Saturday, October 11, 2014

All Lamb, All The Time

New sign boasts Border Springs in nation's only all-lamb butcher
No more lamb tacos for lunch or lamb hash for breakfast at the Reading Terminal Market.

Border Springs Farm has eliminated sandwiches and platters to eat within the market from its offerings. That makes it, in the nomenclature of the market's lease structure, a "purveyor" rather than a "blended purveyor/food court" merchant.

Owner Craig Rogers may be able to convert the change into a little break on his rent when his lease comes up for renewal, since the market gives a discount to "purveyors" when compared to its "food basket", "mercantile" or "food court" businesses, each with its own rent structure.

A few customers complained when they couldn't get their fix of lamb taco, according to Nick Macri, the former Southwark chef who manages the RTM operation. On Twitter, @foobooz remarked: " was a good spot for an excellent sandwich without the wait." Sure, but maybe that's why they don't offer sandwiches anymore. Not enough people bought them.

Since the overwhelming majority of customers come for the butcher operation, Macri isn't concerned. And he's happy to offer a broader line of prepared foods to take home as well as fresh lamb.

Lamb hash off the menu at Border Springs
What the change does accomplish is open up space for more room to create prepared foods, like the new lines of meatballs, vacuum packs of formed and sliced gyro meat, and lamb liver terrine in Border Spring's refrigerated display cases.

Selling uncooked meat has always been the biggest part of Border Springs' business since it opened at the market in May 2013. Rogers, whose lamb farm is located in southwestern Virginia near the Blue Ridge Mountains, had already established a wholesale business in Philadelphia, hauling his lamb north to local restaurants, including Zahav. By opening the stall at the market Rogers not only created a base of operations for his wholesale business, but an outlet for lesser cuts —like necks and breasts — that he couldn't otherwise sell.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

'Great' Designation for RTM

Of the 30 "Great Places in America" for 2014 selected by the American Planners Association (APA), only one has a roof over it: Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market.

Except for the RTM, all the other "places" are public parks, streets, neighborhoods, scenic vistas and other outdoor entities.

Even the incoming president of the planner's group was unaware of the RTM's uniqueness as the only interior space among this year's "great places".

At this morning's celebratory news conference at the market's center court, Carol Rhea, president-elect of the APA, had to check with a staff aide when I asked her to confirm the RTM was the only interior space on this year's list.

Rhea praised the "authenticity" of the market. "You won't see a Spataro's at the airport," she told me after the event.

Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Alan Greenberger and Brent Cossrow, vice chair of the Reading Terminal Market Corporation also spoke at the ceremony led by Paul Steinke, market general manager.

The APA designated 10 public spaces, 10 streets and 10 neighborhoods for its 2014 awards. Sharing the public space honors with the Reading Terminal are: Bayliss Park In Council Bluffs, Iowa; Cliff Walk In Newport, Rhode Island; Delaware Park In Buffalo, New York; Great Plains Trails Network In Lincoln, Nebraska; Lake Mirror Park In Lakeland, Florida; Lithia Park In Ashland, Oregon; Point State Park In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Rainier Vista In Seattle, Washington; and The Lawn At The University Of Virginia In Charlottesville, Virginia.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Not Quite Goodbye

I've got a new gig as lead writer of the Jewish Exponent's new food blog and occasional contributor to the Philadelphia weekly newspaper's print and digital editions.

That means my postings here on Robert's Market Report will be less frequent than in the past, which for this blog dates back to June 2006.

Although my posts here at Robert's Market Report will be considerably less frequent, I'll do my best to keep you informed on major doings at local farmers' markets and the Reading Terminal Market through my Twitter feed: @robertsmarket.

When the subject demands more than Twitter's 140-character limit, I'll Tweet a link to a longer post here.

In the meantime, take a look my first effort for the Jewish Exponent. Although it's scheduled for publication in next week's print edition, it's available on-line now: a preview of Michael Solomonov's latest restaurant, Abe Fisher:

Corned Pork Belly at a Jewish Restaurant?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thin Crowds for Peak Produce

Beets from North Star
When is the summer produce peak? Right now. Mid-August is when tomatos and corn are at their best, peaches are bountiful and beautiful, summer squash vines droop under the weight of fruit, and farmers harvest peppers by the truckload. Plus, we've still got some blueberries, blackberries are in full flavor, and late summer apples are ready for picking.

The irony is that on a mid-August Sunday, fewer people are in town to take advantage of the bonanza at farmers market like the one today at Headhouse Square. Certainly the market wasn't empty, but the crowds are thinner than in June or even early July. Everyone's at the shore or the Poconos or standing on line waiting to get into the Louvre.

But that's okay. That means there's more for you and me to gather on our weekly trip to the farmers' market.

Making its seasonal debut today at Headhouse was North Star Orchards, which specializes in apples and pears, but had plenty of vegetables, too, including gargantuan red and orange beets. Plus three varieties of apples.

Here are some more photos of finds at today's Headhouse Farmers' Market:

Ripe bell peppers from A.T. Buzby
Also from Buzby, Sicilia and common eggplants
Melon man from Tom Culton
Cherry tomatoes from Savoie Farm
Tomatillos from Blooming Glen Farm

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Bounty

If tomatoes are abundant, it must be summer. Here's a basket of beauties from Blooming Glen at Sunday's Headhouse Square Farmers' Market.

