Monday, December 31, 2012

More Lambs Come To Market

Vegetarian Stall Gives Way to Red Meat

Valley Shepherd added Krispy Kreme-like
 neon sign above its cheese-making room

There's an ovine outbreak at the Reading Terminal Market.

In addition to the soon-to-open Valley Shepherd Creamery in newly created Avenue D retail space, a southwestern Virginian sheep meat and wool operation will take over the space vacated by the Basic 4 vegetarian lunch counter.

Border Springs Farm will set up shop selling fresh and frozen lamb as well as prepared lamb-based foods (sausage, shepherd's pie, etc.). Owner Craig Rogers operates a similar stall at Union Market in Washington, D.C., but primarily sells meat to restaurants. The farm is located about halfway between Roanoke, Virginia, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The Philadelphia store will allow Rogers to expand his retail presence and extend his restaurant-supply business into the Philadelphia market.

Two existing butchers at the market -- Charles Giunta of Giunta's Prime Shop and his brother Martin of Martin's Quality Meats -- offer good lamb selection, including three different types of chops, as well as leg, neck and breast cuts. They primarily use domestic sources for lamb, whereas supermarkets use both U.S. and Australian/New Zealand meats. The Fair Food Farmstand sells lamb from producers in both eastern and western Pennsylvania.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

2013: More Changes at Reading Terminal Market

Tile art promotes one of the milk sources for Valley Shepherd Creamery
Valley Shepherd Creamery plans on opening its retail cheese and panini shop early in the New Year, reports Paul Steinke, general manager of the Reading Terminal Market.

In late fall the creamery installed the tile art pictured above. The tiles were manufactured in Bucks County at the former Mercer tile works.

Expect construction to begin soon after the New Year arrives on one relocated stall and a new vendor at the Reading Terminal Market.

Nanee's Kitchen, purveyor of samosas and other South Asian fare, is finishing up details with its contractor so it can begin work on revamping the former Coastal Cave space. In addition to continuing to sell hot items for RTM lunchers, they plan to add some grocery items.

KeVen Parker will be working on his soul food restaurant, carrying on the tradition established in the same spot by Delilah Winder.

A bit further into the future will be the move of Downtown Cheese to what is now the Piano Court.

No announcement yet on what will go into the space formerly occupied by Basic 4 Vegetarian Café. But think meat.

City Grinch Steals Salmon Seller's Christmas

Erik Torp
The city's Department of Public Health was the Grinch that stole Christmas for one retailer at the Reading Terminal market this past week. It shut down Taste of Norway, which since September had been selling smoked Norwegian Atlantic and steelhead salmon from a daystall located in the former Coastal Cave space.

Erik Torp, one of the two entrepreneurs behind the business, said the health inspector was "just doing his job" and couldn't have been nicer in carrying out his duties. But the shut down on Thursday couldn't have come at a worse time: the height of the Christmas and New Year's food shopping season.

For now you can still purchase the half-pound packages of smoked Norwegian Atlantic and steelhead salmon at Downtown Cheese where proprietor Jack Morgan has, at least temporarily, taken on the line. And at $10 for a half-pound package, it's a bargain for a quality product.

Giving out free samples of salmon is what first attracted the health inspector's attention, but the basic reason for the shut down is that the business didn't have a retail food establishment license. Torp has no problem paying the fee, but it could take months to obtain one, he said.

"We look on this as a temporary setback," said Torp, who serves as Norway's honorary consul in Philadelphia, where he owns and operates a shipping brokerage as his main business.

"Our supplier in Norway is very happy with the exposure their product is getting, and the Reading Terminal Market is a unique place to be," he said. For that reason Torp hopes to reopen in the space Nanee's Kitchen will be vacating when the South Asian eatery moves to the Coastal Cave space. This time, with a retail food license.

Looking even further into the future Torp said he'd love to sell salmon sandwiches. But that would involve even more certifications from the city.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Life intervenes

Culton's Leaning Tower of Pumpkins
Life has intervened in my blogging pasttime since late September, but I'm back, at least for this pre-Thanksgiving missive.

It's hard to pass up taking a photo of Tom Culton's produce displays at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market. Today he featured a Leaning Tower of Pumpkins. However, Tom actually asked me to take a picture of his nuts . . . that is, his English walnuts.

Culton's produce will be around all winter long this season, since he plans to participate in the year-round Tuesday market at Rittenhouse Square.

North Star Orchards made their last appearance of the season at Headhouse today (the market continues on Sundays until just before Christmas, plus it will be open this Wednesday). Among the apples available was Caville Blanc d'Hiver, a French dessert apple: definitely on the tart side, but tasty and best eaten fresh out-if-hand. Expect Beechwood Orchards, however, to stick around until the market closes for the season; they had a great variety of apples today, including some Newtown Pippins. I had five pounds of Winesaps in the fridge from last week' market visit that I had planned to turn into pie; I was too lazy, however, and made applesauce instead. Three Springs had a "crate" offer today: fill up a crate with the apples of your choice (except Honeycrisp) for $25.

