A Bike Share Grows In Philly
Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Don’t worry, this one will get around to local food. On Sunday we took our first ride on Indego, Philadelphia’s brand new bike sharing program. We signed up online, picked up our bikes at the station a block from our house, and headed out. Since it was our first ride, and neither of us are by any means veteran city riders, we went straight to the Delaware River Trail that leads past the new Washington Avenue Green and continues south. We rode down to check out the construction of Pier 68, a new park featuring fishing and a sloping lawn for picnicking, due to open later this summer.
The bikes were smartly designed, solidly built, easy to check out and return and absurdly fun to ride.
And the local food? I don’t know if it was because I had just read Marie Viljoen describe them on her blog 66 Square Feet or our new vantage point from the bikes, but I spotted several patches of japanese knotweed growing along the trail. According to Viljoen, local forager David Siller and others, the invasive knotweed has a sour, lemony taste similar to rhubarb. We might just have to return and fill those handy baskets.
Saturday, January 03, 2015
I’d first read about Unionville in reading about the Judgement of Princeton and, of course, through Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blog. This reading prepared me for the quality of wine. What it did not prepare me for was the gorgeous countryside adjacent to the Sourland Mountain Preserve. This is some of the most idyllic wine country we have seen in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
Unionville is actually four separate farms making wine under one moniker and winemaker, Cameron Stark. As a result, the wines vary greatly in style, from dry whites to ports. Each tasting constitutes eight wines, so we were able to sample a large portion of that variety. The tasting room is a gorgeous, bi-level, repurposed barn, and our server was knowledgeable and amiable. It is so nice, and more rare than it should be, to have a conversation about the wines we were tasting. We came away understanding the particularities of Unionville wines as well as a better understanding of winemaking in general.
Everything we tasted was of excellent quality, and if I didn’t leave with more bottles, it was only because there are so many excellent local wines and so few square feet in my house. Therefore, I am always looking to take away the bottle or bottles that were most unique to that winery. To my tasting, the Unionville’s chardonnays were the distinguishing wines: they had the most subtle hints of oak I have yet tasted, and the most prominent citrus flavors. However, I wouldn’t want to reduce my description to only those terms; there is far more to them. The Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, which came home with us, is so complex and varied that it deserves a long, slow sipping (and savoring) over a multi-course meal.
A Day of Wine in the Lehigh Valley
Friday, November 28, 2014
Several weeks ago we had the opportunity of visiting four very different wineries within the span of a week. It was highly effective (not to mention enjoyable) in learning how different wine can taste - and by that I mean how different wines made from the same grape can vary year by year, vineyard by vineyard within the same area, and microclimate by microclimate.
I was particularly impressed with what we found during our day trip to the Lehigh Valley, following a route similar to Craig Laban’s. Our first stop was Pinnacle Ridge, where we focused on tasting their dry red wines. This was the first (and likely only) time I actually enjoyed a chambourcin, but more importantly I understood clearly something that Luca Turdo explained to me this summer: cabernet franc does best in colder climates. The cabernet francs I had tasted from warmer microclimates were thinner, less interesting stuff than what Pinnacle Ridge is making here. In fact, it was quite nearly the quality of Roanoke’s cabernet franc from North Fork, Long Island.
After a quick and delicious lunch from Wanamaker’s General Store, we wound our way up (quite literally) to Galen Glen winery.
This was not my first tasting of Galen Glen, but this was my first visit to the winery. It may be the most picturesque tasting room I have seen on the East Coast. Even more impressive were the wines. The Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer had an incredibly floral bouquet and palate of tropical fruit. The dry Stone Cellar Riesling was bracingly so, with a taste of citrus. However, my absolute favorite was, and is, the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner. Delicious, complex, and refreshing, I have a difficulty imagining that I would ever tire of this wine. I am still kicking myself for only buying two bottles. Thankfully, they do ship within Pennsylvania.
After our week of wine tastings, and an additional one since, I have a newfound appreciation for the number of truly unique, excellent wineries within an easy drive of the city. We have had consistently and reliably good wineries for some time, but we have not gone even further with some truly exceptional ones as well.
