Sunday, June 27, 2010

Make a Pie: Strawberry Rhubarb

With a lot of rhubarb around, I started making pies a few weeks ago. When I didn't have quite enough rhubarb for two pies I substituted local strawberries for the missing cup of rhubarb in each pie. I liked the result much better than when the two fruits are equally split. Most good fruit pie recipes are pretty much the same but I'll print one here anyway.

The crust recipe calls for vegetable shortening. Use it, it's better than butter. I bought vegan vegetable shortening bars at Whole Foods (because I was there and that's all they had) and got good results - the bars are a mix of different oils, sans corn oil, which, of course, is politically incorrect. Anyway, here's the basic recipe:

For the CRUST, put 3 level cups of aerated flour (flour you have stirred with a fork or whisk so it isn't compacted) in a bowl and add 2 tsp of sugar and 1/2 tsp salt. Stir with a fork. Using a pastry blender (cheap, you need to own one) or your hands, mix in 2/3 cup plus 2 tbs of shortening until it looks like coarse meal (just looked up the origin of this expression). Gradually add ice water by tablespoon blending with a light touch after each addition. After 4 tbs try to form the dough into a ball; if the ball crumbles apart, sprinkle more ice water in. Between 6 to  8 tbs of water should be enough. Cut the ball in half (one part slightly larger, actually) and put the smaller ball in the refrigerator. On a floured counter (have more flour ready) flatten the larger ball into a thick disc with an even edge. Flour the top, then roll it into a circle (working out from the center point of the disc) about an inch larger than a 9-inch pie pan. Add a little flour to the counter and top of the dough as you work. Drape the crust over the rolling pin, roll it into the pan, press it, and put the pan in the freezer. 

For the FILLING, mix 4 cups sliced rhubarb, 1 cup quartered or halved strawberries (depending on their size) with 1 1/4 cups sugar, 5 tbs flour (minimum) and 1/4 tsp cinnamon (max). Pour into the frozen crust and dot with bits of butter (up to 2 tbs).

Roll the top crust in the same manner as the bottom. Dampen the edge of the bottom crust, sit the top crust over the rhubarb, press the crusts together and trim. Make a few vent slashes in the top crust.

Bake 15 minutes at 400 then reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 25 to 30 minutes longer. (Timing depends a lot on the actual temperature of your oven so it's good to test it occasionally.)  

The pie is delicious warm, still great at room temperature and cold it beats cereal for breakfast. This one was packed to travel. 


P.S. I should admit here that my measurement of fruit is generous  (for a bigger, slightly more tart than sweet pie) - I probably had closer to 5 1/2 or 6 cups of fruit in these pies.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Short Takes

Whole Foods University Heights: Monday afternoons from 3:00 to 7:00 until October 25th
Whole Foods on Waterman: Wednesday afternoons from 3:00 to 7:00 until October 28th

WINGS OVER PROVIDENCE (725 Hope St, Providence  401-272-9464). There is seating but basically Wings is a take-out place. Conventional fried chicken and ribs are on the menu but the main events are wings, french fries and onion rings. From Honey Mustard to West Texas Mesquite, wings are served in many variations but I went strictly to sample the Buffalo-style and chose "Red Alert" for the heat level - it is exactly midway in the range between "Wimpy" and "AFTERBURNER." The wings are cooked to order, not ahead of time, and mine were pretty good. Among our friends (which include a contingent of western New York wing aficianados with MANY years experience, not to mention actual trips to the original bona fide Anchor Bar) there is the old debate about which is better, crispy or wet ("wet" means you dip the wings in sauce after cooking).  This matters. I'm for crispy and Wings is a wet place. Since Wings offers so many flavors (their word not mine) they almost have to serve wet because you can't add the cayenne before frying if somebody wants Terriyaki.  Still, the wings were very good. And the onion rings (fat ones, alas) were fabulous. It's not exactly health food you're getting here but it's cheap and it's cooked to order.

Across the street and down the block in the upper Hope neighborhood is BLAZE (776 Hope St, Providence  401-277-2529). I had a great piece of coconut cake there once, and an okay salad, so my positive feeling about the place wasn't based on much. Testing two entrees recently, my feelings turned negative fast. The menu is a weird mix of big-calorie items: Steak Frites Caesar, Chicken Taco Pizza, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, burgers, etc. Not a lot of room for nuance here: the burger was not good and neither was the jerk chicken.

re JULIAN'S (see April 8): Going for dinner on a warm night, I thought  the menu had a definite winter feel - on the heavy side, not a match for the weather. Reminder: except for the Monday-night Scrabble players, the crowd is young, lots of body art.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Westport, MA: The Back Eddy

You could be on the moon and run into somebody who has been to BACK EDDY (1 Bridge Street, Westport, MA  508-636-6500). Maybe this is what GPS has wrought - travelers willing to drive 12 miles down route 88 and back again just to get dinner on the way to the Cape. There are better options for breaking up the NY-to-paradise ride so it has to be the setting, which is definitely great. The outside seating is scenic - moored boats and grey cedar-shingled houses across the water are your backdrop - and on hot, dry nights it's nice to lean on the rail with a drink. Other nights there can be a wind vs. gnats thing going on - too much wind is no fun, too little, you've got the gnats. Anyway, inside is good-looking - two big (but not too) adjoining rooms, one with a long, popular bar. The look is well-heeled, casual seaside and the menu reflects that. 

