Asparagus for the Colder Days of Spring

Thursday, June 12, 2014

I know there are many vegetables that signal spring has come, and I suppose Dan Barber should have shamed me into looking for other crops, but he didn’t it.  Asparagus has always served as the harbinger of spring.  So thrilled to have fresh green vegetables again, I find asparagus at its most satisfying when it is most simply prepared: grilled, roasted, or blanched with some citrus and spices.  Nonetheless, I gorge on asparagus so fully that I occasionally need a richer preparation - if only for variety.  In this case, a recent Nigel Slater column prompted me to dig out an old Mario Batali recipe. Although Goop claims this was an exclusive for them, my version dates to his immutable Simple Italian Food.  I made a few changes to the ingredients, but the essentials remain.

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There isn’t much to it, really.  First, I should note that I made polenta in the way that I usually make it (which is Nigella Lawson’s) with my addition of a parmesan rind.  As the polenta cooks, render fat from some pancetta cubes and then toss in onions and garlic (green garlic would have been fine as well).  Pour in some white wine, and once it has reduced, add some blanched asparagus and toss.  Then, serve over the steaming polenta.  For a little more substance to the dish, I topped it with a poached egg. 

It isn’t really a dish to celebrate warmer days, but it’s a dish for those lingering cold nights in early May that require both comfort food and a reminder that spring has, in fact, arrived.

Posted by Kevin on 06/12 at 07:41 PM


    Strawberry Jam and Philly Muffins

    Monday, June 09, 2014

    The strawberries are here.  After buying an early pint at the farmer’s market, we got a brimming bowlful from our own community garden plot on Saturday.  We eat these weekday mornings over granola, but by the weekend I wanted some jam.  The problem with traditional jam is that it takes quite a bit of time and to me loses that lovely fresh taste that we all love about strawberries every spring.  Thanks to this recipe from Nigel Slater, I can make warm jam with decidedly less sugar and a vibrant strawberry taste before the cappuccino’s made.  Don’t be afraid to scale down to whatever amount of fruit you’ve got - I made this batch from no more than a handful. 

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    Good jam needs good bread, and we ate ours with whole wheat Philly Muffins from Philly Bread

    Posted by Donna on 06/09 at 05:43 PM


      Shore Catch Flounder

      Thursday, June 05, 2014

      Flounder was probably the first fish I ever had.  My father was an avid fisherman and would bring them home regularly, so much so that my mother still refuses to eat them or any other whitefish.  Once I started cooking for myself, there always seemed to be more exciting choices - tuna to sear or swordfish to grill.  This recipe from the New York Times for Egg Battered Pan Fried Flounder was such an appealing combination I had to try it, especially when Shore Catch started offering local flounder regularly through both Winter Harvest and Headhouse Farmers Market.  We had it with shaved fennel tossed with olive oil, parsley and spring onions. 

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      Posted by Donna on 06/05 at 05:36 PM


        Market Highlights: Headhouse Market June 1st

        Sunday, June 01, 2014

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        The first market in June still had plenty of early spring favorites such as asparagus, various greens and pea shoots, along with tunnel grown cucumbers and zucchini, fennel, radishes, mushrooms, scallions, green garlic and lots of herbs.  Many vendors are still carrying seedlings for your late spring planting.  And the strawberries are here - last week only Savoie Organic Farm brought a limited amount, but this week at least three other farmers had them.  Hillacres Pride again has the wonderful Puddle Duck, which will make one happy lunch this week along with Ric’s Bread’s whole wheat crackers.  And for the second week in a row, we couldn’t leave without sandwiches from Heart Food Truck - Country Time pork roll and cheddar with a fried egg and smoked salmon with watercress, creme fraiche and capers. 

        Posted by Donna on 06/01 at 03:19 PM


          Cayuga Organics To Offer Local Rolled Oats

          Monday, May 26, 2014

          We love oatmeal.  And granola.  And crumbles and muffins made with oats.  All of these things are healthy and can use a variety of local ingredients, but the oats themselves are decidedly not among them.  Believe me, we’ve looked everywhere, but no one seemed to be producing oats in the area or the greater region.  That will change soon when Cayuga Organics completes its new beanery and starts processing local organic rolled oats.  This recipe from Smitten Kitchen is a perfect showcase for them and really any seasonal fruit - I’ve made it here using maple sugar instead of light brown sugar and the first of our rhubarb from the garden.

