Some Lessons From A Beach Garden

Tuesday, July 05, 2016


Last week we visited Beach Plum Farm, which in addition to operating a farm stand also supplies several restaurants in Cape May with fresh produce, eggs and pork.  We’ve toured the fields before, but new this year was a large section of raised beds behind the farmstand with all manner of vegetables growing.  The beds were beautiful, but by no means ornamental and already producing a serious amount of vegetables given their size.


We were excited to see tomatoes tied between two stakes with taut twine, as we learned to do years ago at Greensgrow Farm.  The system works beautifully in small plots if you have the time to devote to keeping up with the growth.


These zucchini plants amazed us - when crowded as they are, the leaves just grow upward instead of spreading out. 


We took note of the variety of corn growing here.  These are much smaller plants than those we grew last year but with lots of ears already well formed.

Posted by Donna on 07/05 at 05:37 PM

Recipe Revisit: Ricotta and Zucchini Pasta

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

When I first posted this recipe last year, I concluded with the suggestion that a mint pesto would be a worthwhile variation.  Well, now that summer has come around again, I got around to following my own advice.


I think the mint pesto was every bit as good as the basil, just different.  Moreover, David Lebovitz has now convinced me of the superiority of the mortar and pestle.  In all honesty, to make an actual pesto is quite laborious, but what you make here is easily done while the zucchini softens. And it is worth every tedious grind of the pestle.  One last note - Galen Glen’s Stone Cellar Riesling paired every bit as well as the Turdo Sauvignon Blanc.

Posted by Kevin on 06/21 at 06:22 PM

Nigel Slater’s Carrot and Corriander Fritters

Sunday, June 05, 2016


So this is one of the 11,000 recipes on the BBC Food site the possible deletion of which caused an uproar a few weeks ago.  For good reason - we made these as dinner with a salad and felt like we ate much more of a treat than a bunch of carrots.  Nobody does fritters like Nigel Slater, by the way, as I suspect from reading his cookbooks that he treats them like a main course as well. 

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

Half-White Isn’t Half-Bad

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

I would like to say that when I ordered Castle Valley Mill’s Stone Ground Bolted Hard Wheat Flour, it was after a great deal of research and deliberation.  But what I should say is the truth: recalling that we had run out of whole-wheat flour while I was in the middle of placing an order with the incomparable Winter Harvest, I saw “whole wheat” in the name and “good for baking” in the description. That was it, but “it” turned out to be a fortuitous discovery. 

Accoring to the Castle Valley Mill site, what makes this flour unique is that the coarsest pieces of bran are sifted out, leaving a much lighter flour.  In fact, Castle Valley describes it as “half white.” While it is true that there is some nutritional value lost by sifting out the bran, I can now bake bread using only this flour.  Previously, I could use only 30% whole-wheat flour at best. You can see the result in my focaccia (taken from Anna Del Conte’s Gastronomy of Italy).


I had little difficulty hydrating or handling this dough, and the rising time wasn’t any longer.  Also, the texture was the same light, sponginess you would expect of focaccia.  Most importantly, I could indulge in an extra piece (or two) without feeling much guilt. 

Posted by Kevin on 06/01 at 05:08 PM

Market Highlights: Headhouse Market May 22nd

Sunday, May 22, 2016


It has seemed like a particularly long wait for strawberries this year, but they are finally here.  We got two pints - one from Queens Farm and a ripe, eat right now pint from Beechwood Orchards.  Vera Pasta, new to the market, had various shapes of fresh pasta on display.  Lots of greens, of course - particularly the first spinach I’ve seen this year along with the hardier arugula, pea and fava shoots, and various lettuces.  We’ve gotten into a delicious Monday habit of having a Market Day Canele tart for lunch - this week’s is asparagus and mushroom. 

Posted by Donna on 05/22 at 04:57 PM

Weekend Events

Friday, April 29, 2016


The Spring Plant Sale at Bartram’s Garden runs three days this weekend, with a preview for members tonight from 4-7 PM and Saturday and Sunday 10 AM to 4 PM.  Take advantage of horticulturists on hand for questions and the beautiful backdrop of the country’s oldest botanic garden with its newly restored John Bartram House.

If you can’t get enough new plants for your garden or patio pots, the Physic House Plant Sale will run Friday to Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM.  All proceeds support PhilaLandmarks historical, educational, and cultural programming.

Who can forget that Sunday is the opening day of the Headhouse Farmers’ Market?  Live music and a photo booth will accompany the regular farmers and mobile food vendors from 10 AM to 2 PM. 

