Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sam's slow-poke poke

In an earlier entry (Feb. 24) I stated: "we soon might start seeing the pokeweed Earl[Livengood]'s friend Sam Consylman buries in sand each fall."

Well, we won't.

Sam reports that the poke crop he set out in his cold basement in the fall has failed to send up much in the way of shoots for harvesting. Where he had expected to get five pounds a week right now he's barely reaping a pound.

Sam isn't sure why but suspects the lack of a strong cold spell in the fall is responsible. He speculates that the poke needs the cold to snap them into the dormant stage for the rest of the winter.

What little supply of poke Sam does have is earmarked for Farm To City's Winter Harvest program. Sam does have plenty of Jerusalem artichoke, however.

In the fall, Sam digs up pokeweed from his favorite Lancaster County foraging grounds and stores them on two six-foot long shelves in his basement. He stacks them tightly to preserve moisture and waters them daily to "mimic the same way they'd get moisture in the wild."

By January they start to send out edible shoots (the leaves, berries, taproot and older shoots are poisonous) which Sam harvests and usually sells through Earl Livengood and Farm To City. This year, however, no shoots appeared until February, and the crop has been meager.

If you do happen to find Sam's poke, treat it as you would spinach or asparagus. The new growth poke has a bleached appearance because it's not been in the sun; according to Sam, "the wild stuff has a little bitterness because it gets some sun; with what I have you don't need to boil it twice and discard the water" as you would with poke shoots that haven't been coaxed out of the darkness in Sam's cellar.
Asian market impresses

I'm only an occasional shopper at Asian markets, and have yet to try the big ones down on Washington Avenue, but I was more than suitably impressed in my visit today to Spring Garden Market at the corner of Spring Garden & Fourth with parking in rear. (If anyone has been to both the Spring Garden Market and those on Washington Avenue can provide a comparative analysis, I'd welcome it.)

The photos only show the produce/meat/fish area of the store; an area just has big holds dry goods and refrigerator and freezer cases chock full of ingredients and prepared foods. I've never seen such a collection of steamed buns! (I brought home Flower Scallion Buns to accompany dinner tonight.)

Although I spotted some Filipino-style frozen items, and Japanese noodles, most of the stock is devoted to Chinese foodstuffs.

I refrained from purchasing protein since my larder at home is pretty full, but I will be back. Nicely meaty pork bellies were selling for less than $2/pound; you could get sliced fresh belly for just a little bit more. The range of pork parts was immense: everything from feet, snouts and ears to kidneys, hearts and blood. In the frozen section was an even wider variety of pork, beef and lamb, some of it pre-sliced: thinly sliced leg of lamb, for example, at $5.99/pound. And if you want to make cheese steaks, they've got sliced rib eye, too.

You want Portuguese sardines for the grill? They have them in the frozen section, whole and ungutted. Probably better than anything you can get "fresh" in a fish store. The long fresh fish counter didn't look bad, with the fish properly under ice. (I do wish they would remove the dead fish hanging out in the live tanks under the counter, though.) The fresh mackeral was about 50-cents cheaper per pound that at the Reading Terminal, and looked at least as fresh.

The poultry was plentiful, too, especially duck at reasonable prices. Almost as many different duck parts as pig parts: tongues, feet, gizzards, etc.

By looks alone, the most of the protein looked of decent quality; I will definitely return for taste tests.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Earl Doing Cartwheels Over His New Cart

Earl Livengood this past Saturday unveiled a project he's been working on for two winters: a new cart. The steel-blue, wooden-wheeled vehicle (photo at right) displayed potatoes this week at Earl's regular Reading Terminal Market location. Although the spring crop has yet to be planted (other than seedings Earl and son Dwain have started in the greenhouse), we soon might start seeing the pokeweed Earl's friend Sam Consylman buries in sand each fall.

You will no longer regularly find baked goods from Haegele's at Dutch Country Meats. Purveyor Jake Fisher's lease specifies meat, so when one of the other vendors complained about DCM's carrying baked goods, GM Paul Steinke had no choice but to crack down. Fisher said, however, that he'll be allowed to sell a few specialty baked items at holiday time. (My wish would be for Haegele's to rent daystall space on Saturdays at the market to sell their goodies, which really have no competition in terms of specific items and quality with any of the existing the baked goods sellers at the market.

