Tuesday, June 30, 2009

RTM Closed for Holiday

The merchants of the Reading Terminal Market took a vote, and they want to celebrate Independence Day with the rest of Philadelphia. So the market will be closed this Saturday, though there will be regular hours Friday and Sunday. In addition, Earl Livengood, who usually appears at the market on Saturdays only, will be there this Friday.

Advance warning: the Ultimate Philadelphia Ice Cream Festival at the market is scheduled for Saturday, July 18. The Pennsylvania Dutch Festival will be August 6-8.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lamb Bacon - Part 2

Here's the before and after cooking photos. Click on photo for larger image.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

City and Country

The Food Trust’s farmers’ market at South and Broad today featured four vendors along the wide sidewalk astride a subway stop and a community garden.

The vendors today were Triple Tree Flowers, Hilltop Produce, Pretty Sweet Bakery, and Nuts for Nature.

Hilltop offered a full range of early summer produce, and a hint of goodies to come: hothouse tomatoes, $2.50 a pound for the loose heirlooms and $2.00 a pint for miniatures. I bought cherries ($3 pint, $6.50 quart) and two 12-ounce bottles of J&E homemade root beer, $2 apiece. Among the other offerings, kirby cucumbers at $2/pint and red potatoes, $1.75/pint, $2.75/quart.

Needing some quality bread for leftover grilled pork and roasted peppers, I picked up a $2.50 baguette from Pretty Sweet Bakery, which made the trek to Broad & South from Haddonfield, NJ. Based on the items on the table and prduct list at its web site, Pretty Sweet’s name says it all: they are much more into cakes, cupcakes and cookies than breads. But I needed bread.

Nuts for Nature is strictly a purveyor of nut butters — hazelnut and pisctachio among those you more commonly see — but the table also offered free samples of Medjool dates rolled in nut butter. Pretty tasty.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Cherries and Berries

The hint of cherries last week has developed into a rush. And rush you should, too. The rains have played havoc with this first of the stone fruits, causing cracks. Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm, which sells at the Headhouse Square Market, told me today he lost one-third of his crop to the innundations.

The rain, however, didn’t hurt the cherries he brought to market. I tried his Queen Anne white cherries (well, rosy yellow, actually) shown in the photo and they were firm and tasty. The sweet red cherries from Beechwood Orchards were deep dark all the way through and just as tasty. None of these were perfect specimens, with occasional cherries showing some cracks, but if you don’t let them sit around for more than a couple days they still make fine eating. Three Springs’ priced the Queen Anne’s at $5/pint, the reds at $4. Beechwood was $3.50/pint and $6.50/quart. (BTW, the early Chalen cherries I picked up a week earlier at the Clark Park Farmers’ Market from Fahnestock Farm improved from a few days’ storage in the fridge.)

Ben says to expect sour cherries for pie (montmorency will be the first variety of to appear) next week. He also had some red raspberries, $4 for a half pint.

Blueberries are also available. A.T. Buzby was selling South Jersey blues for $4/pint. Beechwood’s blues were priced similarly.

Beechwood was one of the few vendors at Headhouse which still had strawberries $3.50/pint, $5.50/quart). Like the cherries, rain has taken its toll on this year’s crop, so you won’t be seeing them much longer, if at all. Beechwood also offered a couple pints of apricots; expect to see more in coming weeks. Owner David Garretson said so far his apricots, peaches and apples are holding up through the rain, but that could change. Ben Wenk of Three Springs is seeing some skin-deep scarring, which should only be cosmetic and not impact flavor and flesh quality.

The prior week at Headhouse, Savoie Farms offered a small supply of mulberries, a blackberry-like fruit. You can’t separate the stems from the fruit, but they tend to disintegrate in cooking. Since they are a bit less sweet than their cousins, should you find any (unlikely, since the season is pretty much done) be sure to add sugar. They tasted fine in some irregularly-shaped hamentashen I made with refrigerated pie dough.

My supply of homemade Kosher-style sour pickles is dwindling, but the kirby cucumber crop is arriving just in time. Most of the produce vendors, at both the farmers’ markets and the Reading Terminal, are offering them and regular salad cuke. Tom Culton’s kirbies looked particularly attractive this week.

Over at the Reading Terminal Market, the Fair Food Farmstand’s blueberries were $3.50/pint. You could also obtain North Carolinas for $2/pint at Iovine Brothers Produce. You could find West Coast red cherries at Iovine’s for $3.99/pound, which is slightly less than a pint, so there wasn’t any savings compared to the less-travel locals. O.K. Lee had bags of red cherries for $1.99/pound, but there was a reason for the low price: they were soft and not nearly as flavorful as the locals. Ben Kauffman’s red cherries, $4.95/pint, were firm and flavorful.

