Monday, January 28, 2008

Brewer's Plate Expands, Moves

The Brewer's Plate, an annual fund-raiser for the Fair Food Project, will change its venue and alter its structure slightly this year.

For the fourth edition of the foodbrew fest, the schedule was moved up month, from April to March, to coordinate with Philly Beer Week, said Kathryn Hauge, event coordinator. That means it will take place on Sunday, March 9 which, coincidentally or not, is also the last day of the Philadelphia Flower Show.

Hauge said that with more brewers and restaurants on tap than last year, growing attendance, and the overlap with the humongous horticultural event at the convention center, White Dog sought a larger, more workable venue, hence this year's event moves over to the Independence Visitor Center from the Reading Terminal Market, site of the previous three Brewer's Plates.

The basic idea is unchanged: brewers will be paired with restaurants, whose chefs will match food to the brews offered. In past years, two different beers were offered for each restaurant. This year, with the number of participating brewers and restaurants growing to 21 apiece (not counting DiBruno Bros. – more about that later) each brewer will present one beer paired to one restaurant's dish.

Tickets are $50. That gets you general admission, all the food and beer you can consume (without becoming inebriated) and a souvenir tasting cup. Designated drivers pay $40.

But for the price of a VIP ticket ($100, or $80 for designated drivers) you get admission a half hour earlier, so you can attack the food and beer stalls in a slightly more leisurely environment, live music on the heated, tented terrace, special seating in the ballroom (vs. crowded high top tables on the grand hall), live jazz, gift bag to take home (along with specially selected beers to take home, too). Also, a curated beer list, different from those available in the main hall, and additional food catered by DiBruno's will be served.

If your thirst extends to knowledge, VIP ticket holders can have it quenched it can be quenched through beer tutorials led by Marnie Olds and Garrett Oliver. Olds is a regarded as one of Philadelphia's top wine educators who has extended her expertise to beer. Oliver is brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and the author of "The Brewmaster's Table".

Details – including list of the 21 participating brewers and 21 participating restaurants – can be found at The Brewer's Plate website. If you want to find out what else is happening beer-wise that week, visit the Philadelphia Beer Week website.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Brisket and Fastnachts

With the Home Show finishing up today, the RTM lunch merchants are looking forward to the new convention and show season, with the auto show opening on Groundhog Day, the big crafts buyers show in mid-February and the Flower Show two weeks later in early March. If you want to avoid the crowds, stay away from the RTM during lunch hours those days!

Folks have been asking for platters at Hershel's East Side Deli, so they are obliging. You can get that brisket on a plate with mashed potatoes and other veggies or starches, instead of on a sandwich or accompanied by slaw or salad. If you haven't tried the brisket, do. It's moist and flavorful, and Andy will cut it for you lean or fatty, as your preference dictates. (Andy cooks his brisket whole, not just the lean flat portion, so if you like the fatty deckel like I do, you can get it.)

Speaking of fatty food, expect to see Fastnachts, a pre-Lenten South German/Pennsylvania Dutch donut, at Dutch Country Meats by next weekend. The Fastnachts will come from Haegele's and are traditionally made with mashed potatoes added to the flour, and frequently prepared hole-less.

Jake Fisher, the shop's proprietor, told me he plans to go whole hog into German foods. Although the Dutch Country Meats has de-emphasized fresh pork cuts and only displays a limited selection, you will occasionally spy a piggy item that's otherwise hard to find. This week it was salt-cured pork belly. (Okay, that's really not a fresh cut, but it wasn't smoked so it's close enough.) If you don't see something, ask. Not all the available cuts are in the display cases; they might have what you want in their walk-in fridge.

This week I purchased the Wien Kuchen, Bienstiche Kuchen, Zweibel Kuchen (all from Haegele's), double-smoked pork butt (from Rieker's), and sauerkraut. The Zweibel Kuchen from Haegele's was unexpected, since it wasn't a sweet treat. Instead, a savory egg-onion-sour cream pie (in this version, sans-crust). I'll re-heat the Zweibel Kuchen to go along with the Carbonnade Flammande I braised yesterday from Harry Och's lean chuck.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Haegele's Baked Goods Now At RTM

Earlier this week I wrote of Dutch Country Meats' de-emphasis of fresh pork products in favor of German-style deli goods and other prepared foods, including a nice selection from Rieker's, the sausage and deli emporium in the Far Northest. The shop has taken another big step away from fresh pork with the addition of this week of baked goods from Haegele's, a superior bakery in another Northeast neighborhood, Tacony.

