Saturday, February 27, 2010
For years I've been looking at "Mountain Trout" displayed as filets at the Reading Terminal Markets' fishmongers, knowing full well they weren't trout, but not quite sure what they were. Down in Baltimore they call this "Lake Trout".
Today I noticed (at Golden Fish) a sign which identified them, parenthetically, as hake, which is a member of the cod family, as is its very close cousin, the Whiting, which is usually found hereabouts as Silver Whiting, but sometimes called Silver Hake, as if things aren't confusing enough.
All the varieties are interchangeable, as least as far as culinary purposes are concerned. All are suitable for frying, steaming, poaching and baking, though broiling or grilling would be too extreme for these delicate and very mild-tasting fishies. Hake are the most popular fresh fish in Spain, and take particularly well to parsley and potatoes.
In other seafood news, Golden Fish is carrying a new item, head-on shrimp, $7.99/pound. You could probably save a bit by walking over to Chinatown, since that's where Golden procures these formerly frozen farm-raised crustaceans from China.
Nobody asked me, but . . .
Why is farm-raised striped bass more expensive that wild striped bass, a.k.a. rockfish: $6.99 vs. $4.99 at John Yi.
In the event you're wondering, the King salmon at John Yi (and just abou anywhere else) is farm-raised from British Columbia. Like it's Atlantic cousin, it gets its color from feed.
The Produce News
Cucumbers galore at O.K. Lee, including two seedless (or nearly so) varieties: Japanese and English. The former are a buck for what appears to be a one-pound bag with about six of the five or six-inch cukes. The latter are two 16-inches for a buck.
OKL also has bags of green seedless grapes for a buck (a tad more expensive if on trays) and Hass avocados at 49-cents apiece (essentially the same price as Iovine's where they're two for a buck).
Another cucumber-like item normally found in Chinatown made its way to the RTM today: Iovine Brother's had Bitter Melon sitting next to the bell peppers, $2.99/pound.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
The bargain of the week at Iovine Brother's Produce at the Reading Terminal Market appears to be lettuce.
Displayed front and center today were four varieties, each priced at two heads for a buck: Romaine, Green Leaf, Red Leaf, and Iceberg.
Although there's nothing wrong with a nice green salad, or a wedge of Iceberg with freshly made blue cheese dressing, it seems a good time of year to consider making Lettuce Soup. Cooked with some potato, one of more members of the allium family, and herbs, pureed and finished with a wee bit of butter, it's a fitting dish for winter, but a relief from root vegetables.
The Chilean grape harvest is approaching peak, and prices have dropped accordingly at Iovine's. One-pound clamshells of white seedless were available for a buck, tray-packed bunches for $1.49. Iovine's also had a variety labeled "Tomcat", but at $5.99/pound I passed them by. They are a variety of Muscat, one of the original grape varieties, and are sweeter than the norm.
It might be a good week for making guacamole. Iovine's also featured ripe and ready avocados (don't store them for long!) at 50 cents apiece. Limes were a reasonable four for a buck.
Over to the fishmongers. I haven't done a taste comparison, but Golden Fish has been selling "dry" scallops for $13.99, a considerable savings versus John Yi, where they sell for $17.99. Golden also has something I haven't seen at the other stalls: unagi, Japanese barbecued eel, $6.99 a pack.
This being the winter doldrums, at least as far as fresh produce is concerned, my posts normally decline in quantity this time of year. This winter of near-blizzards is no exception, but the weekend before last caused me to alter my opinion, slightly, about a root vegetable I've regularly slighted: the humble rutabaga, a.k.a. Swede, a.k.a. Yellow Turnip.
The cause of my conversion is the delicately-flavored smallish specimens which have been on sale at the Reading Terminal Market's Fair Food Farmstand since the onset of winter. They hail from Vermont's Deep Root Organics. a cold storage coop on the northern climes of the Green Mountain State.
Along with parsnips from the same coop and supermarket "baby" carrots, they became the vegetable component of a Valentine's Day dinner I composed for my Valentine, who has always held the rutabaga in high esteem (must be her Scandinavian heritage). I cut the veggies into half-inch dice, tossed with a minimum coating of olive oil, along with a little thyme, salt, pepper, a scant teaspoon of sugar (to encourage browning) and roasted them in the oven.
To my amazement, the rutabaga actually tasted good! Maybe it was the sugar, maybe it was the roasting, since my previous encounters with rutabagas had always been simply mashed with butter. But these roasted rutabagas had a more subtle countenance than the mash, so that the flavor note I previously found offensive became appealing. Will wonders never cease?
The veggies accompanied filet mignon, a cut she enjoys but I rarely prepare for myself because of its lack of flavor compared to other cuts of steaks, though its tenderness is always to be admired. This beef came from Harry Ochs, and the combination of high quality beef and the method of preparation made it a hit, even with me. I simply seared it in a pan, three minutes on a side over medium high heat to get a nice char (not disturbing the meat except once, to turn turn it), then finished it off in a 450F oven for another four minutes for medium, my Valentine's preferred doneness. While it rested on a warm platter under foil, I made a pan reduction with cream sherry finishing with a small knob of butter. Although I prefer my steaks rarer, this retained just enough pinkness to remind it came from a living thing, and had great flavor.
Dessert was a sampling of truffles from Neuchatel Chocolates of Oxford, Pennsylvania, every bit as good as any truffle we've had. The creations from Swiss chocolatier Albert Lauber can be had at the Pennsylvania General Store.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
When William Bligh (left) set sail on the HMS Bounty to the South Seas to collect breadfruit trees, his goal was to bring them to the Carribean to see if they could become a crop suitable for feeding slaves working sugar cane fields and refineries. You don't have to resort such extreme measures. They're available at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market for $1.99 a pound.
When one of the cook's at the Down Home Diner, a native of Trinidad, spotted them he quickly grabbed a few for roasting.
Despite its name, breadfruit is treated as a vegetable, not a fruit. The fibrous flesh, a staple in many tropical regions, can be roasted, baked, fried, steamed or boiled. Its taste and texture is loosely compared to potato or fresh-baked bread. In the Caribbean it is sometimes mashed with bacalao, olive oil and cooked onions. The seeds are also edible, and are likened to chestnuts in flavor and texture.
Although primarily used as a substitute for other starchy vegetables, it can also be used as a pie filling, though usually in combination with chocolate, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, sweet yams or taro.
The National Tropical Botanical Garden's website offers a number of recipes here.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
A one-pound pack of strawberries for $9.99? Get used to it, at least for the next month or so.
The freeze in Florida and heavy rains in California are taking their toll on off-season winter produce. At Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market today, the clamshells of Driscoll California strawberries were as expensive as I've ever seen them, $9.99. In late January and into February, Iovines frequently features strawberries from Plant City, Floriday, at bargain prices, typically $1 or $2 for a one-pound pack. Don't expect to see them anywhere near that price this winter. The Florida freeze hasn't yet impacted citrus prices but Vinnie Iovine expects they'll start heading north over the next week or two. He's even, for all practical purposes, out of leeks! About one-third of Florida's total winter fruit and vegetable production has been lost to the freeze.
The Dutch and other growers will take up some of the slack for some of the items, but they'll be priced to reflect the shortages caused by natural phenomena. Chilean fruit isn't expected to be heavily affected, since most of what they grow isn't duplicated during winter in California and Florida, but even the Chilean grapes have been dear, with better quality bunches selling for upwards of $4.99, though some smaller Chilean seedless grapes could be had for $1.99 today.
Vinnie expects his display bins of specials will be heavy on the root vegetables, rather than fruit, in coming weeks.
Supply, demand and inventory hold their sway over fish prices, too. At John Yi today the mackeral was selling for $1.99, vs. $2.49 yesterday -- they gotta move it before it becomes too old. Meanwhile, Golden priced mackeral today at $2.99. A similar price discrepancy could be found in sardines: $4.99 at John Yi and $1.99 at Golden; there was no discernable difference to my eye in size and quanity between the two fishmongers.
Crowds were thick at the RTM at mid-morning today. Partly that was due to the opening of the home show across the street at the Convention Center, but also because of a soccer convention that ends today. Yesterday, DiNic's ran out of roast pork by 4:30 p.m., which Joe Nicolosi attributes to the soccer crowd.
Friday, January 15, 2010
Bill Beck has 86'd beignets at his Reading Terminal market counter, Beck's Cajun Cuisine.
Reason: They've been awful.
