Saturday, April 28, 2012

Morel Bonanza

Found these morels this morning at Dane County Farmer's Market, Madison Wisconsin. $35/pound. Bought the forager out (1.75 pounds), they're now cooked and frozen, ready for transport back to Philadelphia in my dry-ice powered cooler. Most of the morels were over four inches long, a couple looked to be about six inches long.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Dinic's vs Katz's vs Primanti's

Adam Richman
In early March I reported that Adam Richman was back at the Reading Terminal Market to tape a segment at DiNic's for a new show: Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America. The show's first episode on June 6 (9 p.m., Travel Channel) will feature DiNic's in competition with Katz's Deli of the Lower East Side and Primanti Brothers of Pittsburgh.

Each episode will feature three competing sandwiches from a given region, with America's best crowned in the finale from among the 10 regional winners and two "wild cards" voted on by viewers. In the case of the June 6 installment, it's sandwiches of the Northeast.

For the first show Richman will sample Dinic's roast pork with aged provolone and peppers, forgoing the greens. Katz's entry will be a corned beef-pastrami combo on rye with cole slaw and Russian dressing. From Primanti's he'll try the Cap & Egg, a behemoth featuring capicola, runny egg, cole slaw, tomato and hand-cut french fries on sliced Italian bread.

That's pretty stiff competition for Dinic's, especially Katz's, where I usually go for the straight pastrami on rye with mustard. Nonetheless, Richman's combo is well-known to deli enthusiasts in New York and New Jersey. At one deli I frequented, the pastrami-CB with russian and slaw was known as the "No. 5" combo, where at another it was the "No. 4". Who's to quibble over a number, it's a great combo sandwich.

I've never been to Primanti's, though I'll have to add it to my wish list. Still, to me it sounds like the "Cap & Egg" looses it when you add the tomatoes, slaw and fries: not just simply too massive, but out of flavor balance.

So I think it will come down to a battle between DiNic's and Katz's. The conventional wisdom says Katz's -- by virtue of its celebrity, the "When Harry Met Sally" scene filmed there, and that fact that it's the New York City entry -- will run away with the prize for this episode.

While I love a good pastrami sandwich (and Katz's makes a great one), I'll be rooting for our local hero. The roast pork that Tom and Joe Nicolosi and crew concoct can go toe-to-toe with Katz's anytime. Their brisket and pulled pork aren't too shabby, either, and I've got friends who skip all of that in favor of the sausage with peppers.

The second episode, at 9:30 p.m. the same night, will be a battle of Gulf Coast sandwiches: a shrimp po' boy form New Orleans, and two entries from Tampa, a variation on the Cuban, and a Grouper reuben.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Tubby Olive Signs On at RTM

The Tubby Olive, a Newtown, Bucks County, purveyor of on-tap vinegars and olive oils, has signed on to occupy one of the new spaces at the Reading Terminal Market made available through the Avenue D expansion project. The shop will be located along the market's Avenue D wall across from Molly Molloy's.

The Tubby Olive's web site lists three dozen varieties of traditional, organic and flavor-infused olive oils and a similar number and variety of vinegars. Most are priced at $29 for 750 ml (25.4 ounces) and $15.95 for 375 ml (12.7 ounces), with organic oils going for $2 and $1 additional. (Regarding the vinegars, although most are listed as "balsamic", at those prices they won't be the finest, the kind where just a few drops can raise simple foods like ice creams or strawberries to whole new level. Classic balsamic vinegars like these would retail for about four times the price of the Tubby Olive's. What the shop sells, however, appears, to be perfectly fine vinegars for a wide variety of uses, though from the flavor list on the web site there are few I'd purchase. Does anyone really need or Dark Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar?)

Tubby Olive is the fourth new merchant to sign up for space made available by the market's Avenue D project, joining Wursthaus Schmitz, the Head Nut and Valley Shepherd Creamery. RTM General Manager has a few other new spaces still to fill, as well as the recently vacated Coastal Cave stll along Avenue C. In addition, he's still waiting to hear from the bankruptcy trustee for Delilah's to see what we become of that space; when Delilah's was shut in mid-March, the trustee told the market they expected to reopen in just a few weeks.

The entire imrovement project is running along at top speed, with Flying Monkey Bakery now relocated and the new merchants expected to open in phases between May April and early summer. L. Halteman Family Country Food to shift to their new footprint by the end of the month.

Steinke said the new multi-purpose room, named in honor of former Philadelphia Inquirer food columnist Rick Nichols, should be finished in the next few weeks. By next weekend, all the chairs and tables in center court and the piano court, which have been showing signs of wear, will be replaced to match what will be going into the Nichols Room.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Farmers' Report: Early Asparagus, Some Apple Damage

A mild winter and very warm spring caused Mother Nature to alter her schedule for regional farmers.

Two regular farmers' market stalwarts, Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards, and Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm, both indicated that while frosts after blossoming caused some damage to their groves of apple, pear and cherry trees, the loss will be noticeable but not devastating. I spoke with them Sunday at the Philadelphia Farm & Food Fest at the convention center, co-sponsored by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.