Posted by Donna on 04/29 at 02:37 PM

What’s Growing Now

Sunday, April 24, 2016

We took a walk around the Southwark Queen Village Community Garden to get a better idea of just what’s coming up in this unpredictable spring weather.


Lots of lettuces look ready to eat.



Irises have started blooming, on the tail end of tulips and the last of the daffodils.


Fava beans are still a little way off, but growing nicely.


Lots of garlic planted last fall, as in this City Harvest plot. 



Rhubarb should be ready to pick soon…


.. just in time for the strawberries.


And for those with the patience to grow them, peas.


Our chamomile did not prove to be perennial, but seeded three new plants this spring instead.  More on drying the lovely little flowers for tea later in the season.


Posted by Donna on 04/24 at 01:32 PM

    Learning from DiBruno’s Emilio Mignucci

    Wednesday, April 13, 2016


    As mentioned before, we were fortunate enough to attend a class on local cheeses at the Farm and Food Fest on Sunday.  Emilio was very patient and informative as he explained different aspects of the cheesemaking process as well as his sensory experience tasting these cheeses.  Below are my notes on the cheeses and the local wine I might enjoy with it.  In keeping with the DiBruno Brothers theme of this post, I’ve adapted wine pairings suggestions from Tenaya Darlington’s House of Cheese.  (Tenaya was also speaking at the Farm and Food Fest on Sunday, by the way.)

    First up was Hummingbird from the Farm at Doe Run. This particular cheese is equal parts sheep and cow milk for part of the year.  Similar to Robioloa in style, it was both creamy and earthy.  This cheese would go well with a glass of Galen Glen Gewurtztraminer, the tropical fruit and floral nose should play nicely off this creamy cheese. 

    Next, was Willow, also from the Farm at Doe Run.  This cheese is equal parts sheep, cow, and goat’s milk.  The goat’s milk in this one imparted a greater tanginess.  I immediately pictured eating this cheese with a nice, fresh summer salad, so I would pick a glass of Amalthea Rose (my favorite local rose last year). 

    The third cheese was already a favorite of mine, Birchrun Blue from Birchrun Hills Farm.  Emilio told an interesting story of tasting Birchrun cheese years ago and though they were still refining their technique, it was immediately obvious to Emilio that they were working with quality milk.  His description of this cheese was particularly lucid: unlike many blue cheeses, this does not overpower you with black pepper; there is an earthy, mushroom component, but also an herbal quality to it. Emilio explained it as feeling the “botanicals” on the sides of his tongue.  While Darlington suggests a Sauternes for some blues, I would like to try it with Unionville Chardonnay.

    This was followed by another favorite from Birchrun Hills Farm, Red Cat.  Emilio used this cheese to explain the difficulties of rind development, by way of complimenting this one.  Darlington suggests Pinot Noir or Burgundy, but I would be inclined to try either a Cabernet Franc from Pinnacle Ridge or a Nero D’avola from Turdo Vineyards.



    The next two were complete revelations to me.  I had never heard of either creamery, much less sampled their cheeses.  Johny’s Clothbound Cheddar, from Alpine Heritage Creamery, was very different from other quality American cheddars.  Texturally, it the crumbliness and crunch that I have never experienced in local cheddar.  The flavor was equally impressive: nutty, but also with a complex sweetness that Emilio described alternately as butterscotch and tropical fruit.  While this may sound like something of a contradiction, it was actually a description of the complex flavor of the cheese.  Darlington suggests Bordeux for this, so why not a Bordeaux via South Jersey?  One of Amalthea’s Europa series would do nicely.

    Der Weichen, from Goot Essa, was a Camembert style cheese with a very earthy taste.  Emilio explained how Goot Essa is moving towards a Coop model, purchasing milk from nearby, trusted growers while they refined their craft.  While it may be overkill, I would love to pair this with Va La’s Mahogany, which is probably the earthiest local wine I know.

    We finished the class with the Havilah from Cherry Grove Farm, another favorite.  A lovely nutty flavor to this one, Emilio suggested that it would work very well as a grating cheese over pasta.  This cheese I would reserve for my favorite local red: Va La’s Cedar

    Posted by Kevin on 04/13 at 06:13 PM

    Fifth Annual Philly Farm and Food Fest

    Sunday, April 10, 2016


    It seems like every year we say that the Farm and Food Fest got bigger and better.  This year it’s undeniable - the festival grew right out of its old location in one of the smaller spaces of the Pennsylvania Convention Center into a bigger hall.  The new space easily accommodated everything the festival had to offer, so visitors didn’t have to leave the main exhibition space to attend classes and talks.  We attended the Master Class on local cheeses with Emilio Mignucci of DiBruno Brothers - more on that in a post on Wednesday - and listened to Chef Charles Parker of Talula’s Garden discuss local greens with the help of Adrian Galbraith-Paul of Heritage Farm in West Philadelphia. 


