Saturday, December 28, 2013

Reserve Your Haggis

Among the changes transpired since my six-month absence from blogging about Philadelphia's public and farmers' markets is switch of chefs at Border Springs Farm, the fresh and prepared lamb purveyor at the Reading Terminal Market.

In the fall Nick Macri moved over from executive chef at Southwark to run the cooking operation at Border Springs. (Opening chef Aaron Gottesman is how chef de cuisine at Kevin Sbraga's new The Fat Ham.)

In honor of poet Robert Burns birthday Jan. 25, Macri will be preparing a near-authentic haggis. All that will be missing in the offal-stuffed offering will be the traditional lights (lungs) which, to the best of my knowledge, remain off-limits for human consumption under USDA rules. Nick also told me he will be using manufactured casing rather than sheep stomach, the traditional containing vessel for the oat-extended offal-loaf. If you want it, make a reservation: it won't be available unless you make a prior commitment to purchase one.

In the meantime, Border Springs has had to cope with a non-functioning refrigerated display case. They expect to get a replacement compressor installed Monday.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Breakfast of Jewish Champions: Not lox.

Who knew? The matzoh ball soup at Herschel's deli in the Reading terminal market makes a superb breakfast when you're looking for something substantive but not overwhelming. The broth itself was clear and rich with just enough carrots and celery as well as white meat chicken pieces a few but enough. The matzoh balls themselves were plenty big, about the size of a baseball. Just the right density neither too heavy nor too light.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Won't You Be My Melon-craving Baby?

Local muskmelons -- usually called cantaloupes because marketers consider "musk" off-putting -- can be found at local farmers' markets, like Headhouse Square where A.T. Buzby, the South Jesey grower, displayed these giants at $4 apiece.

The same variety of local melon has been available on and off for the last week or so at Iovine's Urban Produce at the Reading Terminal market at half the price for a similar-sized melon. I purchased one of Iovine's a few days ago: good flavor, moderate sweetness with a sea-salt tang, all-in-all, an enjoyable melon to eat.

Although I'm not a stickler for washing produce, I always scrub melons in the sink: they're more apt than most other fruits to pick up pathogens in the soil. A quick, warm, slightly soapy scrub to the exterior before cutting does wonders. If you don't wash melons, any baddies on the surface will work their way inside when you slice it open.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lamb Man Working Spit

Shepherd Craig Rogers, proprietor of Border Springs Farm, works the spit with a 52-pound lamb roasting for today's Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze at the Reading Terminal Market. Although they started serving lamb tacos from previously cooked lamb about 10 a.m. today, Rogers didn't expect to be able to carve from this carcass until about 1:30 p.m., after cooking for about six hours.

Friday, July 12, 2013


Peaches and pineapples at Iovine's: only one is local.

Ben Wenk restocks peaches
Time to shift to peach pie from cherry.

With the sour cherry season essentially over (you might find a few quarts this weekend if you're lucky) peaches have taken over the fresh produce stalls at area farmers markets. Local peaches can even be found at Iovine's Urban Produce at the Reading Terminal Market, where Jersey peaches were selling for 99 cents a pound recently.

Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm had them at his family's stall last Sunday at Headhouse Square, and all the other orchardists are likely to show off their whites and yellows this weekend. Nectarines won't be far behind, and apricots have already made their appearance. Plums of various persuasions (and perhaps even early apples, like Lodi) will show up in the stalls over the next few weeks.

Lamb Hash

Why settle for plain hash, when you can get lamb thrown into the bargain. The lamb hash, oniony with a touch of pepper heat and topped with a fried egg, is a popular breakfast item at the Border Springs Lamb Farm stall at the Reading Terminal Market. An even bigger seller is their lamb taco for lunch; they'll be serving it from a whole animal they'll roast at tomorrow's Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze along Filbert Street.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Cherries and Berries

Pie cherries from Beechwood Orchards at Headhouse Square Farmers Market

Sweet red and golden cherries from Three
Springs, also at Headhouse Square market

 From The Belly of Paris, by Émile Zola:
The cherries, ranged one by one, resembled the short lips of smiling Chinese girls; the Montmorencies suggested the dumpy mouths of buxom women; the English ones were longer and graver-looking; the common black ones seemed as though they had been bruised and crushed by kisses; while the white- hearts, with their patches of rose and white, appeared to smile with mingled merriment and vexation.
Okay, so I'm sucker for cherries, sweet or tart. I've gone through a couple of quarts of dark red sweets in the last week and a half nibbling them straight. And a couple of quarts of pie cherries, mostly in sorbet, but also a cobbler. I'll probably make a pie this week.

In the meantime, I've gone through many half pints of black raspberries making one of my favorite ice creams. Here's how it's done:

Take two half-pints of black raspberries (about 3 to 4 cups) and place them in a bowl with half a cup of granulated white sugar. Toss and crush, then let them sit for two hours of so.

After two hours, place berries and rendered juice in fine mesh strainer over a bowl, and press with a stiff spatula or other device of your choosing to render out the rest of the juice, leaving behind (and discarding) the seeds and the pulp that clings to it and just won't go through the mesh. Transfer juice to small pot and reduce slightly.

Meanwhile, heat a cup of cream (pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized: you can find it Lancaster County Dairy at the Reading Terminal or Whole Foods; Trader Joe's might have it, also) gently with a cup of sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. If you have it, stir in a couple tablespoons of plain -- not high fructose -- corn syrup. (I use Karo Light, as opposed to Karo Lite, which I do not recommend.) Combine the cream/sugar mix and raspberry juice, stirring in a tablespoon of vodka. If you have it, use a raspberry eau die vie (Framboise) instead. The addition of the corn syrup helps prevent the finished ice cream from forming large ice crystals. The alcohol lowers the freezing point of the mix, helping keep it scoopable.