Today they featured six of Haegele's product seen below: butter kuchen (butter cake), bienenstich kuchen (bee sting cake, with a custardy filling, and a sugar or honey almond topping), Wien kuchen (Vienna cake, which appears to be chocolate with a filling I couldn't identify just by looking at it -- a taste test is in order!), hamantaschen, apple strudel, and jelly stiche (jelly stings?).

Across the aisle, at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, Benuel Kauffman is now selling unpasteurized cup cheese, made by a neighbor from his two Jersey cows. Ben explained that it's used as a spread, usually on bread of crackers with some jam or preserves. I've checked recipes to find out exactly what it is, but the ones I googled were quite different, though many involve heating milk, adding butter and egg and finishing with cream. The consistency is more liquid than sour cream, hence it is served in cups. I tried a sample from Ben on a cracker with jam, and it was quite pleasant. He's selling it for about $4 a container (I didn't check the per pound price).

A mushroom I've only occasionally seen in stores made an appearance today at the Fair Food Farmstand. It's the "pom pom" pictured here from Oley Valley Mushroom Farm. Pom pom is just one of the names this fungus goes by. It's scientific name is Hericium erinaceus. Less marketable names (hence the use of "pom pom" in retail settings) this delicate fungus goes by include lion's mane, monkey's head, elf abalone, Bear's Head, Old Man's Beard, and Satyr's Beard. I've enjoyed this choice mushroom sliced and sauteed, and I wouldn't argue with those who think its taste suggests mild seafood, like lobster or scallop. It was available today for $14/pound.

Oley Valley Mushrooms was among the winners at this year's Pennsylvania Farm Show, as was the Livengood Family Farm, which sells at its own center court stand on Saturdays.

Joyce Livengood bested competitors in four vegetable sub-categories to win the Grand Champion Vegetable Market Basket, repeating her victory of last year. Her Grand Champion entry was in the subcategory for eight-piece displays of in- and out-of-season vegetables. She aslo took home second place for her entry in the sub-category for five-item, in-season, Pennsylvania grown vegetables.

Oley Valley earned first and second place in two different shitake categories, first and third place in two different oyster mushroom categories, and second place in the "other" mushroom category.

Fair Food Farmstand can't find room for the boxes used by farmers to deliver their goods (photo below), so they're stacked along the perimeter of the stall. Seems now that winter is here, the farmers haven't been around to pick up their wooden containers. Co-manager Sarah Cain says visitors to the Home Show have sought to purchase them. Just make her an offer and see if she'll bite.

Fair Food's space problems aren't limited to storing wooden boxes. They'd love more refrigerated storage space and additional selling space. Expansion into the adjacent seating area or a move within the market is within the realm of possibility (though by no means a certainty) by the peak of the 2008 season growing.

La Cuchina expects Electrolux to install the new kitchen appliances within the next two weeks, and will open its cooking class schedule shortly thereafter.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Visit Eastern Europe . . . Without a Passport

I made another trip to Bell's Market in Northeast Philadelphia this morning and left wishing I had a lot more refrigerator and pantry space.

A main attraction for me is the wide expanse of deli cases filled with all manner of Eastern European salamis, sausages, pressed and rolled meats, hams, bacons, etc. The photos below (please excuse the fluorescent glare) provide some idea of the variety.

Salami central. I left with half a pound of a sliced Ukrainian salami, a fat-studded, emulsified and medium smoky stick sliced at an extreme diagonal for a lengthy oval.

Various pressed and rolled cold cuts are available, so I purchased a veal breast roll, which I have yet to taste.

Yummmm, bacon! The lady behind the counter offered me a sample of the fully-cooked Hungarian bacon when I asked what it was compared to others; that was much simpler for her than trying to describe it in English. Very mildly smoked and seasoned, but pleasant. I bought a pound for $3.99. From a self-serve deli case I picked up a pack of Russian-style knockwurst made by a wurstgeschaeft I used to frequent, Gaiser's Pork Store of Union, N.J.

I restrained myself at the smoked fish counter, filled with fish you never heard of as well as whitefish, trout, mackerel, salmon, etc. This is the place for hard-core smoked and preserved fish lovers like me. I'll save major fish buying for my next visit, but I needed some herring so picked up a small jar of Canadian fillet tidbits marinated in dill sauce. There must have been eight or nine different brands/sizes of matjes herring.

The only other fish product I bought was small jar of taramasalata. Here, the jar that would set you back $6 or $7 at Whole Foods sells for $3.50.

Packaged grocery goods offer savings, too. The cocktail-size packages of Rubschlager rye and pumpernickel go for $1.79 and $1.89, vs. $2.50 at supermarkets and $3 at specialty stores like the Reading Terminal Market's Downtown Cheese.