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          Posted by Donna on 05/26 at 03:01 PM


            Mother’s Day at Coda Rossa Winery

            Sunday, May 11, 2014

            Last year, I thought I had the highly original idea of taking our mothers to a local winery for Mother’s Day.  We would taste everything, buy a bottle to open and sip outside, and bring a picnic lunch.  While it was a good idea, it was not that original.  In fact, it wasn’t original at all: the Garden State Wine Growers Association has thrown a lot into making Mother’s Day the perfect day for visiting a local winery; events even begin on Saturday.  So much for originality. 

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            This year, it was Coda Rossa’s turn, which we learned of from our East Coast Wine Class.  While the winery does make wines using California grapes, they also make many wines with New Jersey grapes grown primarily at the winery with some brought in from nearby farms.  There were the requisite fruit wines, yes, but Coda Rossa also makes some very interesting reds.  My favorite, and the one I took home, was a Cabernet Franc. 

             

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            After a thorough and comprehensive tasting (all in the name of research), we unpacked a picnic of flatbreads from Wild Flour Bakery, dips from Talula’s Table, and “savory eclairs” from Market Day Canele (all purchased in a rush to the Headhouse Market this morning); we opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio on the patio; and we looked out over the vineyard and enjoyed a warm Spring afternoon in the sun. 

             

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            Happy Mother’s Day.

            Posted by Kevin on 05/11 at 06:12 PM


              Market Highlights: Headhouse Market May 5th

              Sunday, May 04, 2014

              The Headhouse Farmers Market was back for the season today, with nearly complete attendance of regular vendors.  Some farmers had a range of spring produce already, such as Tom Culton (asparagus, watercress, spinach), and Blooming Glen (various greens, green garlic), while Savoie Organic Farm brought a huge variety of beautiful tomato and pepper seedlings. 

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              Longview Farms had a selection of both popular and unusual herbs as well as succulents, and Weavers Way had lovely cut tulips, along with produce and compost fresh from W.B. Saul High School.  New this year is one of our favorite contributors to Winter Harvest - Shore Catch, with Jersey Shore caught tuna, clams, scallops, squid and more.  Also new among the food trucks is Poi Dog, who serves a mean Mochi Nori Fried Chicken.  We didn’t know what to eat, buy or plant first.

              Posted by Donna on 05/04 at 06:44 PM


                A Bad Dye Job

                Sunday, April 20, 2014

                So I decided that I was going to dye Easter eggs naturally, making dyes from the likes of onion skins, turmeric and frozen blueberries.  We had a dozen eggs from last week’s food swap I wanted to break into and heaps of onion skins from yesterday’s early Easter dinner.  I opened the carton and found ..... the eggs were not white.  Why this didn’t occur to me before I have no idea, as we’ve been delighted by the various shades of brown and blue the eggs we buy from local purveyors come in.  While there was no way the delicate color of a natural dye was going to show up on brown or blue eggs, these were lovely just as they were.   

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                I did come across a nearly foolproof method of hard boiling eggs that minimizes the risk of cracking and results in vibrant orange yolks with no green cast or chalky texture.  The resulting egg salad was delicious.

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                Happy Easter.

                Posted by Donna on 04/20 at 02:06 PM


                East Coast Wines with The Wine School of Philadelphia

                Wednesday, April 16, 2014

                On Thursday, April 10th we attended a class at the Wine School of Philadelphia devoted to East Coast wine.  As excited as I was to do this, I was surprised (and disappointed) when our knowledgeable, passionate instructor (Zach) told us that in years past, the Wine School has had difficulty filling seats for this class.  The reason?  People, it seems, are very skeptical about the idea of quality wine made on the East Coast.  Zach was intent on changing that, and I suspect he succeeded with just about everyone in the room.  I actually heard someone say, “California wine is dead.”

                We covered most of the East Coast wine regions - Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (the Finger Lakes), and New York (the North Fork of Long Island).  In all, we tasted nine wines, four of which were from the immediate area:

                1) Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner - I had tasted this wine years ago at the fantastic farm-to-table restaurant John J. Jeffries in the Lancaster Arts Hotel.  I was impressed then, and even more so this time.  The nose on this wine was incredibly delicious, and the acidity begged for grilled fish.  This is something I could linger over with a leisurely summer dinner.
                2) Va La Prima Donna - I have written about Va La before, and the more I learn of Anthony Vietri and this winery, the more impressed I am.  Quite simply, I love everything they produce and I love the way they produce it. 
                3) Heritage BDX 2010 and BDX 2012 - These were the “biggest” wines of the evening, with complex aromas, tannins, and a long finish.  For a special occasion, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer one of these, but they wouldn’t do for most meals.  That is, unless you eat like royalty at every meal.

