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.

Posted by Donna on 11/07 at 06:16 PM

Humble and Lazy Beans

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Each year, I am amazed at the diversity and output of our little garden plot. Even when the success rate of our three-sisters experiment was 66% (no squash), we still came away with delicious corn and an unusual pole bean called Lazy Housewife. 

I thought the Lazy Housewife was just amusingly named, but there’s a metaphor buried in that imaginative moniker: there was little effort in harvesting the dried beans.  To be honest, we picked the beans, plopped them in the vegetable bin in the fridge, and completely forgot about them.  Weeks later, we remembered, peeled them open, and out popped dried beans. 

Since these were special to us, I wanted a simple preparation - no stews or soups here.  So, I opted for this recipe from Jamie Oliver.  The Lazy Housewife may have been used in “Humble Home-cooked Beans,” but don’t let the underwhelming adjectives deceive you.  They were absolutely delicious.  Apart from the (apparent) simplicity of the dish, I was interested in the technique: simmering the beans with vegetables and spices to impart flavor.  I had done so with garlic and herbs, but never this many ingredients.  The results were beans that didn’t taste like the vegetables, but a more interesting, complex version of themselves.  Just a word of warning: a long, slow simmer is best.  In fact, simmer these the way you would simmer a slow-cooking shoulder-cut of meat.

Posted by Kevin on 11/02 at 04:56 PM

Garden Vist: Mt. Cuba Center

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


For a lovely day trip to a beautiful garden dedicated to education and research of native plants, we highly recommend Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware. 


Set on 550 acres, the garden not only offers beautiful grounds to explore both on your own or with a knowledgeable guide, but also numerous classes and certifications in various aspects of gardening and conservation. 


Their “trial garden”, where they plant and observe dozens of native species, is completely open for guests to see.


The native plants are meticulously labelled throughout the rest of the garden as well, and guides are stationed at various points to answer questions.  In a time when support of pollinators has never been more important, Mt. Cuba Center proves it can be both accessible and beautiful to plant native species.


Posted by Donna on 10/15 at 05:05 PM

    A Smoothie with Pears But No Banana

    Tuesday, October 07, 2014


    Pears to me have always shared a strange similarity to bananas in their ripening.  Not ripe enough is barely edible, while overripe is so mushy and cloyingly sweet that it’s hardly worth it.  I shouldn’t have been surprised to stumble upon a delicious use of them in a smoothie.  On a recent trip to New York, after tortas and guacamole on the High Line, we were looking for a light desert and found Taim Mobile Falafel and Smoothie truck.  The choice wasn’t hard - pear, mint and lemon sounded so perfect for the warm fall day, especially after stuffing ourselves at Taco Truck


    When I tried this on my own, with lovely little pears from Tom Culton, I honestly forgot the lemon altogether and it was still delicious.

    Pear-Mint Smoothie
    4-5 small pears, such as Seckel, or 2 large
    1 bunch mint
    4 ice cubes

    Skin and core pears.  Put all ingredients into a blender and puree until smooth.


    Posted by Donna on 10/07 at 05:35 PM

      When You’re Tired of Fried Calamari

      Wednesday, October 01, 2014


      Shore Catch has kept us well stocked in fresh, local seafood all summer - so well that for some products, like squid, we were running out of new preparations.  Fried rings or grilled fillets were simple and delicious, but decidedly summery.  With the weather changing, this braised squid dish from The Guardian seemed perfect.  Don’t be afraid of the long cooking time, as the squid comes out perfectly tender, flavoring the stewing liquid.  We served it over roughly mashed Carola potatoes from Savoie Organic Farm.  We used Tempranillo from Cape May’s Hawk Haven Winery both to braise and to drink with.

      Posted by Donna on 10/01 at 05:04 PM

        Sometimes Olive Oil Just Won’t Do….

        Sunday, September 28, 2014

        We thought we’d tried just about every product the wonderful PorcSalt charcuterie had to offer, but last week at Headhouse Farmers’ Market chef Matthew Ridgway suggested the pork rillons - chunks of slow cooked pork belly that came packed in fat.  He suggested we render the fat for dressing, so we did just that, tossing it all with lettuce, thinly sliced apples and croutons browned in the pan after the pork had crisped a bit.



        Posted by Donna on 09/28 at 04:23 PM

          Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Bacon and Ginger Butter

          Sunday, September 21, 2014

          Okay, so I may have completely stolen this idea from Kennet’s wonderful brunch menu, but it was the first dish I thought of when I looked at the fresh ginger offered by Blooming Glen Farm at the Headhouse market.  Who knew it would be the perfect early fall dish because that’s when the ginger is harvested?


          Cornmeal Skillet Cake with Bacon and GInger Butter

          1 cup cornmeal (I used a very fine grind and a much rougher grind mixed together for a really pleasing texture)
          1/4 cup spelt flour
          2 tbsp baking powder
          pinch salt
          1 tbsp sugar

          In a bowl, mix cornmeal with spelt flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. 

          In another bowl, mix buttermilk and egg.