Let the mix sit overnight in the refrigerator. Then prepare in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. When done, pack into containers, lightly press plastic wrap into the ice cream (it will be pretty soft), cover and let ripen in the freezer for four hours before serving.

For a real treat, mix in a half- to three-quarters cup of mini chocolate chips or the smallest chunks you can find during the last few minutes in the ice cream machine.

At Headhouse and other farmers markets, black raspberries have been selling for about $4.50 a half-pint. Cherries, sweet or sour, are anywhere from $7 to $9 a quart. Blueberries, which have also started to appear, sell for $3 a half-pint or $5 a pint, making them a berry bargain: they'll be my next ice cream or sorbet, and they make the best cobbler. Prices are about the same at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal Market though, as usual, L. Halteman Family undersells just about everyone: black raspberries were $3.99 a half-pint there last week, cherries $6.49/quart. I used their black raspberries for my first batch of ice cream, and they were superb.

More Fruit and Veg Photos

From the last two Sundays at Headhouse:

Rainbow Chard from Blooming Glen
Red and Green Kohlrabi, grate and it makes a nice slaw
Or make potato salad from these Savoie Farms gems
Or these Happy Cat 'taters
On to the fruit. Beechwood had the season's first apricots Sunday
Red raspberries and cherries at Beechwood
Culton's $5 beans
Tom Culton obscured by his produce
Culton has also featured celery the last two weeks

A.T. Buzy was first to market with local corn a few weeks
ago, but I think I'll wait until later in July

Reading Terminal Market Fests

For the past few years the Reading Terminal Market has devoted a mid-July Saturday to an ice cream festival. Before that the market sponsored a Sidewalk Sizzle with meats on grills.This year they've been combined into a -- surprise -- "Sidewalk Sizzle and Ice Cream Freeze", to be held July 13 on Filbert Street, a.k.a. Harry Ochs Way.

On the menu (besides ice cream): $1 hot dogs, turkey legs, kabobs, shrimp skewers, grilled pizza, hamburgers, Amish sausages, and Bavarian pork sandwiches. I'll be making a bee-line, however, to the whole lamb provided by Border Springs. Other merchants participating include Bassetts Ice Cream, Beck’s Cajun Café, By George, Hatville Deli, Miller’s Twist, Nanee’s Kitchen, Original Turkey and Wursthaus Schmitz.

The annual Pennsylvania Dutch Festival is scheduled for Aug. 8-10, the Harvest Festival Oct. 12 and Scrapple Fest Nov. 12.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sumer Is Icumen In

If you're into English medieval music, you'll recognize the title Sumer Is Icumen In as a little ditty probably dating to about 1260. You might even recall Alan Hale's Little John whistling it in the 1938 Errol Flynn classic Robin Hood.

Translated from Middle English it pretty much means what you think: Summer Has Arrived. Nowhere can that be seen more clearly that at local markets.

The produce of spring -- strawberries, asparagus -- are still around but fading fast. Instead, cherries made their first local appearance this past week, with more to come over the next few weeks. Jersey blueberries will be plentiful soon, and it won't be long until we see apricots, raspberries and other summer sweet fruits.

Here's a sampling of what I've found recently:

Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, Reading Terminal market:
Strawberries, sweet red cherries, Queen Anne cherries

Cylindrical beets at Kauffman's

Strawberries from Beechwood Orchards, Fairmount Farmers Market

Also at Fairmount, favas from Queen Farm

Snow peas from Queen Farm, Fairmount

Hull peas from Queen, which also sells at Headhouse Square

Farmer Leaves Reading Terminal Market

Steve Bowes, the organic farmer who occupied space in the piano court for the past few years, has left the Reading Terminal Market. Instead he's concentrating on wholesaling to local restaurants and his Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Among his wholesale customers, and headquarters for his CSA in Philadelphia, is Russet Restaurant on Spruce Street.

Bowes started out at the market three years ago when it briefly, and unsuccessfully, partnered with Farm to City to operate a traditional farmers' market across 12th Street. After that effort failed, Bowes elected to sell directly inside the market, using day tables set up in the piano court opposite Metropolitan Bakery. Bowes filled a gap in the market's offerings when Livengood Family left center court.

Paul Steinke, general manager of the Reading Terminal Market, said there's no active search for a replacement. Instead, market shoppers will have to rely on local produce sold by eisting produce vendors:
  • Fair Food Farmstand sells the widest variety of local produce, from some of the same growers who populate the city's farmers' markets, as well as items from coops.
  • Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, operated by Benuel Kauffman, gets most of his fruits and vegetables from the Leola Produce Auction or his neighbors, though some items occasionally come from his wife's garden.
  • L. Halteman Family primarily sells meats, but also offers seasonal local produce, frequently at the best prices you'll see.
  • Iovine Brothers Produce has been displaying local produce prominently in recent years. Most of the local items are vegetables, particularly greens from larger growers in Maryland and South Jersey, but they also work with smaller farmers like Shady Brook in Bucks County, which supplies corn in addition to other items. 
  • OK Lee will feature local produce, though not as extensively as Iovine's.

Livengood's Sticks to Suburbs

Earl Livengood at the Fairmount Market in 2010
The Livengood Family Farm won't be selling their produce within Philadelphia's city limits this season.

The Livengoods -- Earl and Joyce and their son Dwain -- were mainstays at Reading Terminal Market's Center Court until 2010. At that time they continued to sell their certified organic produce at the South & Passyunk, Fairmount and Clark Park farmers markets until this year. Now they're limiting their presence to the Bala Cynwyd and East Goshen markets on Thursdays, and the Saturday markets at Artisans Exchange in West Chester, Upper Merion, and Bryn Mawr.

