Saturday, June 30, 2012

Fool-Proof Pesto

Everyone has their own recipe for - of method of making - that summer standby, fresh pesto. We wouldn't bother listing suggested uses; a comprehensive list of dishes incorporating pesto could crash this server. Can't resist however just sharing two current, heavy-rotation applications at Cafe Drake: slathered on thick slices of ripe tomato and flash broiled and tossed with linguini and sauteed shards of zucchini and fresh fava beans.

To the subject at hand . . . the recipe below is the one we've determined is mistake-proof. All you need to do is adjust salt and black pepper to your personal preferences. 

Place in a food processor or Magic Bullet: 2 cups tightly packed basil leaves, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic (minced) and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Process until relatively smooth then transfer to a bowl and stir in gently freshly ground black pepper and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. The better the cheese, the better the pesto but use whatever is the best within your budget; no need to go overboard with a sauce already packed with other strong flavors.

Walnuts make a perfectly acceptable substitute for the pine nuts and you won't do too much damage switching out Romano(or a very dry, aged Asiago cheese) for the Parmesan.

Summer 2012 Batch 1 of Cafe Drake Pesto

Some of Summer's Favorite Snacks

Both hot and smoked paprikas contribute to out-of-this-world pimento cheese.

As seen above Cafe Drake prefers using extra-sharp white cheddar over the milder, often orange variety.

Pimento Cheese, The Cafe Drake Way

Grate 1/2 lb. of extra-sharp white cheddar cheese and add to a large bowl along with: 3-4 minced, roasted red peppers (use the ones from the jar), a pinch each of salt and cayenne pepper, roughly 1/3 cup mayonnaise, and 1 t. each hot and smoked paprikas. Mix very well until completely blended - if the mixture is too too thick add a teaspoon of liquid from the jarred peppers. Let rest refrigerated for at least an hour before serving. Of course delicious on sandwiches and with crackers, try also atop baked potatoes or as a dip for carrots and cold, crisp radishes.

Authentic, mouth-watering (and scorching hot) jerk chicken is laughably easy if you use the marinade pastes, but it's truly important to select the right product. Be wary of any jerk marinades that are thin and watery, or resemble ketchup in any way. Cafe Drake wouldn't dream of employing any helper other than Grace Jamaican Jerk Paste, made in Kingston, Jamaica but distributed throughout the US and Canada. 

For best results follow jar instructions and use 2 t. of seasoned paste per 1 lb. of chicken (or fish or veggies, yes it's good with all that). Guarantee success by rubbing meat etc well with the spicy paste, place in a bag, seal tightly and marinate in the fridge overnight or for up to 24 hours. Plop on a baking sheet and cook at 400 degrees until skin is crispy and chicken cooked through. Voila.

The southern states of India are no strangers to sweltering temps, making the regional cuisine appropriate for muggy days everywhere! Above, a typical Cafe Drake light dinner of rice, dhal, pappadum, mint chutney and bhindi masala, or spicy, stir-fried okra with browned onions. Even okra-phobes will likely appreciate this subcontinent standard curry; our Punjabi version below omits tomatoes, resulting in a drier dish, more pleasing to those averse to okra's somewhat slimy texture. Plus, it's a cinch to make and without the usual long list of spices.


Begin by soaking roughly 1 lb. of okra in lightly salted water for 5-10 minutes. Drain and slice the okra into thin wheel shapes. While the okra is soaking thinly slice 2 large onions and begin frying in 2 T. of vegetable oil. When the onions are well browned throw in 4-6 small green chilies (sliced lengthwise, seeded if you prefer a less spicy curry) and cook for 1-2 minutes. The chilies should become a shade paler than their original vivid green.

Add 1 t. cumin seeds (lightly crushed with your fingers as dropping into the pan), fry for 30 seconds and then add the sliced okra. Season with a t. of salt. Stir well and cook - over medium heat - for about 8 minutes or until okra is tender. If needed, add a splash of water now and then to prevent burning or sticking. Serve warm with plenty of basmati rice.

Braised Chinese Pork

Cafe Drake couldn't bear the thought of heating the oven as NYC temps rose close to 100 degrees F. today. We also couldn't pass up a pound of heritage breed, humanely raised pork loin for sale at our neighborhood butcher shop. Our compromise was a braised pork loin cooked entirely on the stove top. Served with dressed watercress and 5-minute whole wheat couscous the entire meal - if not exactly cooling - keeps kitchen temps tolerable.

Here's how to make the pork : in a large Dutch oven, brown a 1 lb. piece of pork loin (ours was about 1.25 lbs actually) in a T. of vegetable oil until colored and crusted on all sides. Over a medium flame this should take 10-15 minutes. Remove meat from pot and set aside.