Beyond Red Gravy
Saturday, November 15, 2014
We’ve tried a few types of Vera Pasta over the past few months and have loved their variety and seasonality. Their beet linguine was a unique starter to Easter dinner with soft goat cheese melted in, and we inhaled their kale and lemon linguine with a walnut sauce. This time, we tried their crab cake ravioli and were a bit stumped for a sauce until I saw the Delicata squash in the fridge. Cut into small cubes and sauteed in olive oil, it was ready faster than the ravioli.
Posted by Donna on 11/15 at 06:06 PM
Wyebrook Farm - Honey Brook, PA
Friday, November 07, 2014
To celebrate the end of Daylight Savings Time, we took a beautiful drive last Sunday morning to Wyebrook Farm, a little more than an hour from Philly in Honey Brook.
Wyebrook raises cattle, pigs and chickens, all to meticulous sustainable standards. Their meats, milk and eggs, some vegetables and a large selection of local cheeses and other products can be purchased at their market, while the cafe and restaurant serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.
The brunch omelet, with fresh made sausage from the farm, was delicious, as was the “bread basket” full of beautiful little pastries and quick breads.
We took home fresh ground beef and chicken along with various other local items from the market. Definitely better than an extra hour of sleep.
Market Report: Spring 2014
Wednesday, March 19, 2014
In honor of the first day of spring, after one of the longest and snowiest winters imaginable, I had hoped to publish a list of opening dates for as many of Philadelphia’s Farmers’ Markets as are available. That didn’t turn out to be much, I’m afraid. Both The Food Trust and Farm to City, which operate a total of 43 markets between them, have pages full of information on each market - find them here and here - but no opening dates are yet listed for the seasonal markets. Two bits of good news while we wait, though. We can still visit the five year round markets at Clark Park, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse Square, Chestnut Hill and Bryn Mawr. And in a news post about The Food Trust’s Headhouse Market being chosen one of the “10 Best Spots For Foodies”, the opening date is given: Sunday, May 4th. It can’t come soon enough.
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Since we’re still waiting on the polar vortex to release its death grip once and for all, the only real novelty at the farmers market the past couple of weekends was the return of Taproot Farm’s lovely golden-yolked eggs. I decided to feature them as prominently as possible in dessert form, which meant a vanilla-rich creme anglaise served over a very simple compote of apples, raisins and toasted nuts.
We recently acquired a sous vide machine, so I used it to make both components. Although it makes the custard foolproof and significantly less work than making it the usual way, you certainly don’t need a sous vide for this recipe. I’ve included instructions for making it both ways.
If you’re still in new year healthy eating mode, this is actually a fairly low-sugar dessert, since there’s no added sweetener in the compote.
Apple Compote with Creme Anglaise
5 egg yolks
2 cups half and half
6 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of Maldon or other flaky sea salt
1 vanilla bean
6 firm eating apples, peeled and cored, and sliced in 1/2 inch thick wedges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (if not cooking sous vide)
3 tablespoons apple cider (if not cooking sous vide)
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts
Using a sous vide machine:
Follow these instructions for the creme anglaise, and chill for at least several hours before using.
Toss the sliced apples with the raisins, lemon zest and just enough of the juice to lightly coat them. Vacuum seal the apple mixture or just use a zip-top bag and press out as much air as you can. Cook at 185F for about an hour, until the apples feel tender through the plastic.
Without a sous vide machine:
Split the vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to a small saucepan with the half and half, bringing it just up to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for 15 minutes, then pull out the vanilla pod.
Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt. Bring the half and half back up to a simmer, then pour in a thin but even stream into the yolks while continuing to whisk. Scrape the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon, around 2-4 minutes. Clean the bowl you used for the egg yolks and set it in the ice bath. Pour the custard through a strainer into the smaller bowl to get any stray egg filaments, leaving the custard over the ice bath until it’s at room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator, tightly covered, to chill thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice. Toss in the pan until the edges begin to caramelize just slightly, then add the cider and raisins and cover the pan, cooking a few minutes more until the apples are tender and the raisins are plump.