Reading Terminal Market News 

Work in progress: Valley Shepherd Creamery
Lots has transpired at the RTM since I last wrote, including the opening of Wursthaus Schmitz. Plenty of brats to choose from, most made by Rieker's of Northeast Philadelphia, except for the solitary hausgemacht (home-made) brat. You'll have to bring them home to cook, however, since the stall's exhaust system isn't complete yet. When it is, they'll be selling them hot and ready to eat. Nice, if limited, selection of salads, cold cuts, and German grocerty items. (I've got to pick up a bottle or curry ketchup to use on my tater tots.) Although some of the Pennsylvania Dutch delis and butchers have had some traditional German items over the years, I've sorely missed the selection that had been offered by Siegfried's when he was in business at the RTM. Wursthaus Schmitz doesn't have quite the selection that Siegfried offered, but it comes close.

Valley Shepherd Creamery hopes to be open for business by Christmas, but it will be close. Tiling of the cheese-making room is scheduled to start this week.

The great publicity continues to roll in for DiNic's. In addition to being featured in a recent Inquirer article on meatballs, the Cooking Channel will bring in its HD cameras in a few weeks to feature the sandwicherie at the Reading Terminal.

Hershel's East Side Deli has been doing boffo breakfast business. This past Saturday, at least in the early morning hours, the line was longer there than at DiNic's! I like the French toast, but Andy Wash makes an attractive omelet, too, and the potato pancakes are solid (they are the thick variety, rather than the lacy style).

Fresh chick peas at Iovine's
How many truckloads of collard greens will Iovine Brother's Produce sell before Thanksgiving? To use a fine accounting term: lots. Come Wednesday they'll have a 5 a.m. delivery from the produce center, then get another in mid-morning.

A non-traditional Thankgiving food would be fresh chick peas, which are back in stock at Iovine's. At $3.99/pound, however, a bit dear.

The annual holiday model railroad exhibit at the Reading Terminal Market opens Friday, which means Steve Bowes and his organic produce will be displaced to center court for the duration.

After New Year's you can expect work to start on the move of two stalls within the market. Downtown Cheese will shift its operations to the piano court, across from Golden Seafood and Metropolitan Bakery. And Nanee's, the South Asian samosa emporium, will move to the spot formery occupied by Coastal Cave. Taste of Norway, selling smoked salmon, temporarily occupies that spot now as a day stall; co-owner Erik Torp is mulling whether not to seek a permanent location at the market or simply close after the holidays.

The Downtown Cheese and Nanee moves promoted RTM General Manager Paul Steinke to pass up his initial plan to lease what is now a small seating area off center court between Wursthaus Schmitz and La Cucina at the Market. With seating to be sacrified at the Piano Court due to the Downtown Cheese move, now's not the time to cut back seating capacity further.

No word yet on when KeVen Parker of Miss Tootsie's will begin work on his soul food eatery to replace Delilah's. He still has to come up with a new name, since Marion Iovine uses Tootsie's for her salad bar/cafeteria.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Tastes Like Chicken?

The forms and colors of mushrooms are diverse, but few approach the attractiveness of chicken of the woods mushroom, Laetiporus sulphureus.

This beauty represents about one-quarter of the two-and-a-half-pound specimen offered by Happy Cat at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market today, which was being sold for $17/pound, a fair price for a delectable fungus. I plan to simply sauteé it with some shallot tonight (finishing with a bit of wine, since this variety does tend to dry out).
Chicken of the woods is a shelf mushroom found growing on the trunks of hardwood trees in the Northeast U.S. When young, like this one, the top is a neon orange, the underside a bright, clean yellow. It's perfectly edible for most folks, although the rare person may find it causes a mild reaction (perhaps swollen lips, nausea, dizziness, etc.), so try a little first before digging into a larger portion.

The variety is a polypore, i.e., it doesn't have gills but instead features pores on the underside.

Don't confuse it with hen of the woods, a.k.a. maitake, a completely different mushroom. 

Another Oddity from Tom Culton

African horned melon
African horned melon, a.k.a. kiwano, a.k.a. jelly melon, attracted lots of questions at Tom Culton's Headhouse Square Farmers' Market stall today. What is it? How do you eat it? Do you cook it?

It's a member of the cucumber melon family, and it's usually eaten raw. The taste, so I'm told, is cucumber-ish, perhaps with a slight amount of tartness and, as it ripens, tastes slightly more fruitier. And as the jelly melon moniker implies, the edible portion is a tad gelatinous.

Yet, as one food professional remarked to me today: "It's one of those foods you think you should like, until you taste it."

With those words, I decided to pass these fruits by.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Reading Terminal Market Volunteer Honored

Alan Segal, Reading Terminal Market volunteer
If you're a regular at the Reading Terminal Market this is probably a familiar face.