A notable bargain at Iovine’s this week were the Italian style frying peppers, 50-cents a pound. I roasted them in the oven with some olive oil and will be adding them to sandwiches all week long, or maybe frying up some onions and tossing them together with pasta. Vidalias, which I’d rather use raw than cooked, were also 50-cents a pound recently.

Cahbage is cabbage, though the arrowhead variety found at Blooming Glen at Headhouse this week looked particularly attractive. Here’s the photo

Lamb Bacon

Last Saturday I picked up two breasts of lamb at Giunta’s Prime Shop in the Reading Terminal Market, a cut I’ve used many times before in various cooking methods (braise, braise-and-broil, indirect grilling, broiling, etc.). If you don’t like strongly-flavorecd lamb, the dish is definitely one you should avoid. But if, like me, you crave fatty flavor it’s ideal. It’s priced right at about $3.89 or less a pound on the bone at Giunta’s and Martin’s.

I’ve been hankering to try lamb bacon for a while, so I asked Charles to take the two breasts and bone them out. When boned, many restaurants serve this as lamb belly, usually slow-roasted. The two pieces cost me $15, and I kept the bones, which can be used to make Scotch broth or lightly broiled/indirectly grilled for nibbling, since a little meat clings to them.

I turned my two pieces into lamb bacon using a recipe from Bryan Mayer, butcher at Greene Grape Provisions in Brooklyn, as reported by his colleague, Danny Meyer of restaurant fame. It’s a simple recipe: coat the boned breasts with a mix of two cups kosher salt to one cup sugar, wrap it in plastic and let it sit in the fridge until the meat firms up, anywhere from two to four days. (Mine took four). Then slow roast them in the oven at 250F to an internal temp of 140, though you could also smoke them to that temperature for even more flavor. It should take about two and a half hours.

My oven temp was bit off, so after a little more than two hours the internal temp and gone to 180F. But with all the fat, lamb breast is a rather forgiving cut so long as you don’t carbonize it on the grill. I took one of the pieces and sliced off five rashers, no more than a quarter-inch thick (if you can do it thinner, that’s better), then fried them like bacon in a big pan over medium-high heat. Lots of fat sizzles around in the pan so use a splatter screen if you have it, otherwise you face a big counter cleanup. I cooked it for a few minutes on each side to get it good and crispy. It was delish, even with the over-cooking in the oven. The other slab is in the freezer, where it should keep for at least a couple of months.

The recipe was published in Mark Bittman’s Bitten blog on the New York Times website.

Seafood Comes . . . and Goes

Spanish mackerel made a brief appearance at John Yi’s stall in the Reading Terminal Market last week, and disappeared just as quickly. The fish that was selling at $1.99/pound whole Thursday were not to be found on Saturday. No doubt these members of the mackerel family, which tend to be found on warmer waters than the Boston mackerel, will make a reappearance. They are also slightly larger and meatier than the Boston variety, but similar in flavor. Cook them the same way, though I find they do best baked.

The price of Copper River salmon drops with the size of the catch. At John Yi’s this past week filets were selling at $19.99/pound. Althogh unmarked as to variety, they are undoubtedly sockeyes. Sockeyes from other areas were selling for $15.99/pound.

(Through June 17, Alaska Fish and Game reports a total of more than 600,000 sockeyes (reds) landed in the Copper River District, vs., 8,000 Chinook (king).The Copper River district accounted for most of the table-quality salmon (chinook, sockeye and coho) landed in Alaska’s Prince William Sound area of the Central Region so far this season. The Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay areas within the Central Region also scored well, with more than 100,000 each so far. Another big area for sockeyes, the “Westward” region from Kodiak Islands to the Aleutian peninsula and islands, landed just under 600,000 reds so far this season. Hardly any fish have been landed so far in the Yukon-Arctic Region.)

Also at John Yi’s last week whole wild striped bass was selling for $5.99, filets $11.99. Haddock looked to be the best value among the cold-water finish at $7.00/pound, with scrod (who knows what it really is, other than some member of the cod family) was $8.99. cod $9.99. From warmer waters, flounder was $8.99 for filets. Soft shell crabs remain dear at $5.99 apiece or four for $20.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Of Cherries and Pedal-Powered Smoothies

West Philly, thanks to the dominating presence of U of P, has long been Ithaca on the Schuykiill, i.e., a community where political and environmental correctness are firmly rooted. So it only makes sense that the Clark Park Farmers’ Market today would feature fruit smoothies produced in a pedal-powered blender. The smoothie stand was an adjunct to the produce stand operated by University City High School students.

Sweet cherries made their first appearance of the season at Clark Park. (Earlier in the day I stopped by Greensgrow, which pubicized they would have cherries. Alas, they either didn’t get the delivery or they were sold out 20 minutes after the market opened.)