    We were delighted to see another farm within the city limits, Mycopolitan Mushroom Company, present with some of their more unusual mushrooms for sale as well as a pickled mushroom mix.  We took home a Pom Pom mushroom, which looks exactly like it sounds and will be cooked for dinner tonight according to their helpful preparation suggestions.


    Cape May Sea Salt Company was there with a variety of their products including smoked salt, something they were still developing when we visited their salt house
    last year.


    The sheer number of local growers and producers was staggering, and the best part was that almost all of them are readily available in Philadelphia thanks to the likes of Winter Harvest, Lancaster Farm Cooperative, our many farmers’ markets and retail outlets dedicated to local food.  Granted, we left with full shopping bags anyway, but who can resist a High Street loaf baked entirely with locally grown and milled grains?


    And of course all the cheese. 



    Posted by Donna on 04/10 at 03:55 PM

      In Defense of Flowers

      Wednesday, April 06, 2016


      You might wonder why flowers would ever need defending.  When we first started eating locally and growing some of our own food in our community garden plot, we considered flowers a silly diversion.  Lovely to look at in the neighbor’s plot or at the farmstand, but not at all what we were after.  I’m glad to say we’ve come around.  It started with the bouquets from Longview Flowers at the Headhouse Farmers’ Market - so much more beautiful than anything I’d seen at a traditional florist, and entirely local.  Inspired to grow some ourselves, we planted a small peony bush in the corner of our plot that reliably rewards us with dozens of puffy pink blooms every year.  Since then we’ve tucked in tulip and daffodil bulbs, grown chamomile to dry for tea, used marigolds to deter bugs and watched calendula thrive almost anywhere we scattered seeds and last long into fall.  There’s no better evidence that growing flowers helps pollinators than watching bees buzz happily among your flowers.  And in this time of year when we’ve planted favas and spinach a month ago that are still only an inch high, I can visit the garden….


      ... and pick a daffodil.

      Posted by Donna on 04/06 at 03:44 PM

        Philly Wine Week 2016

        Sunday, April 03, 2016


        Philadelphia Wine Week 2016 has officially begun.  And the only thing that makes me happier than the proliferation of “natural” wines at this year’s offerings is the proliferation of local wines.  Here’s what’s going in local wines:

        - On Monday, Robert Burke of Karamoor Estate (Ft. Washington, PA) will be at Martha.
        - On Wednesday, Panorama is hosting a “Blind Challenge” of Pennsylvania wines.  Included will be one my personal favorites: Galen Glen.  Also, Pinot Boutique is hosting a local wine, cheese, chocolate, and (why not?) bacon jams tasting.  Heritage will have Tom Sharko of Alba Vineyard, Kevin Robinson of Karamoor Estate, and Richard Heritage of Heritage Vineyards.  However, the big local wine event of the night (and week, really) is a wine dinner with Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards at Martha.  It was already sold out when I called last week, but I have my fingers crossed for a cancellation or two.
        - On Thursday, Martha is again hosting a Meet the Winemaker event, this time with Rich Heritage and Sean Comninos of Heritage Vineyards.
        - On Friday, Pino Boutique is hosting a Local vs. Non-Local Wine Event.
        - On Saturday, Jet Wine Bar is hosting an interesting combination of ornithology and enology.  Pennsylvania Birds and Wine is from 3 to 5.
        - On Sunday April 10th, Long Island’s Wolffer Estate will be featured in a wine dinner at Fork.  Wolffer is one of the finest wineries in an area packed with them.  If you have any interest in Long Island wine, this one is not to be missed. 
        - Finally, Paris Wine Bar, which features Pennsylvania wines, is running special events all week. 

        For additional information, reservations, and tickets, go to Philadelphia Wine Week

        Posted by Kevin on 04/03 at 12:16 PM

          Pig School at Wyebrook

          Friday, March 25, 2016


          Having long considered Wyebrook’s meat to be some of the best in the Philadelphia area, not to mention the gorgeous setting of its market and restaurant, I wasn’t sure what more Wyebrook could do to impress me.  So, while I attended the pig butchering class on Saturday, March 19th with enthusiasm, I did so only hoping it would make me a (slightly) better cook.  Yes, it did that (I think), but I also came away with three more reasons to love Wyebrook.

          First, at the outset of the class, owner Dean Carlson explained the farming practices.  I was particularly impressed with the pasturing of their pigs and their varied diet.  While the animals are fed, they are permitting to roam a great deal of the property and forage for additional food. By the time the pigs are slaughtered, they are more mature and significantly larger than the “industry standard.”  These practices account for the outstanding quality of their pork.