Alan Segal has greeted visitors to the market from the information stand at the 12th and Filbert entrance for 17 years, dispensing information and market wisdom to tourists and city denizens alike.

He was honored this morning at a meeting of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association for his years of helpful service. The retired Navy man was honored along with Sgt. Anthony Rappone of the Philadelphia Police Department. Sgt. Rappone, assigned to the convention center, helps market merchants in cutting down on thefts and other security matters.

I first met Alan when he was among the regulars of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, an informal group organized by Pennsylvania General Store co-owner Michael Holahan (who is current president of the merchants' association). The SMBC met every Saturday to discuss food topics, including hearing from guest speakers like Harold McGee, Fritz Blanc and others.

Squash season

This squash went topsy-turvey
On the first Sunday of autumn the Headhouse Square farmers' market offered plenty of winter squash, including the behemoths pictured here from Tom Culton's stall.

I took advantage of the crop to buy a 2-3/4 pound butternut from Queen Farm, turning it into a delicious soup. One of the beauties of butternut is that the elongated end which holds most of the meat is seedless; and it's easy enough to scrape the seeds out of the "ball" end.

The skin peeled off easily with a veggie peeler, then I diced the meat into roughly one-inch cubes. That done, I sauteed a shallot (half a small onion would work, too), in a couple tablespoons of butter until translucent, then added a couple tablespoons of finely chopped sage leaves from the garden, salt, pepper and squash. A couple minutes more and I poured in a quart of warmed vegetable stock I had squirreled away in my freezer. (If you don't have stock, plain water works fine, too.) I cooked until the squash was very tender (starting to fall apart), then took out my handy-dandy immersion blender and whirred away. When almost done, I added even more butter. If you wish (and I recommend it) a teaspoon of plain granulated sugar helps intensify the flavor.

At this point you could do as I did and put it in the fridge. It keeps for at least a couple of days. As the soup was reheating I added some whole milk to thin out the overly thick potage. Classicists wouldn't be wrong in stirring in heavy cream instead.

You certainly don't have to go with sage as the flavoring. This soup would take well to sweeter seasonings: add a diced apple to the squash when cooking and then maybe some cinnamon or grated fresh ginger. Or a carrot or two instead of apple. Or a pear. Even a small bottle of pear nectar does wonders.

Culton labelled this a French pumpkin. Because it's gnarly?

Where's the Eye in this Ribeye?

I don't mean to pick on Martin's at the Reading Terminal Market (see my previous post about the shop's ground meat labelling), but where's the "eye" in this ribeye steak?

It's there, but hardly more than two or three bites. All the rest is bone and "deckle".

Now it happens that this would be  perfect steak for me. The deckle is the fattier meat surrounding the ribeye, and it's more frequently known as ribeye cap. I love it: flavorful and tender because of all that fat marbled through it.

But that high a proportion of deckle to ribeye is not what most people expect when buying a ribeye steak, a.k.a. Delmonico. In this case the steak was cut from one of the ends of the rib primal (I'm guessing the chuck end rather than the short loin, from whence strip steaks and porterhouses reside).

By the way, deckle is not a specific cut of meat, rather, it's a term to describe any piece of fattier meat normally cut along with leaner meat. Get a whole brisket (as opposed to the "first cut" you usually see) and it will have a huge, fatty, flavorful adjunct of deckle. The best tasting brisket you'll ever have will be one cooked whole with the deckle.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Potential Franchiser Seeks RTM Spot

KeVen Parker's plans to expand his Ms. Tootsie's restaurant brand through franchising, disclosed in today's Philadelphia Daily News, won't earn him any points in the competition to succeed Delilah's at the Reading Terminal Market.

Parker's South Street soul food operation is among the four contenders to fill the space Delilah was forced to vacate last spring when her business went bankrupt. In late August the four took shifts in the market kitchen at La Cucina to serve their food to RTM board members and staff. The board is expected to make a decision at its late September regular meeting.

Although the market tolerates the few vendors who have operated a limited number of other outside venues (the owner of Downtown cheese used to operate a shop at the Ardmore Farmers' Market, and Delilah at one time had three or four operations going at the same time), it doesn't condone franchising. Though Parker's proposed RTM stall would be his own, rather than franchised, if the brand is franchised that might put his chances to gain space at the RTM at risk.

Right now, though, it's only conjecture, since Parker's plan to franchise Ms. Tootsie's is only that, a plan.

According to PDN columnist Jenice Armstrong's article today, Parker is "looking to franchise the Ms. Tootsie's restaurant and KDP Lifestyle store and Luxury Suites brand next year in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington."

New Ad Campaign by Reading Terminal Market

If you're trying one day to stay out of a sudden rainstorm by taking advantage of the SEPTA bus shelters, you might spy one of the new series of ads for the Reading Terminal Market, like this one touting its butchers. The ads will also appear in print media.

The new campaign highlights categories of products available at the Market and features photos of merchants in each category, said RTM General Manager Paul Steinke. The first series highlights meats, produce, seafood, bakery goods and cheeses.  Other categories will be added down the road, he said.