Although my first sampling found them just fine, with a reasonably light texture, he's had problems since. In two subsequent tastings, the outside was impossibly crunchy and the interior hollow. Beck's tried to figure out what's wrong, but for the time being decided to forget about them. And all this after spending bucks on a heavy-duty mixer whose sole purpose was to prep the dough.
So, once again, the Reading Terminal Market will have to wait for a superior sweet fried dough.
Monday, December 14, 2009
With the approach of Christmas the variety of piscatorial delights at the Reading Terminal Market's fishmongers expands. New today were herring (sardines) and spearlings, both $4.99/pound at John Yi.
I'll pick up some of those herrings (head-on whole, ungutted but scaled) on my next trip. They are probably fated for a quick pan-fry, with those I don't eat immediately destined to marinating in a vinegar brine with onions, then consumed with rye bread slathered with copious amounts of butter, and Aquavit.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Andrea Luca Rossi of Cichetteria 19 won an Iron Chef-style cookoff of radicchio dishes at the Reading Terminal Market yesterday. In photo at right, Andrea describes one of his winners, a scallop dish with grilled Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, to judges John Vena, Anna Florio and Franca Riccardi.
Joining Vena at the judge's table were Florio, who operates La Cucina at the Market, the cooking school located in the former market kitchen, and Riccardi, director of the Amerian-Italy Society of Philadelphia.
The winner's scallop dish (right) was served on a bed of the Variegata and was accompanied by a radicchio polenta with beets and goat cheese. In addition to his scallop dish, Rossi also offered a risotto. His restaurant is located 267 S. 19th.
The other competitors in the 30-minute cookoff (with running commentary from TV cook Christina Pirillo) were Luciana Spurio of Le Virtu, 1927 E. Passyunk, and Nunzio Patruno of Collingswood's Nunzio Ristorante Rustico, who formerly operated Philadelphia's Monte Carlo Living Room. Spurio prepared Fettucine Radicchio Trevigiano e Gorgonzola. Patruno served a scallop dish featuring radicchio and beans, and shrimp wrapped in the Variegata.
Here are some more photos from the competition, part of a promotion to encourage Philadelphia chefs and home cooks to use these winter chickory-like veggies.
Here's the selection of radicchio displayed at Iovine''s, along with recipes. The Variegata ($11.99/pound) is the light, speckled heads in the foreground, the Treviso the Rosso di Treviso (a.k.a. "early", $7.99/pound) are the romaine-like heads on the right, the Tardivo ($17.99/pound) the spidery samples in the center. All versions come from the Veneto, the region around Venice.
The Variegata is primarily used raw in salads, but the recipe cards distributed at Iovine's included a Parmigiana version in which the leaves are briefly cooked in cream, then finished in the oven with Parmegiano Reggiano.
It's citrus time at the Reading Terminal Market.
Over at Iovine Brother's Produce Spanish clementines are the star, $4.95 for a five-pound box. The skins aren't quite as zippery as they'll get a little later in the season, but they peel easily enough and have a good sweet-tart taste, as is appropriate for this variety of mandarin orange, which some contend is a lemon-orange cross.
I spied at least three varieties of navel oranges today, one selling for four for a buck, another for three for a buck. Jumanis were two for a dollar. Tangerines, grapefruits and other citrus fruits are also coming into season.
I don't recycle fruitcakes I get as gifts: I love them. I've even been known to buy them for myself. Once I went so far as to order 10 pounds worth from Georgia.
Those same Georgia fruitcakes have been available in years past at the Reading Terinal Market at Iovine Brothers' Produce. These are the heavyweight cakes produced by Claxton Fruitcakes in Claxton, Georgia. They are heavily laden with a wonderful variety of dried fruits held together with a barely detectable pound cake binding. Iovine's no longer carries them, but Jonathan Best, the relatively new grocer at the market, does. Alas, Jonathans Best only carries the regular version; it's good, but I prefer the dark variety. I didn't check the price, but when you order direct via the web three one-pound cakes sell for $25.95 plus shipping (you can buy in various weight permutations).
L. Halteman Family sells locally made fruitcakes, which appear to have more nuts, for $6.95 a loaf.
A beautiful, mahogany colored roasted bird makes a wonderful edible centerpiece for a holiday table. And no bird is more Christmas-y than a roast goose.
At the Reading Terminal Market L. Halteman Family has locally raised geese in stock. The birds, roughly 10 pounds, sell for $5.79/pound. The Fair Food Farmstand is selling geese from Griggstown (NJ) Quail Farm for $10/pound. Geese and lots of other birds can be obtained from Godshall's Poultry. In all cases it's wise to call ahead and order. It's almost too late to order from Fair Food; orders for the Griggstown geese, as well as pheasants, must be placed with Fair Food by 9 a.m. this Monday.
Fair Food has ordering deadlines for other holiday roasts, including country hams, pork loin and shoulder roasts, briskets, whole prime ribs and lamb legs and shoulders. See Fair Food's weekly newsletter for the details.
All the other butchers at the market (Martin's Quality Meats & Sausage, Giunta's Prime Shop, Harry Ochs & Sons, and S&B Meats) also can accommodate special orders for the holidays. Among other items, Giunta's is selling turduckens for $39.95 apiece.
Want to make potato pancakes (latkes) like those served by Hershel's East Side Deli at the Reading Terminal Market? Andy Wash, co-owner of the deli, provides his recipe and secrets at the Cheftalk website. (Don't pay any attention to the writer referring to Andy as Andy "Washington". The writer mistook his notes with Andy's last name as an abbrevation.)
Friday, December 11, 2009
The heavy-duty stand mixer finally arrived at Beck's Cajun Café so the new Reading Terminal Market eatery can now make those beignets.
I've never been to New Orleans so I won't presume to make comparisons to what's offered by the finer establishments of the Crescent City at 2 a.m. to local and foreign drunkards looking to put something in their stomachs to hold down the liquor.
Who among us doesn't, at least occasionally, crave hot fried dough? It's even a religious tradition. (Tonight being the first night of Hanukah, it's time to indulge in sufganiot, one of the the traditional fried foods of this festival, basically a jelly doughnut, just as the Pennsylvania Dutch love their fastnachts for Fat Tuesday.)
Bill Beck's rendition is among the lightest hot fried dough I've ever had, which seems like an oxymoron. Not that these are low-caloric! He drowns them in confectioners' sugar, as you can see in the photo. Order them with a cup of Community Coffee (with chicory) imported from New Orleans.
Beck is also proud of his jambalaya, as you can see in the second photo.
Monday, December 07, 2009
He Will Be Remembered
Although most everyone who reads this blog probably has heard the sad news, I cannot help but note the death from cancer yesterday of Harry Ochs Jr. at age 80.
I'll leave it to the obituary writers to recount his life and contributions to the Reading Terminal Market, his fellow merchants and his customers. (See today's Inquirer here.)
It's a comment on how well he was loved by everyone connected with the market that last spring its merchants association used its annual shindig as a "surprise party" for Harry's 80th birthday. They knew it likely would be the last time to celebrate Harry while he was alive. So what if they couldn't keep the party a secret from Harry? When it came the Reading Terminal Market, very little escaped his notice. Few market regulars will fail to notice his absence.
Saturday, December 05, 2009
The Radicchio di Treviso at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market was priced at $17.99/pound today in cello-trays. Heads of regular radicchio were $5.99/pound.
If you buy those Hass avocadoes from the Dominican Republic for $1 apiece (they still need a day or two to ripen, based on my light squeezes this morning), the limes to accent your guacamole are a little less dear: five for a buck.
Once upon a time you could buy dried Italian porcini mushrooms at Iovine's. All they've had recently are Chilean porcinis, which aren't bad but not as good to my taste. You can find the Italian ones over at the Spice Terminal; while I don't recall the price, it's considerably north of $30 a pound.
I'm lazy today so I passed up buying ingredients for soup. But it's definitely the right weather for it. I ran into one acquaintence who was planning to make a mushroom soup with maitakes (a.k.a. hen of the woods). For a mushroom barley or cream of mushroom soup, I like the dried porcinis, but also plain old fashioned white button mushrooms. Plain domestic mushrooms tend to be a forgotten food among foodies, but they represent excellent value and depth of flavor, particularly if they're a bit shriveled (but not slimy), which intensifies their flavor.
I complained previously about the high price of grapes. The green seedless ones were even more expensive today: $3.99/pound. Bell peppers are about as expensive as they ever get: even the frying peppers were $1.99/pound today.
