Make the cake and cool as directed. Then, slice the cake across the middle of the 15-inch side of the pan. Slice each half into thirds. Trim pan-side edge of pieces. Each piece will be about 7 inches by 3 inches. Cut two pieces of cardboard, same size as the layers, so each cake will have a base.
Make the filling/icing. Purists may reject the recipe because the ingredient list includes corn syrup. Too bad.
2 cups heavy cream
4 tbs unsalted butter
4 tablespoons corn syrup
1 1/2 pounds semisweet chocolate* * you can reduce the amount of chocolate by 4-6 ounces if you want; the result will be a softer but still firm icing.
Chop the chocolate so that it will melt easily into the other ingredients. Combine the cream, butter and corn syrup in a saucepan and heat to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add chocolate, stir once. Leave for about 5 minutes, then whisk until smooth and strain through a sieve into a bowl. Refrigerate until thick, about 2 hours.
Whisk the ganache until it is spreadable. Use a long metal knife to ice the tops (generously) of the two bottom layers; then add and ice 2 layers to each base. Ice the sides of your 2 cakes (again generously) and then spread a thin layer on the tops. You now have two cakes which look like this:
Now, put the remainder of the ganache into a pastry bag with either a plain half-inch tip (or a slightly smaller one, either plain or the one with the ridged side). If you use the 1/2-inch tip, pipe tubes at an angle across the top. If you use a smaller tip, pipe at an angle or straight across, and make a border all the way around. (Reminder: make sure the ganache is not too thick for the smaller tip.) If you are going to freeze the cakes, place them on a pan uncovered and put in the freezer for an hour. Remove, wrap each in plastic and place in separate baggies before returning to freezer. To serve, remove two hours ahead of time. Voila.
Simple Yule Log: I made this dessert at least a dozen times before I read pastry chef Francois Payard's recipe in the New York Times for a Muscadine Yule Log, an over-the-top gorgeous and delicious dessert. It took more time to produce and I fell back to making my standard all chocolate log because it's simple. But I learned something important from Monsieur Payard - the buche can be made ahead and frozen. The Payard buche looks straight out of a fancy patisserie. The recipe here is for a slightly more rustic log though you can refine the look easily enough.
You'll need a candy thermometer unless you have a practiced eye.
First, make the cake.
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
6 tbs cocoa, sifted
1/8 tsp salt
6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10" x 15" jelly roll pan (cookie sheet with sides) with parchment or cut paper bags so that paper overlaps all sides. Oil. Don't think you can skip the oil and lightly butter the paper; the cake will stick. You can avoid all this by purchasing a Super Parchment (made by Kitchen Supply) at Amazon for $10.68. www.amazon.com/Kitchen-Supply-Co-2575-Parchment/dp/B000QJEYPW Works like magic, no oil required. Buy two.
Beat the egg yolks until light; add the sugar and beat until creamy. Blend in the vanilla, cocoa and salt. Set aside.
In another bowl beat the egg whites until stiff but don't overdo it. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Do not panic if some islands of egg white appear when you pour and spread this concoction into the pan - it's better to have specks of white than to mix the ingredients to death.
Bake for about 20 minutes. Poke with a cake tester to check.
straight from the oven
Immediately turn cake over onto a dampish towel lined with a new piece of parchment (or super parchment) and peel the paper from the bottom of the cake. Roll cake up in the lined towel and cool on a rack. (You can roll the cake from the long side and have a long, thinner log or roll it from the short side and have a wide log. If you do it the long way you can actually make two little buches de noel for gifts.)
rolled and ready
Make the buttercream:
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 eggs, in a bowl, stirred
3 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted, or 1 cup cocoa
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and cook to "soft-ball" stage (234 degrees) - this is a few degrees above "jelly" on the thermometer. The sugar-water temperature shoots up to jelly rapidly and then it's a slow go. This recipe is forgiving. You don't want to burn the sugar or have it solidify so if you are new at this, go ahead, take it off the heat before it gets to 234 and start to pour it into the eggs. This is the important part: if you are using a hand mixer, one hand is mixing the two eggs on medium speed while the other is pouring in the sugar mixture to combine. Beat until cold (doesn't take long).
Cream butter (this is when having two mixers makes life easier) thoroughly. Then beat in the egg/sugar mixture and blend in the chocolate.
Put it all together.
Unroll the cake, sit it on a jelly roll pan or any other flat surface and spread with half the buttercream, not going too close to the sides. Roll the cake back up, seam down, and spread most of the rest of the buttercream on the top and sides. Trim the raggedy end pieces off; then, cutting at an angle, slice a piece of cake off each end and use these for knots, placing them on the top or sides. I mostly make a rustic looking cake, draw some wavy lines along the bark and around the knots and add holly leaves and little rose hips for berries. But you can just as easily ice the log to be perfectly smooth, draw even fork tine lines and place little candy mushrooms and berries on it to make it picture perfect. Children love it when there are lots of marzipan leaves and berries.