At Clark Park the cherries were offered by Fahnestock Farms, $3 a pint for the Chelan variety. Alas, they weren’t particularly sweet or flavorful. Through further research on the web I learned that’s characteristic of the variety, which was developed in Washington State because they can be picked 10-14 days ahead of Bings. However, they do tend to retain their flavor in storage better than other cherries.

Peas in the hull were also available at Clark Park, including $2/quart baskets from Keystone Farm. Landisdale Farm offered quarts of string beans for $3.95, the first local beans I’ve seen this season.

Here’s the Clark Park strawberry report:

  • Fahnestock, $3 pint/$5.75 quart
  • Keystone, $3 pint
  • Eden Garden, $3/$5.50
  • Landisdale, $3.95 pint

Friday, June 12, 2009

Rain Hurts Strawberries

The strawberry season, which usually extends to late June and even early July, looks like it may be shortened this year. The culprit is the wet weather which is wiping out some of the crop. So get them while you can.

Jimmy Iovine of Iovine Brothers Produce says he usually gets local berries from Shady Brook Farm in Bucks County, but this season Shady Brook barely has enough berries to meet its own farmstand and pick-your-own needs.

Crackling Good

For all you pork fans out there, Tommy Nicolosi, proprietor of DiNic’s, has been experimenting with adding pork rind to his roast and pulled pork sandwiches. He’s still working on the recipe, to make sure the cracklings are neither too hard nor too rubbery. If he does decide to offer them, they might be as an “extra”, since he’s concerned most of his customers won’t want to find the tasty bits of pork skin in their sandwich.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Zucchini Land

It’s difficult to resist taking photos of the produce at Blooming Glen’s stand at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market. They’ve got a knack for creating displays that are not merely photogenic, but allow the produce to sell itself. Piling up everything to at least eye-level helps, too. In addition to the varieties of summer squash shown here were pattypans and clamshells protecting squash blossoms, which were selling for $6 a box. Also at Blooming Glen: escarole and other greens $2.50/bunch, basil $3.

Weaver’s Ways greens were identically priced, and small bunches of mixed color beets were also $2.50.

A.T. Buzby had turnips with great-looking greens attached, three for $1. Their summer squash was selling at two fruits for $1 (and the fruits looked heavy, my guess is it was the equivalent of less than $2/pound).

Tom Culton culled some fennel from his crop, to allow the remaining veggies to grow without impediment. That means he was selling the baby culled produce at his stand Sunday, $4/pound. (They were too small to place on the grill, so I dribbled oil over them in a small aluminum pan and cooked them as my spatchcocked chicken was finishing up on the Weber. What’s spatchcock? Glad you asked. Look at this video to learn how to spatchcock, which is nothing more than an improved way to butterfly a bird.) To accompany that chicken, I bought a quart of Red Norland potatoes from Tom for $5, turning them into potato salad when I got home.

Tom also had zucchinis, green and yellow, at $3/pound. Shelled peas were $5 for a half-pint, sugar snaps $5/quart, and loose beets $3/quart.

Want to grow your own mushrooms.?Happy Cat Organics were selling logs innoculated with shitake spores for $12; just place it under a bush or any other place where the sun doesn’t shine (within limits) and become your own mycological harvester.

Strawberry price report from Headhouse:

  • Buzby: $5.50/quart, two for $10
  • Beechwood Orchareds: $3.25 pint, $5.50/quart, two for $10
  • Three Springs: $3.50/pint
  • Blooming Glen: $3.50/pint
  • Weaver’s Way: $3.75/pint
The Challahman Cometh

Michael Dolish’s Four Worlds Bakery will start selling breads, croissants, bagels and other goodies at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market next Sunday.

But don’t expect to walk off with one of his loaves cheaply. Dolish wants to make what most other bakers would consider exorbitant, obscene profits when he sells you a loaf of bread. He just won’t sell much bread, or at least not as much as the quarter million hoagie rolls put out a day by Amoroso’s.

It’s all part of his business model. Dolish believes the “high volume, low margin business model is going to very problematic in the emerging economy” because it is undermined by small increases in food prices and other structural threats. He’d rather produce a superior product and make enough money to keep the business going by charging more and selling less. He also sees wider economic, environmental and social benefit in his business model (which includes some interesting distribution aspects), but I’ll let him tell you all about at his Challahmanh’s Bread Blog.

I’ve yet to sample the full range of Dolish’s goods, but based on a chocolate croissant I tried at the recent Fair Food Farmstand benefit, his output may well be worth the premium.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

New Orleans at RTM?

Could be. The former proprietor of Pompano Grill is talking with Reading Terminal Market management about opening up a Louisiana style eatery in the vacant space formery occupied by Andros Gourmet, just across from Tootsie’s Salad Express. The menu would include beignettes (yeah! hot donuts!), seafood etouffĂ©, jambalaya, etc.