The long English cucumbers (nearly seedless) are a good deal at Iovine's, however. Two for a buck. I'm going to make a quick Scandinavian style pickle from one to accompany fried fish for dinner.
As we near the holidays, the variety and price of fish seems to increase, especially those staples enjoyed for Night of the Seven Fishes. I picked up some cod filet from John Yi today at $9.99/pound, which is pretty much the normal price in retail markets. Good-looking whole wild striped bass was available at Yi and Golden Fish for about $6/pound.
What the Reading Terminal fishmongers don't carry is one of my favorite clam varieties: the soft "steamer" clams, which when prepared for frying are often called "Ipswich" clams. You can get them at Wegman's for $5/pound. The RTM fish stalls also don't offer much variety in the way of oysters. Chesapeake, Virginia and, occasionally, Long Island shell oysters are available for about a buck apiece, as are shucked oysters for stewing and frying, but I've yet to see this bivalve from more the northern waters of Maine, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Still no beignets at Beck's Cajun Café.
Joe Nicolosi does more than make great roast pork sandwiches at Tommy DiNic's. He's an accomplished musician. Although his main thing these days is classical piano (he's hard at work on his Chopin), he's going to be playing bass with his old band in a reunion of sorts Wednesday at Johnny Brenda's.
It's always fun to people-watch at the Reading Terminal. Today I squinted rudely to read the badges of one group of visitors attending a convention: the American Anthropology Association. They must have been there to study participants in a cheer-leading competition at the convention center, who were also gawking at the food and sandwich stalls.
Friday, December 04, 2009
Last February I wrote about Tardivo, a variant of Radicchio di Treviso that I found at Iovine Brother's Produce at $22/pound.
This year the Reading Terminal Market and Iovine's are dedicating an entire festival to Radicchio di Treviso. Or at least 45 minutes worth of festival.
The program, to be held a week from today in Center Court beginning at 11 a.m., will include a brief Iron Chef-like cookoff among local chefs.
Christina Pirello of Christina Cooks (a national PBS show produced by WHYY) will serve as emcee of the event. Among the judges will be Anna Maria Florio, owner and operator of La Cucina at the Market. Samples of the radicchio will be available at Iovine Brothers Produce.
How to use this bitter veggie, a descendant of chicory? You could wilt it in sautéed onions and use it in pasta or, without the onions, fold it into a risotto at the end of cooking; blanch it in a water-vinegar mix spiked with bay leaf, salt and peppercorns, then marinate it overnight in olive oil and serve as a salad, garnished with chopped hard boiled egg; prepare a fritto in a thin beer batter; or, do as McDonald's does, and add a few pieces to a mixed salad.
Thursday, December 03, 2009
A month or so ago, Chilean avocados appeared at Iovine Brothers Produce at the Reading Terminal Market. Today the $1 apiece fruits hailed from the Dominican Republican, which I had not seen before.
We seem to be in an interregnum as far as table grapes are concerned. All the varieties I looked at recently have been priced at $2.99/pound. We may not see significantly cheaper grapes until the Chilean harvest starts in late winter.
I picked up some nice, heavy-for-their-size navel oranges today, three for a buck. Not a bad price, but they should come down a bit as we get into winter.
I started to use the smoked haddock I picked up a few weeks ago at Wegman's in Cherry Hill. I took about five or six ounces out of the one-pound filet and mashed them up with an equal amount of cream cheese (softened with about a tablespoon of sour cream), ground in some black pepper, and finished with a couple tablespoons of both onion and parsley. Very yummy on good rye bread.
Speaking of sour cream, I bought some at Fair Food. Although "all natural" it was full of vegetable gums, for no apparent reason. The Dairylead brand, available at some supermarkets, is made from nothing but cream. It may not be organic, but it's good.
One of my readers reports that he tried to find the smoked haddock, a.k.a. finnan haddie, at Wegman's, but they were all out. If you find it, don't pass it by.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
The aisles were crowded at Iovine Brother's Produce at the Reading Terminal Market this morning as shoppers sought veggies for their Thanksgiving tables. Once you managed to fight your way through the aisles, however, checkout was a snap: Jimmy and Vinnie Iovine rigged up a couple of additional registers, so there were an even dozen cashiers working.
Once reason for the crowds might have been the prices. White utility and Idaho potatoes, in five-pound bags, would set you back only $1.99. A 10-pound bag of non-Idaho russets were an even better deal, $2.99. Red potatoes were a relatively pricey, but still thrifty, $2.99 for a five-pound bag.
Onions were a good deal, too, at a buck for a two-pound bag (red or yellow). Three-pound bags of carrots were selling for two for $3. The green beans for your classic canned fried onion-topped casserole, however, were $1.99/pound, about twice as much as you'd pay at peak season. If you like some bay leaf in your stuffing, tray packs of fresh leaves were $1.99.
Among the non-Thanksgiving produce, limes have tripled in price, to 3 for $1. Hass avocados were two for $1.49.
When winter arrives, I'm a big fan of frozen fruit, particularly berries. Nothing like some tasty, sweet and tart blackberries to mash up with a full-fat yogurt for breakfast.
With its recent expansion the Fair Food Farmstand at the Reading Terminal Market has more room in its freezers, so it's added another fruit to its small frozen selection: strawberry puree. The one-pound packs from Green Meadow Farm, a delicious looking red, are priced at $5. I haven't tried them yet, but I can't imagine theyd be anything but excellent.
Another summer fruit you can enjoy in winter are peaches. Canned peaches from Three Springs Fruit Farm (one of the vendors at Headhouse) can also be found at Fair Food; I went through a few cans last winter and thoroughly enjoyed them.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
The black dirt farm country of Orange County, New York, is ideal for growing onions. And Iovine Brothers Produce has them at the Reading Terminal Market. Yesterday Iovine's was selling two-pound bags of either yellow or red onions from that growing area for $1 a bag.
Also spied at Iovine's: Chilean avocados, two for $1.49; Brussels sprouts stalks, $1.99; red bell peppers, $1.49, which was less expensive than the green, orange or yellow bells, all $1.99; limes continued to be obtainable at a dime apiece.
Brussels sprouts stalks (they called them "trees" at Iovines) were available from some of the other farm vendors: $7.50 at Fair Food, $4.95-$5.95 at Earl Livengood's.
Fair Food featured what might be the last of the seasons local tomatoes, pints of organic cherry tomatoes for $4.50. The poblano peppers, $4.50/pound, looked good.
At Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce celery stalks were $1.99 ($2.49 for hearts). Livengood's celery and celeriac were both priced at $3.95/pound.
Yesterday's Forgotten Foods Festival at the Reading Terminal Market opened my eyes, and tastebuds, to some old-time flavors of Philadelphia and envir0ns. By the time I left the market shortly after 11 a.m. (the festival began an hour earlier), center court was crowded with regular shoppers, the normal passel of tourists, foodies drawn by the festival, and early Christmas shoppers attracted by the Philadelphia Museum of Art's annual crafts show across the street at the Convention Center.
A particular revelation to me was the Cape May Salts, an oyster brought back from oblivion a few years ago by Atlantic Cape Fisheries, a Cape May-based company. Once upon a time the Delaware Bay was teeming with oysters, hence the proliferation in the late 19th and early 20th centurys of oyster houses in Philadelphia, once as common as today's pizza parlors, according to Atlantic Cape. In the 1950s, disease wiped out the commercial oyster industry in Delaware Bay. It took the development of disease-resistant oysters by Rutgers University and Atlantic Capes to reestablish the commercial oyster in Delaware Bay. (The Cape Mays were dispensed by the Fair Food Farmstand's Forgotten Foods stall.)
Oysters from New England, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are traditionally briny, but the Cape May Salts deserve their adjectival moniker more than most. The salt flavor is pronounced and delicious; these would be perfectly accompanied by a local lager, say Yuenglings or Yards.
Oysters also appeared in one of the offerings from Pearl's Oyster Bar. I've haven't eaten at Pearl's recently because previous times I'd eaten there I was disappointed: the snapper soup was way too gloppy, and the breading on the fried seafood way too doughy. That wasn't the case with what I sampled yesterday. The large, Chesapeake-style oysters in the Oyster and Chicken Salad sample was more modestly breaded and perfectly fried, the chopped chicken bound with as little mayonnaise as possible. Put them together and you've got a ying-yang food with much appeal. The little sample of Snapper Soup also was unlike what I tried previously. It might have had some corn starch to give it body, but not much. Based on these two items I'm going to give Pearl's lunch counter another try.