The ads also feature an adaption of the market's logo to emphasize "Fresh and Local Every Day!".

The only meat vendor left out of the ad is Fair Food (which is featured in the produce ad). Except on delivery days, however, Fair Food only offers frozen meats, and they don't cut meat to order.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

More Musical Chairs at Reading Terminal Market

Downtown Cheese, Nanee's Kitchen Move This Fall

Downtown Cheese will take over much of the Piano Court and Nanee's Kitchen will switch to the vacant Coastal Cave spot this fall.

RTM General Manager Paul Steinke eventually hopes to lure a Latin American (but not Mexican) merchant to Nanee's spot. Farmer Steve Bowes, who occupies day tables in the Piano Court, will also be shifted as part of the shuffle.

All this means there will be a few less seats for lunchers in peak hours. But since Nanee's move to a larger space also requires them to add South Asian groceries in addition to their lunch items, it reinforces the market's mission to sell foods to be cooked and consumed at home. The product line will include spices and chutneys; let's also hope they include dried legumes and items like chick pea flour.

Jack Morgan, proprietor of Downtown Cheese, has had additional refrigerated display cases in storage since he had to close his second shop at the Ardmore Farmers' Market, where DiBruno's takes up his former space and a whole lot more, probably about a quarter of that venue's square footage. When Morgan moves, probably in November if all goes well, Downtown Cheese will have an L-shaped layout. He also believes being located across the aisle from Metropolitan Bakery and Blue Mountain Vineyards will be beneficial.

If Taste of Norway, which is temporarily set up as a  day stall in the Coastal Cave spot, plans to be a more permanent presence at the market, even as a day stall, the Nanee's takeover will require a move by them as well.

Autumn Arrives at Iovine's Produce

Pumpkins and winter squash filled a market cart at Iovine Brother's Produce by one of their Reading Terminal Market checkout lanes. The cart is alongside the Filbert Street (Harry Ochs Way) windows until Tuesday, when new refrigeration units for mushrooms and other items are installed.

Produce from warmer climes made its way to Iovine's shelves this week, too. It's the end of the season for citrus fruits in South Africa, so the Iovine's are selling large, juice-laden Mineola oranges at three for a buck.

Dragonfruit from tropical lattitudes and prickly pear (cactus pear) from the arid deserts of the southwest U.S. and Mexico also made their appearance this week, as in photo below.

Acorn-fed Ham Back at Downtown Cheese

Downtown Cheese at the Reading Terminal has Jámon Ibérico de Bellota back in stock at a necessarily pricey $159/pound. I treated myself to an ounce for my birthday last January and the only worthwhile description of its taste I can offer is this:

Ham butter.

The free-roaming pigs rely on fallen acorns for their diet.

In addition to a broad and deep selection of cheeses, Downtown offers some tasty cold cuts, primarily Italian style. Some are imported, but some are locally made, like the soppressata from  Claudio's, which also supplies the RTM stall with fresh mozzarella and riccota.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Taste of Norway at Reading Terminal Market

Terry Dougherty displays some of Taste of Norway's product
Although Coastal Cave has been closed since April, you can still buy seafood at that spot in the Reading Terminal Market.

Taste of Norway, started by Norway's Honorary Consul in Philadelphia, Erik Torp, and Swedish entrepreneur Jonas Vesterberg, is importing smoked salmon and steelhead and selling them at a day stall in the former Coastal Cave stall. They'll be there at least a couple of months, Thursday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to closing. If it works out well they'll try to be there at least through Christmas and New Year's.

When I visited yesterday their product offerings were limited to cold smoked Atlantic salmon and steelhead salmon; the latter is actually the farm-raised version of sea-run rainbow trout. Erik and Jonas also plan to sell salmon burgers at the stall.

The cold smoked fishes were being sold at a relative bargain: $10 for an eight-ounce package. That's no more (and even a little bit less in many instances) than you'd pay at supermarkets for pre-sliced, packaged smoked salmon. (And much of what's labelled "Norwegian" in the supermarkets is actually Norwegian salmon that's been shipped to Poland for smoking and packaging, where processing costs are cheaper.)

While I prefer hand-sliced belly lox or nova to pre-sliced, packaged product, Taste of Norway's offerings are sure to please. I tried the steelhead on a buttered baguette and found it well-satisfied my cold smoked fish craving. The steelhead is a tad milder, I'm told, than the Atlantic salmon.

I'm not averse to purchasing farm-raised salmon when I know it's been produced in a safe and reasonably environmentally-benign manner. That's the case with Norwegian salmon, whose pens are scattered in the deep cold-water fiords all along the nation's west coast. For example, the Norwegian aquaculture industry ensures the fish is raised in a low-density environment, at least 97.5 percent of open water volume per pen to allow the salmon the freedom to grow to full size in a clean and natural environment. (Sounds a lot nicer to be an industrial salmon in Norway than industrial chicken in Delmarva.) In addition, Taste of Norway's producers raise fish that are hormone-free, not genetically modified and free of artificial ingredients.