Decant the warm apple compote into pretty bowls or stemware. Pour a few tablespoons of creme anglaise over each serving, and top with the nuts. Circulate a pitcher of the remaining custard for your guests to add more to their taste.
Review, Learn Anew: Improving My Braise
Monday, February 03, 2014
My favorite cookbook series is River Cottage by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, et. al., and from that series, my favorite single book is (the imaginatively titled) Meat. The range of recipes - from Asian pork belly to turkey mole - is as impressive as the resulting food. Even better, Fearnley-Whittingstall devotes pages to specific techniques for cooking meat: grilling, slow roasting, braising, etc. Before attempting my chicken and dumplings this year, I reviewed Fearnley-Whittingstall’s comments on braising, gleaning some important lessons. The results were my best by far.
Lesson 1: The Importance of Pork Fat
Whether it is simply fatback or something more flavorful like the PorcSalt smoked bacon I used here, the underpinning of flavor and textural contribution of the fat are essential.
Lesson 2: Pay Attention to the Vegetables
I have always thought of leeks as supplanting onions in recipes. It turns out that this view is rather simplistic. They can, in fact, compliment onions beautifully. A similar thing can be said for celeriac (celery root) and parsnips. Celeriac also makes a lighter and less starchy substitute for potato.
Lesson 3: Searing Meat Separately
Essential to a flavorful braise is soundly caramelized meat. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s suggestion is to sear the meat separately in a lightly oiled pan, add to the braise, then deglaze the pan with wine and then add that to the braise. Brilliant.
Lesson 4: Simmer Does Not Mean Boil
In a lengthy explanation that I won’t reproduce here, Fearnley-Whittingstall explains the importance of a very slow simmer in cooking the meat correctly. The meat cooks long enough to dissolve tough connective tissue without the tenderer pieces becoming. He even quotes Elizabeth David. What’s not to love?
Bubble and Squeak
Thursday, January 30, 2014
I’m sure they don’t eat bubble and squeak like this in Singapore, but in theory they could, and given how awful the weather has been since around Thanksgiving, pretending to be in Singapore is highly appealing at the moment.
The “Singaporean” element in this version of the traditional British use for leftover vegetables is a curry-esque spice blend, which brightens up the potatoes and works nicely with the poached egg that makes this a meal instead of a side dish. It could be replaced with the regular curry powder of your choice. Although I prefer this with brussels sprouts, you can use cabbage or any other leafy green you can find in the markets for the next however many months this winter’s going to last.
Singaporean Bubble and Squeak with Poached Eggs
(Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg, 2011)
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons vegetable stock
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Penzeys Singapore Seasoning, or 1 teaspoon curry powder
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, then drain and set aside while preparing the brussels sprouts.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat and add the sprouts, cut-side down, leaving them untouched long enough to brown nicely. Add the stock and cover the pan for a few more minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the sprouts are cooked but not mushy. Remove from the pan.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and cook the onions until soft and golden but not browning, then add the garlic and Singapore seasoning and cook two more minutes. Tumble in the potatoes and lightly break up and mash them with the spatula to encourage more browning as you periodically stir the vegetables. When the potatoes are brown and crispy enough for you, add the brussels sprouts and cook a few more minutes while poaching the eggs.
Bring a few inches of water and a splash of white vinegar to a strong simmer in a small sauce pan. Crack each egg into a teacup for easier transfer, and using a slotted spoon, create a quick whirlpool before slipping the eggs from their cups into the water. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, lift them quickly out with the slotted spoon, and gently turn them onto a plate lined with paper towels to finish draining them. Snip away any stray wisps of egg white to make them prettier if you like, though I don’t bother.
Divide the bubble and squeak between two shallow bowls, and top each mound with a poached egg. Gently break open the membrane over the yolks just enough to let you salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Mixed Mushroom Tart for the Holidays
Sunday, December 22, 2013
This tart of mixed, flavorful local mushrooms was the vegetarian main course at Thanksgiving this year, although you could really make it year-round. It would be lovely as a make-ahead summer brunch item, for example.
