Sunday, February 23, 2014

RTM Opens Revamped Info Booth

Alan Segal at his post in the redesigned information both at the Reading Terminal Market
Original lithograph
The redesigned information booth opened last week to greet visitors at the Reading Terminal Market. A mural of the terminal's head house and train shed, as they appeared in 1893 when both opened, provides the main visual interest, from a lithograph published by George Moore & Co. of New York.

As far as Segal and other information booth volunteers are concerned, the best features relate to their comfort. There's an electrical outlet under so a portable heater can be used, since the booth's position by the 12th Street entrance near Filbert can be quite cold in the winter. A glass plate helps screen at least some of the cold wind when the doors open.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Signs of Spring

Beyond today's balmy temperatures there's another sign of spring: stores are stocking Easter candy. Here's the Zitner's selection at the Pennsylvania General Store at the Reading Terminal Market.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Winter Vegetable, Hungarian Accent

Green cabbages at Iovine Brothers' Produce
It's soup weather, an ideal vehicle for that sturdiest of winter vegetables: cabbage. It's cheap, easy to prep, nutritious and satisfying.

First, let's deal with price. At the Reading Terminal Market today OK Lee had a special on green cabbage, 39 cents a pound -- half the price Iovine Brothers was charging, although even at 79 cents cabbage will hardly bust a budget. (Red and savoy cabbages are a tad more expensive: this week they were 99 cents at Iovine.

I found a small cabbage weighing in at a pound and a half (most heads of green cabbage are between two and three pounds) and decided an Eastern European style soup was the way to go. I found lots of recipes on the web, and they were fairly similar, but the one I settled upon -- with two significant tweaks -- is attributed to Mel Markon's, a defunct Jewish deli in Chicago with a credit to its original appearance in the December 1980 issue of Gourmet magazine.

In addition to scaling the recipe down from a three pound head of cabbage, I took advantage of some homemade Hungarian sausages made by a neighbor's father in Budapest and smuggled back here about four or five years ago. Yes, the sausage is that old, but I've been using it as a flavoring agent in soups and stews and have lived to tell the tale. It replaces the sweet paprika called for in the original recipe (find it here), but you could use smoked paprika instead.

My second tweak beyond the sausage was to add some barrel sauerkraut lurking in the back of my fridge. I used about a cup, rinsed, because that's all I had. If I had a quart, I would have used it all.

The most expensive part of the recipe is the meat, since it calls for one and a half pounds of short ribs; I used a little over a pound since I was dealing with a lesser quantity of cabbage.

Finished soup
Start by putting 12 cups of water in your stock or soup pot, then adding the beef before turning the heat to medium high. Once the water starts bubbling, cut back the heat to maintain a steady but minimal simmer. Do not add salt or any other seasoning at this point. When the meat is tender (which might take about an hour) remove it to a platter and let it cool. Make sure to skim the surface of the stock as it cooks to remove scum, and after removing the meat also skim off any fat globules you can find on the surface. (If you wind up boiling rather than simmering the broth, the fat will be emulsified into it, and that's yucky.)

While the meat simmered I attacked the cabbage. After discarding the outer leaves and coring the cabbage I cut it into roughly one-inch pieces. A medium onion got the same treatment. Although the recipe doesn't call for it I added half of an exceedingly large carrot (about one medium carrot) cut into slightly smaller than spoon-sized chunks.

Next, remove the meat from the bone and cut away any identifiable unrendered fat and gristle, then cut the meat into small bits, half-inch at the most.

Take the meat and veggies and add them to the pot, along with three-quarters of a cup of ketchup, a cup of chopped, drained canned tomatoes, a quarter cup of sugar, and a quarter cup of lemon juice (cider or white vinegar could be used in a pinch). If you are fortunate enough to have Hungarian sausage (a Spanish chorizo or Portuguese chouriço would also work) chop up about two ounces worth and add it to the pot. With sausage there's no need for additional seasonings. If you have no suitable sausage go with four or five teaspoons of paprika, plus salt to taste.

The soup should gently simmer for 30 to 60 minutes. But don't be tempted to cook longer: overcooking is what leads to cabbage emitting a sulfurous and off-putting odor.