Dwain Livengood hopes to continue at the Saturday Clark Park winter after Thanksgiving.

The South & Passyunk market, by the way, has switched from Tuesdays to Saturdays. It's the oldest of the current farmers markets in the city.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Lotsa Meatballs at Reading Terminal Market

The trays of meatballs are almost ready for the oven at Tommy DiNic's at the Reading Terminal Market. DiNic's makes them from a lean cut of beef round augmented with just the right amount of of fatty pork trimmings.

More About Border Springs

Those riblets from Border Springs Lamb Farm I wrote about two weeks ago were every bit as good as hoped. Meaty but still enough tasty fat. They were among the hits of the Memorial Day block party. I simmered them in plenty of salted water for about half an hour then drained and stuck them in the 'fridge until the next day when I charred them over the fire, constantly basting with a glaze and turning until nicely browned but not burned. The glaze was a cup of orange marmalade, half a cup of Dijoin mustard, two tablespoons of red wine vinegar (apple cider would work, but I wouldn't use an expensive balsamic or sherry vinegar on this), and two teaspoons of whole cumin seeds which I then ground after toasting.

Border Springs now has its kitchen up and (mostly) running. I haven't tried any of the lunch dishes, and whether or not they serve breakfast was still a bit hit-and-miss as of yesterday. But the taste of biscuit with gravy and sausage Aaron offered last Saturday was superb, almost like a cream of lamb sausage soup. The only off-note was a too heavy hand with the black pepper, which Aaron said he'd be lightening up. This version of Rich Man's Gravy needs black pepper, it was just a tad too much when I tasted it.

At least one of the market's other butchers has already responded to Border Springs by lowering its price on shoulder chops. Martin's, which until recently charged $6.99/pound, was selling them for $4.99 last weekend, vs. $7.50-$8 at Border Springs, depending on the particular section of shoulder used. Martin's Brother Charles Giunta (Giunta's Prime Shop) was selling them for $6.99, while BJ's Warehouse had them for $5.99. Martin also dropped his price on ground lamb. Border Springs' loin chops are priced at $15, about two bucks more a pound than at Martin's and Giunta's. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Lamb Shop Arrives at Reading Terminal Market

Breast of lamb, cut into riblets, a.k.a. Denver Ribs
Border Springs Lamb Farm opened its Reading Terminal Market retail outlet about a month later than planned, but the Virginia sheepery appears to be worth the wait, based on the fresh breast of lamb I purchased this morning.

For the moment they are only selling fresh lamb and sausages, but they hope to offer prepared foods sometime next week. And the prepared foods have me salivating -- see the menu synopsis at the end of this post.

I was taken aback when I asked the price of the lamb breast, a cut I adore. At Martin's and Giunta's the going price is less than $4/pound; Border Springs charged nearly $8. But before walking away I asked Aaron, one of the folks behind the counter, to open up a pack so I could examine it. Upon inspection I quickly agreed to purchase two breasts (four pounds) for my Fairmount block's Memorial Day party. These were the meatiest breasts of lamb I've ever encountered, but with still enough fat to endear them to me. Just look at the accompanying photo and see if you agree. On the package the whole breast is identified as "short ribs". When cut into riblets they're often called Denver Ribs, since much of the U.S. lamb industry is based in Colorado.

Since lamb ribs, even these relatively lean ones, tend to flare up on the grill, I'll be simmering these in water to pre-cook. Once the block party begins I'll finish on the grill with a sweet cumin-inflected sauce to give them the desired char.

Boneless, the breast of lamb (a.k.a. lamb belly) is an excellent meat to baconize, something I did a few years go with success. But since Border Springs will be selling lamb bacon, I may let them do the curing and smoking in the future.

Other than the breast, overall prices at Border Springs are close to what you'll pay for the commodity lamb found at supermarkets and most butchers. (And I'm not disparaging the "commodity" product; lamb from high volume producers is one of the best quality and least processed red meats you can find.) The rack of lamb and loin chops are $15/pound, about what you'd pay elsewhere. Bone-in leg is $9, also competitively priced. Shoulder chops are $7.50-$8, vs. $7 at most other establishments. So the premium, where it exists at all, is negligible if the quality is as good as it looks to be.

When they start cooking next week, Border Springs will even offer breakfast dishes:
lamb hash with potatoes, onions, peppers and friend egg or lamb sausage with gravy and biscuits, $6.50. Lunch sandwiches will include gyro or sausage at $7.25-$7.50, or meatloaf, pulled shoulder, or smoked leg at $9.50, lamb burger for $11. Eat-in or take-out items will include pot pie or lamb rice and chick pea bowl at $11, lamb stew at $10, and kebabs in Korean marinade at $5 apiece or two for $9.

I plan to work my way through the menu with gusto.

Strawberries and Snap Peas

Lettuce deal at Iovine Brothers, Reading Terminal
For the past two Sundays there have been strawberries at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market, courtesy of South Jersey grower A.T. Buzby. They've been deep red, inside and out, with decent but not knock-your-socks-off flavor. I've had some leftover in the 'fridge for nearly a week, without too much deterioration.

The relative refrigerator longevity derives from the design of the berry, introduced about a dozen years ago in Florida for its commercial industry. It was created for its ability to withstand the rigors of long-distance shipping and still retain good color, shape and flavor.

In coming weeks we'll see plenty of other stawberries with deeper flavor, if sometimes less perfect shape and a more diminutive size. But as a harbinger of things to come, Buzby's product was much welcomed, and delicious atop fresh-baked Bisquik short cakes with fresh whipped cream.

Asparagus has come into its own, and what I've had has been good. Two weeks ago Tom Culton had both cultivated and wild asparagus. Tender spring greens are easy to find, too, including dandelion greens suitable for adding raw to salads or cooking.

