12.28.2004

Mocking Mock Apple Pie

I had been aware of the rumors for about a year. One could make an apple pie without apples. Using Ritz Crackers. And supposedly, it was indistinguishable from the real thing.

Not likely, I knew, yet stories abounded of people fooled by this concoction. I barely gave a cursory glance at the recipe. I knew it had to be eaten to be believed.

The history of the Mock Apple Pie is practical: housewives of the pioneer era substituted crackers when apples were unavailable, and when Ritz crackers were invented while depression era shortages followed by rationing made apples expensive, the recipe was revived.

I enlisted the help of my father-in-law, pie-maker extrordinaire, because I have no patience for crusts and would fall to pieces at the prospect of top and bottoms crusts for two pies. I made the fillings. Overall, the pie making was fairly quick. We made the Ritz then the apple while the Ritz cooked. Then there was the waiting for the pies to cool. Very important to the structure of the Ritz pie, which depends on a sugar syrup stabilized with cream of tartar, less important to the apple pie. We adjusted the seasonings of the apple pie to try to reflect the flavors of the Ritz pie - much more lemon, more sugar, less cinnamon.

And the results?

Of course we could tell the difference between the two. The Ritz pie is overly sweet and too lemony. The apple pie has texture. And the flavor of apples. But surprisingly, amazingly, the Ritz pie really does come closer than I ever imagined. It could easily be substituted for say, a McDonald's apple pie (this is really just conjecture as I have never eaten a McDonald's apple pie, but I have seen the pictures of one) or a store-bought frozen one. There is no texture to speak of, outside of the perfect crust, more like a thick, sturdy mush that is not wholly unpleasant. And the color is spot on.

We realized that the results were definitely influenced by the control, despite blind taste tests. Now we are busy luring innocents into trying the Ritz pie, telling them it is apple, and waiting for their reaction before divulging the truth.

The recipes:

Pie Crust (two crust pie)

2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup ice cold water

Cut together the shortening and flour and salt using two knives or a pastry blender until the mixture is coarse, with various sizes of crumbs and bits. Add the water slowly, mixing lightly with a fork just until the mixture comes together in a ball. You may not need all the water. Divide the dough into two balls, roll out until a bit larger than the pie pan. When baking, brush the top crust and edges lightly with milk for a nice browned color.

Apple Pie
(to compare with Mock Apple, not the best recipe on its own because of the amount of sugar and lemon)

pie crust dough
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tbl flour
juice of 1/2 lemon
grated peel of 1 lemon
6 large, firm apples
2 tbl butter

Mix together in a large bowl the sugar, salt, cinnamon, flour, lemon and lemon peel. Wash, core, peel, and chop the apples. Add them to the bowl, tossing thoroughly to coat. Pour into a prepared pie dish, dot with butter, and cover with top crust. Crimp the edges and bake: 425 for ten minutes, then 350 for an additional 30 minutes, or until the pie is nice and brown.

Ritz Mock Apple Pie

pie crust dough
36 Ritz crackers
2 cups sugar
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 3/4 cup water
grated peel of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbl butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon

In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, cream of tartar, and water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in lemon and lemon peel and allow to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, line a pie plate with rolled out dough. Crush the Ritz cracker coarsely into the plate. Pour syrup over crackers. Dot with butter and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cover with top crust, crimp and cut slits. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes or until crust is nice and brown. Cool.

12.13.2004

Fat Belly's

Fat Belly's is on the corner of Market and Bow in Portsmouth, NH - former home of Steakout Takeout and Kontiki

I've been there a couple times now (they opened a bit over a month ago), and am fairly pleased with the food - generally bad for you, generally bar, with plenty of beers and big tvs to go with it. Ground level is nice bar set-up. Good mixture of tables and bar space, upstairs fun loungy bar and low loungy tables and cushy chairs. The decor is nicely cleaned up from its previous incarnations. Sleek but not slick.

Beers come in weird glasses. Personally, not a fan. Smaller size in tall thin glass, larger size in a stemmed bowl reminiscent of Belgian abbey beer glasses. Beer drinking should be simple, easy. It should not require coordination, as these glasses do.

Best food are the burgers. Big, juicy, great quality meat. Excellent toppings - the Fat Belly Burger has bacon, mushrooms, cheese - and plenty of fun choice add-ons.

The wings (and I am always on the look-out for wings (not tenders), being from New York and all) are good. Not great, but that says a lot in NH. The mediums have good flavor, but there was something else there, something not Buffalo. Boy says it was chipotle, I say some straight up black pepper flavor. Hot were too hot for us. Could have been crisper, so when we went back we ordered them crispy and then they were cooked to death. Sigh.

Chorizo burger fun. Slices of good quality chorizo.

Very yummy fries. Straight cut, with skin, deep brown and deeply salty.

Potato skins hallowed out enough so that the potato doesn't kill the fillings - cheezy, bacony, scalliony, plenty o' sour cream.

Onion rings a bit of a disappointment - real onions, home-made (according to the menu) but the batter is way way too thick. When we had them they were also overfried to a tooth numbing hardness. But the chipotle mayo is good and unique.

Overall, fairly good. My hopes were too high about the wings, though. The hunt is still on.

12.12.2004

Made-Rite Madness

It started many moons ago - I developed a craving out of nowhere for a Made-Rite. This is a loose meat sandwich served on a hamburger bun with a spoon. Made-Rites are predominately in Iowa, which is where my father is from.

Problem #1 - I hadn't had a Made-Rite in probably ten years, probably more. Where this craving came from, I didn't know, but it wasn't letting up. Once I started making the Made-Rites, why this was a problem became apparent - I didn't really remember what they tasted like. All I could say was, "No, this isn't quite it." But I didn't have the foggiest what ingredient or flavor might be missing.

Problem #2 - of course the recipe would be secret. I fished around on the internet, found several people's guesses, and started there.

The following recipe is the latest incarnation. It already has its problems. Next round I will add back in some apple cider vinegar (previous attempts featured it too heavily, but it is definitely missed when not at all present). I am also really tempted to actually try steaming the meat, as suggested by many recipes. Usually I've taken the easy way and just cooked it in a nice big saucier like pan.

This recipe calls for two ingredients I never thought would cross my threshold - dried minced onions and Gravy Master. But both are very very necessary. I tried to do without - not worth it. Just make that trip down the grocery store spice aisle.

Made-Rites for six

2 lb lean ground meat
2 tbl vegetable oil
4 tbl minced onions
1 tbl Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp Gravy Master
2 tbl ketchup
2 tbl yellow mustard
2 tbl brown sugar
2 cups beef broth

Cook the meat in the oil, breaking it up very thoroughly. When it is mostly cooked through, add the rest of the ingredients, stir, then simmer uncovered for about ten minutes. Serve on buns with additional mustard and eat with spoons.

If you can handle waiting, the meat is definitely better the second day. It is fine to reheat in the microwave.