Like many soups and braises it improves with an overnight stay in the refrigerator. I froze about half of it and have been enjoyably consuming the remainder. With a slice of good rye bread or pumpernickel and sweet butter you've got yourself a great meal.

Market's New Website Goes Live

The revamped website for the Reading Terminal Market went live last week. While there are plenty of tweaks still needed and the overall organizational structure of the site isn't ideal, it's a far sight better than the previous iteration, which was not updated as merchants were added.

The most important improvement (beyond the fact that the merchant list is up to date) is that the site is mobile-friendly.

Another addition is the ability to search for a product and determine which vendors sell it. Though useful, this function is hardly perfect, since it depends upon each merchant keeping the market informed of its product line, and the market updating the database. For example, search for "chocolates" and you'll be told to try the Pennsylvania General Store and Wursthaus Schmitz, but not Sweet as Fudge or Chocolates by Mueller. But search "chocolate" and you won't get the first two although you'll get the latter two, as well as Famous 4th Street Cookie and Old City Coffee. Go figure.

Just like the old site, you can read the market's Mission Statement and Operating Policy Guidelines. But good luck finding them. The logical place would be under the "About the Market" menu heading, but that item is filled with directions and parking info along with a link to pages about the market's history. Instead, if you want to read the Mission Statement and OPG you have to click on "Contacts" where there are further links to those two items. Hardly logical or user friendly.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Price Drop on Temples; No More Buck-a-Shuck

The price of temple oranges at Iovine Brothers Produce dropped a bit this week. Today they were four for a buck; last week it was $3. The oranges are a tad smaller, but they weigh out at about a pound and a half for four fruits.

On the other side of the Reading Terminal Market, Pearl's Oyster Bar discontinued the late afternoon Buck-a-Shuck deal. Operator David Braunstein said not many eaters took advantage of the offering, and the few who did rarely ordered anything else. Since Pearl's doesn't offer alcoholic beverages, it was tough to justify continuing.

Meanwhile, Pearl's started work this week on a refurbishing of the restaurant. The walls will get a new treatment, as will the signage, there will be new butcher block tables (though the counter will remain unchanged for now) and the colorful figurehead will be moved to a more prominent position.

Today was the last day for the old information booth at the 12th near Filbert entrance to the market. It will be replaced with a new stall where volunteers will answer questions from tourists, like, "Where is the Convention Center?"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Sweet and Tangy: Temple Oranges

To the orange connoisseur, there's no finer specimen than the temple orange. a older mandarin-sweet orange hybrid that's both sweet and tangy. It has a complexity of flavor that no other orange can match.

Alas, because it has seeds many folks avoid the temple orange. That's their ill-fortune and your good luck. And at three for a buck at Iovine Brother's Produce at the Reading Terminal Market these large oranges are a good buy.

Though the skin is tight to the flesh, Temples can be easily peeled and sectioned by hand, much like its tangerine ancestor.

As with any other citrus fruit, you want it to feel heavy in the hand for its size -- that means there's plenty of juice inside. The thin skin will be shiny but not without some spotting

Whether eaten out-of-hand, juiced, sectioned for salads or used in baking the temple orange is a stand-out winter fruit. But get them now: the season is short, less than two months from late-January until March.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pearl's Starts Breakfast, Brunch

Ship's bow statue at Pearl's Oyster Bar
Pearl's Oyster Bar introduced a breakfast/brunch menu last week, featuring egg dishes accompanied with seafood, including a crusted shrimp/egg Po' Boy on a Sarcone's roll, and eggs benedict serve with either crab cake, shrimp and grits, or smoked salmon. French toast is also on the menu. I'll vouch for the cheese grits.

With the help of 10,000 librarians attending their association's mid-winter meeting at the convention center Pearl's owner David Braunstein appears to have picked a good week for introducing the breakfast menu. By the time I left the market about 10 a.m. Saturday, nearly half of the restaurant's seats were occupied -- not bad considering Pearl's is only eclipsed by the Down Home Diner and Molly Malloy's in seating capacity.

Since taking over the business from his parents Braunstein (together with executive chef Jason Ledee) have made substantial tweaks to the menu. Most of the classics remain, though not the fried clams. The snapper soup is a good one: when I sampled it two weeks ago it had plenty of snapper meat, lots of traditional flavor, but none of the over-cornstarch gloppiness that detracts from some versions. The plate of a dozen Cape May Salts I tried were properly shucked with a minimum of broken shells and served with the classic mignonette sauce (hot sauce, lemon also available).