Another welcome returnee at last Sunday's Headhouse market was a snow pea variety of sugar snap peas at Culton's stall. The regular sugar snaps should be appearing soon, too.

Farmers' markets don't have a monopoly on local produce. At the Reading Terminal Market Iovine Brothers Produce has been featuring local lettuces. Earlier this week there were gorgeous heads of Boston lettuce for 89 cents a pound. Today I spied baby romaine heads at 99 cents. Both come from Flaim Farm, a large grower in South Jersey. In addition, the Fair Food Farmstand at the RTM offers plenty of local produce, including those strawberries from A.T.Buzby.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Headhouse Opens, Shy Some Delayed Vendors

Opening day shoppers at Headhouse Square

Culton's black salsify
Five vendors didn't make the opening bell for the first 2013 session of the Headhouse Square Farmers Market, including Happy Cat Farm and Queens Farm.

The culprit was traffic. If the morning closure of the Broad Street exits of the Schuykill Expressway and I-95 because of the Broad Street run wasn't enough, a tractor-trailer crash on the northbound interstate made sure the five vendors -- and thousands of other travelers -- didn't reach their destinations on time. Shortly after the opening Katy Wich, manager of the market for the sponsoring Food Trust, said all were expected to show up, just later in the day.

There were some produce gems to be had from the growers who made it on time.

Tom Culton featured scorzonera, also known as black salsify, and some over-wintered parsnips with gorgeous celery-like tops, as well as some early aliums.

Blooming Glen's radishes
Blooming Glen Farm had a nice variety of greens, including Russian red kale and broccoli rabe, along with a huge mound of pristine French breakfast radishes.

Other produce vendors included A.T. Buzby, with plenty of Jersey asparagus as well as hothouse tomatoes; Three Springs Fruit Farm with plenty of storage apples; Weaver's Way; and Root Mass Farm.

Among other vendors at today's market were Frecon Farms, selling hard cider and apple vinegar; Porc Salt, with Matt Ridgway's charcuterie; Sue Miller's Birchrun Hills with her cheese, veal and pork; Griggstown Qual Farm; Hillacres Pride, cheese, poultry, eggs and beef; Otolith Sustainable Seafood; and Weaver's Way. Market Day Canele and Wildflour were the two bakers who showed up on time (Ric's was delayed by the traffic).

Headhouse wasn't the first of the seasonal markets to open in May. On Thursday the Fairmount Market, also sponsored by the Food Trust, opened for the season. New to that market this year is Queen's Farm, replacing Earl Livengood.

Border Springs Plans May Opening

Rendering of Border Springs Farm's new stall
Border Springs Farm hopes to open its Reading Terminal Market stall selling fresh lamb and prepared products before the end of May. Its website is still saying April.

It doesn't look like much is happening in the stall, across from Godshall's Poultry and Franks-a-Lot, other than the plastic sheeting covering the spot. But RTM General Manager Paul Steinke said that's because all the millwork is being built off-site for installation when completed.

Cheese at the Reading Terminal Market

Fair Food always has an enticing display of artisinal cheeses
With the opening earlier this year of Valley Shepherd Creamery it's easy to forget other vendors also offer fine examples of this basic foodstuff at the Reading Terminal Market.

Longtime vendors Ed Sciamanna of Salumeria and Jack Morgan of Downtown Cheese are the go-to stalls when your tastebuds crave a fine brie, traditional geitost, genuine Swiss emmentaler or many of the world's other great cheeses. Fair Food concentrates on cheeses made within a half-day's drive of Philadelphia which you would otherwise have to obtain by visiting the farm or seeking out at one of the city farmers' markets. (Before Valley Shepherd opened its RTM shop Fair Food frequently carried one or two of that North Jersey producers varieties.)

Sometimes, however, it's not the fancy, $26 a pound cheese you crave, but that flavored spread for crackers, or just some sliced domestic Swiss for your sandwich. If that's the case, head over to either Hatville Deli or Riehl Deli (L. Halteman Family), two Pennsylvania Dutch vendors. The pimento spread at Riehl's makes a fine, easy and cheap accompaniment to a bottle of beer while watching the game.

A more limited but specialized selection can be found at Wursthaus Schmitz, with a few German dairy products, like Quark.

Another spot for specialized ethnic cheeses is 12th Street Cantina, with a strong inventory of essential Mexican cheeses if you plan on making queso fundida or other South of the Border dinners.

And Hershel's East Side Deli will cut you a hunk of creamy cheese to bring home to accompany their smoked fish.

Doughnut Taste Test

There are two camps when it comes to doughnut-lovers: those who adore raised yeast doughnuts, and those who prefer cake doughnuts.

I'm among the latter, with a taste acquired in childhood through the local "donut man" who sold either plain or powdered doughnuts, fried in lard, out of a World War II Army surplus bus. You had to eat these fresh out of the fryer, otherwise they were leaden.

While the new Bieler's Doughnuts at the Reading Terminal Market can't compete with childhood memories, its cake doughnuts (at least the plain and powder sugared varieties) make a fine pairing with coffee. And unlike the doughnuts of my youth, Bieler's says properly packed its doughnuts will stay fresh considerably longer. I'll leave the analysis of the raised doughnuts to aficionados of the yeast version.

My only complaint is the same one I have for all of Bieler's baked goods, and it's the same one I hold for all Pennsylvania Dutch baked goods: they are simply too sweet for my taste. I also find the various flavorings altogether too commercial, i.e., artificial, even when they aren't. But lots of folks do enjoy the highly sweet Amish-style baked goods, and if you count yourself among this throng, you will enjoy Bieler's donuts.