                Of the remaining East Coast Wines, we tried a Keuka Lake 2012 Riesling and a Damiani 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both of which were excellent, but neither of which I would seek out - simply a matter of personal taste.There was also another North Fork wine, a 2010 “Taste” Red Blend from Bedell, that was lovely, but with which I had a similar issue as I did with the Heritage wines and the Barboursville 2010 Petit Verdot.  Again, I can’t fault any of them, but they simply weren’t my preference. 

                Of the non-local wines, the one I most enjoyed most was the Black Ankle 2011 Syrah.  It was softer and more subtle than any of the other wines - far more so than the other reds.  It wouldn’t dominate any food it might be served with - though you would have to take care not to dominate it with food.  Regardless, this sustainable winery is only 132 miles from Philadelphia.  I think there is a road trip in the near future.

                This was my first time at the Wine School, and I was impressed with the quality of the wines Zach had procured for us.  In fact, the only complaint I have - and I am not even sure if this would qualify as a complaint - is that the Wine School was so intent on convincing us that the East Coast makes great wine that we wound up drinking great wines - few of which I would drink on a daily, or even weekly, basis.  So, here’s hoping the Wine School ceases to have any trouble filling those seats.  With wines like this, it is hard to imagine how.

                Posted by Kevin on 04/16 at 07:51 PM


                Philly Farm and Food Fest

                Sunday, April 13, 2014

                Today was the third annual Philly Farm and Food Fest.  Sponsored by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, it gets bigger and better every year.  I’ll post separately on a few particularly exciting finds this year, but in general the Fest brings together over 100 local food purveyors offering their products for sampling and sale as well as free DIY and cooking demonstrations, a “Local Libations Lounge” featuring locally produced spirits and a “Shellfish Salon” with guided tastings of local oysters and clams.  It’s impossible to leave hungry or empty handed. 

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                Posted by Donna on 04/13 at 07:59 PM


                Food Swapping with Philly Swappers

                Wednesday, April 09, 2014

                Last night was another great food swap event hosted by Philly Swappers at Reading Terminal Market.  This was our fifth swap, and we remain amazed by the variety and creativity of the offerings.  We brought whole wheat bread made with Daisy Organic Flour and came home with homemade butter, all manner of cookies, ginger pickled pears, lemon curd, white bean hummus and even a dozen eggs.  (We decided not to swap our last loaf of bread when we noticed how many wonderful things we were bringing home to put on it.) 

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                The bread has become our standby item for winter and early spring swaps, as it can be made with local ingredients regardless of season.  While there’s no requirement of seasonality or locality for participation in the swap, it seemed like many people had the same idea and either made items that didn’t require seasonal produce or took advantage of what was available.  Others seemed to take the opportunity to use some late winter citrus for preserved lemons, pickled grapefruit and lemon curd.  Of course there were plenty of those with enough foresight to save some canned fruits or vegetables from the summer and fall to offer as well.  The next swap will be in early July, and I plan to can jars and jars of Momofuku pickles.

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                Posted by Donna on 04/09 at 07:46 PM


                  Arugula Pesto

                  Sunday, April 06, 2014

                  When I first started eating seasonally and locally, I thought that the short, dark days of winter would be the hardest to abide.  I quickly learned, however, that the early, longer days of Spring were much more difficult.  The temperature surpasses sixty degrees, and you immediately start looking for ramps, asparagus, and new potatoes.  This, of course, is contrary to all reason and experience - even if you yourself just planted your spring crops - but it doesn’t stop you. 

                  Perhaps that’s why this dish was such a welcome harbinger.  It was an authentic spring vegetable, arugula, from this, the last month of Farm to City’s Winter Harvest

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                  This arugula pesto came from the my ongoing purge.  Desperate for something springlike but also rather exhausted from the workday, I found the minimal effort involved in the dish was perfect.  I substituted almonds for pine nuts simply because that’s what I had, and I used all pecorino rather than half pecorino and half parmesan.  This was partly because I didn’t have any parmesan, but I think the pecorino’s smoother flavor is more appropriate and helps distinguish this from classic pesto.  Also, I didn’t use anything like a full cup of olive oil.  I add a little oil as I start the food processor, drizzle in more while it purees, but only as needed.  This way, I get exactly the texture I want and as little oil as necessary.