Amazingly, Pearl's offers buck-a-shuck oysters from 4 p.m. to closing on weekdays. Since Pearl's doesn't sell booze, it's hard to image Braunstein is making any money on the deal.

New RTM Website Long Overdue

Next month the Reading Terminal Market plans to go live with a new website. It's much overdue. The current website has minimal functionality, its merchant list/map is both out-of-date or just plain doesn't work. The new site is also expected to be more mobile-friendly.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Sourdough Pizza? Yes!

Photo courtesy of Angelo's Pizza
Danny DiGiampietro has been a bread jobber -- a route-man delivering bread from Sarcone's and other bakeries to sandwich shops and other eateries (including Tommy DiNic's) -- for years. But his true love is the baking of bread and its sidekicks. For about a year he ran a small bakery in South Philly while maintaining his route, where he also toyed a bit with pizza-making. For a variety of reasons, the bakery didn't work out, though not because of any flaws in his product. DiNic's only switched to Sarcone's after Danny's closed shop.

Late last year Danny opened a new venture across the river in Haddonfield: Angelo's Pizza, 122 N. Haddon Ave. The menu is simple: pizza, cheese steaks, chicken steaks, fries, salads and escarole soup.

She Who Must Be Obeyed and I stopped by today and were blown away by the pizza. She went for the pepperoni, I opted for sausage. Instead of using crumbled meat, Danny slices the sausage in thin lengths to adorn the pie. The pepperoni is cut in the usual rounds. He uses fresh mozzarella and/or high quality regular mozzarella, depending on the type of pie ordered. And after coming out of the oven he tops most with a little fresh grating cheese.

The crust is thin, crispy and delicate and is made from sourdough. It's what Danny's pies are all about.

I never thought of fermented dough for pizza, but it works. Indeed, sourdoughs are hardly unknown in Italian baking. Danny takes it easy on the tartness, so the sourdough doesn't call attention to itself, but when you bite into the unadorned puffy crust on the pie's margins you will detect a slight tang that complements rather than competes with toppings.

What makes it even more unique is that Danny didn't begin with a commercial sourdough starter. He set out flour mixed with water and let the local Haddonfield yeasts do their thing. Works for me.

He's selling a lot of cheese steaks, too. Danny's picky so he uses prime beef. He's also cooking long hots, which can adorn the steaks or the pizza.

You can watch a cheesy video of Danny at work here.

(Full disclosure: I got to know Danny from hanging out at the Reading Terminal Market when he was making deliveries to DiNic's and consider him a foodie friend.)

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

New Year's Treat: Not Pigs in Blanket

For New Year's Day football-watching (and Superbowl Sunday as well) She Who Must Be Obeyed and I set up a variety of small bites for noshing through the day and night. In years past Pigs in the Blanket have been the star attraction, but we also indulge in appetizers from the frozen aisle at Trader Joe's and other emporiums: phyllo-wrapped savory treats, dips and chips (including guacamole) and similar high-calorie, high-fat fare.

This year I wanted to replace the worst offenders with something less enlarging to the gut, or at least not quite as unhealthy. I still went with the guac (homemade). But instead of oversalted tortilla chips I swapped them out with pita chips.

Still, I wanted something special and a little out of the ordinary.

Coming to the rescue was Otolith Sustainable Seafood, a small Philadelphia purveyor which does some of its own fishing in Alaska and also buys seafood from other small fishing operations in the Sitka and Petersburg areas. Almost everything is individually quick frozen and everything I've tried so far has been absolutely delicious. In fact, the king (chinook) salmon is the best I've ever had, including during a two-week visit to the 50th state.

For New Year's I took advantage of a special Otolith offering: salmon roe. The deep reddish-orange roe (also known as ikura) came in four-ounce refrigerated jars, priced at $10 apiece.

To serve them I used mini-pastry shells (about the diameter of a quarter) purchased from the South Philly Ikea's Swedish Food Mart. Into each went a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt, then a heaping spoonful of roe. To finish out my plate I filled the remaining pastry shells with more yogurt, then a curl of smoked salmon.