Bieler's outdoes Dunkin' Donuts and Tim Horton's when it comes to sheer variety. For each style, cake or raised, there are a plethora of frostings, fillings and flavors. I did find the fruity-filling in one I tried early on excessively runny, but a foodie friend raved about the creme filling (note the spelling is creme, not cream). Alvin Bieler said he and son Kevin, who runs the stall, are making about 40 varieties.

When they first opened more than two weeks ago, Bielers did have some issues with their fryer's temperature control. The first batch I sampled were way too greasy. Since then they've got the fryer temperature under control, and the result is a doughnut you can enjoy, if not guilt-free, at least dripping grease-free.

Monday, April 22, 2013

More Days for Beignets At Reading Terminal

Bill Beck has doubled the availability of beignets at Beck's Cajun Café at the Reading Terminal Market. They're now available (while they last) on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

Until about a month ago they could only be had on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The beignets are cooked to order and served very hot, topped with confectioners sugar. If you're ordering them to take to seating elsewhere in the market, don't let Beck's counter server put a lid on top; they're so hot the escaping steam will transform these delights into a heavy, soggy mess. Besides, these are best consumed hot out of the fryer, with a cup of coffee.

They are best ordered as early as possible in the morning. Beck's Reading Terminal Market outpost has only one deep fryer, and by lunchtime it's being used for fried seafood.

Bieler's Doughnut Stall Opens

Bieler's Doughnuts & Salads opened Friday in the spot formerly known as AJ's Pickle Patch at the Reading Terminal Market. Proprietor Alvin Bieler, who also owns the eponymous bakery across the market's "11th Avenue" aisle, kept all of his AJ's products except packaged goods, so you can still get barrel pickles, sauerkraut and salads.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bargain Ramps = Pesto

My visit to the Philly Farm and Food Fest Sunday resulted not only in renewing acquaintances with farmers and fellow foodies not seen since the seasonal farmers' markets closed last fall, but a big score in ramps.

Wild foods gatherer David Siller posted himself and his collection of ramps, fiddleheads and other early spring edibles with Cobblestone Krautery at the Convention Center conclave of hungry people. I couldn't resist leaving without buying two pounds of ramps at the bargain price of $14/pound. Considering that a single bunch weighing maybe two ounce goes for $3.99 at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market, that was a savings of about 60 percent! I also picked up a considerably lesser quantity of fiddleheads.

Of course, David's ramps had a fair amount of soil still clinging to them, but it still took me only about 10 minutes to separate the roots from the bulbs and the bulbs from the leaves, then another 10 minutes to go through the leaves to discard about 20 percent because they were a bit too fibrous and rinse off the bulbs.

The bulbs are now sitting in a glass jar in the fridge in my slightly sweet pickling liquid -- they should be ready to accompany some grilled meat or fish by next weekend, and they'll last at least a month.

The leaves required a bit further cleaning to dislodge larger particles of dirt. I set aside about a dozen leaves which will go into pilaf tonight. But yesterday, after a triple wash through my salad spinner, I concocted some ramp pesto.

A perusal of recipes on the web found a number of recommendations to blanch the leaves first to inhibit browning. After shocking the blanched ramp leaves in a bowl of iced water, I laid them in a kitchen towel, pressed as much excess water out as I could, then repeated in paper toweling. Once dry, I roughly chopped them.

After pulsing about a cup and a half of grated parmesan and about a cup of chopped walnuts with a little table salt and a teaspoon or so of dried oregano in the food processor, I added the leaves and pulsed a bit more. Then I drizzled in extra virgin olive oil until I reached my desired consistency, stopping the process once to scrape down the sides of the bowl. I didn't measure but I'd guess the pesto took about a cup of oil. (I would have used less oil if I wanted a spread rather than a pasta sauce.)

I served some over penne rigate last night and froze the rest for future use.

The resulting pesto was quite herbal rather than oniony. Had I included half a dozen or so chopped ramp bulbs it would have had more kick. But it was delicious as prepared.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Bieler's: 40 Varieties of Doughnuts

Doughnut shop under construction
Alvin Bieler says he'll be offering 40 varieties of doughnuts when AJ's Pickle Patch reopens -- perhaps as early as next weekend -- As Bieler's Doughnuts.

By yesterday some of the equipment had been rolled in, but there are still cases to install and plenty of finishing work to accomplish.

Bieler said the variety will be achieved through a variety of toppings and fillings.

He also said he's learned some of the finer points of doughnut making recently from a master of the trade, and says his product won't quickly go stale when it's stored properly in a sealed container.

As previously reported, the stall will continue to sell prepared salads and pickles when it reopens under the new name.

Scrapple Scion Dies

Although gone for 30 years from the Reading Terminal Market, Joseph W. Srode Jr. was remembered as the owner of one of the market's original stalls. Strode, who died April 8 at age 83, was the third generation partner in Strode's Sausage & Scrapple, the West Chester family business that started in 1875

When the Strodes first started selling their products at the Reading Terminal in 1893, they were one of the few suppliers of pork products in the Philadelphia region and as a result had one of the earliest USDA inspection numbers — 71. Much of the popularity of scrapple in the Philadelphia region beyond the Pennsylvania German community can be attributed to the Strodes. They sold the West Chester business to the Daniel Weaver Company of Lebanon, which in turn was acquired by Godshall Quality Meats of Telford. (Not the same Godshall's at the RTM poultry vendor.)

Monday, April 08, 2013

Another Sign of Spring at Reading Terminal

About five thin stalks of ramps will set you back $3.99. This sure sign of spring was prominently displayed in front of the checkout lines at Iovine Brothers Produce, Reading Terminal Market.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Donut Debut at Reading Terminal

The Reading Terminal Market has needed a full-time donut stand for years, as I've regularly reminded market management at every opportunity since before starting writing this blog. The only time fresh donuts have been available has been during the Pennsylvania Dutch festival and other special events.