Saturn Peaches

 Saturn peaches, a.k.a. donut peaches, area in season along with the standard varieties. These were being sold Sunday for $5/quart by Three Springs Fruit Farm at the Headhouse Farmers' Market.

Peppers Galore

Sweet frying peppers from Blooming Glen
Jalapenos from Blooming Glen
Peppers in all their tasty and colorful variety are flooding farmers markets. Whether sweet bells or frying, long hots, cubanelles, poblanos or jalapenos, there's a lot of ways to use them in the kitchen.
Sweet frying peppers from Savoie Farms
Poblanos are the go-to pepper for chile relleños, even if you bake the cheese-stuffed peppers rather than batter and deep-fry, a messy (though worthwhile) proposition.

For scallop or any other ceviche, dice a jalapeño or two as a garnish. I served it yesterday accopanied by slices of avocado and dusted with cilantro.

Sweet bell peppers of any color take well to roasting or grilling. And they're great in gazpacho.

Got a steak on the grill? Fry up some sweet frying peppers with garlic and/or onion to go on top.
Bell Peppers from Tom Culton

More Than Cupcakes at Flying Monkey

When Elizabeth Halen took over Flying Monkey Bakery at the Reading Terminal Market nearly four years ago, the stall was most known for its cupcakes.

Cupcakes remain a fad, if a bit fading, and Flying Monkey still sells a bunch of them. But the Center Court patisserie offers a whole lot more.

In addition to whoopie pies in various flavors, bar cookies and brownies, I'm an easy mark for the crumb cakes Elizabeth makes, particularly the fruit-accented versions, like the blackberry one pictured here. With its sour cream tang, this cake is an "adult" dessert.

Much more sweet and decadent, though, is Elizabeth's riff on the classic German buttercake, a.k.a. butterkuchen. Though there's certainly plenty of sugar it's considerably less off-putting than the St. Louis version, which is lovingly referred to by denizens of that city as "gooey" buttercake. The Philadelphia version, and Elizabeth's, is another "adiult" dessert.

Friday, July 11, 2014

פאַרמערס מאַרק אין ראָדעף שלום

Congregation Rodeph Shalom
Those are Hebrew characters in the title, but the language is Yiddish. Translation: Farmers' Market at Rodeph Shalom.

The Food Trust's newest farmers' market will have its official opening this Sunday. (Last Sunday was the "soft" opening.) The market at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, on the east side of North Broad between Green and Mount Vernon, will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Rodeph Shalom is the oldest Ashkenazic Jewish congregation in the western hemisphere, but the opening day ceremonies will be decidedly ecumenical. Among the participants will be the pastor and choir of Mother Zoar United Methodist Church, which traces its history to 1794, a year before Rodeph Shalom's founding. The two congregations are located within three blocks of each other.

Though not as large at The Food Trust's Sunday Headhouse Market, the Rodeph Shalom market will offer prototypical noshes for a Sunday brunch: smoked fish and bagels. In addition to the Smear It food truck (bagels, cream cheese and other spreads), the market will feature as one of its vendors Neopol Savory Smokery, a Baltimore-based maker of hot smoked salmon, gravlax, and other smoked fishes. Other vendors are scheduled to include Drum's Produce (vegetables) from Bloomsburg and Frecon Farms (cider, fruit) from Boyertown.

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Peaches, Apricots Bloom at Fairmount Market

Beechwood's apricots
Sour cherries from Beechwood
Beechwood Orchards brought a truckload of the season's first peaches to the farmers' market at Fairmount and 22nd Street this afternoon. Most were yellows of the "Sentry" variety, but they also had a crate of "Red May" peaches.

Another first-of-the-season stone fruit making its debut at Beechwood's stall: apricots. In addition to lettuces and a few other veggies, Beechwood also featured sweet red cherries ($8.50/quart, $4.75/pint), white cherries ($5/pint), sour cherries ($7/pint), black and red raspberries ($4.50/half-pint), and blueberrries ($2.50/half-pint, $4.75/pint). Peaches were $2.50/pound, apricots $4.50/pint. They also had some early variety plums at $4.50/pint.

As I've noted repeatedly over the last few weeks, the best buys in local produce can be found at L. Halteman Country Foods at the Reading Terminal Market, where today's fruit offerings included blueberries ($4.19/pint, $5.49/quart), black raspberries ($3.99/half-pint), and sweet red cherries ($3.99/pint, $5.19/quart). If you need larger quanities for pies, ice creams, etc., Halteman's is where to shop.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Gooseberries and Currants

Two related fruits -- gooseberries and currants -- made their seasonal debuts at the Headhouse Farmers' Market today.

They represent the two main edible fruits within the genus ribes. (The dried currants you buy in a box for adding to baked goods isn't a currant at all: it's a species of grape.) Three Springs Fruit Farm offered gooseberries in two colors (top photo) and currants in three (photo at right) at today's market.