Work is ready to start this coming week on the adjacent space to be occupied by S&B Meats. A mid-summer opening remains possible for this butcher shop, which will also include a cooked sausage stand.
Seguing from Spring to Summer

The summer solstice draws nigh, only two weeks away. So it should not come as a surprise that watermelon was among the featured fruits at Iovine Brothers Produce today.

For sure the melon was not local; it will probably be another six or seven weeks until we see that. But the domestic melons (whole and in pre-packaged sections) certainly looked attractive. Maybe it’s time for a watermelon and feta salad. The whole, oblong seeded melons were selling for $2.99 apiece, the smaller but still substantial globes of seedless melons, $1.99.

Spring remains firmly evidence from the abundance of strawberries. L. Halteman’s berries were $2.99/pint, $5.49/quart (though the snow peas were also attractive at $2.99/pound). Earl Livengood’s organic strawberries were $3.95/$6.95, Kauffman’s Lancaster County Produce was similarly priced, though you could also get two quarts for $13. Fair Food’s chemical-free berries were $4.95/pint, conventionals $3.50/$6.75.

Summer squash has made its appearance, with both yellow and green zucchinis selling for $2.49/pound at Kauffman’s, which also featured bunch beets at $2.49, white new potatoes for $2.5o/pint, reds $3.95.

Kauffman’s turns on its new rice cake popping machine when the crowds thicken. The Rube Goldberg contraption not only sells the rice cakes, but Ben’s assortment of spreads and nut butters.

On the protein front, Giunta’s Prime Shop included at least one cut of meat new to its display, lamb “London broil”, $8.99/pound. Like it’s beef counterpart, it’s cut from the top round. Giunta’s also had lamb shanks for $5.49/pound and ribs at $3.29 (same price as at his brother Martin’s).

Whole mackeral would cost you $2.99/pound from either Golden Seafood or John Yi. The latter’s Copper River Salmon (King) came down in price to $22.99. They also had Alaskan sockeye (my guess is it’s either CRS or Bristol Bay) for $12.99, the same price as Arctic char, another member of the salmonid family. Soft shell crabs remained $5.99 apiece or 4/$20.

Back at Iovine Brothers, both green and red bell peppers were on sale for 89 cents, with the oranges and yellows commanding $2.99/pound. Garden State asparagus was $1.99/bunch, jumbo limes 5/$1, and Ataulfa mangoes 2/$1.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Market Palette Expands

An expanded palette of vegetables was evident at today’s Fairmount Farmers’ Market, where Sam Stolfus offered not just strawberries, asparagus and sugar snaps, but broccoli, cauliflower, and beets. Lettuces, rhubarb, spring onions and cooking greens were also available. Sam also sells mushrooms and Amish sweet baked goods.

Sam’s cruciferous veggies were selling for $2 a head. Beets, radishes and collards were $1.50/bunch, asparagus $2.25. Heads of lettuce were $1.50 also. Sam’s strawberries were $3/pint or $5/quart.

Nearby Earl Livengood’ stand offered strawberries for $3.95/$7.50, as well as pristine collards and kale, along with potatoes, spring onions, spinach, lettuces and a few other veggies.

Marcelle’s Bakery was among the missing this week (I don’t know whether that’s permanent or not), but Wild Flour Bakery was there in its stead. A colorful selection of plants for the patio could be found from Weller’s or Dave.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Raining Fishes

This post is only tangentially related to the subject of this blog, but some of you might know Dwain Livengood, son of Earl Livengood. Dwain and his wife Audrey are spending this year as missionaries in Honduras, with Dwain supervising farming at a children’s home and Audrey teaching.

Here’s the beginning of the May 10 entry on their blog:

This past week it rained fish (several inches long). Apparently sometimes fish are swept up in powerful storms in the ocean and deposited inland during rainstorms. Some of the children kept fish as pets while others stuffed them in their pockets.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I cannot resist the question: will loaves of bread be next to fall from the sky?

Greens Galore at Headhouse

Collards, sorrel and kale from Yoder Heirlooms

Blooming Glen's Broccoli Rabe

Weaver's Way radishes for color contrast

Spring vegetables for cooking and salads could be found in profusion at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market Sunday, as evidenced by these photos.

Cucumbers were also in abundance, including traditional salad cukes, kirby cukes (ideal for pickling) and English cukes, a low-seed variety. Culton Organics’ 15-inch long, three-inch thick English cukes were $5 apiece. Weaver’s Way’s kirbies were $2.25/pound, while Blooming Glen was selling them for 75 cents apiece. A.T. Buzy had kirbies at 3 for a buck. Salad cukes were $1.50 apiece at Blooming Glen.

Culton also featured shelled peas at $5/box, snap peas at $4 for one-half pound. Strawberries were $7 a quart there; they were $3.25/pint at Weaver’s Way and Blooming Glen.