In few weeks I'll be getting my donuts. The Bieler family, which operates both Bieler's Bakery and AJ Pickle Patch, is reconfiguring the latter to add the fried treats. To make room, Alvin Bieler will be dropping the packaged, jarred and canned items now sold at AJ. The salads and barrel pickles will remain, and the stall will be renamed Bieler's Donuts and Salads.

Saturday was the last day for AJ. In coming week's the Bieler's will be reconfiguring the space and installing donut-making equipment and display cases.

To clear out the stock, on Saturday AJ was selling the canned and jarred items at $2 apiece: a nice savings considering they retail for $4-$6. I picked up some some pickled vegetables, tomato jam, grape jelly and red currant jelly.

I wouldn''t expect the Bielers to emulate Federal Donuts' exotic flavors. Plain and sugared, perhaps glazed or frosted, with cider donuts in season. Maybe some jelly or creme filled donuts, too. But if you want chicken, you'll have to settle for the rotisserie birds up the aisle at Dienner's -- or visit one of Federal's two shops.

Although Bieler's will no longer sell the canned and jarred items, a similar stock is carried by Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce. Another seller of similar goods (though tending to be international in origin rather than Lancaster Countian) at the market is Jonathan Best.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Otolith's Great (Frozen) Fish

It's not from the Gorton's fisherman, thank heavens. The frozen fish sold at some Philadelphia farmers' markets by Otolith Sustainable Seafood is among the finest fish -- fresh, frozen, dried, cured, whatever -- I've tasted.

This past Saturday I quick thawed (according to package instructions) a filet of King (a.k.a. Chinook) salmon purchased in early November from Otolith's stall at the Headhouse Square Farmers' Market. I cooked it about as simply as you can: hot cast iron pan, maybe a tablespoon or two of neutral vegetable oil (expensive olive oil would be wasted in this application), just salt and pepper as seasoning. The filet (which I cut into two six ounce portions) was a tad over an inch thick, so over the medium high flame with a hot pan it just took a little over 10 minutes to cook. I served it alongside a rice pilaf studded with raisins, pine nuts, gently sautéd onions and par-cooked diced carrot, seasoned with half a teaspoon each fresh ground cumin and cardamom seeds and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon, plus salt and pepper.

The fish turned out succulent, beautifully colored with a deep salmon flavor. The leftover oil in the pan smelled fishy, but the fish didn't. She Who Must Be Obeyed, who detests "fishy" fish, devoured her portion. The crispy skin was a real treat: you could package this stuff and sell it next to the pork rinds at Wawa. If tuna is chicken of the sea, a good salmon is heritage pork.

Although some of the credit goes to the variety of salmon (Chinook is my favorite, closely followed by sockeye) the real reason for its deliciousness goes to the way it was caught, handled, frozen, shipped and stored.

Based on what I could divine from Otolith's website, it appears this fish was caught out of Sitka in Southeast Alaska in September. My guess is the fish was caught by trolling, in which the salmon are hooked and handled individually, rather than gathered with a seine or gillnet. The fish are headed and gutted onboard, iced, then brought ashore where they are quick frozen.

The care in handling is why frozen fish frequently can be better than fresh. That was certainly the case with the Chinook I ate this weekend: it was as good as any salmon I've ever had, including some meals in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest!

This is not a fish for the parsimonious. If I recall correctly, the filets are $23/pound. Still, that's a competitive price: it's what you'd pay for fresh Pacific Northwest Chinook at any qualify fishmonger in season.

In addition to Chinook, Otolith sells Sockeye, Coho and Pink salmon, halibut, rockfish, Pacific cod, sable (a.k.a. black cod), shrimp and King crab, all from Alaskan waters.

Otolith sells most Saturdays throughout the year at the Rittenhouse Square Farmers' Market.. I expect they'll be at Headhouse when it reopens the first Sunday in May. A few retailers also carry Otolith frozen seafoods, including Green Aisle Grocery in South Philly, and, in West Philly, Milk and Honey Market and Mariposa Coop.

Friday, March 15, 2013

High on Kwak

Doesn't the rabbit on this point-of-sale display look like a low-life drug pusher?

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Of Donuts, Hoagies and Cold Cuts

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, before Starbucks and before Dunkin' Donuts, you could get a cup of coffee at the Horn & Hardart automats in Philadelphia and New York City. The last automat closed more than 20 years ago, and the once common high-tech eatery (for the times) has since been the subject of at least one museum show.

But you can still get the coffee.

The Pennsylvania General Store now stocks the H&H beans on its Reading Terminal Market shelves. Last time I checked they only offered the whole bean variety. H&H's sole blend, Liberty, is also packaged in a ground version.

More Time for Hoagies

Even though there are plenty of good hoagies in this town, one of my favorites remains those made by Salumeria, the cheese monger/Italian grocer at the RTM. Especially when I augment their house dressing with marinated artichokes on my prosciuitto or Italian hoagie.

Now, I can get them beyond lunch time. Earlier this year Salumeria extended its hours for hoagie-making until 5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 5 p.m. Sunday. Now, if only they would start making them before 11 a.m., I could eat one for breakfast.

Emulsified Meats. Yum!

In addition to sausages the new Wursthaus Schmitz has a nice selection of German style cold cuts. Most come from from Rieker's, the wurstgeschaft in the Far Northeast. I'm a sucker for the olive bologna or veal loaf. Also nice is the suelze, select bits of tongue and other "lesser" cuts suspended in aspic with piquant pickled carrots. If you'd like a purer rendition of tongue, walk over to L. Halteman; although there's still a little gelatine to hold it together, it's more tongue-meaty.