                  It went very well with some whole-grain gemelli, but I think long pasta would work well also.  It would also serve as a nice condiment to fish.  The bright, lemony flavor would really cut through an oily fish, but it is delicate enough for white-flesh fillet as well. 

                  Posted by Kevin on 04/06 at 04:58 PM


                  Don’t Use Your Good Napkins

                  Wednesday, April 02, 2014

                  We’ve been buying Otolith’s wonderful shrimp whenever we manage to find them at the Headhouse Farmers’ Market or Green Aisle Grocery.  It was the guys at Green Aisle who pointed out that the shells of the unpeeled shrimp are full of roe, which makes for outstanding fish stock.  For some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that they would make just as outstanding peel-and-eat shrimp.  That is until we got home late last week, hungry and unwilling to peel the shrimp before cooking.  I put a tablespoon of butter in a pan to heat with some olive oil and minced garlic, then added some wine and the shrimp.  They were ready in just a few minutes, messy and delicious with bread to sop up the juice. 

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                  Posted by Donna on 04/02 at 06:22 PM


                    North Fork: Long Island, NY

                    Saturday, March 29, 2014

                    Before visiting Long Island two weeks ago, I had understood the name only in the most literal, geographic sense: a slender piece of land that begins where Manhattan ends and stretches far out into the Atlantic Ocean.  After visiting, I now understand this as a psychological and cultural descriptor as well.  What begins in Brooklyn or Queens ends very differently in Montauk. 

                    After reading (particularly this Travel and Leisure piece and this article from the New York Times), I learned that coastal Long Island is far more than the Hamptons, which were of no interest to me.  The North Fork, with its wineries and farm-to-table restaurants, clearly was. 

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                    There are an absurd number of wineries on Long Island; they appear every few seconds as you make your way northwest along Route 25.  To limit my search, I began with a recent story about my two favorite wineries from here (Va La and Amalthea), which also happened to mention Shinn Vineyards.  Using organic methods and wild yeasts (rather than commercial, selected strains), Shinn’s approach to wine is one of farming grapes (as opposed to solely making wines) - something to which I wholly subscribe. 

                     

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                    Shinn is a member of the Long Island Sustainable Winegrowing Association, as was the second winery we visited that day, Roanoke Vineyards.  The owner and winemaker, Richard Pisacano, is also the winemaker at Wolffer Estates.  (Really, these wineries are just crammed onto this sliver of land.)  From Shinn, we picked up a rose with nice balance and aromas of strawberries.  I was so impressed with Roanoke Vineyard’s Cabernet Franc, among the finest red wines I have tasted from an East Coast winery, that I have one set aside for late-spring dinner at The Farm and Fisherman.

                    Of course, all of this wine tasting would be deadly without some food.  And while we didn’t want to take the time out for a proper sit-down meal or to drive to one of the farm-to-table restaurants farther out on North Fork, the North Fork Lunch Truck was set up in the parking lot of yet another sustainable winery (Bedell Cellars).  Their lobster roll, which uses local lobster whenever possible, was among the finest I have tasted.  It has joined the estimable company of both Oyster House and Quahog’s

                     

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                    On the way home, we stopped for some excellent apple strudel (the size and dimensions of a cheesesteak) and pastries from Junda’s Pastry Crust and Crumbs for our drive home.  Speaking with the owner, who kindly let us in as they were getting ready to close, we learned a bit of history about the area.  Most of the farmland, including many of the wineries, was allocated to raising potatoes - Long Island as the Idaho of the East Coast.  Even now, a local company makes potato chips from Long Island potatoes.  We, of course, were eating a bag of said potato chips at that moment.

                    We’ll be back in the fall - for different wineries, perhaps, or more of the same; for a proper meal at the North Fork Table and Inn (operators of the North Fork Lunch Truck); and to stay at the Shinn Vineyards guest house - chef/winemaker/co-owner David Page makes a mean breakfast.

                     

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                    Posted by Kevin on 03/29 at 01:29 PM


                      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.

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                      Posted by Donna on 03/19 at 06:38 PM


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