Expansion of product line beyond what's authorized in leases has been a bone of contention before. It's one of the issues which contributed to the departure of Siegfried's, the Germany specialty store whose Große Schuhe Dutch Country Meats is trying to fill. All was fine at Siggy's until his son, who managed the stall, tried to expand into serving lunch items items for on-premises consumption; that was a no-no, since the store 's lease classified it as a purveyor, not a lunch stand.

Even though it's the height of the citrus season, certain fruits have climbed in price. Over at Iovine this past weekend, a lime or lemon would have cost you 50 cents apiece. That's a far cry from summer, when either can sometimes go for a dime apiece.

Reasonably-sized navel oranges, however, can be had for 25 cents, and there are similar prices for tangelos, tangerines, etc. A relative bargain are the Chilean grapes; both red and green seedless varieties are selling for $1.99/pound. Grapefruit prices vary by size and variety, but they are pretty much as inexpensive as they get.

After a week's delay, La Cucina is open for business. In photo at right, Anna Florio leads a class Saturday. Florio offers independent classes as well as programs offered in conjunction with Temple University at the newly requipped kitchen.

There will be a formal "grand opening" ceremony in March, when the market will recognize the donations to the new kitchen of Electrolux IKON appliances from Airs Appliances, countertop material from DuPont and installation from Unique Designs, and cabinetry from Ikea.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Souper Bowl Swimming Success

Things that swim were clearly favored by the judges at today's Souper Bowl contest at the Reading Terminal Market. The first, second and third place winners, from among eleven entries cooked up by market merchants, all involved creatures that like to hang out by sea or river.

The Souper Bowl was part of the market's Comfort Food Festival.

Top honors went to a snapper soup sold by Dutch Country Meats. Pearl's Oyster Bar earned second place for its lobster and crab bisque, while the Down Home Diner's clam chowder took third. The seafood-loving judges were April White of Philadelphia magazine, Ken Foster of Foster's Urban Homeware, and Laura Burkhardt of Where Philadelphia magazine.

I tasted most of the soups entered, and there wasn't a clunker among them, including the two pasta fagiole entries, but I can't argue with the winners. The snapper soup, a Philadelphia classic, had its richness balanced by the traditional shot of sherry. The bisque was just about the seafood, as it should be. Although cream-based, no New Englander would have recognized the clam chowder, since it featured some unusual and intense seasonings, but thoroughly enjoyable. Other soups entered included a golden potato, sweet and sour cabbage, matzah ball, turkey chili, and Italian wedding. (That adds up to 10; can't remember the 11th). Although some merchants who don't usually prepare soup made them special for this event (like DiNic's pasta fagiole), most of the soups are regularly available. The winning snapper soup is sold by Dutch Country Meats from the stock of goods they bring in from Rieker's, a German specialty store in the Northeast; starting next week it will be made on premises from the Rieker's recipe.

I also made the rounds tasting just a few of the offerings from merchants at the Comfort Food Festival, served at tables around the market's center court. Most offered free small tastes, but were also selling larger servings. I enjoyed the chicken from Nanee's Kitchen and the German frank with Kraut from Dutch Country Meats, but there were plenty of other goodies, including waffles and ice cream from Fisher's, one of the few "sweet" comfort foods highlighted.

Here are some photos from the event (as always, click on a photo to see a larger version):

At the Comfort Food Festival,
Pearl's Oyster Bar dishes out samples

Judging the Souper Bowl, from left: April White, Ken Foster, Laura Burkhardt

Jake Fisher, proprietor of Dutch Country Meats, has his arms raised in
Souper Bowl victory by RTM General Manager Paul Steinke

Friday, February 15, 2008

Coupons from RTM merchants

Reading Terminal Market merchants are distributing coupons to customers through the market's subscriber e-mails. You can sign up for the mailings by clicking on the "Mailing List" link at the bottom of the market's home page.

Among the coupons on this month's missive:
  • 12th Street Cantina: chicken dinner for two to go, $9.95
  • Bee Natural, $1 lip balm
  • By George, heart-shaped cheese ravioli with vodka sauce, garlic bread loaf, $21.95 ($25 regularly)
  • Contessa's French Linens, 10 percent discount.
  • Fisher's Soft Pretzels, free hot drink with breakfast roll-up.
  • Franks A Lot, 10 percent off minimum $5 purchase, 15 percent off minimum $10 purchase.
  • Hatville Deli, deli and sandwich counter specials
  • Mezze, hot entree with rice, veg, small soup $10 ($11.50 regularly) after 4 p.m.
  • Old City Coffee, reduced prices on Africa coffees during Black History Month.
  • Rick's Steaks, free soda with purchase of cheese steak with fries.
  • Salumeria, free box of crackers with half pound of Toma Blu, and free small fountain soda with regular hoagie.
Should anything be divined about the future of Rick's Steaks in the market from his inclusion in the coupon promotion, given the current litigation between the market and the steak seller?