An entire aisle of pickled vegetables and related condiment is a veritable preserved garden. I escaped with one of my more extravagant purchases, an $8.79 large glass jar filled with marinated bolete mushrooms (porcini, just from Latvia instead of Italy) and a jar of red pepper-eggplant spread.

She Who Must Be Obeyed spent most of her time in the chocolate and cookie aisle where a full complement of European staple sweets can be had. SWMBO walked away with a box of Fidelios (hazelnut-encrusted cylindrical cookies), a box of waffle cakes (napoleon-type cookies), industrial packaged croissants filled with apricot jam, and some German chocolates. I couldn't resist a 700 gram (1.5 pound) box of Turkish halvah with pistachios, priced at $6.59. Lots of different varieties of Turkish delights, too.

From the bakery (just around the corner from the salads and smoked fish) I purchased a slab of what appears to be a variety of Dobish torte, $5.95/pound. Across from there was a variety of packaged breads and breads from other bakeries, including a full range of Teixiera portuguese rolls. I found a round Turkish bread topped with white and black sesame seeds, still warm from the oven.

Among the items I want to try in the future are the various dumplings from the salad cases, especially the pelmeni (a Siberian style meat dumpling) and the cherry dumplings. Bell's Crossing also offers a wide variety of yogurts and other dairy products and beverages that you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in town.

Since many of the ladies behind counters have only rudimentary English skills (though their English is far superior to my Russian), finding out what intriguing-looking items are can sometimes be a challenge. But even if you're mistaken and find out what you've taken home isn't quite what you thought it was, it's still going to be delicious. Since it wasn't too busy this morning the staff, which can occasionally be brusque, tried to help when they could.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

No Meatballs No More

I've been neglectful in posting notes and news of the RTM lately, so it's catch-up time.

DiNic's has given up on Meatball Sundays. Too much work for too little profit, according to Joe.

Michael Pollan, in town last week to promote his new book with a talk in the Free Library author series, visited the Reading Terminal Market in the tow of the Inky's Rick Nichols. Sarah Cain, co-manager of the Fair Food Farmstand, reports in her weekly newsletter that Pollan visited the stand "goofing around with [our] Hubbard squash".

Contessa's French Linens, which set up in the temporary "Christmas Market" area, has decided to make a permanent go at it. Right now they are located in the former Amy's Place stall. If RTM Manager Paul Steinke gets a new vendor to take over that space and the adjacent former Le Bus stall (he says he's got a likely prospect, but no deal yet), Contessa's would move to another spot.

Under its new ownership, Dutch Country Meats continues to de-emphasize fresh pork products in favor of smoked, cured and prepared offerings. The selection of German-style provisions from Rieker's has expanded nicely and even includes their Snapper Soup, a decidedly Philadelphia, rather than German, dish. Fresh pork products represent no more than one-quarter of their case space, perhaps less. The only fresh pig they were selling last Saturday were center cut chops, baby back ribs, tenderloin, city dressed pork belly, and feet. Didn't see any shoulders or butt portions in the display cases, nor any variety in the types of chops.

Electrolux, the Swedish appliance manufacturer (famous for their vacuum cleaners!) is making a push to sell their consumer ovens, cook-tops, refrigerators and dishwashers in the U.S. That's why they will be re-equipping the market' s kitchen. The kitchen will serve as both a demonstration area and as a cooking school. The school will open soon as La Cuchina and will be operated as a separate business by an instructor from Temple; as of last Saturday it looked like that had a little work to do before they could open for classes.

My cooking extravaganza during the holidays was duck-induced. I started out with two Peking ducks from Giunta's Prime Shop, which set me back about $35 (about $3.50/pound).

The ducks came from the Joe Jurgielewicz & Son Farm in Berks County. The Jurgielewicz family started out raising ducks in the 1930s on Long Island, and one branch of the family continues to operate a major duck farm there. Another of the founder's grandsons, veterinarian Joe Jurgielewicz, established the Pennsylvania operation where the company breeds, hatches, raises and processes their own ducks on the farm, rather than contracting with other farmers to supply them with harvestable birds.

From these two plump birds I butchered out the breasts and the legs, with the breasts going into the freezer for future use and the legs and wings reserved for confit/rillettes. The fat from the two birds rendered into enough for the confit which now sits in the fridge as rillettes. The carcass was roasted, then turned into stock with a small onion and celery stalk. I used the livers, hearts and gizzards, along with pickings from the carcass, to create a variation of Jerusalem Grill for a couple of lunches. Jerusalem Grill is fatty lamb trimmings and chicken innards griddled with onions, garlic and various seasonings (cumin, coriander, black and red pepper, allspice, etc.), then served on or with a pita, perhaps with a smear of hummus. I didn't have lamb trimmings, so I just used the duck innards and trimmings. Delish.