Next time Otolith offers salmon roe, I won't wait for New Year's to indulge. Otolith sells its seafood at local farmers' markets (including Rittenhouse and Headhouse) as well as through some natural food stores in the area. They'll also deliver to your door.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reserve Your Haggis

Among the changes transpired since my six-month absence from blogging about Philadelphia's public and farmers' markets is switch of chefs at Border Springs Farm, the fresh and prepared lamb purveyor at the Reading Terminal Market.

In the fall Nick Macri moved over from executive chef at Southwark to run the cooking operation at Border Springs. (Opening chef Aaron Gottesman is how chef de cuisine at Kevin Sbraga's new The Fat Ham.)

In honor of poet Robert Burns birthday Jan. 25, Macri will be preparing a near-authentic haggis. All that will be missing in the offal-stuffed offering will be the traditional lights (lungs) which, to the best of my knowledge, remain off-limits for human consumption under USDA rules. Nick also told me he will be using manufactured casing rather than sheep stomach, the traditional containing vessel for the oat-extended offal-loaf. If you want it, make a reservation: it won't be available unless you make a prior commitment to purchase one.

In the meantime, Border Springs has had to cope with a non-functioning refrigerated display case. They expect to get a replacement compressor installed Monday.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Breakfast of Jewish Champions: Not lox.

Who knew? The matzoh ball soup at Herschel's deli in the Reading terminal market makes a superb breakfast when you're looking for something substantive but not overwhelming. The broth itself was clear and rich with just enough carrots and celery as well as white meat chicken pieces a few but enough. The matzoh balls themselves were plenty big, about the size of a baseball. Just the right density neither too heavy nor too light.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Won't You Be My Melon-craving Baby?

Local muskmelons -- usually called cantaloupes because marketers consider "musk" off-putting -- can be found at local farmers' markets, like Headhouse Square where A.T. Buzby, the South Jesey grower, displayed these giants at $4 apiece.

The same variety of local melon has been available on and off for the last week or so at Iovine's Urban Produce at the Reading Terminal market at half the price for a similar-sized melon. I purchased one of Iovine's a few days ago: good flavor, moderate sweetness with a sea-salt tang, all-in-all, an enjoyable melon to eat.

Although I'm not a stickler for washing produce, I always scrub melons in the sink: they're more apt than most other fruits to pick up pathogens in the soil. A quick, warm, slightly soapy scrub to the exterior before cutting does wonders. If you don't wash melons, any baddies on the surface will work their way inside when you slice it open.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lamb Man Working Spit

Shepherd Craig Rogers, proprietor of Border Springs Farm, works the spit with a 52-pound lamb roasting for today's Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze at the Reading Terminal Market. Although they started serving lamb tacos from previously cooked lamb about 10 a.m. today, Rogers didn't expect to be able to carve from this carcass until about 1:30 p.m., after cooking for about six hours.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Peaches and pineapples at Iovine's: only one is local.

Ben Wenk restocks peaches
Time to shift to peach pie from cherry.

With the sour cherry season essentially over (you might find a few quarts this weekend if you're lucky) peaches have taken over the fresh produce stalls at area farmers markets. Local peaches can even be found at Iovine's Urban Produce at the Reading Terminal Market, where Jersey peaches were selling for 99 cents a pound recently.

Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm had them at his family's stall last Sunday at Headhouse Square, and all the other orchardists are likely to show off their whites and yellows this weekend. Nectarines won't be far behind, and apricots have already made their appearance. Plums of various persuasions (and perhaps even early apples, like Lodi) will show up in the stalls over the next few weeks.

Lamb Hash

Why settle for plain hash, when you can get lamb thrown into the bargain. The lamb hash, oniony with a touch of pepper heat and topped with a fried egg, is a popular breakfast item at the Border Springs Lamb Farm stall at the Reading Terminal Market. An even bigger seller is their lamb taco for lunch; they'll be serving it from a whole animal they'll roast at tomorrow's Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze along Filbert Street.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Cherries and Berries

Pie cherries from Beechwood Orchards at Headhouse Square Farmers Market

Sweet red and golden cherries from Three
Springs, also at Headhouse Square market

 From The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola:
The cherries, ranged one by one, resembled the short lips of smiling Chinese girls; the Montmorencies suggested the dumpy mouths of buxom women; the English ones were longer and graver-looking; the common black ones seemed as though they had been bruised and crushed by kisses; while the white- hearts, with their patches of rose and white, appeared to smile with mingled merriment and vexation.
Okay, so I'm sucker for cherries, sweet or tart. I've gone through a couple of quarts of dark red sweets in the last week and a half nibbling them straight. And a couple of quarts of pie cherries, mostly in sorbet, but also a cobbler. I'll probably make a pie this week.

