crafty cook Susan wowed us with multiple enchanting courses: smooth and sweet Mint Juleps, fresh Sweet Pea soup with truffle ravioli, palette-cleansing green salad adorned with fresh lemon balm and minced veggies, bourbon and butter sauced giant prawns, veggie and pigeon pea jambalaya, fresh raspberries . . . only the company and dinner conversation exceeded the exquisite meal!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

BBG, Part II

The beauty of BBG's Japanese Gardens always inspires us, so much that we returned home and made a meal in response: broiled tofu with sesame-miso dipping sauce, braised carrots and daikon and zucchini salad in a lemon and soy dressing.

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Spring 2012

If possible Cafe Drake would perpetually be staffed to the rafters with bowls, jars, cachepots and vases of peonies. 

We were deeply touched by the plaque on this memorial bench.

Jen & Ben Really Ramp It Up

Ben sets the table

Extraordinary cheeses are a given at Chez B&J. Enter Exhibit A: a wedge of creamy, soft Pecorino.

Recipients of wild-foraged upstate ramps, Jen and Ben payed it forward by treating Cafe Drake to absolutely divine Ramp Pesto, tossed with whole wheat spaghetti and Italian sausage.

Jen always see to it that guests are served with an enviable ease and graciousness.

What all the best-dressed salads are sporting this Spring.