Preserves at Fairmount

It's been a while since I visited my neighborhood farmers' market in Fairmount, so it was nice to see a new vendor, even though it's for a product I buy infrequently: jams and jellies.

The vendor is Fifth of a Farm Creations, which uses the community kitchen sponsored by Greensgrow to produce fruit-in-a-jar named after Philadelphia neighborhoods. Some examples: Strawberry Mansion Jam, Parkside Prickly Pear Jelly, Fairmount Cherry Jam, etc. The stall also had some citrus marmalades. It doesn't exactly replace Noelle Margerum and her preserves, who used to frequent Fairmount, but it's a welcome addition.

Among the regulars at Fairmount yesterday was Earl Livengood, who had the largest paw paws I've ever seen. They all come from a huge tree in his front yard just outside Lancaster. I picked up a field tomato and small basket of orange pear tomatos from Earl, then stopped by Beechwood Orchards' stall for Jonathan apples, a Bartlett pear and a Crenshaw melon, another cultivar of the huge muskmelon family (honeydews, cantalopes, persian, etc.).

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Markets of Paris, at the Reading Terminal

Marjorie R. Williams, co-author of a new book, Markets of Paris, will talk about them tomorrow (Thursday, Sept. 6) at the Reading Terminal Market. The free program (and book signing) begins at 12 noon in the Rick Nichols Room.

Since I'm in the midst of reading Émile Zola's The Belly of Paris (Le Ventre de Paris) I'm disappointed other commitments will keep me from attending Williams' slide show.

If, like me, you can't make the talk, you can order the book from publisher The Little Bookroom's website.

Zola's book is half-polemic and half food porn, and it's the latter that most interests me. The action takes place in and around Les Halles soon after the cast iron and glass structure became the city's central food market, as well as in the protagonist's brother and sister-in-law's nearby charcuterie. There's a free version available for Kindle and other e-readers, since the book is out of copyright, but there's a new Modern Library edition translated by Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod and Salt) if you want to spend $11.98.

Two New Stalls at Reading Terminal Market

 It's a photo finish!

Two new vendors raced to open their new stores at the Reading Terminal Market, and both opened Saturday morning.

The Tubby Olive (top photo) had its full stock of bulk olive oils and vinegars in place for opening day. It's located along the back wall of Avenue D, next to the Rick Nichols Room across the aisle from Molly Malloy's.

The Head Nut, as of Sunday, still had plenty of shelves to fill, but you could find spices and herbs for just about any cooking need. One I found that, if I recall correctly the old Spice Terminal didn't stock, is Za'atar, the Middle Eastern blend of sumac, roasted sesame seeds, and a variety of dried herbs (which vary depending on who's doing the blending, though thyme and marjoram are frequent components).

Wursthaus Schmitz is still under construction, with little more than the framing in place last time I looked. Still, if the pace picks up they could be open by the end of the month.

Valley Shepherd Creamery finally has all its permits in line, so construction could start soon.

The market has three additional spaces to fill.

Late last month it held a "cook-off" for four soul-food outfits contending to fill the former Delilah's space. Members of the market staff and board were among the tasters. No decision yet.

The market also is negotiating with a potential vendor to fill the Coastal Cave space. Market GM Paul Steinke won't even give a hint as to the type of business it is.

A third space yet to be filled is a sort of "end cap" wedged inbetween Wursthaus Schmitz and the Avenue D aisle. The market hasn't even begun to fill that tiny space yet.

Arts & Crafts at the Reading Terminal Market

It's amazing how many times you may be in a place and not notice the details.

So it is with two adornments I belatedly discovered at the Reading Terminal Market last month.

High above Pearl's Oyster Bar, on the 12th Street side of the market, reins this figurehead, the traditional carving that adorned the bow of larger sailing vessels from the 16th through 19th centuries.

Meanwhile, below, is part of the mural hidden away opposite the counter at Dienner's Bar-B-Q along the Arch Street side. Based on the style, it's by the same artist as they Bassetts' mural I posted about previously. It's signed "A.J. Pierocki, 1999".

'Sarge' Cookin' at Reading Terminal Market

Gary 'Sarge' Matthews, Phillies broadcaster, will probably be remembered more for his playing days (MVP of the NLCS for the 1983 Phillies) than his cooking, but he's no slouch in culinary matters.

The seafood chowder he prepared last week at La Cucina at the Market was tasty, filled with shrimp, crawfish and lots of king crab meat. His only regret was not enough cooking time to let the cream thicken the soup, which he served in bread bowls. The most useful tip I gained from watching him work: spread some grated cheese in the bottom of the bread bowl and stick it in the oven: it prevents the bowl from becoming too soggy.

Catching Up: DiNic's

Joe Nicolosi and wife Christina were beaming at celebratory party on the night Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in American aired.