Old style oyster crackers -- Old Trenton Crackers -- were the media used for conveying the freshly grated horseradish offered by Hershel's East Side Deli. The pungency of the fresh grated variety is head and shoulders over the jarred imitators. Because Hershel's used an electrically-powered mechanical grater, it lacked the frisson provided by the knuckle skin that found its way into the condiment that accompanied our gefilte fish during the Pesachs of my youth.
Another revelation could be found in the black walnut cupcakes sold by Fair Food. The cupcakes, made by Flying Monkey Patisserie, used black walnuts from Green Meadow Farm, one of Fair Food's suppliers. Topped with a cream cheese-buttercream frosting, these are among the best tasting "adult" cupcake I've ever sampled.
Another dessert offered was teaberry ice cream from Bassetts. While the small cup I tasted was as creamy and rich as any produced by Bassetts, the teaberry flavor (one I always enjoyed in gum) failed to impress as an ice cream. The flavor, much like wintergreen mint, was too bubble-gummy for me, especially with its neon pink color.
The only other item I tried as the festival was the corn pudding offered by Pennsylvania General Store, made with Copes corn, a dried, toasted Pennsylvania Dutch staple. Cooked to a bread-pudding like consistency and accented with what I took to be little bits of dried fruit, this was a wonderful combination of savory and sweet. It would make a fine addition to anyone's Thanksgiving table.
Among the items I missed was the liverwurst from S&B Meats and Down Home Diner's catfish on waffles, served by Jack McDavid. If anyone can report on those items, or any other I've missed, please do!
Sunday, November 08, 2009
At least some merchants and the Reading Terminal Market have seen business fall off dramtically due to the SEPTA strike.
One of Iovine Brothers Produce's managers said volume was off 40 percent. On top of that, he and fellow managers had become a de facto taxi service, driving employees to and from work.
Other merchants saw lesser impacts. Over at the Fair Food Farmstand, while business was off a little, it wasn't devastating.
I'm only about a quarter into this book dedicated to the Jewish deli, but it is fascinating. Although author David Sax may have omitted reference to your favorite deli, anyone who enjoys a good pastrami sandwich or plate of kishke will say a b'rucha for this book.
I purchased the book last Tuesday at a signing in connection with Sax's appearance in the Free Library of Philadelphia's author series. Coincidentally, Tuesday was National Sandwich Day, the birthday of John Montague, reputed to be the inventor of the sandwich. (A blatant lie.)
In his talk, Sax outlined the two primary reasons why the Jewish deli is in such serious decline (from a couple thousand in the early part of the century in New York City to maybe a couple hundred today).
The first reason is simple economics. The traditional foods served by the deli have very high material costs. The margin on that $9 or $14 pastrami sandwich will be a buck at best. Add in high rents (especially in Manhattan) and labor costs and you've got a business challenge of the first order.
The second reason -- and the one Sax spent most of his time discussing -- is culture. He quickly touched on a variety of cultural reasons for the deli's decline (generational change, changes in food tastes, etc.), but I found one particularly interesting: No homeland for keeping the tradition alive. For example, the reason why Italian restaurants are still going strong, even though changes in U.S. immigration law largely shut off the Italians as much as the Jews in 1920, is that there is still an Italy with a thriving, evolving food culture. Same goes for the various Asian cuisines and just about any other ethnic cuisine you can think of. Not so Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine: the Holocaust wiped out the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe and, with it, the natural homeland of their cookery.
That's not true of the style of Jewish cuisine that has most recently taken root and thrived in America, Israeli/Middle Eastern cooking. Falafel stands are ubiquitous, as Israelis migrate to the U.S. and open restaurants offering their home cooking, as reinterpreted here in America. Because there is an Israel with its own cooking traditions (albeit, adapted from Arabic cultures, just as Ashkenazi cooking adapted from Polish, Germany, French and other european cultures), there is a living base from which to grow.
In his Philadelphia talk, Sax offered a number of possible solutions -- including his belief that delis should eschew buying finished corned beer and pastrami from the large processors, like Hebrew National (a unit of Conagra), and instead cure their own meats and make everything they can on premises. Since he was speaking in Philadelphia, he singled at Hershel's East Side Deli in the Reading Terminal Market as a fine example. (That's where he lunched.)
Sax is definitely going to be a big hit at all the pre-Hanukah Jewish Book Fairs around North America. The fact that he's from Toronto and has a passion for Montreal smoked meat, you shouldn't against him hold.
David's web site: Save the Deli
Sunday, November 01, 2009
It's a high-priced cup cake, as befitting the New York Yankees. Rebecca Michaels, proprietor of Flying Monkey Patisserie at the Reading Terminal Market created this goodie for any New Yorkers visiting for the World Series who had cash to burn.
Forgotten foods of the region will be the focus of a festival at the Reading Terminal Market on Saturday, Nov. 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
A number of merchants will be preparing some of these foods from our past, and they'll all be available for tasting at reasonable cost. (You'll probably buy tickets at a central point, then exchange the tickets for the tastes.)
Among the featured foods:
- Copes Dried Corn, Wilbur Buds (the original from which Hershey derived his kisses), and Buttercreams from Pennsylvania General Store.
- Fried Catfish and Waffles, Pepperpot Soup from the Down Home Diner.
- Pepper Hash from AJ's Pickles.
- Fried Oysters from Pearl's served with Chicken Salad (probably from Hershel's).
- Snapper Soup from Pearl's.
- Cape May Salt Oysters, Cranberries and Black Walnuts from Fair Food Farmstand.
- Fresh Grated Horseradish from Hershel's.
Dominic Spataro, whose sandwich shop has been a presence at the market for decades, said fresh grated horseradish brings back fond market memories for him. Nearly half a century ago a merchant named Franklin Field made it on premises for sale at the predecessor to today's Spice Terminal, where he also offered fresh grated coconut. His granted both by hand on a tool used by carpenters to bevel latticework, wearing a leather apron to protect himself from injury Another of Field's products that was quite popular was Irish dulse (seaweed). The tradition continued when Field's stall was taken over by Harvey Riley, who ran it until it closed in the late 1970s. The spice shop was located near where Iovine Brothers Produce stands today.
Poses: The Commissary At Home
Steve Poses, remembered by many as one of the movers creating Philadelphia's Restaurant Renaissance in the 1970s and 1980s through his Commissary restaurant, has spent his efforts since then with his catering business. Now he's published a book about home entertaining, At Home: A Caterer's Guide to Cooking & Entertaining.
Poses will be in the Piano Court next Saturday, Nov. 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. promoting the book and its companion web site and sharing his expertise and passion for home entertaining. He’ll present mini-courses designed to help plan a delicious and stress-free Thanksgiving. The book, usually sold only online (www.athomebysteveposes) will also be available for purchase.
There will be a bit of show and tell when author David Sax visits the Free Public Library Tuesday evening to promote his book, Save the Deli. A couple of local delis will be providing noshes, including pastrami of Hershel's Deli of the Reading Terminal Market. The program is free and begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 19th and Vine.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Want a muffaletta, or a Po' Boy? You can get them now at the Reading Terminal Market with the opening this past Monday of Beck's Cajun Café.
Alas, no beignets yet. Bill Beck, the proprietor, said he wasn't told when he ordered his mixer that it was on back order, but it is. So we'll have to wait to try this version of sweet fried dough.
She Who Must Be Obeyed and I visited the market today to sample Beck's fare. SWMBO ordered the muffaletta, I opted for the Oyster Po'Boy.
I didn't ask Bill where he got his bread, but the hoagie-style roll for the Po' Boy and the round, sesame seeded muffaletta bread were both excellent. (I can't compare to what you'd get in New Orleans, since I've never been there.) Although I generally like my hoagie rolls with a thin crispy crust, the soft-style long and round rolls were good protein holders.
SWMBO enjoyed the muffaletta, but she prefers the pressed style of this sandwich. Bill explained he modeled his on the version found at Central Grocery in New Orleans, which claims to be the home of this sandwich; Central's versions, and Beck's, is an unpressed sandwich filled with cold fixings. And the fixings are very good, indeed: mortadella, salami, tasso ham and aged provolone with a New Orleans style vinaigrette and adorned with an olive salad. And the sandwich is huge. The $8.95 "half" sandwich easily fills up two hearty eaters. SWMBO didn't eat half of a half; we took the remainder home and will press it on the stove between two cast iron skillets for lunch tomorrow.