Wenk has already harvested a little asparagus for his family's use, but expects to cut a lot more beginning this week. It's conceivable, he said, that it will be all gone by the time the Headhouse Square farmers' market opens May 6. If the season extends by a week or so, he will still have asparagus available then.

Tom Culton, also at the festival, said he does expect to still have asparagus when Headhouse opens.

If you're hankering for local asparagus now -- the supermarkets are full of thin stalks from Mexico -- maybe a trip Saturday to either the Clark Park or Fitler Square year-round markets will be in order.

And unless the weather intervenes, you can expect to see strawberries in early May.

Garretson said he's altering the Philadelphia farmers' markets he'll be attending this season. He's leaving the Tuesday market at South & Passyunk sponsored by Farm to City, but joining the Thursday afternoon Food Trust market at Fairmount and 22nd Street, where he takes over from Orchard Hill Farm of Bloomsburg. Beechwood will continue to sell at University Square on Wednesdays, Rittenhouse Square on Saturdays, and Swarthmore on Saturdays.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Coastal Cave Closes at RTM

Coastal Cave, a long-time purveyor of live lobster, Dungeness crab and smoked seafood delicacies, ends its tenure at the Reading Terminal Market with the close of business today.

I wasn't able to speak with him personally but proprietor Steven Cho is retiring from the market. His family also operates Ritz Seafood in Voorhees, New Jersey.

Coastal Cave's departure leaves another big hole for the market to fill. Last month Delilah's closed (reportedly temporarily) due to bankruptcy proceedings.

For the past year or so Coastal Cave updated its menu with some unusual sandwiches. Among them: pickled herring, smoked salmon and sardine Vietnamese sandwiches (bahn mi). Until Herschel's East Side Deli opened Coastal Cave was my source for Sunday morning lox.

RTM General Manager Paul Steinke has dozens of businesses that would love to locate to the high-traffic market. But many want to sell "carnival" foods that the market won't permit: popcorn, funnel cake, etc.

Update, Tuesday, April 3

Steinke's first order of business will be finding a home for the lobsters and lobster tank, which remain crawling and bubbling away, respectively, in the now otherwise empty stall.

The RTM plans to ask the three full-service fishmongers at the market -- Golden Fish, John Yi Fish Market, and Wan's Seafood -- to bid on the tanks. Expect one of them to jump at the chance to take over this part of Coastal's business.

When I visited the market this morning, I had expected to see the lobsters gone, since proprietor Steven Cho's family operates a restaurant, Ritz Seafood, in Voorhees, New Jersey, where they could be put to good use. But they were still on display.

Spring Arrives: Spinach, Fiddleheads & Gefilte Fish

Fiddleheads from Fair Food Farmstand
Signs of spring at the Reading Terminal Market this past week: local spinach, fiddlehead ferns, and carp and yellow pike for gefilte fish.

The spinach could be obtained from any one of the market's produce vendors: Iovine's, Fair Food, Kauffman's. OK Lee, and L. Halteman. I didn't check, but farmer Steve Bowes might have had some at his day stall in the piano court. Most were priced at about $2 a bunch. With few exceptions, the spinach didn't look super attractive for a raw salad (that's usually true for overwintered spinach), but they were all perfect for sautés or any other cooking method you choose. Many folks prefer the taste of overwintered spinach to the new crop that will appear later in the spring. Butch Dougherty of Iovine's Produce said they were great cooked and used to top a sandwich.

The Japanese painted fern in a planter in my backyard patio sprouted up with a vengeance this week, and the same is happening along the streamsides of Chester, Delaware and Bucks County (heck, probably along tributaries of the Wissahickon in Fairmount Park, too). That means commercial foragers are bringing their fiddlehead fern finds to local restaurants and specialty produce vendors. Fair Food had some rather pristine samples this week (pictured above). Frequently when you find fiddleheads in stores, they'll have some brownish, papery edges to them which is easily enough cleaned off. These, however, had none of the brown tinges. You can pretty much use them wherever you'd use asparagus, and cook them the same way. As an accompaniment to protein, I think they work better with fish and poultry than beef or lamb. And they excel as a stir-fry veg in Chinese cooking. Just don't go overboard on your consumption, and cook them thoroughly: Fiddleheads contain low levels of toxins which can cause nausea and diarrhea. Sustained heat usually kills any toxin (health authorities recommend boiling or steaming for 10-15 minutes). I usually do a light steaming or par-boiling before sautéeing and have yet to experience any symptoms.

John Yi featured carp and yellow pike in its dislplay case this week, priced at $3.99 and $7.99/pound, respectively. Either or both fish are the traditional base of gefilte fish, a traditional but non-Biblically mandated first course for the Passover seder. I could not find, however, a live carp to place in the bathtub, as was traditional in olden days to assure a fresh fish for the holiday table.

Iovine's continues to stock ramps. They looked a bit better today than last week, but they'll continue to be dear at $1.99 a bunch, which makes for maybe one serving.

Two items I've enjoyed all winter long from Iovine's have now disappeared: fresh chick poeas and temple oranges. There are still plenty of other orange varieties available, but the peak season is starting to fade, even though they're available pretty much year round.