Gooseberries, particularly early season specimens, are best in jams, preserves and baked applications, becoming sweeter later in the season when they're more suitable for fresh eating. The red, pink and black currants can be used interchangeably in jams, preserves and baking, though the pink variety would be less attractive, to my thinking. The currants, in particular, are astringent so except when used to accompany savory dishes, they usually require sugar. In coming weeks we may see some jostaberries from Beechwood Orchards. They are a cross of currants with both American and European varieties of gooseberry.

Since I'm a sucker for most things Scandinavian, thanks to the Nordic heritage of She Who Must Be Obeyed, I may pick up some of the black currants next weekend to make Rødgrød, a pudding serverd with cream. The Danish classic requires cooking in some water, straining to remove the seeds, then bringing the juice and sugar to a boil, turning down the heat to a simmer to add either cornstarch or potato starch until it becomes a nice syrup. After chilling in individual serving bowls they are to be served with heavy cream, plain or whipped.

Summer Profusion Commences

Melons, peaches, eggplan, tomatoes and corn are about the only summer produce not available in profusion at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market toda.  A.T. Buzby did have an early crop of corn available for the second week in a row. A number of farmers have started to sell tomatos, but only in limited quantity; Queens Farm's have been tasty.

Buzby's colored carrots were enticing (top) as well as the overflowing baskets of summer squashes paired with summer red new potatoes (left) at Blooming Glen's welcoming stall.

Blooming Glen also featured kirby cucumbers (below), ideal for pickling but perfectly fine used in salads or just about any cucumber application you can imagine.

Cherries Jubilee, For Now

Sour cherries from Three Springs Fruit Farm at Headhouse Square Farmers' Market

Sweet cherries from Three Springs
Ben Wenk, orchardist extraordinaire at Three Springs Fruit Farm in Adams County, warned it may only last a week, but the sour cherry season was in full glory at today's Headhouse Square Farmers' Market.

Wenk was selling gorgeous quarts of the tart baking cherries for $5, which is as inexpensive as I've seen them in a couple of years, at least. A few stalls down in the Shambles Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards, also an Adams County fruit belt orchardist, had them for $7. Based on what both growers told me earlier this month, I was expecting a very short supply of sour cherries, and higher prices, perhaps as much as $10/quart.

Red sweet cherries were also available from both growers, $4.75/pint at Beechwood, $6 at Three Springs. White (yellow) cherries sold for $5/pint at Beechwood, $6 at Three Springs.

Both growers were selling red raspberries for $4.50-$5 a half pint. Across the Shambles, Tom Culton had the studier black raspberry for $7/pint.

I came home with four quarts of sour cherries, two pints of red sweet cherries, one pint of Rainiers (white/yellows), one-half pint of red raspberries and two pints of black raspberries. Plus more tomatoes from Queens Farm and shelled English peas from Culton.

I'm going to be busy the rest of the afternoon:
  • The peas will once again become a cold salad with ranch dressing, the tomatoes will go on sandwiches and in salads.
  • The red raspberries will be eaten macerated atop ice cream or perhaps mixed into yogurt.
  • The black raspberries will be macerated with sugar, then pressed through a tamis and join up with heavy cream, a couple tablespoons of vodka and a bit of Karo in my ice cream machine. Once done I'll swirl in mini chocolate chips before "ripening" the ice cream in the freezer.
  • Half the sour cherries will become sorbet, the other half a cobbler

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cherries a tad less dear

Fruit at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, Reading Terminal Market
Cherries remain dear, but at least the price is heading down. Last week Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce at the Reading Terminal market asked $9.99 for a pound of sweet cherries; today it's two bucks cheaper. A pound of cherries will fill up about a one and one-third pints. Ben Kauffman also had some early sour cherries at $8.99/pound and blues at $4.95/pint.

Over at the Fair Food Farmstand there was a sign proclaiming sour cherries for $7.49/quart, but all had been swooped up by 9:30 a.m. Fair Food's sweet cherries were $5.49/pint. So its prices, when converted to pounds, were in line with Kauffman's.

As I said in a previous post, and many others, the best deals on local fruits can frequently be found at L. Halteman Country Foods. Today's prices: strawberries $4.99 quart or $3.19/pint, vs. $5.95/pint at Kauffmans.

Black raspberries are making their debut this week, $4.19 for half a pint at Halteman's, $4.95 at Kauffman's.

The downward trend in lime prices continued today. They're now 6 /$1 at Iovine Brothers Produce, which also had avocados at a buck apiece, but don't wait to use them: the avocados are on the edge ove over-ripe. Perfect for guac.

Taste of Norway appeared to be doing good business in center court with its smoked salmon sale (two eight-ounce packs for $10). Half of the proceeds will go to the market's pilot program in nutrition education for children.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Salmon Deal Supports Nutrition Education

Pssst. Wanna buy some good but inexpensive smoked salmon? From Norway? And do you want to help kids learn about good nutrition, too?

If so, stop by the Reading Terminal Market's center court Saturday, where Taste of Norway will be donating half of the proceeds of the day's sales to the market's pilot program to teach kids about good eating. The program is funded with two grants, $30,000 from the Aetna Foundation and $15,000 from the Leo and Peggy Pierce Family Foundation.

First the details on the salmon deal.