But decorations can wait. For now, if you are cooking ahead, just draw your bark lines and put the cake in the freezer, uncovered, for about and hour.
into the freezer
Take it out and using a pancake flipper, lift it off the pan and place it on a large piece of plastic wrap; wrap the cake airtight using a couple of layers. Return frozen cake (now a dangerous weapon) to the freezer. And here's a plug for the best available wrap: Stretch-Tite www.stretchtite.com/
Thaw the cake, wrap removed, in the refrigerator. Refrigerator space being at a premium we have thawed the cake on porches, in cold basements, anywhere critter-free. It's a lot of buttercream so it's best not to have the log sit at room temperature too long before eating. Since the log is all chocolate and we also serve English pudding, we use brandied whipped cream for both.
WINE & BEER Sakonnet Vineyards (162 West Main Rd, Little Compton 401-998-8486) is holding a holiday open house Saturday, and Sunday,December 11/12 from noon to 3:00 p.m. Go to www.sakonnetwine.com for more info.
From noon to 5:00 on Saturday, December 18,Newport Storm Brewery (293 JT Connell Rd, Newport 401-849-5232) will have a "Hoppy" Holiday party with beer on tap, hot toddies, tours, and a cook-off of foods made with Newport Storm Beer or Thomas Tew Rum. The brewery tours (described as "hands on") will be on the hour and led by the head distiller and the brewmaster. Admission for adults: $10 Diversions will be provided for the tots (no cost). www.newportstorm.com/index.asp
FEDERAL HILL Tony's Colonial Food (311 Atwells Avenue, Providence 401-621-8675) is holding a tasting for Tuscan salami and sharp provolone tomorrow, Saturday, December 11 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. On Saturday December 18 you can move on to sweet samples: homemade torrone and Christmas panettone. www.tonyscolonial.com
RESTAURANT NEWS/EVENTS Mill's Tavern (101 North Main St, Providence 401-272-3331) will be open for lunch, weekdays from noon to 2:30 p.m. from Tuesday, December 14 through Christmas Eve. My shopper friend and I plan to take our break there. www.millstavernrestaurant.com
Cook & Brown Public House (959 Hope St, Providence 401-273-7275) is having a cocktail workshop on Sunday, December 19 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. $40 for the workshop alone, $70 if you stay for Sunday supper. This could be fun. www.cookandbrown.com
For twenty-nine years, the Key West Literary Seminar has presented programs featuring authors reading from their works and panel discussions on whatever topic heads the agenda that year. It's a reader's three-day paradise in a warm (usually) climate. This year the subject is food. The Hungry Muse: An Exploration of Food in Literature has an amazing list of author-guests at the second session, Thursday, January 13 (begins in the evening) through Sunday afternoon, January 16 (the first session is sold-out). Participants include Roy Blount Jr., Billy Collins, Calvin Trillen, Adam Gopnick and Mark Kurlansky. Check the website for the complete list. The program is fun and it's friendly - the authors are mainly a gregarious lot. www.kwls.org
Back to Federal Hill for a Bob & Timmy's (32 Spruce St, Federal Hill, Providence 401-453-2221) retry, this time for a wood-grilled pizza - their claim to fame earlier this year. We ordered the Grilled Classic - wild mushrooms, grilled yellow onions, pepperoni, parmesan and romano cheese with marinara sauce. Underwhelming: crust not crisp, onions not sauteed enough, herbs not detected.
Normally an on-line chocolate shop, Garrison Confections (72 Ledge St, Central Falls 401-725-0790) has periodic Factory Store sales - not exactly garage sale discounts but fair prices and no shipping costs. At the pre-Easter sale this year the chocolate bunnies were knock-outs. The chocolate-covered almonds are delicious. www.garrisonconfections.com
The shop will be open 11:00 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.: Friday 12/03 Saturday 12/04 Friday 12/10 Saturday 12/11 Friday 12/17 through Thursday 12/23
If you knock and nobody comes to the door, knock more insistently!
Using an on-line catalog or even print to pick a ham can be confusing. It's simple if you're looking at what Harrington's, the famous Vermont company, is offering, but why bother with Harrington's if you live in the city or suburbs - you can get an acceptable standard ham at just about any decent market. What Harrington's sells is a spiral-cut party ham and you know it will please the crowd. But what if you're looking for more? Maybe ham from small-farm pigs, or from special breeds, or ham smoked in a Virginia smokehouse, or a North Carolina country ham.
My first mail-order ham purchase was not a success; in fact, it hovered on the edge of disaster. What I intended to purchase was a smoked Virginia ham, a ham with a firm texture, a strong flavor, and enough salt to require that you slice very thin pieces. It was a ham I recollected. What I bought was a country ham, the kind you must soak, and soak again, and then again. My feeble attempts to cope produced a ham so salty guests had to drink gallons of water in order to speak. Not to mention that country ham is an acquired taste.
