Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Raspberry Jam: Easier than Pie

You can make delicious Raspberry Jam in less than an hour - it's no fail. Simplicity itself: 4 cups of raspberries, 3 cups of sugar and a minimum of tools and effort. Re the tools, on the right in the picture is a jam funnel; you can live without it but unless you have dead-eye aim and a steady hand you need one. Mine is ancient; new ones are wider, much better.

1. Wash 5 jelly jars and lids and put them in a large pot with  a ladle and the jam funnel. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer. An alternative to this: the dishwasher, using the high-heat dry setting. While the jelly is boiling, take the sterilized jars and lids and place them on a clean linen-type dish towel.

2. Put 4 cups of raspberries in a heavy pot (not a lightweight saucepan) and bring to a boil. Immediately add 1 cup of sugar, return to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. THREE MINUTES only. Add the 2nd cup of sugar, return to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Add the 3d cup of sugar, return to a boil and boil for 3 minutes.* Remove the pot from the heat; place the jam funnel on a jar and ladle the jam in. Move the funnel to the next jar. Using a clean linen-type dish towel dipped in the hot sterilizing water, wipe the rim of the first jar, place a jelly lid on top and carefully screw on the ring (just turn it easily, no need to make it super tight). Repeat. You'll probably have 4 jars plus some extra. Cool on a rack. You will hear some random pops as the lids seal.

*During the boiling periods some foamy looking stuff will appear on top; you can ignore it or use the skimmer to take it off

3.  Now you can satisfy your inner Martha Stewart and get a few jars ready for gift-giving. Buy basic labels at STAPLES (the white ones with a red border are nice), craftier ones at MICHAEL'S, or do this: cut circles  or rectangles out of brown paper (wrapping-type or paper bags - thinnest bags work best), place them over the jar tops and secure with rubber bands. Make bows with kitchen twine. Draw labels (or use stamps) on computer paper, cut them out and affix them to the jars with two tiny dots of the same sticky stuff you use to secure those notes-to-self you have all over the house. Voila!

NOTE: You can double or triple this, using the same method. If you have 8 cups of berries, use 6 cups of sugar. Heat the raspberries to a boil, add 2 cups of sugar, boil 3 minutes, etc.

Rhodes Island: News & Events

On the Today Show tomorrow morning: Matt Gennuso from Chez Pascal will make the Bacon-Wrapped Pork Meatloaf used in the terrific sandwich served at Hewtin's Dogs Mobile in Providence.

La Laiterie's Matt and Kate Jennings (who also own Farmstead in Wayland Square and downtown will be the featured chefs at the James Beard House in New York on Monday night, August 16nd, cooking New England foods. These events are pricey - I went to one as a guest and it was fun. For more info:

The Rhode Island Shakespeare Company presents The Taming of the Shrew at 7:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, August 6-7, at Newport Vineyards, 909 East Main Rd (a/k/a Route 138), Middletown. Bring a picnic, beach chairs, blankets, etc. - grounds open at 6:00 p.m. Wines from the vineyard will be sold as well as food from Fatulli's Bakery and Deli. Go to the vineyard site for details. Food info at Tickets are $15.00 with advance reservations, $18.00 at the performance.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Back to the East Side: Chez Pascal

CHEZ PASCAL (960 Hope St, Providence  401-421-4422) aims to be a modern French bistro - doing what's popular (in-house charcuterie and relishes) and maintaining the traditional (classic escargot; mussels with pernod; duck). Sometimes it all works, sometimes it doesn't. Even after several visits I still find it tricky to assess the place. 

As owner of  Hewtin's Dogs Mobile and the terrific hot dog stand across the street in Lippitt Park, Chez Pascal is obviously committed to meats - cured, in casings, locally raised, etc. And they do their bit for regional growers, featuring cheeses,  produce and scallops from nearby farms and waters. On Monday nights, year-round, there's a totally local Market Menu (this does seems redundant) where origins are printed alongside offerings so you know the provenance of the Beef Cheek Roulade and the Root Vegetable Pottage. A special $30 three-course bistro menu, new every week, is available Tuesday through Thursday. From these, and the central menu, I have enjoyed beautiful salads and earthy pates and, in June, an elegant little rhubarb tart with house-made ice cream, topped with a tiny sprig of sugared lavender. I sampled my friend's Tasting of Three French Custards (a row of small pots - lemon souffle pudding, creme brulee and banana creme caramel) and enjoyed that too.
It's with the main courses where I think they run into trouble. Twice, one person in our party ordered a trio of porks only to be disappointed by dry, not-so-flavorful meat. And I'm not a fan of the sauces which appear in a few dishes (specifically, duck and beef); they seem old-fashioned to me, spoilers of fresh tastes. The beef, by the way, is delicious.