Taste of Norway will be selling half-pound packs of smoked Norwegian salmon for $8 or, better yet, two for $10. The product sells online for $20 a half-pound, though you can buy cheaper Chilean farm-raised smoked salmon for about $23/pound. Still, at $10 for a full pound it's a true bargain (besides, the Norwegian farm-raised salmon is a better product, both in terms of environmental aquaculture and flavor).

Taste of Norway is a Philadelphia-based importer organized by Erik Torp, Norway's honorary consul here. Much of the Norwegian smoked salmon you'll find in supermarkets is farmed in Norway, but smoked, processed and sliced in Poland; Taste of Norway's product is completely raised and processed in Norway. The company's first foray into the market was the operation of a day stall in late 2012.

The market's pilot program will begin next month with 80 youngsters aged 9 to 12 from the city's recreation programs participating in five classes to learn about nutrition. They'll be taught by Angela Scipio, an experienced nutrition teacher in the Philadelphia school district who will be using a state certified curricula. If the summer program is successful, the market plans to extend it year-round.

The youngsters will be divided into groups of 20 for the program, which will include sessions on each of the day's three meals, food safety, and shopping.

Cherries, Blueberries, Raspberries Arrive

Beechwood Orchards
On the first Headhouse Farmers Market after summer solstice produce stalls were full with cherries, blueberries and even a few raspberries.

The sweet cherries were a bit of a surprise, given that this year's crop will be lean. Prices hovered around $8.50 a quart (at the Reading Terminal Market, Ben Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce was asking $9.99).

Although the red cherries tasted bright, sweet and fresh, they weren't 60 percent better than the $2.99/pound commercial Washington State Bings purchased later in the week at the Cherry Hill Wegman's. While the store-bought fruit wasn't quite as intense in flavor, it was close enough and just as sweet; the individual fruits were also larger, though that's a tertiary consideration as far as I'm concerned. The sweet cherry, it appears, is one of those fruits that can be shipped cross-country, when properly packaged, successfully.

The local orchardists say the sour cherry crop is also slim and hence will be pricey, too, when it shows up in another week or so. Dave Garretson of Beechwood Orchards said he has a too few early variety sour cherries to make harvesting worthwhile, but expects to bring in mid-season Montmorency pie cherries when they're ripe. Beechwood also offered Rainier sweet cherries last Sunday, priced slightly higher than the sweet reds.

Queens Farm tomatos
Wanna buy some superfruit? Well, blueberries are back, $4.75/pint at Beechwood. Three Springs Fruit Farm had them, too, along with the season's first red raspberries. I've been enjoying the blues in yogurt for breakfast this week. Ben Wenk of Three Springs expects good crop of raspberries this year, especially the black variety. He cultivates both but said the wild raspberry patches he's seen are full of fruit.

The early tomato crop from Queens Farm remains tasty. Although pricey at $3.60/pound for its mixed heirloom varieties, they are a pure taste of summer.

Just in time for gin and tonic season, limes continue their downward price trend. Over at the Reading Terminal Market this week Iovine Brothers Produce has been selling nice-sized and heavy fruits at 20 cents a piece, a far cry from the buck (or more) apiece limes commanded in early spring.

Another crop making its seasonal debut at Headhouse Sunday: sweet corn. South Jersey farmer A.T. Buzby was selling its at 75 cents an ear.

Last Sunday may have been the last we'll see of English peas and strawberries, but there's a chance some farmers in cooler climes may have them. I took the $5 pint of sweet and fresh shelled peas purchased from Tom Culton and turned them (after the briefest boiling and then shocking in ice water) into a salad with some diced and well-fried Irish bacon, thinly sliced shallot rings, shredded gruyere cheese and homemade ranch dressing.

Here's a quick tour of some of the more photogenic produce seen at Headhouse last Sunday:

Summer yellow cukes from Savoie Organic Farm
Radishes in two colors from, iirc, Weaver's Way
Chard from Blooming Glen Farm

Red onions from Tom Culton

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cream vs. Cream

Now that it's strawberry season, you need whipped cream, right? Sure, that can of Reddi-Wip is easy, and get a whiff of its propellant (nitrous oxide) and you might even giggle.

But real homemade whipped cream is easy, especially if you've got a whisk attachment for a stick blender.

The key is the cream you use. And that's the hard part.

The cream available in most supermarkets is ultra-pasteurized. That means it has a long shelf life. But it also means the high temperatures needed for ultra-pasteurization kill much of the flavor. It will whip, and if you add enough sugar it's palatable. But it only resembles real cream.

I know of only three places where I can buy pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized, cream: Lancaster County Dairy at the Reading Terminal Market, Whole Foods, and Wegmans. Fair Food sometimes has it. Lancaster County Dairy, in the market's Pennsylvania Dutch section, sells Kreider's from its namesake geographical subdivision. Whole Foods and Wegmans sell their own branded products, while Fair Food, when it has it, sells Seven Stars Farm cream.

Seek out real cream. It' worth it.

I Love June

Three Springs Fruit Farm at Headhouse
In April we see small, nearly-hidden harbingers of what's to come: fiddleheads, ramps, perhaps morels if we're lucky. Then in May the bounty starts with cool-weather crops like lettuces, greens, and, late in the month, our first fruit: strawberries.