According to RTM GM Paul Steinke, so long as the case is pending before the courts and Rick's remains in the market, he's being treated the same as other merchants with respect to promotional opportunities, day-to-day operations, etc.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Is That an Egg
or an Avocado?

That's a 22-ounce emu egg Fair Food Farmstand volunteer Erin Wieand is holding. The $8 egg, from Boody Mill Emu Ranch in South Jersey, will make a very, very large omelet.

The Farmstand has gone more than a week without a freezer, which means no meats or chicken pot pies. The freezer has been repaired, but now a problem has been discovered in the electrical supply. The dairy refrigerator case is just fine.

Earl Livengood returned to the market today, offering root vegetables, winter squash, potatoes and dried herbs. But planning for summer is well underway: Earl said son Dwayne was spending the day planting tomato seeds so seedlings can be grown then placed in the ground this spring.

Lots more variety of sausages at Dutch Country Meats, all from Rieker's: fresh bratwursts, smoked Hungarian brats, Bavarian brats, kielbasa, weisswurst, knockwurst, München weisswurst, coarse mettwurst, fine mettwurst, calve's liverwurst, and German-style wieners, all $5.99/pound. They also had landjaeger at $1.79 a stick and rauchbeischen (smoked bit) sausage at $6.29/pound. Not much selection in the baked goods from Haegele's; the few hot cross buns I saw at 8:30 a.m. were gone by the time I left the market two hours later.

Jim Iovine of Iovine Brothers Produce enjoyed a New Year's trip to Italy last month, including a visit to a namesake winery in the shadow of Vesuvius. He also learned that in Italy, his name is pronounced YO-vin-EE. Just like how he'd shout out to his brother Vincent: "Yo, Vinny!"

There's a shortage of bike racks at the market, but six new ones will soon be placed on the Arch Street side. RTM Manager Paul Steinke said a shortage of bike racks is a good problem to have, but one that is being addressed.

The market has also ordered 5,000 cloth bags for distribution to customers as part of its Green efforts. RTM management and the merchants' association are trying to figure out the best way to get them to customers who will use them instead of just tossing them in a closet. One wag suggested exchanging them for the Whole Food cloth bags some RTM shoppers carry.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Shad and Rack of Peaches

A surer sign that spring will eventually arrive than any groundhog's shadow vision is the first shad of the season at local fish markets. Here, roe and buck shad are displayed at John Yi at the Reading Terminal Market. We're three months away from Delaware River shad.

Over at Iovine Brothers Produce, Brother Vinnie was raving today over the quality of the Chilean stone fruit (where it's mid-summer now). I tasted a slice of peach Vinnie offered, and while it doesn't compare to fresh local orchard fruit from the peak of our season, it was plenty good; better, in fact, than the IQF slices I purchased at Wegman's last week. The Chilean cherries I picked up a week-and-a-half ago weren't bad, priced at $1.99 for a one-pound bag, the same price as the seedless green grapes. Vinnie said the Chilean plums and nectarines were also pretty good.

If you're in the market for Thai ingredients, Katie Loeb notes in this eGullet post that Little Thai Market is more than just a lunch stand: they offer a planoply of necessary goodies if you wish to cook in the Thai style. The search for kaffir lime leaves led Katie to this discovery.

Until today, I always stuck with the roast pork with provolone and greens at DiNic's, but today I experimented with the brisket (with rabe, which I consumed as a kind of first course before digging in the sandwich, but no cheese, though I topped it with a helping of hot peppers from the containers on the counter). It was a tender, beefy sandwich, and one Tommy said he personally prefers. Still, as good as the sandwich was, it's hard for me to order anything but the pork, though I've got friends who swear by the sausage, too.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Great steak, great price

During today's Reading Terminal Market trip (see previous item for details), I picked up a couple his 'n her steaks at Guinta's Prime Shop today, and lit the Weber Silver B to grill 'em just before sundown.