A few score of the Nicolosi family's friends joined them for the viewing party at Molly Malloy's within the Reading Terminal Market.

As has been noted by others, the lines have only gotten longer since DiNic's won the competition.

Of course, the finals seemed unfair to DiNic's competitors. I mean, did you really expect either of two chicken sandwiches to best pork? Even if one of them did have bacon?

I think the toughest round for DiNic's was the first, when they went up against Primanti's behemoth capicola and egg topped with french fries and, more importantly, Katz's corned beef-pastrami combo with slaw and Russian dressing, a combination that's always been one of my favs.  But as Richman showed throughout the series, he has a predilection for simple sandwiches with just enough ingredients to make it interesting while keeping everything in balance. And that's exactly what any of DiNic's sandwiches do, whether it's the roast pork, the brisket, the pulled pork, the roast beer or the meatballs.

Still, the chicken liver and tongue sandwiches from two of the other finalists are on my Sandwiches To Taste Before I Die list.

Catching Up: Reading Terminal Market

More catch-up by way of photos at Reading Terminal Market over the past month.

Iovine's had some of the nicest looking savoy cabbage I've seen in a while in early August.
Acorn squashes, at Iovine's in late August, herald autumn's arrival
Fair Food has featured a nice variety of onions. Cippolinis could also be found at Headhouse.
Peppers in profusion have been available both at the RTM and farmers' markets.
These were on display at Fair Food.
Nothing says summer like a tomato. And no one displays them better than Ben Kauffman.
Ben also knows how to display corn.

Catching Up: Headhouse

I've been caught up in the late summer doldrums, so it's been almost a month since my last post. There's a lot of catching up to do.

Let's do it by photos, with commentary where warranted.

Savoie Farms adds a bit of levity to its tomatoes.
Three Springs Fruit Farm mixed cherry tomatoes and mini eggplants for a pretty picture
Beechwood Orchard's plums have been spectacular this season
Tom Culton has featured lima beans the past few weeks
Rainbow chard always makes a good photo.
These are from Blooming Glen.

Headhouse News Note

Tom Culton says he planted his mirai corn late this year, so if you've missed it that's why. It should show up in the next week or two. Mirai is a Japanese hybrid which is exceptionally sweet and tasty. In late August Tom had a red sweet corn variety, for which is charged a buck an year. The going price this year at farmers' markets has been 50 to 75 cents.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Food factory: Reading Terminal Market

When Valley Shepherd Creamery's owner, Eran Wajswol, went to government agencies seeking permits for his forthcoming store and cheese-making operation at the Reading Terminal Market, he discovered a zoning variance was required to permit food manufacturing.

It wasn't only a surprise to Wajswol. It seems that any number of vendors were manufacturing food at the market in violation of the zoning regulations. (Among them: Miller's Twist, Old City Coffee, Sweet as Fudge Candy Shoppe, Famous Fourth Street Cookie, Mueller's Chocolates, Beiler's Bakery, Flying Monkey, Martin's Quality Meats, Giunta's Prime Shop, Pennsylvania General Store, and Herschel's East Side Deli.)

To solve the problem, the market applied for a single zoning variance to cover the entire premises. That variance is now in hand, legalizing all the food-manufacturing operations, which are distinct from restaurant operations.

Valley Shepherd still has to obtain other approvals from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the city's Board of Health, but it has its building permit. This week the large tank which will contain the milk which will become cheese was delivered to the market. It will be installed in the basement and the liquid will be pumped to the cheese-making room within the shop.

Valley Shepherd hopes to be open for business sometime in September.

Other new vendors also are making progress on their stalls.

The first to open likely will be the Head Nut, which this week is receiving deliveries of stock. They plan to be open sometime next week.

The Tubby Olive plans an Aug. 24 opening for the sale of bulk olive oils and vinegars.

Wursthaus Schmitz begins construction next Monday of its space behind Flying Monkey; the contractor says it will take a month.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Truthiness in Labeling

Ground sirloin (foreground) and chuck roast (upper left) at Martin's
 When it comes to hamburgers, I ask the butcher to grind meat to order for me. It's not that I don't think the pre-ground meat at a good butcher shop isn't good -- it usually is. (I'm always a bit more suspect of the pre-ground meats I find at supermarkets, especially if it's ground off-site by a larger processor.)

I ask for grinding to order because I prefer chuck rather than round and/or sirloin, or the less desirable cuts found in "hamburger". I think the flavor of meat ground from the chuck far superior to others. And since I prefer my burgers cooked very rare, I don't want the meat sitting around, even for less than a day, after grinding, giving any bacteria a chance to multiply.

Usually I ask Charles Giunta to grind up chuck for me at the Reading Terminal Market. But earlier this week when I stopped by Charles was busy and said I'd have to wait about an hour until he had a chance. Since my meter was just about expired, I thanked him and went to his brother's shop, Martin's Quality Meats.