Now that it's June the welcome crush of produce has commenced.

The strawberries are peaking and will remain in their full glory for at least another three or four weeks, getting us through the Independence Day weekend with cakes, ice cream, tarts and just mixed with yogurt or eaten plain. The quality has been excellent once we got beyond the early crop. The berries I picked up the last two weeks from Beechwood Orchards, both at the Headhouse and Fairmount farmers markets, have been excellent: red to the core, sweet, flavorful, juicy. Prices, however, have held steady at $7/quart from most vendors, with an occasional offer of $5.50. I have no doubt pints and quarts from vendors other than Beechwood are just as good. The Wenk family's Three Springs Fruit Farm, like Beechwood located in Pennsylvania's Fruit Belt in Adams County, north and west of Gettysburg, also was selling good-looking berries today at Headhouse. So was A.T. Buzby from South Jersey's Salem County, as well as smaller farmers. But as is almost always the case, the best deal on local berries is at the Reading Terminal Market, where L. Halteman Family Country Foods sells them for more than two bucks less a quart.

Chinese lettuce
Cool-weather lettuces are also plentiful. One of the most unusual is the Chinese lettuce sold by Queens Farm at Fairmount and Headhouse. The dense firm stalk can be stir-fried or added to soups, though I'm not a fan. What has been delicious from Queens Farm is its tomatoes. We're still a month away, at least, from the real tomato crop, but Ed Yin has brought in a taste of late summer before the solstice arrives. He starts out his heirloom varieties under plastic but in the ground, rather than a hothouse. Queens Farms is also the place to buy oyster mushrooms and Asian greens.

The prior Sunday I went mad buying sugar snaps and snow peas. I passed by one stall and grabbed a pint of sugar snaps and brought them back to the car. Then I headed back under the Headhouse shambles and found snow peas, forgetting all about the sugar snaps I just purchased, and bought a pint of those, too. I never bothered to cook any of them. Some were consumed out-of-hand, others dressed with either a vinaigrette or mayo-based dressing. I'm thankful our houseguests during the week helped me go through them. That allowed me to pick up a pint of yellow string beans from Tom Culton at today's Headhouse market, along with Chiogga beets.

Another late spring treat from a number of vendors: red new potatoes. I turned a pint from Culton to a simple potato salad, but they'd be great boiled or steamed to accompany a slab of salmon.

Culton's cornichons
Cucumbers have been showing up with some regularity, both the traditional "garden" variety and kirby cukes, ideal for pickling. Last week I bought a pound and a half of Culton's "cornichons", though they looked like kirbies to me. After three days in a simple salt brine (with fresh dill, lots of garlic and some coriander seeds) they were ready.

She Who Must Be Obeyed loves red radishes, and there were plenty to choose from today at Headhouse. I picked up a bright red, white and green bunch of French breakfast radishes from Savoie Farm today.

Hull peas, a.k.a. English peas, have also been available since last week, both in the hull and shelled. Culton was selling the latter like hotcakes today at Headhouse, and other vendors offered them, too. They'd be a great veg (and a New England classic) to go along with that salmon and potatoes, especially if you use lots of butter. For those who really enjoy shelling legumes, Culton and Queens farm are selling Fava beans.

Speaking of legumes, Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market has had fresh chick peas (garbanzos) for a few weeks, $3.99/pound. Shell them and briefly boil them as you would English peas. I passed them by only because I had just defrosted a container of cooked dried chick peas I made a couple months ago. Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce also offers shelled peas.

Salumeria Adds Lanci's bread

Salumeria, the Italian grocer, hoagie-maker and cheese-monger (not just Italian) at the Reading Terminal Market, had added bread from South Philly's Lanci Bakery to its offerings. Lanci's continues to use the coal-firerd brick oven installed by its founder in 1920.

Lamb, Low and Slow

Seasoned, but not cooked yet
My favorite red meat is lamb, so for our Memorial Day block party I bought a gorgeous six-pound bone-in shoulder from Border Springs at the Reading Terminl Market and treated it has I would pulled pork, only with Greek seasonings rather than as barbecue.

Just like pork, low-and-slow is the way to go. I set my oven on 200F (using a seperate oven thermometer to insure the right level of heat, since different ovens may or may nor be able to keep a steady temp when set so low). The meat went into the oven in a covered earthenware pot at 11 p.m., and I next checked it at 8 a.m. It was perfectly done. (As I recall, my instant meat thermometer read 190F; lamb shoulder, like some cuts of pork, is actually better medium-to-medium-well than medium-rare, and is quite forgiving even when well-done, so long as it's not incinerated.) After a rest to cool and set the juices I hand-shredded the meat. Served with pita bread and homemade tzaziki, since cucumbers and mint are in season.

The long, slow-cooking allows much of the fat to drain away, but enough fat and collagen remain to keep it moist and tender.

The leftovers went into meal-sized containers for freezing. Once thawed, it's easy enough to reheat by tossing around in a skillet (non-stick works) for a few minutes. Last night I cooked some sweet frying peppers in the pan before adding the meat. And even after a quick three or four-minute sauté the lamb remained juicy.