          Second, head butcher Alexi Alejandro was a gracious teacher.  As he systematically butchered a side of pork (literally, one half of a pig), he explained each of the cuts as well as cooking techniques and the various terms.  One of the simplest but most helpful things he emphasized was the optimal internal temperature for cooking pork (145 degrees plus resting time).  This might actually prevent me from overcooking pork in the future…maybe.

          Third, at the conclusion of the class was a dinner featuring the various cuts of pork.  Every dish was outstanding - handmade rigatoni with pork ragu, pork pate, sausages, pork belly, and loin.  I don’t know if this is a direct consequence of bringing Russet’s chef/owner Andrew Wood onboard as Executive Chef, but I would guess so.  The kitchen paid as much attention to our dinner as Alexi paid to us, his students. 

          Wyebrook offers this and other classes (including one on charcuterie, which I am eager to attend) throughout the year.  Look for announcements via their mailing list or on their website


          Posted by Kevin on 03/25 at 06:15 PM

          Some Green Amid The Gray

          Sunday, March 13, 2016

          Long after the allure of simmered stews, mashed root vegetables, and gratins has worn thin, there are still weeks (months?) to go before the farmers’ markets open.  In the meantime, much of the greens we eat are either hydroponic bibb lettuce or microgreens.  This is not a complaint about either; I just want a bit more variety.  For the past few weeks we’ve been enjoying arugula from the Honey Brook Harvest Collective, which we get through Philly Foodworks.  Not content with just another green for salads, I decided to make it into pesto.  After all, is there any better reminder of summer?

          The following is based on a recipe found in Pasta, a cookbook I strongly recommend if you are interested in refining your pasta dishes.  The recipes are sequenced in order of difficulty, and in every recipe it stresses the importance of balance and the marriage of shape to pasta sauce (something I am only now learning to appreciate).  Originally, the recipe called for both walnuts and pine nuts, but in keeping this as local as possible, I used only walnuts.  Further, I used Valley Shepherd Creamery’s Hunterdon for the cheese.  Last, I used Vesper Brothers Whole Wheat Penne. 


          Arugula Pesto and Whole Wheat Pasta
          3 oz. walnuts
          2 bunches (approximately 4 oz.) arugula, washed and dried
          1 small garlic clove
          2/3 cup olive oil
          2 oz. grated Valley Shepherd Hunterdon
          1 lb. whole wheat penne
          6-8 sun-dried tomatoes, cut into thin strips

          Scatter the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast them in a 300 degree oven for ten minutes.  After the walnuts have cooled, place them and the garlic, arugula, and olive oil in a food processor and process until smooth and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the cheese until well combined and allow to sit for at least 1 hour. 

          Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  Drain and reserve 1 cup of the cooking water.  Add the pasta to the pesto and stir to combine, use some of the pasta to thin the pesto if necessary to evenly coat the pasta. Top with the sun-dried tomatoes.

          A Note About The Olive Oil: I find the amount of olive oil in a pesto to be extremely subjective, and it really is a matter of preference.  To be honest, I don’t really measure it out.  I simply add it to the food processor until I have just the creamy consistency I want and then I immediately stop.  A pesto that leaves some oil pooled at the bottom of the pasta dish is, to me, too oily. 

          Posted by Kevin on 03/13 at 08:35 AM

          The Home Stretch

          Wednesday, March 02, 2016


          As we begin the last month or two before spring vegetables start appearing and the seasonal farmers’ markets begin again, it helps to remember the diversity of winter produce still available through local buying clubs.  Last night’s dinner of roasted beets and cauliflower mixed with parsley, Philly Bread’s Porridge Loaf and Meadowset Farms’ Last Straw sheep’s milk cheese came entirely from Philly Foodworks and Winter Harvest. 

          Posted by Donna on 03/02 at 08:18 PM

            Not Your Mother’s Frozen Vegetables

            Sunday, February 28, 2016


            While we are incredibly lucky to have so many options for local produce in midwinter, it can get a bit depressing and monotonous right around this time of year.  Enter locally frozen foods.  Both Winter Harvest and Philly Foodworks regularly carry a selection of locally grown and frozen fruits and vegetables for those of us missing the variety of summer.  In the dish above, we sauteed some frozen peppers as a base for arepas with frozen corn, both from Philly Foodworks.  A few nights later, a bag of frozen peas from Winter Harvest made a perfect mushy pea side dish for grilled Hillacres Pride Kielbasa.  Combine these options with the many vegetables still available fresh, and we all might just make it to spring.

            Posted by Donna on 02/28 at 11:15 AM

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