My ordering skills have improved and what's available to buy has also improved. Should I ever want to order a country ham again I know where to buy it - pre-soaked even. Small-farm pig-raising is increasingly popular and you can locate smokehouse operations all over the Northeast. After reading a New York Times article on the subject a few years ago I tried one of the lauded hams and it was good, but not great, and very expensive. Mostly, I return to Edwards, in Surry, Virginia, for my December order.
EDWARDS (1-800-222-4267) http://www.virginiatraditions.com/ offers many different hams, including their own version of dry-cured ham in the Spanish/Italian style which is likely worth a try. My order, however, is for the Petite Boneless Ham. On their site, and in the catalog, Edwards describes this as a country ham. Don't worry, it really isn't. It's a small, strong-flavored hickory smoked ham, between two and three pounds, which comes to you ready to go: slice in thin pieces, arrange on a platter and serve with mustard at a party. If you're ambitious, make ham biscuits for hors d'oeuvres. Use leftovers to create insanely delicious ham salad (mayo and some chopped pickles).
I want to love PARKSIDE ROTISSERIE & GRILL (76 South Main St, Providence 401-331-0003). but so far it isn't happening. The dining room and bar are inviting and comfortable, nicely lit; unfortunately, the food served never seems to match the setting. Rotisserie chickens, pork, and duck are the headliners along with grilled meats and fish. The long menu also includes pasta dishes and entree salads. The breadth of the menu suggests a sort of indecision about whether or not Parkside is primarily a rotisserie/grill. We've dined on not-so-great rotisserie chicken and okay pork and duck. On three occasions everything ordered was passable but not noteworthy, with only one exception, an especially good roasted duck breast salad.
Prices are not high at Parkside so maybe it's unfair to expect a super performance from the kitchen. It's not being crossed off my list, yet. One huge factor in its favor is that it's open for lunch. In fact, lunch is the restaurant's busiest time because Parkside sits on South Main close to courts and hundreds of lawyers who fill the tables. Some return to the bar later for post-work drinks but they head home early and the restaurant is fairly subdued by 8:00 p.m. My suggestion as to ordering - keep it simple.
Sunday, December 5th at Farmstead (186 Wayland Avenue, Providence 401-274-7177) should be fun. Attendees will sample Farmstead's artisan cheeses and wines from M.S. Walker. This year Farmstead is adding fondue stations - in their words, "rivers of melted alpine cheese." Sounds good to me. The fun starts at 3:00 p.m. $39 per person. Call for reservations.
And to close out the year, Farmstead plans a "Whole Animal Hoe Down" for Friday, December 31. New England pig and Rhode Island lamb will be roasted and accompanied by semi-Southern side dishes - beans, corn bread, house-cured pickles, collard greens, etc. The dinner will be served at two sittings, 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Taking reservations beginning December 1. Call.
In announcing the winter markets a couple of weeks ago I forgot to include the Aquidneck Growers Marketat Newport Vineyards & Winery, 909 East Main Road, Middletown www.newportvineyards.com/ Saturdays, 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
INVITED FOR THANKSGIVING? Here's a fool-proof tart that looks great, travels well and is so fast to make you'll be shocked. This isn't gooey - not a drop of corn syrup is involved.
You'll need a ten-inch tart pan and a food processor. Set the oven to 350 degrees and place one rack in the middle. Making the pastry is a snap. Put these ingredients in a food processor:
1 cup flour
2 tbs sugar
6 tbs butter, frozen and cut into pieces
1 egg yolk
1 tbs cold water
Pulse until a ball of dough forms, not a second longer. Roll out the dough and fit it to the tart tin, trimming the top with a sharp knife. It's a cookie dough and easy to work with. Roll the trimmed pieces together and use to thicken any parts of the tart sides or bottom which look weak.
Mix the following ingredients thoroughly with a big spoon:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tbs melted butter
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp salt
2 cups coarsely chopped pecans (you can use a lot of halves)
Pour (more like push) the filling into the tart shell and bake for 25 minutes or until golden. Cool completely on a rack. If you are traveling, leave the tart in the tin and wrap it airtight. Make it today and freeze it. No one will ever know.
