Beach Plum Farm - Cape May, NJ

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Last weekend, after a fantastic dinner at the Red Store in Cape May Point, we spent the night at the Virginia Hotel in Cape May.  On our lovely breakfast tray in the morning, along with a fresh egg, was an invitation to take a self-guided tour of Beach Plum Farm, which provides food for the Ebbitt Room in the Virginia, along with the Blue Pig Tavern and The Rusty Nail.  (My attempt to shear off the top of the egg, Downton Abbey style, ended badly.  Hence the cracks.)  We couldn’t think of a better way to remind ourselves in this endless winter that spring would come soon.


The 62 acre organic farm, located two miles away in West Cape May, currently grows over 100 varieties of produce, along with cultivating chickens for eggs and pigs which the restaurant chefs aim to use nose to tail.  All seedlings are started at the farm as well, and leftovers from the restaurants feed the pigs and create compost. 


Though very little was growing in the midwinter chill, remnants of peak season were everywhere.




We’ll be back in the summer, to shop the seasonal farmstand. 

Posted by Donna on 02/23 at 06:08 PM

    Polenta for the Third Time, But This Time My Own

    Wednesday, February 19, 2014

    I am not sure if I have always associated polenta with winter or whether that came with eating locally.  Regardless, at a recent - and utterly fantastic - meal at High Street on Market,  I was reminded of how satisfying polenta can be.  Since neither the dinner itself nor the leftovers for lunch the next today were enough to satisfy a polenta craving, I had to make more.

    I have tried myriad techniques for polenta, and while some worked better than others, the better methods demonstrated that good polenta can’t be cooked quickly (in my opinion).  This recipe, adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, is the best combination of oven- and range-cooking polenta that I have come across.  As Nigella offers, you could use stock instead of water, but I don’t ever feel polenta needs it - especially if you cook the polenta with a parmigiano rind as I do. 

    The mushroom ragout, also taken from How to Eat, was satisfying without being exactly what I was looking for.  I would add some bacon or pancetta in the next version and probably some tomato paste as well.  Additionally, the ragout did not thicken or cohere as it should - even with the addition of flour.

    None of this, of course, stopped me from eating it twice; the second time, as breakfast with a poached egg, was even better than the first. 


    What’s best about this meal, and most important about this post, is that it highlights two excellent products from Winter Harvest: a mix of cremini, shiitake, oyster, and trumpet mushrooms from Oley Valley Mushrooms and, of course, the polenta.

    Posted by Kevin on 02/19 at 03:47 PM

    Vegetarian Mapo Tofu

    Sunday, February 16, 2014

    I’ve yet to meet an Asian noodle dish I didn’t like.  My favorites lately, particularly on cold days, are those dishes with a lovely gravy-like sauce such as dan dan noodles or especially mapo tofu.  Since we have such wonderful locally produced tofu, I thought this might be a good dish to try at home where I could also use local pork or even go vegetarian.


    While I’ve made this recipe in the traditional manner, with ground pork and small cubes of tofu, and it was delicious, here I decided to use all tofu and crumble it, adding small, diced delicata squash that had been sitting around.  Any winter squash would likely work, but delicata is particularly useful since it peels easily and cooks quickly, remaining slightly firm.  The recipe below is adapted from Epicurious.  In addition to swapping out the pork for squash, I also make the sauce on its own rather than adding the components to the dish, as I’ve found simmering the sauce separately and incorporating at the end creates sauce that’s nicely thickened without overcooking the squash.  This dish comes together remarkably quickly.

    1 tablespoon sesame oil
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    3 scallions, sliced, with whites and green separated
    1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
    1 delicata squash, peeled and diced in ½” cubes
    1 pound tofu
    1 tablespoon chopped parsley

    2 tablespoons bean paste
    2 tablespoons soy sauce
    1 cup chicken broth
    1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water

    Combine bean paste, soy sauce and chicken broth.  Heat in small saucepan over medium heat, adding cornstarch dissolved in water.  Simmer until sauce thickens slightly.  Set aside.

    Heat sesame oil over medium heat in a wok or saucepan.  Add garlic, the whites of the scallions and ginger and cook for one minute.  Add delicata squash and stir fry until squash cooks to desired texture.  Add crumbled tofu and sauce.  Cook together for one minute or until sauce thickens to desired consistency and add greens of scallions and parsley.  Serve over rice or noodles of your choice.


    Posted by Donna on 02/16 at 02:05 PM

    Upcoming Events

    Wednesday, February 12, 2014

    In the past week I received a pair of emails with some events that should be of interest to readers:

    1. Slow Food Philly is hosting an outing to Wyebrook Farm on May 18th with lunch included.
    2.  A tantalizing postscript also mentioned that a collaborative meal with Chef Eli Kulp of Fork/High Street on Market is in the works for March.


    3.  On Thursday, April 10th, the Wine School of Philadelphia will conduct a class on wines of the East Coast featuring wines from Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.  I already have a few favorites in the area (here, here, and here), but I’m thinking that I will learn either some new wineries or a new appreciation for those favorites. 