I say his 'n her because I like mine fatty, she likes hers lean. So for SWMBO I bought a tenderloin filet, priced at about $13 or $14 a pound. My choice was signed as a "cowboy" steak at $7.95/pound. It was a rib steak on the bone with only the excess fat trimmed away, so that there was plenty of extra-fatty meat along the perimeter, which I love, as well as the marbled rib eye.

Both steaks were superb (somehow I managed to cook them to our respective preferred donenesses). SWMBO thought her tenderloin was one of the best steaks she's ever had. Mine had deep beefy taste (not liver-y) and savory richness from all the luscious marbling.

Now, it certainly was not prime that was dry-aged for an exceedingly long period of time; in fact, I think both cuts were wet-aged, though I didn't ask before buying. (Giunta's displayed each individual cut in its own sealed vacuum bag which is why I think they were wet-aged, though that's not conclusive evidence.) As good as the steaks were, Harry Ochs' premium dry-aged steaks and prime rib roasts (the ones that have aged for six weeks rather than four) are superior; however, they cost about 30 or 40 percent more.

Bottom-line, my experience tonight confirms that Guinta's Prime Shop offers exceptional value in very good quality meat. In addition to the steaks tonight, I've bought hanger, flank, skirt and sirloins for grilling. I've enjoyed Guinta's loin and rib lamb chops, shanks, leg, and breasts; ducks and chickens (I've yet to try the veal, but it's on my list). None has disappointed and some, like tonight's steaks, have been extraordinary. The fact that Charles Guinta sells only all-natural, hormone-free, grass-fed beef is almost irrelevant; it just tastes darned good.

Does Guinta's Prime Shop offer the absolutely very best meat you can buy? No. But I am hard-pressed to think of another butcher that offers better meat for the price.
Super Bowl and Souper Bowl

Super Bowl Sunday is tomorrow, and if you want wings to feed your crowd, Guinta's Prime Shop has deal for you: a 40-pound case for $59.95, or $1.50/pound. If your group can't consume that many wings, Guinta's and other butchers at the Reading Terminal Market will sell you them at prices ranging from $2.49-$2.69/pound.

If you're making your own guacamole, the price of avocados and limes are up with demand: the Hass avocados are $1.49 at Iovine Brothers, the limes three for a buck, or $1.69 and four for a buck, respectively, at O.K. Lee.

Earl Livengood took the day off today, which was just as well as far as the market's lunch vendors are concerned, since the space the Lancaster County farmer normally occupies can be used for additional table capacity, given that it's opening day for the auto show. Tom DiNicolosi, proprietor of Tommy DiNic's, expects today to be the busiest day of the year.

Among the hot items Hershel's has to help fill your platter of brisket or any of their other delicacies is kasha varnishkes, a noodle-buckwheat groat combination usually served with gravy.

La Cucina plans to begin cooking classes Feb. 12, with the instruction under the banner of the Temple Center City's Institute for Continuing Studies. Most of the classes La Cucina's RTM demonstration kitchen are for Italian cooking, although other topics are covered in some classes, including a special class for young chefs (ages 9-12) March 8. Most of Temple's basic instructional courses, as well as a number of special chef demonstration classes, will be held at Foster's new store at Fourth and Market, with others at Center City restaurants. Here's the web page listing Temple's classes this semester, some of which are already sold out.

The RTM inaugurates its International Comfort Food Festival on Saturday, Feb. 23 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Samples prepared by market merchants will be available of homey foods from different world cultures, including African-American, Italian, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Jewish. The big event of the day will be a "Souper Bowl" contest to determine which RTM merchant makes the best soup; judges are expected to be local food writers. Live jazz and children's activites will also be part of the festivities.

Weddings are performed every Valentine's Day in center court, and this year is no exception. Six local couples will tie the knot on Feb. 14 in ceremonies officiated by Judge Jeffrrey P. Minehart. The Kraft Trio will play the Mendelssohn.

As reported in an earlier post, Dutch Country Meats will sell Fastnachts, the German Shrove Tuesday delicacy baked by Haegele's of the Northeast -- but only for one day, Tuesday, Feb. 5. Haegele's version is different from the plain fried potato dough Fastnacht served in Pennsylvania Dutch country; after frying, Haegele's soaks them in cream, according to Dutch Country Meats proprietor Jake Fisher.