Of course, the muffaletta is nothing more than a variant on the hero, sub or hoagie, something you'll find in any Italian-American community. The difference, to my mind, is in the breads and the garnishes. The olive salad on Beck's was superb, a mix of what seemed to be two or three different olives, including one that actually has a reddish cast.
My $7.59 Fried Oyster Po' Boy was a bit less massive, though it easily could feed two lighter eaters. The six large oysters were expertly fried with a breading of panko. They sat atop a hoagie style roll slathered in remoulade and garnished with lettuce and tomato.
If you're a root beer fan, be sure to order a bottle of the Abita root beer. It's a strong, herbal brew that will satisfy your root beer cravings. Just a whiff of it satisfies.
We also added the Cajun fries, which were tasty potato wedges spiked with onions and something to give them heat (maybe Tabasco or Crystal?).
Service at the counter (which seats about a dozen, I'd guess) was personable and fast.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
If you want to start up a stall at the Reading Terminal Market, you'll have to wait for an existing vendor to fail.
With the recent move of the Fair Food Farmstand to the 12th Street side of the market, the opening of S&B Meats and Barb & Suzy's Kitchen, and next week's opening of Beck's Cajun Café all available space has been leased for the first time in a couple of years.
The move of Fair Food expands the available seating in the court closest to Arch Street, and it will remain that way, according to Paul Steinke, the market's general manager.
When I think of Jujubes, I think of the tiny gummy candies from Heide's I would buy during my pre-adolescent years at the Saturday matinees at the Elmora Theater in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where I saw such classics as "X the Unknown" and "The Blob".
Little did I know there was another Jujube, which I found recently at Iovine Brothers' Produce at the Reading Termninal Market (photo top right). Unlike the sweet, sugary little pellets of my childhood, these Jujubes are alleged to have medicinal properties, as well as a more adult taste. They somewhat resemble dates and, indeed, are sometimes called Red Dates or Chinese Dates, though their origin is probably India. They have a wonderful scientific name: Ziziphus zizyphus. For those interested here's the Wikipedia entry.
The kaffir limes (photo at right) are also purportedly medicinal and are primarily used in Southeast Asian and Indonesian cuisines, frequently in a curry paste. They are also available at Iovine's.
With the coming of winter (it sure seems close with our recent weather) Iovine's is bringing in more citrus fruit. This past week Valencia oranges were available in bags at a bargain price of $1.99 for a four-pound bag. Tangerines were six for a buck, and Florida navels were five for $2. Cara Cara oranges were 3 for $1. Limes were a bit less pricey today, 5 for a buck. Lemons were 3/$1, but they were heavy with juice. After a hiatus of a week or so, red and green cactus pears are back in stock.
Figs remain available, at least those from California. A pint box of about a dozen brown figs was selling for $4.99 at Iovines. Chile, which dominates the out-of-season fruit market in Philadelphia, is expanding into avocados to compete with Mexico. Iovines was selling medium sized fruits this week, 2 for $1.49; smaller ones were in a separate bin for a quarter apiece.
For as long as I've been shopping there Iovines has sold tofu, but only the medium firm type they package into plastic containers in water. This week they expanded tofu offerings to include three or four additional firm and super firm versions, including a "tofu cutlet" ready for cooking. You can find them in the refrigerated cases by the Filbert Street checkout.
Unpasteurized cider is back in stock at Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce, available in pints and half-gallons. (In the past Ben Kauffman has also sold it in quarts; maybe he'll have those next week).
Kauffman's always has a nice selection of brassicas each fall, and this year is no exception, as demonstrated by the purple and white cauliflower, romanesco and broccoli in the photo at left.
One of the joys of Lancaster County in the fall is the appearance of local celery. Livingood's had them at the RTM this morning, $2 a bunch. The celery grown in Lancaster County is a tad less stalky and more leafy, but it's crispy freshness (versus the trans-continental California product) and deep green color make it welcome. I'll put some stalks on an old-fashioned relish tray, with a selection of olives, at dinner tonight. (Drat! I forgort to buy some fresh radishes to complete that tray.)
If we're lucky when we get closer to Thanksgiving we might see some white celery, which is the same thing as green celery except that the stalks are buried so they aren't exposed to light; the process is the same that produces white asparagus. This labor-intensive celery makes a wonderful side when braised in butter with a little white wine
When I first started visiting the Reading Terminal Market more than a quarter century ago, Spataro's was known as the place where you could stop for lunch and pay about as little for a sandwich as humanly possible. Inflation and menu upgrades have changed that, though Spataro's (which has since moved from one part of Center Court to another) still represents good value.
The addition of cheese steaks to Spataro's bill of fare earlier this year is partly responsible for the hike in average menu cost ($7 for a plain steak, iirc). Their version of the cheese steak represents the third and final entry in my RTM survey of this Philadelphia classic.
The best thing about Spataro's is the meat. Although it would take side-by-side comparisons to confirm this (I've spaced my tastings over the past five or six weeks), I thought their meat was the beefiest I've tried so far, when compared to By George and Carmen's. There was also a satisfactory taste of onions in my sandwich though I could have used a bit more. The bread was okay, the typical soft steak roll -- I'd like just a hint of crunch to the crust.
The main failing was the cheese: I couldn't taste it, let alone detect the cheesy, gooey mouth feel I want my cheese steak to convey. As best as I could determine, they used two thin slices of American, though provolone is also offered. Another failing is the unavailability of hot sauce.
Still, it's a fine representation of a cheese steak and you won't be disappointed when you crave this icon of our fair city's culinary heritage.
More About DiNic's Pulled Pork
This morning Joe Nicolosi offered me a taste of some of his pulled pork fresh out of the oven. Gotta say, while this sandwich is excellent eating any time of the day, it's better if you can get it fresh before the fat has a chance to re-congeal. It absolutely melted in the mouth, with textural contrast offered by the crunchy bits. As previously noted, don't confuse this version with what you're likely to find in North Carolina: the seasonings are Italian (with tons of garlic), not barbecue.
Sunday, October 04, 2009
That halibut I purchased a week ago at John Yi's in the Reading Terminal Market (about one and a third-pound) wound up providing the basis of five servings: three for dinner the first night, them two "leftover" portions of fish hash.
I first encountered fish hash at a so-so short-lived fish restaurant on Mount Desert Island near Acadia National Park. The restaurant, Bulger's, was replaced after a season or two by XYZ, one of my fav Mexican restaurants anywhere I've been in the U.S.
Fish hash is nothing more than leftover fish turned into a potato-onion hash. It's best with a mild, firm white flesh fish like halibut or haddock. Here's my recipe:
All purpose potato, 1 to 1-1/2 pound
Fish filet (white flesh), 6-8 ounces, cooked and roughy flaked
Onion, one medium
Bell pepper, one medium
Cayenne pepper to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
- Prep washed, skin-on potatoes into half-inch cubes. Dice onion to roughly the same size.
- Melt 2-3 tablespoons bacon fat in 10-12 inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
- When fat is hot, turn heat to high and add potatoes and cook, undisturbed after initial tossing, for five minutes.
- Return heat to medium-high, toss potatoes, add caynne, salt and pepper, layer onion and bell peppers on top. Cook for five minutes more undisturbed before tossing again. Continue cooking for about five minutes more, tossing occasionally to brown everything nicely. Add flaked fish, toss some more. When it's heated through, serve.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
The Cost of Progress
Few ever noticed it, but the background to L Halteman’s fresh produce shelves, a rustic depicting of Lancaster County farming. came down when Iovine Brothers Produce consolidated most of its prep operations last month.
The mural was no great shakes as far as art goes, and it certainly wouldn’t be added to any museum’s collection of American folk art. Still, it was a nice little touch that added to the Reading Terminal Market’s eccentricity.
On the plus side, it gives Halteman’s stall greater visibility.
Friday, February 20, 2009
It seems my earlier report that the shad at John Yi's were harvested from Southern U.S. rivers was mistaken. According to the signs, these comes from European waters. Further research shows that there are two species of European shad inhabiting eastern Atlantic waters from Morrocco north to Norway, though the commercial shad fishery is centered in the Gironde-Garonne-Dordogne basin of France.