Add to the pot, along with another T. of vegetable oil, 2 peeled carrots (sliced very thickly), 1 large onion (cut into large pieces as well) and a few green chilies. Cook over medium heat until the veggies begin to just soften and then tip in: about 1/2 cup hoison sauce, 1/4 cup Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry), 4-5 thick slices of peeled ginger and 1/2 cup water. Cover pot and reduce heat to a simmer.

Walk away, mix a cool drink or just stand head first in front of the a/c. Every 20 minutes or so give the veggies a stir and turn the pork loin; baste the neat each time you do this by simply spooning liquid over the loin a few times. Cook until very tender, probably an hour or more. 

When the pork is done to your liking, remove it and the large chunks of vegetables from the pan and let rest (covered) for 10 minutes while you simmer the remaining broth/pan juices down to a thicker sauce. Slice and serve drizzled with reduced sauce. Excellent with watercress or any green salad, an easier garnish would be just a handful of slivered scallions or snipped chives.

Lloyd SleepsThrough Summer's Worst Heatwave Yet

With the a/c cranked Lloyd curls up beneath a stack of pillows and blankets.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Urad Dhal Griddle Cakes

After we made a batch of these onion and cilantro-flecked griddle cakes this week, we realized they're just too good not to mention again. Our original posting of the recipe on Cafe Drake can be found here. These days were slathering them with plenty of Mango and Chile Ketchup from The DP Chutney Collective.

A Cold Supper

Prefaced by an appetizer of lamb bolognese and lemony pasta - and crunchy snacks and ginger bourbon spritzers before that - a main course of assorted summer salads hit the spot on yet another stifling sultry Saturday night. 

Cafe Drake's evening buffet froid was a welcome antidote to the day's (near) heatstroke: Tunisian Onion Salad with sumac, French lentils and diced veggies dressed with mustard and olive oil, sweet peaches bathed with lemon juice and ground cumin, assorted olives and chilies, heirloom tomatoes tossed with roasted green bell peppers and chilled string beans in a sesame sauce. A recipe for the string beans can be found HERE in the Cafe Drake archives.

Dining with Ganesh (and Ruske)

The starkness of the canteen - decorated in Middle School Cafeteria style - contrasts mightily with the heavily ornamented exterior and covered walkways of Queens' sprawling Ganesh Temple complex. 

Jen searches for the temple canteen entrance. The sign below might have helped.

Um, this way Jen . . .

It's almost disturbing how much $20 buys you at the Ganesh Temple Canteen. Jen and I tucked into a feast of two perfectly lace-textured dosas, hiding inside the delicate crepe-like folds blazing-hot mixed veggies, fried potatoes, nuts, seeds and whole green chilies. As above, we split an order of vadas (savory chickpea flour doughnuts) and idli (steamed moist cakes made of fermented lentils and rice), all served with copious amounts of creamy coconut chutney and tart, addictive sambar. The upma - a drier Indian version of polenta - was richly studded with fried cashews and sweet peas.

Wishful Thinking/Napping

Lloyd seems to believe that sleeping close to his food bowl leads to more frequent feedings. Not so for our husky house cat.

Friday, June 22, 2012

TV Dinner

Hot weather sends us to the living room of Cafe Drake, where our super-duper a/c keeps us cool while consuming spicy-hot food such as the rice, dal, chile-flecked flat bread and braised dandelion greens above. Boiled peanuts on the side, TV tuned tuned to Roku in front. 

Fire-breathers will note the tiny side of a red chile, garlic and shallot condiment known more exotically as Lal Mirch Lasoon Chutney. Perfect with just about anything, serve in very small portions and consume with caution - utterly delicious, this fresh, uncooked chutney is scorching hot!

Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 20 dried red chilies (Thai, cayenne etc). Let rest for 1-2 hours or until chilies have softened considerably.

Drain the chilies and reserve 1/4 cup of their soaking liquid.

Pour the soaking liquid in to a mini-processor/Magic Bullet and add the chilies along with 1/4 cup sliced shallots (red onions make a fine substitute), 1 t. sugar, 1/2 t. kosher salt and 6 cloves of garlic (roughly chopped or not). Process until you end up with an orange-red paste.

Keeps for several days in the refrigerator but is best served at or just below room temperature.

Get Your Chocolate Fix, Via Black Beans

There's an undeniably more unctuous savoriness to slow-cooked dried beans, but when we don't have the time - or desire to heat up an already sweltering kitchen - canned black beans will suffice nicely, thank you. Especially when doctored up via minimal effort yielding deep and complex flavor.