When I asked the counterman for chuck, he tried to steer me (pun intentional) to the "ground sirloin" on display, priced at $2.99 a pound vs. the $4.59 I'd pay for chuck. "It's chuck, too," he said.

I suggested he look at his butcher's chart: sirloin comes from the back end of the animal, chuck from the shoulder. Either the ground meat was chuck and it was wrongly labelled, or he was fibbing. And I doubted it was chuck because if it was, he wouldn't be selling it for $1.60 less a pound that unground chuck, even accounting for the extra fat that's usually thrown into ground meat.

"I'm just trying to save you money," he said. I thanked him for the consideration, but said I preferred chuck and am willing to pay for it. He finally relented and ground a hunk of chuck roast to order -- I asked him to de-bone a piece of short rib and throw that into the grinder as well to provide a bit more fat as well as flavor.

I wound up with a bit over two pounds of ground meat for a bit over $11, enough for seven five-ounce burgers (I don't like behemoth burgers, like the half-pounders you tend to find at too many pubs). They were tasty and good. But I still had a bad taste in my mouth from the buying experience.

I don't know why the counterman tried to get me to buy the ground sirloin, other than his stated reason of trying to save me a buck or two. Maybe he simply didn't want to take the time to run it through the grinder, though there weren't many customers and his co-workers could easily handle others while he was tied up serving me.

This is hardly the only example of unclear or downright untruthful labeling to be found.

I've written before about the loosey-goosey nomenclature for salmon. John Yi at the Reading Terminal continues to sell "Wild Organic King Salmon". What that really means is that it's farm-raised king which had been fed "organic" feed.

Since it's Alaskan salmon season I had a hankering today for king (also known as chinook) salmon. Over at John Yi's they had "Wild King Salmon" at $17.99/pound, a relative bargain. But when I asked where it was from I was told it was New Zealand.

There's no such thing as a commercial king salmon fishery in New Zealand. There is, however, a substantial farm-raised king industry; indeed, New Zealand is the world's largest producer of this product. I don't have any qualm about the quality of the product; my issue is misleading labelling by retailers.

(There is some "wild" sea-run king salmon in New Zealand, but it's not fished commercially. It was brought to Kiwiland in the late 19th century in form of eggs from California kings in an attempt to establish the species there as a sport fishery.)

At the Reading Terminal Market Yi's and Golden Fish do have truly wild Alaskan salmon right now: sockeye priced at about $14 a pound; it's also an excellent fish like truly wild king, but it has a slightly different flavor profile and the filets are considerably thinner.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Bonanza of Peaches, Apricots

Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm stocks more peaches
They cherries may be done for the year, but the procession of stone fruits marches on at local farmers' markets.

Sunday at the Headhouse Square market Three Springs Fruit Farm and Beechwood Orchards presented both white and yellow peaches, and rosy, appetizing apricots. Beechwood also had some nectarines, which Ben Wenk of Three Springs plans to harvest this week. Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries also filled farmers' tables.

Definitely time for some cobblers!

Last week, with tomatoes now tasting real, I made some gazpacho to bring to our Fourth of July block party. I got my recipe from behind the pay wall at Cooks Illustrated, but there are similar recipes you can find on-line. What made this version striking was that it was creamy -- without the addition of any cream. That's accomplished by whizzing about two thirds of the tomatoes (along with green pepper, cucumber, red onion, garlic and crust-less white bread) in a blender, then dribbling in olive oil to emulsify the soup. This makes all the other versions I've tried look like watery salsa.

Fresh Chickpeas: Good but Pricey

Tom Culton reduced the price of the chickpeas he was selling Sunday at the Headhouse Square farmers' from the previous week by two bucks, so a light pint cost me $5 rather than $7.

Still, they were rather pricey considering that once shelled they produced only half a cup of legumes.

They were extraordinarily good. I cooked them simply: a two or three minute douse in gently boiling water, followed by a quick sauté in olive oil, garlic and a couple twists of black pepper.

But considering the cost, yield, and nearly 40 minutes spent shelling the peas, it's a pricey delicacy I'll probably pass on in the future.

In the process of shelling the chickpeas, about 10 percent turned out to be black. I cooked both the black peas and the greener ones together, and both tasted fine.

Tom says he has a lot of black chickpeas growing, but doesn't have the time to harvest the crop. Instead, he'll dry them on the vines, then bring the harvest to a local mill to turn into flour later this season.

Lester Halteman Dies, 76

Lester Halteman
Funeral services were held today for Lester Halteman, 76, who operated the eponymous butcher shop and deli in the Reading Terminal Market until he sold the business and retired about a decade ago. He died July 6 at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

L. Halteman Country Foods started out as a poultry purveyor, but expanded over the years to include fresh meats, deli meats and cheeses. Amos Riehl continues the business today.

Lester and his wife Millie were featured in "Reading Terminal Market: A Family History", a video recounting the history of the market through interviews with long-time merchants. They were among the honored attendees when the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association premiered the video at a gala party in the market in 2009.