    Posted by Kevin on 02/12 at 01:16 PM

    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?

    On top of this, we added dumplings based this recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, substituting spelt flour for white flour and buttermilk for cream.  We paired it with Flying Fish Abbey Dubbel.



    Posted by Kevin on 02/03 at 09:52 AM

    Bubble and Squeak

    Thursday, January 30, 2014

    Singaporean Bubble and Squeak

    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)
    Serves 2

    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.

    Posted by Gabriela on 01/30 at 06:34 PM

    A Soup From The Deep Freeze

    Wednesday, January 29, 2014

    This soup, with the exception of the garlic and leeks, came entirely from our freezer and pantry.  Cod from Shore Catch via Winter Harvest, kale from our garden lazily blanched and frozen, chicken stock and our own canned tomatoes.  The result was fresh tasting and light, the kale in particular standing up beautifully to freezing without losing texture or taste.  Next summer I think I’ll put a bit more effort into the freezing of it, using ice cube trays to freeze in cubes perfect for adding to soup rather than an unwieldy chunk in a freezer bag.



    Posted by Donna on 01/29 at 06:34 PM

      Fair Food Winter Education Schedule

      Sunday, January 26, 2014

      Fair Food Philadelphia is offering a series of classes on various aspects of local food production with a focus on several local purveyors.  Upcoming classes include chocolate and beer pairings with Jon and Kira’s Chocolates and Yards Brewery, sustainable dairy production with Mark Lopez of Wholesome Dairy Farm, and raising pastured pork and creating charcuterie with Stryker Farm and Rooster St. Provisions.  You can buy tickets here.

      Fair Food is promising upcoming monthly classes on a host of other topics such as wild foraging and Native American food production, and proceeds of course benefit Fair Food’s support of sustainable agriculture in our area. 

      Posted by Donna on 01/26 at 07:45 AM

      Stuffed Quince

      Monday, January 20, 2014

      I find quince to be utterly perplexing.  Superficially, they are quite unappealing: they look like gnarled fuzzy pears and are completely inedible raw.  Yet, they have a heady aroma uncooked and scented my fridge for weeks.  Moreover, once cooked, they can undergo a miraculous transformation into a brightly colored godsend called membrillo (quince paste).  How does this happen?

      Despite these contradictions, which might ward off a more reasonable person, I purchase them at least once a year before the Headhouse Market closes up, and, hopefully, find something to make before its too late.  Last year, it was an English-style christmas pudding from Nigel Slater.  This year, I decided to delve into one of my Christmas presents: Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem


      At first glance, one would not think that a recipe from Jerusalem would have a place on a blog about local food.  However, most items were easily sourced at the local level: Tom Culton’s quince purchased from the Headhouse Market; local lamb purchased from Green Aisle Grocery; and the other vegetables were purchased through Winter Harvest.  There were a few imported ingredients here, but they were dry goods or specialty items simply unavailable locally.  We use items like these as an opportunity to support small growers elsewhere just as we support small growers here.

      And so, we were easily able to enjoy a small piece of warm Jerusalem in cold Philadelphia.

      Posted by Kevin on 01/20 at 01:18 PM

      New Year’s Brunch 2014

      Sunday, January 12, 2014

      I would like to pretend that the healthy tilt of our New Year’s Brunch represents an earnest start to the new year, a healthier beginning to a healthier year.  More likely, it is a too-little-too-late compensation for the indulgences of the night before, when we had too much wine and too many rich foods. The previous night, we indulged in Supper’s special New Year’s Eve menu.  It was fantastic (as always), but as the name implies, a special meal for a special occasion.  One can’t eat like that everyday.


      So here we have buckwheat crepes, omelettes, yogurt, and home-cured salmon as a counterweight to the gluttony that closed 2013.  The buckwheat flour was locally grown and milled and purchased from the Fair Food Farmstand.  The eggs, yogurt, and scallions are courtesy of Winter Harvest.  Though the salmon was not local, it was sustainably raised, and the good people of Ippolito’s were able to recommend the best particular fillet for curing.

      Salt-curing fish is surprisingly easy - as long as you have some suitably sized containers and fridge space.  I follow Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s method from Fish.  Though the original recipe is for trout, as he notes, it can be applied to most any oily fish.  In the past, I would flavor it as Hugh does, with fresh dill.  However, that didn’t seem the right flavor for January 1st, so I mixed rye berries into the curing mix instead.  Unfortunately, the rye flavor was barely discernible.  I suppose that I need to treat the rye berries before adding them to the curing mix (salt and sugar) - perhaps grinding them in a mortar and pestle or soaking them.  Even without the rye flavor, the fish was well worth it and gave me the illusion of having made up for my decadent New Year’s Eve meal.  And that’s all the excuse I need.