For the slow roast, I used one of my go-to braising pots, the Black Chamba lidded roaster from Colombia shown at left. The lid is not tight fitting -- intentionally, so the steam can escape and not drown whatever you're cooking. I purchased mine a few years ago from the Santa Fe Cooking School store website where the 10" x 17" version is available for $115, but there are plenty of other on-line shops for this great roaster/braising pot, which I've also used on my gas stovetop. It's also easy to clean with just hot water, no soap. If you've got to scrub a bit, hot water and paper towels work just fine with a minimum of elbow grease.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ice Cream Bowl Sunday

Bassetts from the Reading Terminal Market and occasional farmers' market vendor 'Lil Pop Shop will be among the cool treat purveyors participating in Sunday's Ice Cream Bowl benefit for the University City Arts League. You can get your licks in at the league, 4226 Spruce St., from 1 to 4 p.m.

Other frozen dessert makers whose wares you can sample Sunday are Little Baby's, Shake Shack, Ben & Jerry's and West Philly's own Weckerly's.

The ice cream will be served in pottery bowls made by the league's ceramics instructors. For $10 you can walk away with the ice cream and its handcrafted bowl ($30 for a family of four). And, says Noreen Shanfelter, the league's executive director and a regular RTM shopper, there will be plenty of toppings to adorn the ice cream.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Headhouse: We've Got Green Stuff

Lettuce, bok choy and fennel bulbs from Blooming Glen
Crops that do best before summer's heat waves wilt them and us were the most attractive produce items during my visit to the Headhouse Farmers Market this morning.

Though the cheeses, meats and prepared foods always have their allure, when an item of produce is at peak, that's exciting. At least to me.

When you enter the Shambles from the Lombard Street entrance, you're greeted by the always-attractive displays put together by farmer Tom Murtha of Blooming Glen Farm. His lettuce, bok choy and small, young fennel bulbs, pictured above, were just some of his offerings, which also included spring onions, fresh green garlic and cooking greens.

Queens Farm was chock-a-block with spring produce too, from mustard to fresh bamboo shoots to a Chinese style lettuce whose stalk can be cooked. And, of course, their pristine cultivated oyster mushrooms. Other vendors with plenty of cooler weather items included Weaver's Way, Savoie Farms, Root Mass Farm and Beechwood Orchards which over the last year or so has expanded beyond tree fruit.

Culton's new signage
Another late spring crop that likes cool weather made its first appearance of the season: snow peas. Tom Culton was selling half-pints for $3, full pints for $5, as indicated by his chalk board, a new addition to the stall this year. Tom wasn't around this morning, so I couldn't ask about the provenance of the signage, but a Google search suggests "Red Rose Farm Feeds" is/was in Whiting, Vermont. Culton still had plenty of colorful rhubarb, asparagus, dress, and cucumbers among other items.

Strawberries were still in limited and pricey supply, with A.T. Buzby having the most stock at $7/quart. Savoie Farms had a few pints at $4.50 each. Maybe next week.

One of my purchases last Sunday was a couple of veal chops -- one rib, one loin- from Birchrun Hills Farm, the cheese producer. Of course, if you've got dairy cows you're going to have calves and, as I'm always told by some women friends, the males are mostly useless. In the case of male bovines, that means veal. Since Birchrun proprietor Sue Miller runs a caring operation, these are not penned up calves that provide most of the veal available in supermarkets. As a result, her veal is rosy rather than a ghostly white, but it's got more flavor and remains tender. Veal, no matter the source, is not for the parsimonious; as I recall the price was somewhere around $16/pound. But grilled to medium with just a hint of pink the center (you don't want to eat veal rare or medium rare), after a rub of cut garlic, a light application of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt, pepper and crushed rosemary, these chops were an incredible treat.

Modernized Stall for Cantina at Reading Terminal Market

New stall design for 12th Street Cantina

12th Street Cantina is putting on a new face. The Mexican restaurant/grocer redesigned and rebuilt its Reading Terminal Market stall last week, and it makes a much better and welcoming impression than the old, worn-out space.

I haven't tried the prepared food and restaurant dishes since reopening, so I can't say whether that's improved, too. I've never been impressed with the offerings, though I'm a regular buyer of flour tortillas, the fresh and young Mexican cheeses, the Mexican chorizo and, occasionally, the house made salsas which are all just fine for cooking at home. And it saves a trip to 9th street.

Melon Bargain at Reading Terminal

Buck-a-melons at Iovine Brothers Produce

They came cross country from Arizona, just long enough to ripen by the time they reached the Philadelphia Regional Produce Market on Essentington Avenue, hard by the auto dealers' strip. The wholesaler had to get rid of them, fast, before they rotted in their cases.

Coming the rescue, Jimmy Iovine of Iovine Brothers Produce, who took them off the wholesaler's hands dirt cheap and passes along the savings to us, the happy Reading Terminal Market shopper.

Jimmy was personally hawking these 'lopes yesterday morning like an old-fashioned street vendor, offering plenty of samples, assured after tasting that most shoppers would buy at least one.

I bought two. At a buck apiece, it was hard to resist. I should have bought four. They were dead ripe and as sweet and flavorful as late summer local melons. Two-thirds of the cut up fruit has already been consumed.