Tomorrow, Thursday, November 18: DeWolf Tavern (259 Thames St, Bristol 401-254-2005) is having an Italian wine dinner - 6:30 p.m. reception, 7:00 p.m. dinner. $50 before tax and tip. Call. There will be a Spanish wine-pairing dinner on December 19. www.dewolftavern.com/
Le Central (483 Hope Street, Bristol 401-396-9965) now has a full liquor license. And, as always, a tasty lobster BLT. www.lecentralbristol.net/
Hourglass Brassserie (382 Thames St, 401-396-9811), new in 2010, has a $30, three-course pre-fixe menu Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights. www.hourglassbrasserie.com/
PROVIDENCE: Sunday: Theever popular Garden Grille (727 East Avenue, Pawtucket 401-726-2826) is having a five-course vegan Harvest Dinner on Sunday, November 21 - 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. $45 www.gardengrillecafe.com/
Cafe Noir (125 North Main St, Providence 401-273-9090) now has a small-plates menu for Friday and Saturday nights, 11:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. Parmesan truffle fries, bacon and egg pizzas, etc. www.cafenoirri.com
Monday nights at Hemenway's (121 South Main St, Providence 401-351-8570): buy a drink at the bar and the raw bar is half-price. Think oysters. www.hemenwaysrestaurant.com/
Church Fairs and Ethnic Fare: Korean - at The Church of Saint Mary's annual bazaar, Paul Cuffee School, 538 Broadway, Providence. Saturday, November 20, 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Greek pastry - at The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary bake sale, parish community center, 97 Walcott St, Pawtucket. Sunday, November 21, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Armenian - at The Armenian Evangelical Church annual food fair and bazaar, 13 Franklin St, Providence. Saturday, November 20, 11:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Greenberg has been smoking turkeys for more than 80 years and filling out-of-town orders since the late 1930's. Word of mouth spread the story and the hickory-smoked turkey business grew. A Greenberg turkey is a serious turkey, dark-skinned and redolent of smoke and pepper. This is a party turkey not a Thanksgiving turkey - Greenberg does give directions for heating one up but forget that, just serve it at room temperature (or cold if you must) with the same chutneys, relishes and mustards that accompany smoked ham. Set the skin aside, way too smoky to eat.
I've bought other smoked turkeys but Greenberg is best.
Not the same, in terms of results, but fun, is smoking a turkey yourself. Purists use wood or charcoal smokers; my smoker is an ancient electric Brinkman (www.brinkmann.net/products/outdoor_cooking/charcoal_smokers_and_grills.aspx) which is easy to use. With the addition of good smoking wood it produces a credible turkey (and a certain smugness). Electric smokers are easy easy and not dangerous - you won't show up on the evening news like the guy who fries a turkey and burns down the garage in the same afternoon.
This weekend isGreenvale Vineyards' 11th annual harvest festival - Saturday afternoon, 1:00 - 4:00 p.m. Music, food tastings, tractor rides. The vineyard is along the Sakonnet River in Portsmouth (582 Wapping Rd 401-847-3777). Go to greenvale.com for info on more upcoming events (look under "visit us/directions"). Fair events are free; wine tastings are $15 per person.
Coming up in nearby Westport:
Just Beer (98 Horseneck Road, Westport, MA) is holding its annual Pub Night on Saturday, November 27, 5:00 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. Draft beer, music, raw bar. No details posted on the site yet re cost of the event. Look to the site for additional beer events at the brewery. www.justbeer.us/
INDOOR MARKETS OPEN TOMORROW, SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 6
Farm Fresh Rhode Island's Wintertime Farmers' Market at Hope Artiste Village (1005 Main Street, Pawtucket 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.) opens tomorrow - a relief since the last couple of Saturdays have been cold and/or windy at the outdoor market. There are new vendors and the product array is expanding to include fresh pasta, vegan chocolates, etc. Opening day will feature pickle judging - local picklers and fermenters will submit cukes, sauerkraut, whatever you can brine or ferment - for judging by local chefs and editors between 11:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. But the BIG NEWS is the addition of a new market day. Beginning November 10, the market will be open every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Look for all the info here:
Also opening tomorrow is the COASTAL GROWERS' MARKET (Lafayette Mill, 650 Ten Rod Road a/k/a rte 102, North Kingstown 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.). The market has an impressive group of vendors and, as at the Pawtucket market, there is plenty to eat right on the spot. Go to the website for more details www.coastalmarket.org
Sts. Sahag and Mesrob Armenian Church (70 Jefferson St, Providence) is holding a food fair and bazaar beginning tonight and continuing through Sunday featuring, of course, Armenian food. Hours are 5:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. tonight, 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. on Saturday and noon - 6:00 p.m. Sunday. www.stsahmes.org/NewWebsite/index2.shtml
Saint Mary Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church (One St. Mary Way, Pawtucket) holds it holiday bazaar Saturday and Sunday, November 13-14 from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and that means food, specifically, middle eastern treats. Info at http://stmarypawtucket.org/bazaar/
The Good Samaritan Ladies Aid Society of the Annunciation Greek Church (175 Oaklawn Avenue, Cranston) is also holding a Christmas Bazaar on November 13-14, (10:00 a.m. - 8:00 Saturday, 11:30 - 4:00 Sunday) offering Greek food and pastries.