          Cut bacon into small strips and cook at low heat divided into two small skillets until some fat is rendered and bacon is crisp.  Using a slotted spoon, remove bacon to paper towel.  Pour rendered fat into small bowl to cool slightly before pouring into liquid ingredients.  Quickly saute ginger in one of the pans to cook slightly before mixing into butter. 

          Combine liquid ingredients with dry and stir in bacon.  Heat skillets to medium and pour mixture into two skillets.  Cook for a few minutes on each side.

          Posted by Donna on 09/21 at 06:27 PM

            Blooming Glen Farm Growing Ginger

            Sunday, September 14, 2014


            There aren’t many fresh vegetables available this season or any other that wouldn’t be improved with the addition of some ginger.  It’s almost unfair to think of it as a non local element to a dish, because it’s such a staple and how could we possibly grow it here?  Apparently we can.  The ginger on the right is what we all know from the supermarket, but the one on the left is freshly picked from Blooming Glen Farm.  I will cook with it, and soon, but right now I just keep staring at it, amazed that it grew only an hour away.

            If only our little lemon tree would give us another crop.

            Posted by Donna on 09/14 at 03:13 PM

              Local Wine, Local Food, Local Waters

              Saturday, August 30, 2014


              It is difficult to imagine an event that more perfectly blended three of my favorite aspects of the Jersey Shore: wine, seafood, and the ocean.  For two-and-a-half hours, a small group of us were taken on a cruise of the tall ship the A.J. Meerwald out of Cape May.  As we sat enjoying the brilliant, sunset-lit skies and views, Chef Lucas Manteca (of Cape May Point’s Red Store) prepared food and the staff of Hawk Haven Winery poured us wine - lots and lots of wine. 


              Of Chef Manteca and the Red Store, I have posted a great deal.  To this I will only add that there is a very good reason the staff laugh in recognition when we come in yet again.  This is some of the finest, freshest, most creative and varied food to be found on the Jersey Shore.


              Of Hawk Haven, I have posted before, and they remain one of the finest wineries in New Jersey.  This is a far greater distinction than it might at first appear: there are now myriad wineries in the “Outer Coastal Plain” and many, like Hawk Haven, are worth far more than just a visit on a rainy day.  Hawk Haven’s Signature Series, in particular, offers unique, high-quality wines grown and bottled on the estate. 


              Beyond the obvious combination of these things on a sailing ship, both Chef Manteca and Hawk Haven went to great lengths to make the event even more memorable.  The food served was always attuned to the wines poured: as we progressed from lighter whites to heavier reds, we moved from taquitos to seared tuna.  Moreover, the variety of wines allowed for some very interesting comparisons, comparisons you would rarely be able to find at a winery or restaurant. Thus, we were able to compare vintages (2009 versus 2010) and fermentation methods (oaked versus unoaked) in a highly informative juxtaposition.

              Most memorable, though, was the singularity of the experience - an experience that could not have happened anywhere else.  Local wines with local food while sailing the local waters. 


              Posted by Kevin on 08/30 at 04:01 PM

                A Polenta For Summer

                Thursday, August 28, 2014


                For the first time ever, we grew corn this summer in our community garden plot.  We were warned by nearly everyone to expect little.  One gardener said as he walked by our foot high stalks, “You’re growing corn - you must be an optimist.”  But it kept growing, along with the pole beans we planted as part of a “three sisters” planting.  (The third “sister”, zucchini along the base of the corn, didn’t fare so well.  Next year we’ll try another form of squash.)  Soon it was nearly the tallest thing in the entire garden, and cobs appeared seemingly overnight.  Some trouble did arrive, in the form of massively aggressive squirrels who took about six of the ears for themselves, but we learned the nifty if slightly nutty looking trick of slipping a paper bag over each ear and managed to save the remainder for ourselves.  We grilled the first several ears and ate them with lime butter, but then tried this Sweet Corn Polenta With Eggplant Sauce by Yotam Ottolenghi.  Don’t be misled by the name: there is no dried ground corn to be found, as this is made entirely with fresh corn kernels.  If you are left with the inevitable pot of leftover boiled corn after a barbecue, you have to make this recipe.  Both the polenta itself and the sauce involve very few ingredients, come together quickly and are perfect for the season.  Hillacres Pride’s feta works beautifully, as it is almost as moist and creamy as the polenta itself.

                If the paper bags continue to work, we’ll be making this at least once more.

                Posted by Donna on 08/28 at 05:10 PM

                  Who Needs Farmed Shrimp?