In the meantime, I've gone through many half pints of black raspberries making one of my favorite ice creams. Here's how it's done:

Take two half-pints of black raspberries (about 3 to 4 cups) and place them in a bowl with half a cup of granulated white sugar. Toss and crush, then let them sit for two hours of so.

After two hours, place berries and rendered juice in fine mesh strainer over a bowl, and press with a stiff spatula or other device of your choosing to render out the rest of the juice, leaving behind (and discarding) the seeds and the pulp that clings to it and just won't go through the mesh. Transfer juice to small pot and reduce slightly.

Meanwhile, heat a cup of cream (pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized: you can find it Lancaster County Dairy at the Reading Terminal or Whole Foods; Trader Joe's might have it, also) gently with a cup of sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. If you have it, stir in a couple tablespoons of plain -- not high fructose -- corn syrup. (I use Karo Light, as opposed to Karo Lite, which I do not recommend.) Combine the cream/sugar mix and raspberry juice, stirring in a tablespoon of vodka. If you have it, use a raspberry eau die vie (Framboise) instead. The addition of the corn syrup helps prevent the finished ice cream from forming large ice crystals. The alcohol lowers the freezing point of the mix, helping keep it scoopable.

Let the mix sit overnight in the refrigerator. Then prepare in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. When done, pack into containers, lightly press plastic wrap into the ice cream (it will be pretty soft), cover and let ripen in the freezer for four hours before serving.

For a real treat, mix in a half- to three-quarters cup of mini chocolate chips or the smallest chunks you can find during the last few minutes in the ice cream machine.

At Headhouse and other farmers markets, black raspberries have been selling for about $4.50 a half-pint. Cherries, sweet or sour, are anywhere from $7 to $9 a quart. Blueberries, which have also started to appear, sell for $3 a half-pint or $5 a pint, making them a berry bargain: they'll be my next ice cream or sorbet, and they make the best cobbler. Prices are about the same at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal Market though, as usual, L. Halteman Family undersells just about everyone: black raspberries were $3.99 a half-pint there last week, cherries $6.49/quart. I used their black raspberries for my first batch of ice cream, and they were superb.

More Fruit and Veg Photos

From the last two Sundays at Headhouse:

Rainbow Chard from Blooming Glen
Red and Green Kohlrabi, grate and it makes a nice slaw
Or make potato salad from these Savoie Farms gems
Or these Happy Cat 'taters
On to the fruit. Beechwood had the season's first apricots Sunday
Red raspberries and cherries at Beechwood
Culton's $5 beans
Tom Culton obscured by his produce
Culton has also featured celery the last two weeks

A.T. Buzy was first to market with local corn a few weeks
ago, but I think I'll wait until later in July

Reading Terminal Market Fests

For the past few years the Reading Terminal Market has devoted a mid-July Saturday to an ice cream festival. Before that the market sponsored a Sidewalk Sizzle with meats on grills.This year they've been combined into a -- surprise -- "Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze", to be held July 13 on Filbert Street, a.k.a. Harry Ochs Way.

On the menu (besides ice cream): $1 hot dogs, turkey legs, kabobs, shrimp skewers, grilled pizza, hamburgers, Amish sausages, and Bavarian pork sandwiches. I'll be making a bee-line, however, to the whole lamb provided by Border Springs. Other merchants participating include Bassetts Ice Cream, Beck’s Cajun Café, By George, Hatville Deli, Miller’s Twist, Nanee’s Kitchen, Original Turkey and Wursthaus Schmitz.

The annual Pennsylvania Dutch Festival is scheduled for Aug. 8-10, the Harvest Festival Oct. 12 and Scrapple Fest Nov. 12.