Rhode Islanders believe they know pizza. You may not agree. It's not modern pizza we're talking about here. Forget the grilled works of art at Al Forno (www.alforno.com) or Bacaro (www.bacarorestaurant.net) or the whole wheat crusts and wide range of both traditional and bizarre toppings at Fellini's (www.fellinipizzeria.com). Actually, you can probably forget about Wickendon, Hope and Thayer Streets entirely. The Rhode Island discussion starts with "Have you been to Caserta's?"
CASERTA PIZZERIA (121 Spruce St, Federal Hill, Providence 401-21-3618; 401-272-3618; 401-621-9190) is a big operation. You can eat there but the atmosphere is strictly church hall with beer. Pizzas are small (six pieces) or large (12 pieces - a rectangle, horrors) and choices are simple: plain (i.e. tomato), cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives or anchovies, in any combination. That's it - no sausage, no sauteed peppers, no onions. The tomato sauce is plain, plain, plain. The crust is on the thick side. There is no visible overdose of oil or cheese. And this is how they have served it for fifty years. If you are a fan of Frank Pepe (157 Wooster Street, New Haven CT 203-865-5762 www.pepespizzeria.com) or any other popular southern Connecticut or New York City area pizza place, this is shocking. The abundance of flavor in a Frank Pepe slice is something to remember, to anticipate, to wait in line for.
At Caserta's we split a pie, half with tomato, cheese and pepperoni, half with tomato, cheese and anchovies. It's a nice, clean taste (the pepperoni side, anchovies are anchovies), with a minimal amount of cheese, the very plain but tangy tomato sauce, and passable pepperoni. The crust is not crisp but it's good. A Caserta slice very definitely contains about a thousand calories less than a Fellini's slice - without the pepperoni it might even be good for you - and there is no guilt associated with eating half a pie. No memories either. www.casertapizzeria.com
BOB & TIMMY'S (32 Spruce St, Federal Hill, Providence 401-453-2221) is a competitor from right down the street. Small, on the cozy side, it is more inviting than Caserta's. Bob & Timmy's offers "traditional" oven pizzas though it adds sausage, olives, broccoli, peppers, feta, artichokes, etc. to its topping choices. To differentiate from Caserta's it works with a thin crust. But local preference for bland tomato sauce and minimal cheese results in a pizza similar in taste to Caserta's when you compare an old standard like cheese, tomato and pepperoni. The round pizza is delivered pre-cut in squares. The crust is forgettable. But Bob & Timmy's is hedging its bet. Acclaimed in 2009 by GQ magazine for producing one of the top 25 pizzas in the country, Bob & Timmy's was not being praised for traditional pizza; it was a wood-grilled mushroom and spinach pizza with parmesan, romano and feta that earned the honors, a visit to the TodayShow and a subsequent article in the Providence Journal. Wood-grilled pizzas, like "Trio of Wild Mushroom Pizza" and "Vegetable Medley," are from another part of the menu, the modern part. www.bobandtimmys.com/
AL FORNO (577 SOUTH MAIN ST, PROVIDENCE 401-273-9760)
On Saturday, November 6, 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m., Al Forno chefs will conduct a cooking class featuring rabbits and cornish hens from Lily Rose Farm in Foster www.farmfresh.org/food/farm.php?farm=734. Family style meal after the cooking. $65 per person; call to reserve. www.alforno.com
NEWPORT RESTAURANT WEEK, for NewportandBristol counties runs from Friday, November 5 through Sunday, November 14. Three-course lunches will be $16 at participating restaurants, $30 for dinner. Restaurant list is available at: gonewportrestaurantweek.com
DRINK CIDER! A random sipping (guzzling?) of local Massachusetts and Rhode Island ciders resulted in an unsurprising conclusion: they're good. Really good is the cider from Hill Orchardswww.hillorchards.com in Smithfield and from the Barden Family Orchard www.bardenfamilyorchard.comin North Scituate. Both sell at the Lippitt Park Saturday Farmers Market in Providence (9:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.) and, by the way, tomorrow is the last day this season for the outdoor market at Lippitt Park.
Last week, Projo featured an Alsatian choucroute garnie using the recipe of Ellen Brown, original food editor for USA Today and a Providence resident. I admit to not knowing USA Today had/has a food editor but never mind, this dinner is simple enough and well worth your house smelling like an Alsace restaurant for a few days. Choucroute garnie is a robust, unglamorous, hearty dinner cooked in a pot, combining pork butt (or hock) and sausages with sauerkraut, onions and carrots. It's served on a platter along with steamed potatoes and mustard. If you want to be properly French (or German) drink beer or maybe a Riesling wine but for me pinot noir works too.
The article is worth reading for historic background and preparation tips by Ellen Brown.
I followed the directions exactly except I used a ham hock (which was in my freezer and the main reason I paid attention to the recipe in the first place) and I put it in the pot whole, cutting the meat after cooking. To get the sweet taste of sauerkraut and not a strong pickled flavor, you need to follow Ellen Brown's rinsing directions. And, next time I plan to add more kielbasa and sauerkraut. The recipe says it serves 8 to 10 but if I were serving ten persons I would double it; better to be safe.