Iovine's still had the melons today, but with luck (as far as the merchant is concerned) they'll be gone by the time the market closes at 5 p.m. today. A perfect refresher for any Memorial Day picnic.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Pricey Local Strawberries Arrive

The Reading Terminal Market was first with local strawberries this season. Both the Fair Food Farmstand and Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce offered quarts today for $6.99 and $6.95, respectively. Expect to see more at local farmers' markets this week at similar prices until the main crop arrives in another couple of weeks.

Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce

Fair Food Farmstand

Twenty Seek Kitchen Space at RTM

The Reading Terminal Market received 20 responses to its call for proposals to operate the demonstration kitchen off center court. But none came from Marc Vetri or Jose Garces, either jointly or independently.

That surprised Paul Steinke, general manager of the RTM, who earlier received communications from two of Philadelphia's top chefs that they would submit a joint proposal.

Last week I was told by Elise Farano, Vetri Foundation administrator, that its director of culinary operations was handling the proposal. Trinity Busch, executive Director of the Garces Foundation, told me it was working on its own proposal.

The market's board will evaluate the responses with Steinke, who added that a few of them were merely "please include me" letters rather than the formal Request for Proposals sought.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

La Cucina Moves to Culinary Center

Anna Florio, who lost her Reading Terminal Market lease at the end of March to operate a cooking school in its demonstration kitchen, has moved to the Dorrance H. Hamilton Center of Culinary Enterprises, part of the non-profit Enterprise Center at 310 S. 48th Street.

La Cucina at the Market will offer similar programs at the center to what it offered at the market, according to Florio. These include cooking skills classes and a venue for kitchen-centric team-building events and private parties.

As it happens, the Center for Culinary Excellence has another former RTM vendor as its director: Delilah Winder, who operated the soul food restaurant at the market and other locations. The Culinary Center supports both established and start-up food businesses and food processors in need of commercial kitchen space and technical assistance. The Enterprise Center, founded in 1989 by the Wharton Small Business Development Center, provides access to capital, building capacity, business education and economic development opportunities to high-potential, minority entrepreneurs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Garces, Vetri: Joint RTM Kitchen Bid

Expect a joint bid to operate the Reading Terminal Market's demonstration kitchen from Jose Garces and Marc Vetri. The bid, according to Paul Steinke, the market's general manager, would be submitted by their respective non-profit arms: the Garces Foundation and the Vetri Foundation for Children.

Rick Nichols, retired Inquirer food columnist, flanked by Steve Poses, founder of
Frog/Commissary, and Chef Garces, in the market's kitchen in June 2012
Other potential bidders include Drexel University, The Restaurant School, and the Opportunities Industrial Center. Steinke said private operators have also submitted proposals.

Trinity Busch, executive director of the Garces Foundation, in response to my inquiry, said "it's too early for us to discuss this as the idea is still in consideration by our team." A Vetri Foundation representative said the proposal "is still very much in draft". 

The star-power of a combined Garces-Vetri bid would be hard to beat. But the OIC, the pioneering job-training non-profit founded 50 years ago by the late Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, runs Opportunities Inn, a separate program to develop hospital industry workers. That effort is funded by the Reading Terminal Market's owner, the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority.  

The demonstration kitchen became available when the market declined to renew the lease of Anna Florio, proprietor of La Cucina at the Market, who had operated the facility at two different locations within the market since March 2008. In addition to classes, Florio ran kitchen-centric "team building" events for companies and other organizations.

Florio ceased operations at the end of March. In mid-April the market put out its request for proposals; the deadline is this Friday, May 16.

Steinke said he's waiting to review the proposals until after the deadline, but said there has been a "strong level of interest".

Sal Vetri, Marc Vetri's dad, and Brad Spence, Vetri's chef partner at Amis,
in demonstration at market's kitchen in June 2012.
Sharing the demonstration kitchen with a private operator, as was done with Florio, provided rental inome to the market, but there were also conflicts in the scheduling of events.

Such conflicts, said Steinke, "are very much on our mind. We need to preserve right to reserve the demontration kitchen for community events more frequently and intensively than in the past. Thats clear in the RFP and a priority well be pursuing as we review the responses."

Operating and programming the kitchen directly was one approach Steinke considered, which would require the hiring of at least one program manager by the market. Although that remains on the table, the market's board decided to ask for proposals in an effort to encourage other possibilities.

A Garces-Vetri operation certainly works to the market's advantage in terms of promotion: having the two chefs create and design programs would make the market's demonstration kitchen a culinary showcase. For the chefs and their foundations, operating the facility at the city's premier food mecca would bolster their non-profit programs and further their luminosity in the Philadelphia food firmament. Because of their educational emphasis, a joint Garces-Vetri operation would be less likely to create scheduling conflicts than a for-profit operator, who would seek to cater private events in the kitchen.

The Garces Foundation focuses on health, education and nutritional issues faced by Philadelphia's "underserved immigrant community", according to its website. The Vetri Foundation for Children "was established to help kids experience the connection between healthy eating and healthy living".

Operation of the market's demonstration kitchen would be a natural for either Drexel -- which operates culinary arts and sciences program under its Center for Hospitality and Sports Management -- or the Restaurant School.