Service is slow. The waitstaff isn't slow; it's the kitchen. I'm not a fan of super-speedy delivery (at the Boat House in Tiverton one night our orders arrived so fast we felt like we were on an arrive-order-eat-leave assembly line with instructions not to linger) but Chez Pascal pushes it with the long pauses.

And I think it's time to redecorate.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Out of Town: Pre-Theater in NYC

Choosing restaurants for pre-theater is tricky anywhere, even in NYC. Most people I know look from the bargain-priced to mid-range steering clear of the big ticket. Sometimes funny logic is at work. A person might be ready and willing to spend at a splashy spot but not before "The Merchant of Venice" - if you pull out the stops pre-theater will you snooze through Portia's quality of mercy speech? Or worse, will you wake up with a big body shudder in the middle of it?

Here are three options where the timing works. The first is not a bargain in the strictest sense, the restaurant being east of the cheapest avenues, but it's friendly, not too noisy, has good salads and is an easy walk to everything. The second is well-located and at first glance looks like it's super high-end but the $34.00 lunch is beautiful, the burger is TERRIFIC, the Conde Nast crowd is glamorous (they pick at their food), and it's a pretty place. The third restaurant is your basic over-the-top, see-and-be-seen, oh-so-precious glam spot that just happens to be tons of fun and really good.

1. BRASSERIE COGNAC (55th & Broadway  212-757-3600) is part of the Serafina group, well known to people in west mid-town and the upper east side. BC's front corner room has lots of windows, one of those rooms where inside and outside almost blend when the weather is good. The inner parts of BC may be slightly more atmospheric in the pretend-French sense but out near the street traffic seems like more fun to me. The menu is typical American/French brasserie, from foie gras to cassoulet.  I'll say up front that my friends and I have only ordered salads (arugula & fennel, spinach & avocado, tossed green, chicken and nicoise) and from my observation, the Signature Chicken Salad accounts for half the orders in the place at lunch. I like it too. Off to the theater feeling light.

2. When AUREOLE (135 West 42nd St  212-319-1660) moved to this location it seemed crazy, a stylish place in an anything-but-stylish neighborhood but people (at lunchtime anyway) seem to have found it. On the south side of the theater district, it's an easy walk to all. The diners are mostly not pre-theater ladies - there are lots of financial types (they eat) and many fashion types (they don't). You could spend a fortune but it isn't necessary. There is a three-course $34 prix-fixe lunch menu - here's the menu currently on the website:

1st course
Chilled Summer Melons watermelon, cantaloupe, galia honey dew, country ham, pine nut, or      
Crispy Greek Octopus seared haloumi cheese, hummus, grilled pita salad      
main course
Mediterranean Dorade white bean purée artichoke barigoule, olives, parsley oi, or      
Prosciutto Wrapped Pork Tenderloin fennel, chanterelle mushrooms, heirloom tomatoes, sage      
Buttermilk & Oatmeal Shortcake peach compote, almond cream or      
Dark Chocolate Mousse peppermint ice cream, caramel popcorn 
A la carte offers lots of pricier, elegant options but if you want to keep the cost down go simple, order the $19 Aureole grilled burger, shock the fashionistas. Excellent.
3. THE BAR ROOM AT THE MODERN (9 West 53d St  212-333-1220) is a little manic. There's so much service, smooth and low-key, from the moment you walk in, that you might have a mental, "Mmm, can we ease off a little?" moment, but the service isn't oily or chummy. This is a restaurant that calls you TWICE to confirm. The manic part is the noise of success. You can carry on  a conversation - the pre-theater (evening) sound is loud buzz, not cocktail-fueled roar (too pricey for that?). The crowd is in shades of black; the only color-adorned are  elegant, model-thin women. As for the menu, it's basically a list of very expensive largish tapas - you can order whatever you want, one item or several, and since the service is well-orchestrated it all works out. It's possible to pick a $20 item, drink water, and leave with money in your pocket. So improbable however. Instead, you'll likely have an excellent glass of wine or a cocktail and before you know it you've ordered: Crispy Atlantic Cod with Granny Smith Applesauce and American Caviar; Pan-seared Sullivan County Fois Gras with Pickled Rhubarb; Arugula  and Fine Herbes Salad with Summer Vegetable and Goat Cheese; Slow-poached Egg with Lobster, etc. It's all beautifully prepared and lovely to eat but portions are small so a Chestnut Cream Sundae seems like a good idea. A beautiful idea actually.