COOK & BROWN PUBLIC HOUSE (959 Hope Street, Providence 401-273-7275) has been named one of the best new restaurants of 2010 by Esquire Magazine. The write-up is by John Mariani who applauds the chef owners, Nemo and Jenny Bolin, for their "wonderful, personalized food" and lack of pretension. Nationalmedia comments about a local place usually make me yawn and think, what do they really know?, but in this case, based on one visit, I agree that something special is going on. I'll return to get a better picture but judging by the fresh bluefish with ratatouille, and I don't even like bluefish, I'm interested in what they are doing. This is not an easy market, the Cook & Brown menu is slightly offbeat, and it takes time for people to catch on to what's new on upper Hope, so I'm nervous for them. www.cookandbrown.com
LA LAITERIE (184-188 Wayland Avenue, Providence 401-274-7177) and Hill Farmstead Brewery, www.hillfarmsteadbrewery.com/wpblog/, are doing a cheese, charcuterie and beer tasting event at 2:00 p.m. on November 14 followed by a 5:00 p.m. six course prix fixe menu featuring Laiterie's cooking and Hill Farmstead's brews. Call 401-274-7177 www.farmsteadinc.com and, by the way, don't count on La Laiterie's website for up-to-date info. sign up for their emails and always call
DORIE GREENSPANdoriegreenspan.com/ - If you're a fan, and Greenspan has beaucoup de, take a look at her latest tome, Around My French Table (Houghton-Mifflin). All the details, tempting.
UNITED BARBECUE (146 Ives Street, Providence 401-751-9000)will deliver your orderbut it's worth a pick-up trip just to see the place in motion. This is not a Carolina barbecue joint so don't get your hopes up for the barbecue you love at Clyde Cooper'swww.clydecoopersbbq.com/prosite/ in Raleigh, North Carolina - slow-cooked shredded pork served on a soft cheap bun, doused with vinegary sauce and accompanied by hush puppies and iced tea. No, this is the north and barbecue places have giant menus: pulled pork, beef ribs, brisket, chicken, chili, wings, vegan burgers, macaroni and cheese, onion rings, etc. Onion rings, by the way, are NOT a substitute for hush puppies.
But, you live where you live and you make do. My first visit to United Barbecue was to try the pulled pork. It's a couple of sandwiches later now and I've come to the conclusion that I don't like the heavily-sauced meat. My friend calls this Kansas City barbecue - lots of smoky red/brown sauce - and he loves it. I call it a pork cover-up. The sauce overwhelms so I can't tell if I'm eating pork or beef. The kaiser-type roll is too bulky and chewy. Unsatisfying.
Thick sauce shows up on other offerings too, working a little better with the beef brisket, but I also have major issues with the beef brisket. My vision of barbecued brisket is sliced, not chopped, served sprinkled with the sharp, spicy brew you get at Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar.B.Que in Llano, Texas. Cooper's, which is unrelated to the Raleigh restaurant, is a must-go-to-place if you are visiting Austin and have time to roam a little in the hill country. Won't ever get there? Order the brisket on line (and the sauce unless you happen to have some Carolina bottles in your fridge): www.coopersbbq.com/ Again, my friend, while calling the Llano brisket first-rate, liked United's brisket just fine, sauce and all, and ate every bit.
Here's what I liked: great, crispy cole slaw, spicy old-fashioned chile con carne, home-made desserts which aren't bad - microwave the rum raisin bread pudding and it's actually pretty good.
Stopping by Walker's (261 West Main Road, Little Compton, RI - open daily until the end of October) again last Saturday, I could not resist a $5 box of "irregular" peppers, mostly red, many shapes and sizes, and all sweet. I dug a perfect recipe out of the files- it calls for 12 large red peppers. The soup is easy to make, delicious and freezes. The color alone will knock you out. It is a vibrant, truly gorgeous orange-red.
Red Pepper Soup (New York Times - 2005 as altered)
2 tbls olive oil
3 1/4 cups sliced onions
3 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 cup dry white wine
12 large red (or mostly red) peppers in one inch pieces
2 cups no-salt-added chicken broth
up to 2 tbls chopped fresh thyme
1/4 to 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
for garnish: thyme sprigs and a tiny dollop of creme fraiche, cream or sour cream
1. Warm oil in a large pot and add onions, cooking until they begin to soften and color. Add garlic and cook one minute before adding wine. Cook down quickly until there is about one tablespoon of liquid.
2. Add peppers, stock, thyme and red pepper flakes, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low until peppers are tender, about 30 minutes.
3. In a blender or food processor puree soup in batches until smooth. Taste for seasoning. Cover and chill overnight (up to two days per the Times but we didn't wait that long). Or freeze - whisk when thawed. You can warm it but it seems perfect cold.