In its request for proposals, the market asked for "the most creative ideas that can elevate and enhance the [market's] food and culinary traditions." The RFP said the market sees the demonstration kitchen "as a vehicle to increase the visibility of the market; serve as an engine for public and private education and instruction regarding the region's food traditions, cuisine and culinary arts; and operate in a manner that fulfills the market's mission." 

Any operator would also have access to the adjacent Rick Nichols Room, a multi-purpose event space with direct access to the demonstration kitchen. Both rooms are located at the head of center court.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

So Long, Sushi: RTM Stall Loses Lease

You will no longer be able to dine on sushi at the Reading Terminal Market after the end of the month. That's when Tokyo Sushi Bar's lease expires and it will not be renewed, according to RTM General Manager Paul Steinke.

This isn't the first time the propietor, David Dinh, has been told he would loose his lease. The last time was in 2005, when the stall had numerous cleanliness and health issues. David cleaned up his act and got a new lease.

This time, though the market's general manager, Paul Steinke, said the lease wouldn't be renewed. The primary reason, he told me, was the poor ratings Tokyo Sushi's food has received on Yelp, where few reviewers have anything kind to say about food quality or prices.

Steinke is unsure what will replace Tokyo Sushi. But the stall occupies a prime spot on Center Court, and putting in another restaurant-type lunch vendor will not harm the market's goal to limit this type of business to about one-third of the businesses there. Steinke will be able to extract a premium rent from a lunch vendor at this busy and visible location.

Although three Chinese lunch vendors have stalls at the market, Tokyo Sushi Bar is its sole purveyor of Japanese food.

Melon Roulette

Galia melon
One of the more difficult produce-buying challenges is to pick a ripe melon. Even in late summer, when local muskmelons (canteloupes) and honeydews proliferate, selecting a ripe melon remains, at least to me, a crap shoot. I've read all about thumping, netting, color, smell and every other method of melon selection, but picking the perfect melon can still elude me.

It's even more of a challenge when local melons are not in season. But I still love them, so I'll frequently pick up a container of cut up mixed melons at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market. The out-of-season watermelons are almost always sub-par, but occasionally the canteloupes and honeydews are sweet and less than rock-hard.

So it was with trepedation that I picked up a Galia melon yesterday at Iovine's for $1.99. Today I cut it up this Israel-created hybrid now grown worldwide, especially Central America where this specimen came from. I detected only a little aroma from the melon, but the netting was distinct and developed, so I gave it a shot. Success! The Galia is sweet with subtle flavor, and soft, ripe flesh. It should hold up in its container in the fridge for two or three days, but my guess is it will be gone by tomorrow night.

My go-to fruit between apple and strawberry season in recent months has been pineapple. I buy the trimmed, ready-to-eat whole pineapples packed in plastic bags at Iovine's, and they hold up for more than a week in the fridge. I just knife slices off the top as I want them. With rare exceptions these pineapples have been sweet throughout, with no woody flesh.

Besides oranges, the only other fruit regularly in my diet over winter and early spring are frozen blueberries, particularly the "wild" low-bush "arboreal" berries from Canada and Maine. They have the same nutritional content and benefits as the commercial high-bush berries, but a slightly different flavor, which I prefer. I find the best deals on the frozen wild berries at Trader Joe's and usually consume them mashed into plain Greek yogurt.

Still, as much as I like these fruits, I look forward to the local berries; local strawberries should start appearing in farmers markets before the end of the month, given that most crops are running about a week or so behind normal after this year's harsh winter.

Today at Headhouse I picked up about a pound of rhubarb from Tom Culton. I stringed it (as you would celery), cut it into two-inch lengths then cooked it for about 15-20 minutes with a pint of water, half a cup of sugar, and the zest and juice from one juice orange. It's now in the fridge and I'll enjoy it for dessert after whisking the "soup" to break up the remaining soft chunks of rhubart and top it with some fresh whipped cream. The recipe comes courtesy of Mark Bittman.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Butcher Shop To Change Owners

Giunta's Prime Shop, operated by Reading Terminal Market veteran Charles Giunta for nearly eight years, will have a new owner soon. Rob Passio, who's worked for Giunta a few years, expects to take over as the new proprietor next month if all the paperwork moves as scheduled.

Passio, who started in the trade as a teen in South Philly, has worked for a number of butchers, including Charles' brother Martin's original Philadelphia sausage factory, now in South Jersey. (Martin also operates Martin's Quality Meats & Sausages at the RTM.) He's also put in time at one of the former Genuardi supermarket meat departments.

Rob plans no changes in meat sourcing and staffing at the stall, located in the aisle between Iovine Brother's Produce and L. Halteman Family Country Foods.

He does hope to slowly add some value-added items, like marinated meats. Passio also expects to wait a while before changing signage to reflect new ownership.

Sure Sign of Summer: Soft Shell Crabs

One of the surest signs that winter is done and summer within sight is the reappearance of soft shell crabs at local fish mongers. Early season prices for these crustaceous delicacies are always dear, but they appear even higher this year, at least by the prices displayed at John Yi at the Reading Terminal Market, above.