Although these fillets, whole fish and roe sets looked fine, you're probably better off waiting for the local run, which arrives in late April and early May. Or visit the annual Lambertville shad festival, scheduled this year for April 25 and 26.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
At least temporarily, as Fisher's has demolished its existing stand in order to build a new one, which should be open by Flower Show, which begins Feb. 28. When it reopens, Fisher's will be strictly a candy vendor. In the meantime, Fisher's is selling candy in the spaces formerly occupied by Dutch Country Meats and Every Day Gourmet, as shown in the photo.
Across the aisle, Miller's Twists is well along on construction, anticipating opening Feb. 25, which is when you can satisfy your fresh-baked pretzel addiction. (In the meantime, you can indulge on a fine example of street pretzel sold at the Pennslylvania General Store.) As previous reported, Miller's has bought Fisher's pretzel and ice cream business and is moving it to the west side of the Green Court seating area.
Right now seating is scarce in the Green Court, but will be restored to pretty much the previous level when the Fair Food Farmstand makes its move to the 12th Street side in May.
Fair Food Funding Gain
Fair Food is closing in on its funding needs for the move, thanks to a $50,000 state grant being arranged through State Rep. Dwight Evans, who just happen to chair the House's Appropriation Committee.
Members of the Fair Food staff attended Pennsylvania Association of Sustainable Agriculture Conference in State College earlier this month, and in addition to attending various workshops also exhibited a "mini" farmstand. One of the goals was to find new farmers to let them know how the Fair Food Farmstand can help in selling their products.
Stands To Remodel
Lancaster County Dairy needs more space, Old City Coffee's adjacent stand is a jury-rigged mess. Solution: Old City reduces its footprint in a redesigned stall, making the operation more efficient (particularly important on a morning like today, when attendees and exhibitors from the crafts show at the Convention Center caused long lines). And Lancaster County Dairy gets the space it needs.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A steaming bowl of chili or cauldron of soup seems essentially in cold weather. Fish chowder also satisfies that craving for me.
I went with a piece of haddock from John Yi's Saturday. Since I'm the only one in the house who enjoys this New England classic, I only used about a quarter pound of filet. A lot of folks think New England chowders have be creamy and thick. They don't. IMHO, whole milk allows the flavor of the fish to come through best.
I start out by gently sautéing in bacon fat a small onion, a stalk of celery, and half a carrot, all diced to about one-quarter inch. Once they turn translucent I add a medium diced potato, and gently sauté for about 10 minutes. Next comes about a cup of stock (I used vegetable stock made primarily from last fall's red celery from Tom Culton of Headhouse Square, though either fish or chicken stock would work very well) and a cup of milk, which simmers the veggies for another 10 minutes. By this time the potatoes are just about done, so it's time to add the fish (cut up into spoon-sized pieces), salt and pepper to taste, and thyme, dried or fresh, maintaining the pot at a simmer. After five minutes add a tablespoon of butter -- don't stir, just let it melt atop the liquid. By the time the butter adds its yellow sheen, the fish is probably cooked through. Once in the bowl, I top the chowder with fresh chopped parsley. To accompany, I used the last of my precious stock of Crown Royal crackers, a Maine favorite which has been discontinued by Nabisco, but OTCs would work well, too. Saltines and oyster crackers just don't have the necessary heft for those soup.
If you don't like plain white fish, no reason why you can't use shrimp, lobster, scallops or clams.
That filet of haddock at John Yi's in the Reading Terminal Market set me back $7.99/pound, which was also the price of the flounder. Fluke was $9.99. It was also one of those weeks where wild striped bass cost less than its farmed-raised cousin (a striped bass-white bass cross), $4.99 vs. $6.99 for whole fish. Boston mackeral has made an early appearance (it's strongest runs start in the spring), with prices ranging from $1.49 to $2.59, depending upon size. Medium-sized porgies were $2.99, cod filet (which would be an other good choice for chowder) $9.99, black sea bass $5.99.
A Wan's Seafood, the haddock would have set me back $11.99/pound. Whole striped bass as $3.99 (though the quality didn't look quite as good as at Yi's), though the filets were appealing at $9.99. Wan's was the only RTM fishmonger still selling sardines, $3.99.
Golden Fish's new cases displayed wild striped bass at $4.99, whole black sea bass at $4.99, Bronzino (another sea bass, farm-raised in Europe) for $7.99 on the bone, and particularly good looking, fat mackeral at $2.99.
Also, the two businesses which will share the former Dutch Country Meats stall are S&B Meats (the butcher) and Barb & Suzy's Kitchen.
I counted more than a dozen varieties of citrus fruit at Iovine Brothers Produce Saturday morning. Here they are, along with prices:
- Temple oranges 5/$1
- Jumanji oranges 2/$1.49
- Blood oranges 4/$1
- Tangelos 5/$1
- Tangelos (3-pound bag of about 11) $2.99
- Tangerines 10/$1
- Ruby grapefruit (medium) 3/$1
- Red grapefruit ( large) 2/$1.49
- Navel oranges (California) 2/$1.49
- White grapefruit (medium) $2/1
- Honeybells 2/$1
- Cara Cara red oranges 2/$1.49
- Navel oranges (Sunkist medium) 3/$1
- Juice oranges (Florida) 4/$1
- Red navel oranges (Florida) 4/$1
If organic and small grower citrus from Florida is one of your requirements, you might consider stopping by the Fair Food Farmstand and paying a premium. Navels and Cara Cara red oranges were selling for $1.50 apiece, Sunburst tangerous 95 cents each. A premier juice variety, Hamlin, priced at 60 cents apiece. Red grapefruit were $2.75.
Jonathan Best, the new fancy foods grocer at the Reading Terminal Market, will celebrate a grand opening next Tuesday. Jan. 27. The festivities include a raffle for "a weekend getaway in Chestnut Hill," where the business's main store is located. Also on the agenda: music from a Beatles cover band and soup samples. The celebration will be celebrated from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The store will donate 20 percent of the day's proceeds to Project H.O.M.E.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
When Charles Giunta opened his Giunta's Prime Shop at the Reading Terminal Market his goal was to offer strictly organic or hormone-free meats. Though his signage suggested he'd be carrying USDA prime grade meats, he did not.
Now, Charles' products happen to be of excellent quality; I think his wet-aged beef, particularly the steaks, are about the best value you can find in red meat protein.
But the signs are misleading, and only a portion of the beef he carries is hormone-free, let alone organic. You have to ask whether a particular cut is hormone-free before you buy it, and the staff is not uniformly informed. Although I prefer hormone-free meats, I don't have hard-and-fast rules about it – if the beef tastes good. But I don't think he signs should suggest otherwise.
As for the "Prime" moniker, while that is also deceiving, I don't have as much of a problem. When USDA changed its grading standards more than 20 years ago, the difference between Prime and Choice became a lot fuzzier, as far as I am concerned. There's plenty of Prime out there that isn't, and, likewise, it's not that difficult to find Choice that tastes like Prime. And I won't even get into how most of the prime rib roasts (more properly called standing rib roasts) sold in this country are not Prime grade beef.
Likewise, only some of Charles' poultry products are hormone-free organic. He initially carried a lot of Eberle product, but now he focuses on Bell & Evans, which is a natural bird, i.e., no additives, non-therapeutic antibiotics or growth hormones. The all-natural ducks from Joe Jurgielewicz & Son of Shartlesville, about half an hour north of Reading, are superb.
When I recently asked Charles about this issue, he observed that he simply couldn't have survived on just organic and natural meats because they are more expensive; his customers just didn't purchase them in high enough quantities to justify basing the business on them. While there are a few customers who will pay $18 or $23 for a steak, the vast majority of shoppers, including those at the Reading Terminal Market, look for the least expensive product that still offers reasonable quality.
A tip of the hat to fellow blogger Gaetano of Philly Market Cafe for refocusing my attention on the signage discrepancy.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
When the Fair Food Farmstand moves to its new location within the Reading Terminal Market sometime this spring, this old, recalcitrant freezer case will be replaced. A week ago Friday is went kaput, forcing FFF to sell it's contents (mostly meat) at half-price, much to the delight of shoppers. The few items that remained were donated to a local food bank. That's FFF co-manager Sarah Cain lamenting her cool problems.
The new cases at Golden Fish, one of three fishmongers at the Reading Terminal Market, have been in place for about a month. They make a big difference in how the product looks. Much more attractive than the old cold cases.
Monday, January 12, 2009
I'm a sauerkraut fan, so I picked up a jar of Wills Valley Farm's fermented red cabbage at the Reading Terminal Market's Fair Food Farmstand a couple of weeks ago.