I think the variety of textures that this combination of mushrooms offers is ideal, but it would also be good with plain cremini mushrooms, if that’s all you have. If you use portobellos, just be sure to remove the dark gills first, as they tend to turn everything unpleasantly black.
(Adapted from Michael Ruhlman, Ratio, 2009)
9 ounces unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks cold unsalted butter, in small pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2-3 ounces ice water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
8 ounces mushrooms, preferably a combination of maitake, shiitake and oyster, cleaned and roughly torn
1 cup half and half
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds each of fresh nutmeg and black pepper
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
Several sprigs of fresh thyme
Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl, and work in the butter with a pastry blender or your fingers until no pieces are larger than a pea. Gently mix in the water a bit at a time, just until the dough holds together. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap or a zip-top bag, and refrigerate an hour or more.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to fit a 9-inch tart pan, and press into the pan, cutting away any excess. Cover the surface with a layer of foil or parchment paper, and fill with rice or pie weights to prevent buckling. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the weights and bake 15-20 more minutes, until golden brown.
In a skillet, heat two tablespoons of the oil over medium heat and cook down the onions until dark gold. Spread them evenly in the bottom of the baked tart shell. Raise the heat under the pan slightly, add the remaining oil, and toss in the mushrooms, sautéing until any liquid has evaporated and the surfaces are gold and crisp in spots. Top the onion layer with enough mushrooms to mostly fill the tart shell, setting aside any extra for another use.
In a large liquid measuring cup, whisk together the half and half, eggs, salt, nutmeg and pepper, and gently pour into the tart. Sprinkle the top with the cheese and the thyme leaves stripped off the stems.Set the tart pan onto a rimmed cookie sheet to catch any drips, and bake at 325 F until the custard has just set (a little bit of jiggle in the very middle is fine) and the top has browned nicely, around 30 minutes. Cool at least to warm room temperature before serving.
A Holiday Fruit Cake (not Fruitcake)
Saturday, November 30, 2013
As should be pretty clear by now, quinces are one of my favorite fall/winter fruits, and since they’re sadly a bit of a luxury to find, I generally mix them with apples to stretch them further, and because they get along so well together, as in this fragrant and holiday-appropriate cake. If you don’t care for or can’t find quinces, you can make the cake with just apples and apple butter, as the original recipe did, and it will also be great.
If you don’t make your own quince jam, you can often find it in Mediterranean or Middle Eastern markets. More likely, you’ll instead be able to find the dried and pressed Spanish version, dulce de membrillo, at your local cheese shop, which will work just fine once loosened back up with a bit of extra liquid.
Apple-Quince Bundt Cake
(Adapted from Dorie Greenspan, Baking: From My Home to Yours, 2006)
1 large quince, or 1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, slightly softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup quince jam, or quince paste gently heated with enough water to loosen to a jam-like consistency
2 tart-sweet apples, peeled, cored and grated
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and roughly chopped
1/3 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons apple cider or milk
If using the quince, peel and core it, then chop it into four or so large pieces. Poach the quince in just enough water to cover until it has changed color (anywhere from buttery-yellow to salmon, depending on the variety) and is tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Drain off the liquid, chop the quince into small dice, and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 350F, and butter and flour a large (12-cup) bundt pan.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt.
Place the butter and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream together until smooth and thick. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions, then beat in the quince jam at lower speed. Mix in the grated apple, followed by the dry ingredients, mixing only until incorporated. Fold in the diced quince or raisins and the hazelnuts.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the top is golden and springy, and a cake tester inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes, then unmold the cake and cool completely.
To glaze the cake, mix just enough cider or milk into the powdered sugar to make a thick but free-flowing icing. Drizzle the icing evenly over the cake, letting it run down the sides. Let the icing firm up before slicing the cake.
Leftovers keep well in an airtight container for 2-3 days, although it’s best to glaze it the same day you serve it.