OK Produce To Expand at Reading Terminal

Nanee's Kitchen in its new space, formerly Coastal Cave
Greengrocer OK Produce (formerly known as O.K. Lee) will expand into the space recently made available when Nanee's Kitchen moved within the Reading Terminal Market.

Although it will remain smaller than the market's behemoth produce vendor, Iovine Brothers,  the additional square footage will make OK's operation more efficient, as well as creating additional selling space

The agreement for OK to take over Nanee's old spot fills in the last remaining leaseable space at the market, according to Paul Steinke, the RTM's general manager. "It's a nice position to be in," he acknowledged.

More space could open up, however, if Downtown Cheese succeeds in lining up financing for a move it's been considering to the market's Piano Court, opposite Metropolitan Bakery and Golden Fish Market. Under that plan, Downtown Cheese would take over most, but not all, of the Piano Court seating area.

Of course, if Downtown Cheese stays put, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that Steinke would turn some of the Piano Court into vendor space.

Border Springs Farm has won the market's approval for the design of its stall, to be located in the former Basic 4 space across from Godshall's and Franks-A-Lot. Owner Craig Rogers, who still has to obtain various city approvals, hopes to be open in six to eight weeks. Too bad the lamb purveyor won't be open in time for Easter.

Winter Doldrums

Besides my own personal inertia, one reason this blog hasn't been updated regularly has been the lack of excitement in what's available at the produce markets. It is, after all, late winter, with no local produce (except for what's coming out of hydroponic growers), and the opening of farmers' markets is about two months away.

Even the citrus fruit offerings haven't been inspiring.

And while I like greens, there's a limit to how much kale I want to eat. (Has anyone else notice what a "hot" food item kale as become this year?)

Still there is some interesting produce out there, so long as you're willing to open up your wallet and let the food miles pile up, especially for items coming in from Mexico and South America.

Iovine's Produce, for example, had some asparagus today. And the bagged red and green seedless grapes are nice and reasonably priced at $2.99 for a two-pound bag. Fresh chickpeas (garbanzos) in the shell remain on Iovine's shelves for $3.99/pound. Alas, frying peppers, which for the last three weeks have been priced at a bargain 79 cents a pound, have nearly doubled to $1.49. Green bell peppers, though, were 99 cents today.

Any decent sized orange will set you back 50 cents, though smaller ones can be had at three for a buck. Florida juicers are 4/$1. A dollar's worth of lemons (3) can probably be squeezed enough to generate enough juice for a lemon meringue pie (it did for me a few weeks ago).

I'm not a big egg eater, but the difference between what supermarkets sell and what's available at the Fair Food Farmstand is amazing. Fair Food's are considerably fresher, with deep orange yolks that hold their shape. Yes, they are pricier -- even Fair Food's non-organic eggs are $3.50/dozen -- but when you've got eggs this fresh and good available it's worth the premium. They made a rich lemon curd and pristine meringue for that pie.

Though still a bit dear, the price of broccoli rabe has eased a tad, much to the relief of Joey Nicolosi of Tommy DiNic's. Joey experimented with other greens, and especially liked the way Swiss chard worked with the sandwiches, but he's sticking with rabe and spinach as the offered greens.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Rick Steaks Tries Again

Rick Olivieri is trying a third new location for his Rick's Steaks business after flailing at two others following eviction from the Reading Terminal Market,

A Chester County newspaper reports that In April Olivieri is due to open at a new market/food court in suburban Kennett Square close to the mushroom farms that some non-purists like to put atop their cheesesteaks.

Initially Rick landed at the food court at the Bellevue. When that didn't work out he moved to Liberty Place. That, too, came to an end.

Will the third attempt at reestablishing his brand work?

Here's the story from the Daily Local News.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Lamb Man at Reading Terminal Market

Craig Rogers, Shepherd
Craig Rogers, whose business card identifies him as "Shepherd", is rarin' to go with his forthcoming Reading Terminal Market stall. Last Saturday he was behind the counter with future staffers for his Border Springs Farm retail outlet.

The necessities of dealing with designers and architects as well as city building and health officialdom means it will be a while before the first little lamb part is exchanged for cash at the stall, located where the Basic Four vegetarian lunch vendor had held court.

Rogers raises two types of sheep: Katahdin and Texel. Katahdin is a "hair" sheep which sheds its wool, which makes the breed ideal for warmer climates. Texel is a breed which produces excellent wool. Both, however, offer good, lean meat yields.

Border Springs' RTM outpost will sell lamb for cooking at home as well as prepared lamb dishes, including sausages. Lamb bacon will also be available, Rogers said.

The stall is being designed by the same firm responsible for Zahav restaurant, where owner/chef Michael Solomonov's lamb shoulder banquet is likely to have its centerpiece originate at Border Springs' pastures.

Spanish Mackerel Returns

"A fish of high quality."

That's how Alan Davidson describes the Spanish mackerel in his indispensible North Atlantic Seafood. A larger cousin to the Atlantic or Boston Mackerel, both offer a meaty, clean-tasting sign that spring cannot be far off.

But what to make of the price?

Last Saturday at the Reading Terminal Market the price was $1.99 a pound at John Yi. Today's price at Whole Foods (Callowhill and 20th) was $4.99. I could see no difference, visually, in the quality of the fish. And I'll be willing to wager that John Yi has a higher turnover of the variety than Whole Foods, so the former's is bound to be fresher.

Because of its size, the whole fish is better baked than sautéed, though I've done the latter with fillets.

Another piscatorial sign that spring is nigh at John Yi's: roe and buck shad. Undoubtedly from Florida. The local Delaware River run is usually in May.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Waiting for Breakfast

I'm not an egg person for breakfast. But I love grilled cheese and I love sausage. Which means I can't wait until two of the newest lunch stands at the Reading Terminal Market start offering food for the barely-awake set.