                  Saturday, August 23, 2014


                  In the wake of The Guardian’s investigation into slave labor in large scale shrimp farming, it seems a better time than ever to commit to knowing exactly where your seafood comes from.  We’ve written many times here about how lucky Philadelphia area consumers are to have the likes of Otolith, Ippolito’s and Shore Catch, purveyors that either catch their own product or provide a scrupulous account of its provenance and sustainability.  Our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean means access to a vast variety of freshly caught options as well.  H and H Seafood, located just outside Cape May, offers such a diversity from their own small boats that we visited three times in one week on a recent vacation, never eating the same thing twice.  One night we brought home triggerfish, once considered “trash fish” not worth even hauling in, and grilled it with herbs sandwiched between the fillets.  It not only had a meaty texture, it also soaked up the flavor of both the grilling and the herbs as well as any meat.  The lobster above came steamed for us as requested, which we ate with boiled new potatoes from the Fincas Del Mar CSA box and grilled corn from our garden.
                  Both Otolith and Ippolito’s offer delicious varieties of wild and sustainable shrimp to keep you away from those questionable bags at the supermarket, but why not try the literal ocean of new and familiar seafood just an hour away?

                  Posted by Donna on 08/23 at 08:32 AM

                    In Search of the Perfect Potato Salad

                    Thursday, July 24, 2014

                    Anyone who grew up near Vineland in South Jersey will surely know Joe’s Poultry.  Our parents would never consider fast food appropriate for dinner, but a stop at Joe’s little shop for a rotisserie chicken was a different case altogether.  But it wasn’t the chicken that was my favorite - it was the potato salad.  Almost creamy, with bits of shredded carrot and diced pickle and never too much mayo, the potato salad deservedly became the standard by which all others were compared in my family.  (Joe’s Poultry is still going strong, by the way, and if the reviews on Yelp are any indication, we’re not alone.)

                    A few years ago I tried my hand at potato salad, thinking I could definitely come up with something delicious with all the wonderful local potatoes at hand.  Nope.  I used Tom Culton’s lovely fingerlings, which according to many recipes should have been the perfect texture, and left the skin on.  The result was more like like pieces of potatoes dressed in mayonnaise - not at all the moist and flavorful texture of Joe’s.  While the skins were delicious, there was way too little potato exposed, so nothing cohered.  I tried again, this time choosing young potatoes with thin skins, but big enough to allow for pieces with plenty of exposed potato.  I also mashed the potatoes slightly with a fork and added tiny diced bits of pickles and chives.  My family wholeheartedly approved.


                    So why is the potato salad pictured purple, you ask?  We picked up a massive jar of naturally fermented pickles made by Amanda of Phickle at the food swap the week before and they had a fantastic half sour taste that was perfect for potato salad.  The only potatoes we had on hand were from Savoie Organic Farm and just happened to be purple.  Prettiest batch I ever made.

                    2 pound potatoes, skin on is fine if they are new potatoes, cut into pieces of 1 1/2 to 2 inches
                    1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
                    8 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more, depending on your preference
                    1 bunch of chives, chopped
                    1 dill pickle, diced

                    Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water.  Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to boil.  Boil potatoes until fully cooked - usually no more than 10 minutes, but test with fork.  Drain and allow to steam dry.

                    Transfer potatoes to a bowl and roughly mash some with a fork to desired consistency.  Toss potatoes with mayonnaise, chives and pickle.  Add 1 tsp salt and taste to adjust salt or mayonnaise.  Serves 4-6.

                    Posted by Donna on 07/24 at 05:32 PM

                    Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”

                    Wednesday, July 23, 2014

                    It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy.  It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine.  And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market.  At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.

                    This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food.  However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients. 


                    And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second.  The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned.  Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.  That’s it.  But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand. 


                    We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine?  In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso.  Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti.  However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one.  Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices.  The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish. 


                    It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved.  The only modifications I would offer are:
                    1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven.  The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did).  We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper.  Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
                    2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat.  Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat.  This will keep them from getting soft. 
                    3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni. 
                    4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves.  Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes.  The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed. 
                    5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates.  The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.

                    Posted by Kevin on 07/23 at 06:53 PM

                    A New Way with Carrots

                    Tuesday, July 15, 2014

                    When I pulled an actual bunch of carrots from our garden last week, it was cause for a (minor) celebration.  After years of trying and failing with Scarlet Nantes, I’d found a new variety perfectly suited for our plot.  To celebrate, then, I wanted something special.  Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, I found it.


                    What’s particularly impressive about this dish, and Ottolenghi in general, is how he uses spices and small quantities of exotic ingredients to create vibrant, unique vegetable dishes.  Many other chefs would resort to slabs of bacon - not that there is anything wrong with bacon.  Here, however, Ottolenghi creates a curried flavor that relies on olive oil and yogurt for its fat content.  It certainly showcases the carrots, but it is also worlds away from the roasted carrot salad I normally make in summer.  I made only a few minor changes: omitting the preserved lemon and cilantro (not by choice, only by circumstance); altering the cut and, therefore, cooking time of the carrots; omitting green chiles; and substituting chives for green onions and adding them to the yogurt.  Ottolenghi suggests this as a side to a fried fish, but it was perfectly satisfying as a part of a light summer lunch along with an omelette and a green bean salad.

                    So, should you find yourself in possession of a fresh bunch of carrots, think twice before adding bacon.

                    P.S.  Unlike Smitten Kitchen, I do not ever doubt Yotam Ottolenghi’s sanity.

                    Posted by Kevin on 07/15 at 04:45 AM

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