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.