Cafe Drake likes this quick fix:

Empty without rinsing a can of black beans in to a deep skillet. Heat over a low flame while adding a handful of diced onion and a clove of minced garlic. Stir in 1 chopped canned chipotle pepper (add in a bit of the surrounding sauce as well) and a few dashes of ground cumin and dried oregano. Season lightly with salt and black pepper and add 1 cup of stock or broth (veggies, chicken and beef all work well). Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Add 1 t. sugar and 2 t. unsweetened cocoa powder. Cook for a few more minutes then serve hot with rice or cornbread or warmed corn tortillas. Even better when garnished with sliced scallions and/or chopped cilantro

This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily and is sensational and homey served in deep white bowls, family style, alongside wedges of lime so diners may add compatible tartness as desired.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Mary Pat's Eggplant & Turkey Meatballs

In our world food revelations are not infrequent; one certainly struck us upon first tasting Mary Pat Lazzaro Werth's eggplant turkey meatballs. Below is not so much a recipe but a technique for recreating.

Cafe Drake started with 1 1/4 lbs. of ground free-range turkey. To this add 2 beaten eggs and about 1/2 cup grated onion. Minced is fine but as these meatballs are so delicate in texture you'll need two knifes to mince the onions finely enough. Throw in a couple of cloves of minced garlic and plenty of salt and pepper - it takes more than you imagine so season bravely. Add 1 t. smoked paprika and set aside.

Before you begin assembling the meatballs you'll need to roast an eggplant at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes or until extremely soft. Allow the eggplant to cool and then peel - chop the inside of the vegetable finely, discarding the peel.

OK, so now add the eggplant to the turkey mixture along with any other ingredients you desire . . . minced fresh herbs, minced red bell peppers, chilies etc. We didn't use any of these and yet the results were perfection. Finally, add in the bread crumbs. You must use the dried variety and toss in 1/2 cup at a time until you get a mixture that holds together and isn't too too sticky. Shape into balls and carefully place in a large, deep skillet simmering with at least 2 cups of marinara sauce, your own or store-bought is fine. 

Cook covered, over a low flame for about 30 minutes. Gently turn the meatballs once or twice during the cooking process but be careful - they fall apart easily. 

Cafe Drake as above served ours - with plenty of sauce and grated Parmesan - over whole wheat spaghetti, sided with a cucumber and cubanele pepper salad.

The Gift of Sofrito

Sofrito - that heavenly base seasoning used throughout Spain and the Latin Carribean islands - is amongst our top favorite cooking ingredients. A rarity at Cafe Drake because we're too lazy to undertake the serious endeavor it is to actually make (a combination of, amongst other ingredients, finely minced red, green and yellow peppers, onions, garlic, cilantro, culantro, chilies, cumin, oregano, tomatoes) and the jarred variety is bland and loaded with chemicals. You can imagine then our face-wide grins when neighbor Ralf Rodriguez handed us several containers of the stuff, freshly made and frozen, ready at a moment's notice to elevate rice, beans and stews to their greatest heights.

Below: rice and chickpeas, both enhanced with Ralf's sublime sofrito.

Eating Well for a Cause: The Greenpoint Soup Kitchen Supper Club

The Greenpoint Soup Kitchen Supper Club held a fundraiser for our neighborhood food bank last week and needless to say Cafe Drake, Jen and Ben and Eva P. were amongst the first in line. Bourbon and ginger cocktails and strawberry shrubs quenched our thirst in the church garden as we noshed on assorted homemade pickles, beet hummus, grilled flatbreads and quinoa-stuffed collard green purses. Soon after we all moved to the enormous communal tables inside and feasted on multiple courses of the finest vegetarian, locavore fare: a paradigm-shifting salad of tender lettuces, marinated shaved kohlrabi and deep-fried baby lima beans, creamy baked risotto with garlic scapes, turnip gratin, Swiss chard frittata, roasted French breakfast radishes and even more. We're sure to become regulars at these community culinary assemblies!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sondra Page Visits Cafe Drake

Tuthill House Grist Mill restaurant, Gardiner, NY

Lime-Orange Water Martinis

Lloyd always enjoys visits from "Mimi"

Above: Vanderbilt Mansion, Huntington, Long Island

Although perhaps too brief, Cafe Drake's mother flew in to town for a quick yet wonderful visit to CD. Highlights included a visit to the Vanderbilt Gold Coast (Long Island) mansion and natural history museum, glorious meals at Tuthill House Grist Mill restaurant, Mesa Coyacan, Tripoli, Cafe Mogador + cocktails at Henry Public.