4. Serve in small cups with creme fraiche and a sprig of thyme. Of course you can put the soup in any bowl or cup you have but for the best effect, I'd go with white. AROUND PROVIDENCE: COOK & BROWN PUBLIC HOUSE (959 Hope Street, Providence 401-273-7275), with White Barn Farmwww.whitebarnfarm.org/ of Wrentham, MA, is preparing a five-course farm-to-table dinner at the restaurant, Sunday, October 24, 6:30 p.m. The dinner is $75 per person ($55 for the vegetarian option) and $30 for an optional drink pairing. Reservations are required. www.cookandbrown.com/
IN THE NEWS: The upcoming December issue of Food & Wine features "40 Big Food Thinkers Under 40" and Matt Jennings of the Farmstead and La Laiterie is one of the forty big thinkers. He's cited for his work developing cheeses with small farms as well as innovating on his own. Farmstead is at 186 Wayland Avenue in Wayland Square, next door to the Jennings' restaurant, La Laiterie, and downtown (Farmstead Lunch) at 225a Westminster Street. One telephone number: 401-274-7178 www.farmsteadinc.com/
FURTHER AFIELD, Westport, MA cheesemaker Shy Brothers (actually two sets of fraternal twins named Santos) recently won honors at the 2010 American Cheese Society Competition in Seattle, WA for their Cloumage Artisanal Curd and Classic French Hannahbells. I especially like the creamy curd. www.eastbayri.com/detail/138737.html
WALKER'S ROADSIDE STAND(261 West Main Road, Little Compton, RI 401-635-4719) is more than a little famous for its corn and tomatoes. Or maybe it's more accurate to say Coll Walker is more than a little famous for his corn and tomatoes. Walker turned to retail to supplement wholesale about forty years ago and since then he's become a sort of rock star of produce. The accolades are deserved. Great corn is available early and late in the season and the tomatoes come in every type from what I refer to as the round red ones to the most eccentric-looking heirlooms.
But this is all well known - what's news now is that this year's abundance is available at very low prices: fifteen-pound boxes of tomatoes, so-called irregulars (in fact, my boxes held almost all perfect tomatoes) just begging you to buy. So I did, and a frenzy of sauce-making ensued. Sauce from heirlooms, sauce from round reds, etc. Now I'm pondering what I can do with fifteen pounds of peppers.
My own yard yielded hundreds and hundreds of large cherry tomatoes from last year's seeds. Dehydrating is a slow process (either at 200 degrees in your oven or in stacking dehydrator) but the result is worth the effort:
Slice the tips off the tomatoes and cut in half. Lay them on the racks (or on a cookie sheet over tinfoil) and salt lightly with fine sea salt. Rotate the trays every few hours. When the tomatoes are almost dry, but not crispy (about 24 hours depending on size of tomatoes), pile them loosely in small jars. Add a slice of peeled garlic and cover with olive oil. Store in the refrigerator. My labels say "N-Q Sun-dried Tomatoes."
Yet Another Octoberfest - This weekend is the annual International Octoberfest at the Newport Yachting Center (4 Commercial Wharf, Newport), Saturday, noon until 9:00 p.m., Sunday, noon until 8:00 p.m. and Monday, noon until 6:00. Tickets are $20 on Saturday and Sunday, $12 on Monday. For more info call 401-846-1600.
COOK & BROWN PUBLIC HOUSE (959 Hope Street, Providence 401-626-1266)is holding a cocktail workshop Sunday, October 10 from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Basics will be taught by Chris Amirault. The fee is $40 for the class, $70 if you stay for Sunday supper. Bring your own cocktail shaker and strainer. Reservations required.
AL FORNO(577 South Main Street, Providence 401-273-9760) is doing a dinner featuring Duval-Leroy champagnes, Wednesday, October 13 at 6:00 p.m. The menu features braised wild boar preceded by hors d'oeuvres, Jonah crab salad and truffled mac & cheese. Dessert too, of course. It's 95.00 per person (before tax and tip).www.alforno.com
The 9/25/10 New York Times has an amusing/alarming story featuring Olneyville New York System, www.olneyvillenewyorksystem.com a curiously-named locally famous hot dog chain (three restaurants) which hit a Rhode Island roadblock (a/k/a corruption) when it attempted to add two operating hours at its North Providence location. Named New York System when it opened in 1946 because the owner's Greek family got its restaurant start in Brooklyn, these are neon-signed homey hot dog joints where coffee milk rules. The dogs are part of Rhode Island lore. That my hot dog savvy friend says he has reservations about boiled hot dogs with meat sauce and celery salt is another matter - these hot dogs are very popular.