Straight out of the jar, I did not care for it. But when cooked . . . WOW!
I came to this conclusion after gently braising some German-style hot dogs in the red cabbage kraut. First I gently sautéed a medium onion in canola oil (butter would work, too) until just barely starting to turn golden, then I added the red cabbage, allowing it to cook covered for about 10-15 minutes. I had an old Asian pear, slightly shriveled, sitting in the crisper, so I peeled it and grated the pulp into the cabbage. (An apple is the usual addition, but none were in the larder.) Then I added maybe a quarter cup of water (if I had an open bottle of white wine, I would have used that), a couple of the foot-long franks, covered again and simmered low for another 10-15 minutes. Delicious, especially when served with a German-style mustard.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Found this morning on the counter of DiNic's at the Reading Terminal Market: bags full of bread delivered from an Italian bakery, to be filled later in the day with roast pork, veal, sausages, roast beef, brisket, pulled pork, etc., etc., etc..
Not unusual, except for the printing on some of the bags. It's in Hebrew. Hard to explain how they came into the possession of Dante's, the bakery at 8th and Watkins that supplies DiNic's, other than the bag manufacturer had an overrun.
Still, the bags are suitable, since they advertise Agadir, small Israeli chain featuring burgers, but also roast beef, sausage (merguez and chorizo) sandwiches and an interesting array of salads and starters. And yes, you can get a cheeseburger: the chain is not kosher.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Local TV stations were scheduled to cover the crush of shoppers at the Reading Terminal Market during their morning shows today. Hundreds line up before the doors open at 8 a.m. the day before Thanksgiving.
In addition to the Pennsylvania Dutch merchants who made an early showing this week at the Reading Terminal Market, Earl Livengood was also there Tuesday and Wednesday (today). Among the many autumn produce stalwarts at Livengood's were romanescue heads of diminutive size, perfect for two eaters.
Arctic char made its appearance at John Yi's this week. The filets are selling for $14.99. Char is usually farm-raised in Canada and Iceland, and is considered to be considerably more environmentally benign than salmon aquaculture. Char, a salmonid, is somewhere between trout and salmon in size and flavor. Expect more fish variety at the market as we approach Christmas.
This past weekend busted all sorts of records for market visitors, according to RTM GM Paul Steinke, with the highest attendance seen since the Flower Show. Much of it was driven by Philadelphia marathon competitors and visitors.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Over at the Reading Terminal Market, extra checkouts have been added at Iovine Brothers Produce for the holiday rush in an effort to keep those long lines moving.
Many of the Pennsylvania Dutch merchants, who are usually closed on Mondays and Tuesday, will be open on those days (as well as Wednesday) before Thanksgiving. Those planning to be open both Monday and Tuesday are AJ Pickle Patch, Beiler's Bakery, Hatville Deli, L. Halteman Country F0ods, and Lancaster County Dairy. In addition, the Dutch Eating Place, Dienner's BBQ Chicken, and the Rib Stand will be open Tuesday.
On the day before Thanksgiving, shoppers lined up waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. will be treated to free sample cups of coffee, courtesy of Old City Coffee. But it won't be at all the doors: just the 12th & Filbert entrance.
This morning 12 servers were working at Godshalls to push out those Thanksgiving birds, with a lineup of customers as soon as the market opened at 8 a.m. Expected even longer lines Wednesday.
Temporarily, at least, the Fair Food Farmstand has some extra display space, though no sales space. It's in the vacant stall formerly occupied by Everyday Gourmet and, before that, Andros. Squashes and other colorful items point the way to the the farmstand.
Speaking of Andros, he's the only retailer in town (2056 Pine) where you can acquire Leonidas chocolates, a high volume but nonetheless delicious Belgian praline manufacturer. As was once snootily explained to me by the proprietress of the old Belgian Chocolate House on S. 17th, "That's what you buy your domestic for Christmas." I'd do windows for that stuff!
The paperwork is moving along for a new pork purveyor who will move into the space formerly occupied by Dutch Country Meats. The stall has a long history of pork vendors dating back to Moyers and Charles Giunta (who now operates Giunta's Prime Shop). The butcher will sell the Stoltzfus Meats' product line, including scrapple and sausages as well as fresh pork. Not determined whether he'd handle deli products. In addition to its store in Intercourse, Stoltzfus sells at the Ardmore Farmers' Market, the New Castle Farmers' Market, and Beechwood Deli at the Fairgrounds Farmers' market, Allentown.
The Philadelphia Daily News' has selected the Reading Terminal Market as recipient of two of its People's Choice Awards: Best Farmers Market and Best Produce.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Florida juice oranges, Valencias and small navels were selling for 20 cents apiece. Sunburst tangerines continue to be eight for a buck. Among the grapefruits, larger pink and white grapefruits were two for a buck, small ruby three for a buck, larger Star ruby 99 cents apiece. Lemons and limes were both selling for 25 cents each, though O.K. Lee offered bags of limes (8 to a bag) for about half that price. In buying citrus, don't go by looks alone; instead, go for the fruit that's heaviest in the hand for its size.
Iovine's is also pushing imported berries. Half-pint clamshells of Argentine blueberries and Mexican raspberries could be had for a buck apiece. More attractive, to me, were the California brown figs, $1.99 for a box of about eight.
With Thanksgiving approaching, string beans are in demand, and Iovines featured bins of crisp fresh ones for 89-cents a pound.
Even though it's still autumn, John Yi must think it's spring. You could buy small whole shad there for $2.99/pound. In a few weeks we should start to see a wider variety of fish as Yi and the RTM's other fishmongers stock up for the holidays.
Ikea showed off holiday food treats Thursday at La Cucina, the demonstration kitchen and cooking school at the Reading Terminal Market. Ikea staffers outfitted in blue-striped frocks lured customers in with Pepparkoker, a ginger snap-like cookie.
I tasted the gravlax, with various cheeses, meetballs and sweets also available to sample. Alas, I was disappointed in my search for, as Ulla would say, "many different herrings": not a single tidbit of Culpea harengus, the Atlantic herring species that finds its way into so many excellent Scandinavian buffets.
Limited groceries, at a price
Jonathan Best opened last week in the spot formerly held down by Margerum's and the Natural Connection. The high-end grocer is a welcome addition to the Reading Terminal Market. The homemade soup selection looked inviting, the flavored spreads appetizing, and the chocolate bar selection downright sinful.
That's the good news. The bad news: it's not Margerum's.
The beauty of the old Margerum's store, which closed in 2001, was that if you needed a jar of Hellman's mayonaisse or a bottle of Heinz ketchup for a recipe, you could get it. You'd pay a bit more than at a supermarket, but not unreasonably so. That was in addition to all the wonderful variety of dried legumes Noelle Margerum stocked.
You can still buy mayonnaise or ketchup at Jonathan Best. But the mayo won't be Hellman's and the ketchup won't be Heinz's. The mayo will be some organic, high-end variety priced at $6.59 for a 16-ounce jar. The ketchup will be an $8.99, 11-ounce bottle of from Wilkins & Son of the U.K.
The problem, of course, is that a merchant can't make a living selling Heinz ketchup and Hellman's mayonnaise at the RTM: the margins aren't great, the volume too low. To make the rent (which is lower for grocers and purveyors than it is for the lunch stand vendors), a grocer has to do something more. That appears to be where Jonathan Best succeeds. I haven't tried the soups yet, though they look good and plenty of market visitors this week were trying the free samples being ladled out. I did taste one of the spreads (pumpkin), and it would be a perfect nibble with cocktails for the fall season. The chocolate bars (expensive, the cassis-flavored dark bar I purchased was selling at the equivalent of $37/pound) are excellent.
If you prefer to buy your spices jarred rather than in bulk, as at the Spice Terminal, Jonathan Best is for you. They've also got a larger selection of dried pastas than Salumeria. And the selection of fruit jams and preserves expands upon that available at the Spice Terminal.
Still, it would be nice to be able to buy some non-gourmet mayo for my tuna salad or ketchup for my burgers at the market. Maybe even a box of corn flakes I can used for oven-fried chicken!
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
As Thanksgiving nears, local celery begins to hit area farmers' markets. Here are meter-long samples of red celery found Sunday at Tom Culton's Headhouse Square stall. Soon we'll see blanched celery, which is grown (mostly) under dirt to prevent the stalks from turning green.