In the video the Haltemans "told vivid stories from their long tenure.  In fact some of the best moments in the film were theirs," wrote RTM General Manager in an email announcing Lester's death.

In recent years a number of the market's long-time merchants have died. Most recently, Domenic Spataro, whose son continues the family sandwich business, died in January at age 96. Butcher Harry Ochs died at age 80 in December 2009, just a few months after the video's premiere party.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Veggie City at Markets

A.T. Buzby's summer squashes and eggplants
Buzby's carrots
Summer vegetables are hitting their peak at local farmers' markets. Today at Headhouse Square was no exception.

Corn is coming into its own, though prices can vary widely. Over at the Reading Terminal Market Ben Kauffman was selling his Lancaster County ears for 75 cents apiece, but Iovine's has Bucks County corn for less than half that price: three ears for a buck.

Tomatoes are also starting to taste real. Blooming Glen, one of the Headhouse vegetable stalwarts, had field tomatoes for $3/pound, and a few heirloom varieties for $4.

Those cheap frying peppers I found at Iovine Brother's Produce over the last few weeks have gone up in price to $1.49/pound; they were 99 cents. But we're starting to see bell peppers at the farmers' markets: Tom Culton had green peppers today, and Weaver's Way purples.

Cultton's cornichons
I've making my third batch of kosher pickles of the season right now, using Mark Bittman's recipe which is nothing but cucumbers, salt, garlic and coriander seeds (you could use fresh or dried dill if you prefer). I wasn't going to make the third batch, but Tom Culton's gherkins just looked too good to pass up. Although at $5 for a box with a net weight of one pound, six ounces they were priced considerably more than full sized kirby cukes, I think they'll make great crisp pickles. Culton, who is into all things French these days (just take a look at his new sign, here) calls them cornichons.

Among the other interesting veggies Culton had this week were chickpeas in the shell ($7 a box) and good looking red and golden beets, sans leaves. Here are the pix:

Culton's chick peas
Beets from Tom Culton

Cherries Almost Done

Jostaberries at Beechwood Orchards
Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards, selling today at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market, says don't count on seeing any local cherries this time next week. In past years he's brought in some from New York State, which run a few weeks later than ours, but he's goint to skip extending the season that way.

Today he was the only vendor I spied with cherries -- none were visible at Three Springs Fruit Farm, the other usual stall carrying them and where I picked up a quart of Montmorencey pie cherries last week. Garretson had both sweet and sour cherries today. The red and rose sweets were selling for $4/pint or $7.50/quart.

I took advantage of the sour cherry season while I could, since they tend to be here for only a few weeks: three quarts of sorbet, a couple cobblers, and a tart. Time to move on to blueberries and blackberries. (The raspberries look good, but too pricey for anything but a garnish or mixed with yogurt when they're $4.50 for a half pint.)

The last few weeks fruit vendors have been featuring a number of different gooseberries and their close relations. Last week Beechwood had Jostaberries, a triple cross of North American coastal black gooseberries, European gooseberry, and black currant. Best in cooked applications or jams and preserves.

Some of Beechwood Orchard's stone fruits
Other varieties of stone fruit are supplanting cherries now: peaches, plums and apricots. The peaches I picked up yesterday at Fair Food (from Beechwood) had good flavor, though just a tad watery. I expect they'll intensify with the weather we've had lately.

Although they don't usually show up for another week or so, since every other crop is advanced this season, why should apples be different? Beechwood had Lodis (best for sauce and cooking rather than eating out-of-hand) for $2/pound today.

North Star Orchards, which specializes in apples and pears, usually doesn't start selling at Headhouse until August. Maybe if their crops are as early as everything else seems to be this season, we'll see them back in a few weeks.

Pot Pie Savings

Chicken and turkey pot pies are more of an autumn or winter thing for me, but if you enjoy them in the summer. you can safe $1.75 on a small pie if you head over to Martin's Quality Meats in the Reading Terminal Market. Where Fair Food sells the small pies for $12.50, Martin's asks $10.75, iirc.

Lobster Tales at Reading Terminal Market

New neon sign on John Yi Fish Market let's you know they've got live lobsters
Live lobster at John Yi
John Yi Fish Market has got live and cooked lobsters, but no lobster tank, at least not yet. Golden Seafood has a new tank, but it isn't filled. Both intend to rectify their respective situations soon.

Live lobsters are once again regularly available at the Reading Terminal Market, something that hasn't happened since Coastal Cave closed with its owner's retirement April 1.

At $11.99 a pound, John Yi's lobsters are a trifle dear, but that's pretty much the standard once you get away from the Maine and Nova Scotia coasts. In Portland, Maine, last week, 1-1/8 pounders were selling for $3.99 at wharfside fish markets, 1-1/2 pounders $4.99, some of the lowest prices in years for softshell (newly molted) lobsters, which are more common that hardshells during the summer months. (And no, you can't eat the shell of softshells as you can softshell crabs.)