The newest restaurant opened in North Providence in 2007 and in 2009 applied for a two-hour extension which would put closing time at 3:00 a.m. You're probably wondering why a hot dog restaurant would want to stay open until the trouble-making hour of 3:00 a.m. in a semi-suburban town of 32,000 people, but this is Rhode Island and guys leaving the Satin Doll need somewhere to eat. Anyway, the owner ran into a stall and soon learned the cause: certain town council members expected to be paid before ruling on the application. The owner wasn't buying and his two hours were denied. The story would never have made the papers except the owner became "John Doe No. 4" when the councilmen were indicted by the U.S. Attorney, and the New York Times tracked the story down. It's kind of funny and pathetic at the same time. The indicted trio were part of a seven-member council (one of whom wore a wire) and weren't part of any organized mob. When one of the guys tried to shake a guy down via text message (text message!) the permit applicant responded, in part, "... this is real life, this isn't a movie like the Sopranos ..." New York Times article: www.nytimes.com/2010/09/25/us/25land.html
Not really notes - just pictures from a Saturday market in France (Lyon, September 18). The vegetables and fruit displays werebeautiful, as usual, but the standouts were mushrooms, which, when we were walking in the Alps a day earlier, we could actually smell.
The bad news, we couldn't buy mushrooms because we were in a hotel. The good news, we were forced to eat out in Lyon ...
THIS WEEKEND: A Chefs Collaborative team, led by Matt Jennings of La Laiterie/Farmstead (www.farmsteadinc.com)is presenting a "down-on-the-farm" cookout this Sunday, September 26 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at Schartner Farms (www.schartnerfarms.com), Route 2, Exeter. It's a fund-raiser for RAFT Heirloom Grow-Out, an organizationwhich works on building community through chef-farmer collaboration. The dinner features barbecue dishes;locally-grown produce and locally-raised meats will be served with, of course, local wine and beer. All to be prepared by local Rhode Island and Massachusetts chefs. Tickets are $50 for adults, $10 for kids over four and $25 for students and farmers. For tickets call the Chefs Collaborative (616-236-5258) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.And check out the website www.chefscollaborative.org
NEXT WEEKENDThe German American Cultural Society (78 Carter Avenue, Pawtucket 401-726-9873) is holding an Oktoberfest - Saturday, October 2 (3:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. for the Ratskeller and music) and Sunday, October 3 (noon to 6:00 p.m.) The food and beer are Oktoberfest fare. Alpenblumen Musikanten performs. Entry fee is $5.00. www.gacsri.org
Champe Speidel, chef-owner with Lisa Speidel of the very small PERSIMMON (31 State St, Bristol 410-254-7474) is one of a handful of truly well know chefs in Rhode Island. Speidel opened Persimmon in 2005 after working as chef at Gracie's in Providence as well as at the old Empire and Neath's. In 2009 Rhode Island Monthly named Persimmon best restaurant in Rhode Island. My first visit was in 2005, three months after it opened and my most recent visit was in August, with four friends. I liked it the first night and like it just as much, maybe more, now. Five of us ate luscious appetizers and perfect entrees. The menu, short, focuses (like just about every other high-end menu these days) on local and seasonal fare. The offerings are innovative but without the silliness of too many ingredients (which so often are painstakingly, annoyingly detailed).
To explain what I'm getting at I'll describe a recent dinner at a regionally very well known restaurant (let's call it L for local) in a city far far from Rhode Island. The venue is beautiful, a modern high-ceilinged room with big windows and statehouse views. The menu is simple and changes frequently. In reality, it's not far off from the Persimmon menu. L is "committed" to seasons and "passionately supports ... farmers." You get the picture. But it turns out that restaurant L is a foody altar - you get to order and eat but it's really not about you, or you and your friends; it's about worshipping at the altar. Our very tall and extremely soft-spoken waiter (when he leaned over to whisper details he was at a near 90 degree angle and in my mind's eye I saw him in formal dress with one hand, palm up, balanced on his back) gave us every detail of the composition of both the amuse-bouche presented. I would point out here that Wikipedia defines amuse-bouche as bite-sized hors d'oeuvre and our second one was actually a third of a bite at best. It was a tiny cornmeal shortbread topped with a teeny salsa spread (far-sighted without your reading glasses, no way you would see it) made of ground cherries tended by middle-schoolers, etc. etc. No kidding. I never got past this speech. My entree of corn pancakes with summer succotash and braised kale was excellent but at this point we were in open revolt, laughing about 6th grade gardeners and worrying about the sanity of said server, who was not impressed by our irreverence.
Persimmon, happily, gave us no additional speeches about the ingredients or the farmers who toiled. Instead, we ate oysters in seaweed, Hudson foie gras with duck neck confit and corn chowder. We moved on to local bass on mixed vegetables, bronzino, chicken cooked in the sous vide method, duck breast with squash and rosemary, and a skillet-cooked beef dish. Five happy diners. So good, couldn't possibly eat more. We did, sharing three desserts: panna cotta with berries, chocolate mousse (yes, but it's good here) with caramel ice cream, and peanut cake with banana ice cream. Great dinner.