Don't limit yourself to raw celery. This red celery, with thin, tough stalks and coarse leaves, is much more suitable for cooking, with a more intense flavor than the common celery. Braised celery (especially the blanched variety) makes an interesting veggie alternative; you can up the interest even more by finishing with some cream. I used the red celery as the major component in a vegetable stock (along with leek, carrrots and a whole head of garlic). Most of that stock is waiting in the freezer, but I used some last night to create an ersatz caldo verde, adding diced carrots, shredded kale and chorizo, but skipping the potato.
Culton recently returned from Slow Food's Salone del Gusto 2008 in Turin, where he was bowled over by everything, but especially the prosciutto produced from a southern Italian breed of goat. Culton hopes to begin raising the breed here. (No doubt Marc Vetri, who travelled to Turin with Tom, would be interested in Culton's animal husbandry.) Because Culton's pulled out his field crops to concentrate on vegetables, he's got the acreage to create room for ruminants to ruminate. Also impressing him was Eataly, the Turin warehouse food emporium inspired by and associated with the Slow Food movement. Culton said the display of various artichokes (a crop he grows here) was as long as the Headhouse shambles.
About that cream . . .
Most of the heavy cream you come across is ultra-pasteurized for a long, stable, boring shelf life. But you can find good, old fashioned regular pasteurized cream, which hasn't been subjected to the flavor-destroying high temperatures necessary for that longevity. It's been a couple of decades since supermarkets sold the regular stuff, but you can find it at Whole Foods and at the Reading Terminal Market (Lancaster County Dairy).
The Reading Terminal Market's web site says Jonathan Best, the grocer and soup purveyor, opened this morning.
Monday, November 03, 2008
As always, click on photo to enlarge
No doubt they'll also have them Tuesday afternoon
at South Street and Thursday afternoon in Fairmount.
Produce stand artfully arranged these samples of brassica:
cauliflower in three colors, broccoli and brussels sprouts.
Not pictured was Ben's romanescue.
Hardly a year goes by and Iovine Brothers Produce decides its time to play musical chairs with its Reading Terminal Market displays. It keeps customers and staff on their toes.
The net result of this year's re-arrangement is a much more open feeling. That was achieved by using lower level bins for the first two aisles, mostly containing fruits and featured veggies. The racks of dried fruits, nuts and other items was moved against the window wall along Filbert Street. The standard size display cases form the row between the window wall and the bins. The mushroom refrigerated cases now joins the other coolers along the Filbert Street windows nearest the checkout.
Another facelift could been seen at Harry Ochs, where a new case is home to prepared items (like stuffed flank steaks, stuffed pork chops, patés, etc.), making more room for raw meat in the main case. The big roast and steak subprimals, however, are now invisible in the walk-in refrigerator.
As of Saturday, Jonathan Best was not yet open, but it appeared that all the cases and shelving was in place, just waiting to be stocked. I would expect they'll make every effort to open in advance of Thanksgiving.
With Rick's Steaks now departed, most of that space now serves as a seating area.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Those same Griggstown Quail Farms Red Bourbon turkeys I mentioned in the previous post are also availalble through the Fair Food Farmstand at the Reading Terminal Market. And they are even less expensive! The Farmstand is charging $6.50/pound for the heritage birds. In addition, you can reserve a traditional turkey for $2.99 (naturally raised) or $$4.50 (certified organic).
For the rest of your Thanksgiving table, you can take advantage of Fair Food Farmstand's other offerings, including both common and unusual squashes and white and red cranberries.
Aaack! The Farmstand is still using the term "wildcrafted". Last spring it was used to describe fiddlehead ferns. In the FFF's most recent weekly newsletter they are promoting Hen of the Woods mushrooms "wildcrafted by Patrick Murphy". Wildcrafted is taken to mean the gathering of wild plants in a manner which causes no permanent harm to the environment or the species. The goal is laudable, the nomenclature deplorable, a grave abuse of the English language worthy only of the most depraved advertising copywriter. How about "sustainably-gathered" instead? Wild-crafted erroneously suggests Patrick created/raised/nurtured the mushrooms.
Oh, well. At least the newsletter no longer considers the Jonamac a heritage apple!
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The Clark Park Farmers' Market, sponsored by The Food Trust, will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday, Sept 6. In addition to the market from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., there will be music and other activities throughout the morning and for a few hours beyond market closing time. In addition to the Saturday market, there's a smaller Thursday afternoon market.
I made my first trip since spring to Clark Park and was overwhelmed by the produce offered by about a dozen vendors. You can see a gallery of the photos I took here. Great variety of tomatoes, plenty of summer fruits and veggies of all types. Because I had been to the Reading Terminal Market the day before, the Fairmount market the day before that, and was planning to get to Headhouse the next day, I limited myself to some fresh corn and yellow summer squash. They went great with the loin lamb chops I acquired at Giunta's Prime Shop at the RTM.
At Headhouse on Sunday plenty of heirloom tomatoes were in evidence at Culton's Organics (photo at right), though I passed these up in favor of their "Currant" tomatoes, tiny little beauties on the vine smaller than "grape" tomatoes. Their highest use is probably just popping them into your waiting mouth, but I used them a quick pasta sauce last night, augmented by just a touch of onion and garlic. Yum. I also picked up some Mirai corn from Culton's, 50 cents an ear.
More Headhouse photos from this week's trip here.
A brief tomato digression. As much as I love the different flavors and characteristics of the various heirloom tomatoes, I certainly don't disparage the basic "field" tomato. Get them ripe off the vine and they not only taste great, they offer a good bargain. And when it comes to picking a tomato for my BLT, I'll pass up the Brandywines, Cherokee Purples and Green Zebras for a good old field tomato, so long as it's ripe and fresh-picked.
And another digression: you can't go wrong in the bacon department for that BLT by getting the Green Meadow Farms product double-smoked by King's Butcher Shop in Paradise, sold at the Reading Terminal by the Fair Food Farmstand. Then again, the applewood smoked bacon available at Harry Ochs works, too. And I've got a package of Country Time's uncured bacon (also from Fair Food) sitting unopened in the fridge which I'm going to try soon.
Over at Fairmount on Thursday I talked with Dwain Livengood, who said he'd be killing some of his chickens over the next week, so they'd be available fresh rather than frozen. The birds are in the 3-4 pound range, and it's best to reserve them. I'll pick up mine this Thursday at Fairmount, but they'll also be available Tuesday afternoon at South Street and Saturday at the Reading Terminal.
Also at Fairmount, Bill Weller is selling some great produce. The cantelope I bought two weeks ago and the watermelon purchased last week were both flavorful and sweet. Last week I also purchased some donut (saturn) variety yellow peaches and turned them into cobbler. Their skins don't peel as easily as regular peaches, even after the hot water/ice water shock treatment, and there's a higher proportion of peel to flesh, so they are probably best used as a fresh-eating peach rather than in cooked and baked applications where you'd want to peel them. Still, even with the extra work and stray pieces of skin, the cobbler tasted terrific.
Earlier this month at the Reading Terminal Market's Pennsylvania Dutch Festival, Nick Ochs got into the spirit (photo at left) with some overalls and a straw hat.
As usual, the festival attracted strong summertime crowds to the market, and the pony cart rarely traversed the block with an empty seat. Bieler's was making donuts in center court, and I tried a hot one as soon as I arrived about 8:30 a.m. Alas, the oil must not have been hot enough: I could have fried a flounder with all the grease this baby absorbed.
Both Iovine's and OK Lee offer local produce as well as the same California, Florida and Mexican imports you'd find at a supermarket (though usually at a lower price). Jersey tomatoes and Pennsylvania corn are among Iovine's offerings, as well as local eggplants, green beans, etc. Finds from further afield recently have included raw peanuts and black figs.
Plenty of local produce can also be found at L. Halteman's and Kauffman's Lancaster County Produce. Benuel Kauffman has expanded across the aisle (photo below) to some of the space formerly occupied by Dutch Country Meats.
Across the aisle (between 12th Street Cantina and Martin's Meats) is the vacant space once occupied by Natural Connection and, before that, Margerum's. David Schreiber has finally got his financing in place and signed a lease, so work will begin soon on converting the spot to his Jonathan's Best grocery. "The store will carry a wide variety of gourmet groceries and packaged foods, plus pre-made sandwiches, salads and their signature line of soups to eat in or take home. Dave, a native Philadelphia, hopes to open in October," said Paul Steinke, RTM general manager.