Don't be expecting a long list of fried fish served in red and white boxes. This menu is ocean overlayed with urbanism. You can order fish and chips (or a plain lobster or a cod sandwich) but you can also try oven roasted cod which is a pretty simple affair of cod in a broth of littlenecks, chourico and giant limas. Back Eddy serves as much local fish and shellfish as it can get so you eat super-fresh oysters, littlenecks, lobsters and mussels. When ingredients are local, whether from water or land, it's emphasized. No offering is very complicated, even the yellowfin tuna Japanese-style is straightforward. The dessert menu is a short list of good ideas: walnut apple crisp, chocolate cake, really good ice cream, etc.

My gripes aren't with the menu or, most nights, with what's served. The food isn't great but it's usually good enough. Two things about Back Eddy bother me, a lot. One, is the NOISE.  Din is the only word to describe it. If one person at your table is having trouble hearing, soon everyone is speaking a little louder and before long, since this is happening at every table, you're in a room of high-pitched near-shouting. It hurts my ears. My second assessment is harsher. There is a huge staff both in the kitchen and serving and yet the service is haphazard. Not once in the last year have I been with a group where everyone was served at the same time. Most recently our table for four was served one dish at a time over the space of ten minutes.  Dinner is less good if you feel guilty enjoying your cod because the person on your left has nada.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cheap Eats: Apsara Palace

Upper Hope is my name for the area which extends from the Rochambeau Library (near the Hope/Roch intersection) all the way up through the beginning of East Avenue. The neighborhood has all the dry cleaners, barbers, hairdressers, and pharmacies you'll ever need, great little non-chain shops, a bakery (Seven Stars) and a string of restaurants where you can eat Indian,Thai, Chinese, Cambodian, Vietnamese, Japanese, American fusion (whatever that is), Italian, French, vegan/vegetarian, barbecue, and modern grill. Then you can get a manicure and go for ice cream. In warm months, Chez Pascal has its hot dog stand in Lippitt Park and the Farmers' Market moves in on Saturday mornings (9:30 - 12:30).

APSARA PALACE (783 Hope Street, Providence 401-831-4722) is open every day from 10:00 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.,10:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. I love the clientele - it's a complete ethnic and economic mixture of Providence - and I love the food. If you're looking for upscale atmosphere, Apsara isn't the place; it's strictly school lunch-room with booths.  

Walking around the neighborhood a few years ago I ventured in because it was full, a propitious sign I thought. Since the first bite of a "fresh roll" (paper thin wrapper, lots of basil, shrimp, cucumber, peanut sauce) I've been a customer, even buying an entire tray of fresh rolls one day to take home to guests.The menu offers an eclectic range of Thai, Vietnamese and Chinese dishes but I mostly choose the Thai and Vietnamese. Partial to all types of fresh rolls and pad thai, I defer to whomever I'm with to make the other choices. Recently we had a Thai red curry which was nothing at all like what we expected, no sauce, just the flavors enveloping long strips of onion, chicken and beans. Scallion pancakes, while not exactly a culinary feat, were crowd-pleasing and light on the oil (a good thing). A shrimp and vegetable dish was delicious. Post-movie hungry, three of us ordered three appetizers and three main dishes, eating until our eyes popped and we had to ask the waiter to divide the leftovers into two boxes.  My plan is to skip old favorites next time; instead, maybe toss a few pennies on the menu and see where they land.

P.S. No liquor license: bring your own beer or wine.
P.P.S. Website has disappeared - just go

Friday, June 4, 2010

Recently Opened: Harry's Burgers & Beer on North Main

HARRY'S BURGERS & BEER (121 North Main St, Providence 40-1228-7437) has opened. The goal is to become a neighborhood place serving inexpensive burgers, chicken BLTs, hot dogs, beer, beer, beer, and brownies. They've put in a serious grill for the burgers, which are half price between 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. Best news, food is served until midnight. You can eat after the movies which isn't so easy to do in Providence, Rhode Island.

It is tiny downstairs where the bar and deluxe grill are located and to keep things moving apace there is a lot of waitstaff. Seating is at the bar, stools at a wall bar and high tables in the back by the grill. More seating is upstairs in a curiously styleless room. My friend I were there to sample the burgers (and the red speckled hen on tap and the brownie); one of us stuck to Harry's basic cheeseburger, the other opted for a version jazzed up with barbecue (this maybe should be illegal). And onion rings. All the burgers are sliders (so sick of this - too much roll), two to an order.

Onion rings came first. They are skinny (plus), maybe too skinny as there's not quite enough onion to out-flavor the batter (minus) but all were devoured. Here's the deal on the burgers (barbecue issue aside): there's no ordering rare, medium, etc. - all burgers are cooked exactly the same way. A round ball of ground beef is placed on the grill, quickly flattened and seared, topped with the cheese and slid onto the buns (soft, a plus) with the onions and lettuce and some sort of dressing. It's a good taste, kind of addictive, and while I was eating the second bitty burger a thought flashed through my brain - I know this taste. It's very famous, world-renowned in fact. Welcome to Harry's Burgers & Beer, a downtown, 2010 version of a drive-through taste.  Not sure I need this. Drive past the brownies.

p.s. it seems to be working - people are finding it