Valley Shepherd Creamery hopes to open their panini machines for breakfast sometime in the near future, but not quite yet. Right now you can't get a grilled cheese until 11 a.m.

Same goes for Wursthaus Schmitz. I'm told their sausage sandwiches are quite tasty, but I haven't been by at lunchtime yet. Still, I think bratwurst on a roll is a great wake-me-upper.

A third new lunch vendor, Keven Parker's Soul Food Café, has a waffle maker, but that's for chicken and waffles at lunch.

Speaking of breakfast, I regularly buy whole bean mocha java from Old City Coffee and enjoy it most mornings at home. But as much as I enjoy it, and the coffee Old City brews on premises, my fav coffee for sipping on site at the RTM is the java from Flying Monkey Bakery. IIRC, it comes from Vermont Artisan Coffee. Hardly local. But then again, when's the last time you saw a coffee plantation in southeastern Pennsylvania or South Jersey?

Eating Place Owner in Coma

Samuel “Junior” Esh, longtime owner-operator of Dutch Eating Place and Lancaster County Dairy, was seriously hurt in a fall last Sunday while playing football with his church youth group, Reading Terminal Market General Manager Paul Steinke reported earlier this week.

Esh hit his head hard on a concrete floor and is hospitalized with a serious head injury at Lancaster General Hospital. Doctors performed surgery on Monday afternoon to relieve swelling in his brain.

"Reports are that it went well.  We are told that he will remain in an induced coma for the next 8 days to give his brain time to heal," wrote Steinke.

You can view a You Tube video of Junior preparing home fries here.

Broccoli Rabe Crisis - Part 2

Broccoli rabe can be had, but it's expensive. The wholesale price has nearly doubled, ranging from $50 to nearly $70 for a 20-pound case; it's usually about $32-35, reports Jimmy Iovine of Iovine Brothers Produce in the Reading Terminal Market. He isn't carrying it at all right now, because the wholesale price translates to a retail price of $3.99-$4.99 a bunch. It usually retails for $1.99-$2.99.

Joe Nicolosi of Dinic's at said he couldn't obtain rabe at all for a day or two, and now he's paying upwards of $65 a case. Joe tried red Swiss chard as a substitute, which he said worked well, though it's more sweet than the slightly bitter rabe. But since spinach is also dear these days, along with other vegetable crops from Southern California's Imperial Valley and Arizona growing areas, the chard may have to do. Although he hasn't tried it yet, Joe is thinking about cooking chopped Brussels sprouts with pancetta as another roast pork topping alternative.

Italian To Mexican

For a few decades now, some of South Philadelphia's Italian neighborhoods have been recolonized by other ethnic groups. Mexicans have staked their claim to a number of areas, as a visit to the blocks of Ninth Street south of Washington will attest.

Over at 8th and Watkins, a long-time Italian bakery is trying to span both worlds.

Las Rosas bills itself as both Mexican and Italian. I tried a sesame-seeded Italian bread (long style) and enjoyed it. The Las Rosas loaf is on the light side, more like Sarcone's than Frangelli's, with a nicely crackly crust. I also sampled one of the Mexican pastries and savored that as well: a small sweet pastry filled with guava paste.

Most recently the shop was DiGiampietro Bakery, a short-lived try by Danny DiGiampietro in the business. Danny, who still owns the building, went back to his day job of jobbing Sarcone's breads to sandwich shops like DiNic's. His bakery, in addition to making very fine hoagie and steak rolls, did a very nice pizza, too. Before Danny took over, it had been an Italian bakery under different ownership for decades.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Broccoli Rabe Crisis!

Greens in better days at Dinics

That's how the U.S. Department or Agriculture describes the drought-ravaged market for broccoli and broccoli rabe in the winter growing areas of Southern California and Arizona. The bitter green adorns many Italian-style roast pork sandwiches in Philadelphia.

It's hardly available at any price, and is likely to stay that way for four or five weeks, Iovine Brothers Produce was told by its primary supplier.

And that puts purveyors of the sandwich like Joe Nicolosi who operates Tommy Dinics at the Reading Terminal Market with his father in a quandry. Should he use another green, like Swiss chard? Or perhaps Chinese greens? Or maybe just forget about it until supplies in reasonable quantities resume.

With crowds expected to swamp Dinics beginning next weekend with the opening of the Philadelphia Auto Show across the street at the Convention Center, Dinics doesn't want to disappoint its cutomers. But there may be no choice.

Creamery, Soul Fooder To Open This Coming Week

Staff at Valley Shepherd Creamery fits in some training Saturday before stall's opening

Eran Wajswol and Jamie Png
KeVen Parker's Soul Food Café will be serving up food starting Monday in the former Delilah's space at the Reading Terminal Market. Two days later Valley Shepherd Creamery plans to begin selling cheese, cheese sandwiches and accompaniments.

Parker, proprietor of Miss Tootsie's on South Street (he can't use that name at the RTM because Marion Iovine D'Ambrosio already has a claim on Tootsie's for her salad bar), built the stall in record time. There's still more work to be done, but he told RTM General Manager Paul Steinke he'd be open Monday. That should give him enough time to work out at least some of the kinks before the auto show crowds descend next weekend.

Both Parker and Valley Shepherd owner Eran Wajswol received their certifications this past week from the city health department.

Valley Shepherd won't begin cheese-making operations at the stall for another week or so, according to Wajswol's on-site cheese-maker, Jamie Png. But the full range of cheeses made at the creamery in Long Valley, N.J., will be available, along with paninis. Helter Skelter, a raclette-like cheese seen at the bottom right of the photo of Wajswol and Png, will serve as the base for three of the sandwiches.