Market Highlights - Sept 4, 2013
Sunday, September 08, 2013
Much as we may want to deny it, summer is definitely heading out the door and fall is on its way in. You may be able to ignore the first few apples, but you really can’t argue with pears and hard squash. That said, there are still plenty of late tomatoes, cucumbers, berries, and even some peaches to be snapped up while you still can!
Better Traveling Through Food
Sunday, September 01, 2013
I’ve written in the past about my attempts to eat local food when I am traveling. This may seem obvious while vacationing on an organic farming Tuscany, but less so while in London. Still, the way I eat at home has fundamentally altered the way I eat elsewhere, whether I am working or traveling. While on my latest trip to Italy (a return to the beautiful Spannochia in central Tuscany), I saw three very distinct ways that eating local has actually improved my travel.
Vetting Restaurants. So much dining out when you travel can be a lot of fun, but the search for something worthwhile can also be exhausting. Whether the restaurant has ceased to exist since your guidebook was printed or the address of buildings seem to have no logic whatsoever, we’ve all found ourselves in that miserable state of hunger and fatigue from a fruitless search. You might think that in Italy it’s hard to have a bad meal. While that may be true (though I certainly don’t want to conduct that experiment and be proven wrong), it is also difficult to find a truly outstanding meal in the heavily-touristed places I have recently travelled to in Italy. (E.g., Most of the gelato I tasted was actually inferior to Philly’s own Capogiro.) The Slow Food organization has been indispensable guide to quality restaurants in Italy. Any meal I have eaten at a Slow-Food-endorsed restaurant has been outstanding and because its food is somehow indicative of its location, quite unique and unlike anything I might have here. Also, as much as I love the good folks at Lonely Planet, they are not restaurant critics by any stretch.
Getting off the Beaten Path. Though I am not a particularly intrepid traveller, looking for local food has made it a bit more interesting. Even when I purchase imported wine, I try purchase from small wineries that are organic or biodynamic. (Down to Earth Wines has been a consistently excellent source for them.) In fact, through a recent purchase from Down to Earth, I was very impressed with wines of Montenidoli - so much so that I arranged a tasting when we traveled to Italy. For nearly two hours, our host, Alberto, graciously showed us the estate and discussed their impressive wines. Montenidoli is, however, quite far off the beaten track, even in such a heavily touristed area.
Eating Less Formally. For whatever reason, I tend to think of sitting down to three proper meals when I travel. I have been drifting from that recently, and I suspect it has something to do with years of going to farmers markets and eating from food stalls. Now when I travel, I try to continue this “informal dining.” This was particularly true of our time in London, where we had fantastic - and fantastically cheap - meals at both Borough Market and the Sunday Upmarket. This both left more time for sightseeing and more money to spend on dinner at such fantastic places as Terroirs Wine Bar.
Market Highlights - August 14 2013
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Although all the great summer vegetables are still there, this week’s marketing was all about the fruit for me. The full rainbow of plums are available now, along with peaches, nectarines, berries, melons, and just peeking behind them to remind us that fall is right around the corner, the first of the apples. Just before Labor Day, I will load up on all those plum varieties to make jam, but for now I grabbed a few each of the Italian and Santa Rosa ones, which may end up as popsicles this weekend to test out my fancy new molds.
Speaking of popsicles, I also grabbed my still-favorite of all: Vietnamese iced coffee.
Market Highlights - July 31, 2013
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Summer is still in full swing in the markets, with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant both baby and big particularly catching my eye this week, making me want to make ratatouille, caponata, or maybe a lightly-cooked vegetable stew. The stone fruits are a little riper too, although they’re not quite at their peak just yet. I think the nectarines I bought are going to end up on baguette slices with brie, broiled, and maybe drizzled with a little honey for breakfast on Saturday, before I do my second round of farmers marketing for the week. Although the Saturday market is more varied, it does lack my favorite feature of the mid-week one:
Did you know Lil’ Pop Shop has a frequent-buyer card? Next week, I get a free popsicle for lunch!