      Posted by Kevin on 01/12 at 10:59 AM

      Warm Food for Cold Days

      Sunday, December 29, 2013

      The intervening days between Christmas and New Years’ can be long on time, short on daylight, and (usually) low in temperature.  All of this, of course, means that we tend to spend mornings with newspapers, Christmas music, cappuccino, and things warm from the oven.  Given the prevalence of heavy savory dishes and even heavier desserts during the holiday season, we try to make our morning pastry as healthy as possible.  To do that, we rely heavily on the Babycakes cookbooks (here and here).  Erin McKenna’s recipes are gluten free, eschew refined sugar, and frequently use spelt flour.  In short, Erin lets us feel like we have having our cake and eating it, too. 

      apple scones

      Adapted from this scone recipe.
      Apple Maple Walnut Scones
      2 cups whole spelt flour
      1 tablespoon baking powder
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      1/3 cup coconut oil
      1/3 cup maple syrup
      1 tablespoon vanilla extract
      1 cup diced apple
      1/2 cup chopped walnuts
      hot water

      1. Preheat the oven to 375 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and walnuts. Stir in the syrup and oil.  Add enough hot water to form a batter.  Next, fold in the apples.

      2. Scoop 1/4 cup mounds of batter onto the lined baking sheet.  Bake on the center rack for 10 minutes, rotate, and then bake for another 10 minutes. Let them cool - just not, heaven forbid, completely.

      Note: Working with coconut oil can be tricky, as it solidifies at room temperature.  I heat the jar in extremely hot water as I preheat the oven and gather the other ingredients.  This ensures I have enough liquid oil when I need to add it to the batter.  I also make sure that the hot water I add to the batter is quite hot and work as quickly as I can. 

      Posted by Kevin on 12/29 at 09:57 AM

      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.

      Mushroom Tart
      (Adapted from Michael Ruhlman, Ratio, 2009)
      Serves 6-8

      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.

      Posted by Gabriela on 12/22 at 04:27 PM

      Winter Harvest Comes Through (Again)

      Saturday, December 14, 2013

      In the early years of our eating local, when we wanted an antidote to rich, heavy holiday meals and even the local greens were dwindling, we’d have little choice but to buy a giant pack of French green beans from Whole Foods and call it dinner.  No more. 

      Winter Harvest is full of opportunities to make a light, refreshing meal that even tastes a bit like summer.  Shore Catch is one of those “never thought I’d see it” items to appear on the Winter Harvest product list - locally and sustainably caught seafood.  It was hard to mess up the beautiful piece of sushi grade Ahi tuna that came in our order this week, but we took no chances and made a simple tartare - hardly a recipe with one pound tuna, three tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.  We added scallions and parsley, also from our order, and ate it with a potato pancake made with Savoie Organic Farm’s wonderful Kennebecs. 


      Posted by Donna on 12/14 at 09:55 AM

      Market Highlights: Headhouse Market December 8th

      Sunday, December 08, 2013

      headhouse 12/8

      The snowy day didn’t deter shoppers or vendors at the Headhouse Square Farmers Market.  Plenty of seasonal produce was still available, with Weaver’s Way, Beechwood Orchards, Queens Farm and Three Springs Fruit Farm offering greens, root vegetables, cabbages, brussels sprouts, winter squash, mushrooms, garlic, apples, and of course cider.  There was no lack of dairy, meat, fish, chocolate or prepared foods either, with Birchrun Hills, Hillacres Pride, Paradocx Vineyard, John and Kira’s, Market Day Canele, Talula’s Table,  Ric’s Breads, Otolith Sustainable Seafood, Wildflour Bakery, Good Spoon Soups, and Green Aisle Grocery all present.  The market is scheduled to run for two more Sundays, so it’s well worth a visit, despite the cold.

      Headhouse 12/8 2

      Posted by Donna on 12/08 at 11:12 AM

      Our Dirty Little Secret

      Wednesday, December 04, 2013

      The guests at our annual holiday party regularly gobble up the dried figs and goat cheese wrapped in prosciutto, made with figs from our community garden a block away.  Our dried pepper flakes, also from the garden, inspire those who received them as gifts to demand a fresh supply.  How do we manage to preserve all that fresh, local produce in a form that people actually want to consume rather than store away as emergency rations? The dehydrator is our dirty little secret.

      I’ll admit, I felt more than a bit defeated when we decided to buy a dehydrator.  I had researched and tried every drying method available to us in a tiny city house and a patio with intermittent sunlight, and had failed in everything but the random herb.  When my husband drew the line at drying tomatoes on the dashboard of the car (this method does exist and someday I will test it!) I decided to try a dehydrator.  Unable to find any friend or family member who still had one lying around from their “As Seen On TV” heyday 20 years ago, we headed to Fantes.  From what we had read in consumer reviews, we wanted a top mounted fan to prevent dripping into the mechanisms and digital controls to allow for precise temperature setting depending on what you are drying. 

      We took home a Nesco Gardenmaster Pro Digital dehydrator, and in a fit of guilt over the price I immediately set out to dry the remainder of two CSA boxes and a basket of produce from our garden plot before we left for a three week trip to Europe.  Zucchini chips sprinkled with Old Bay were so delicious they barely made it onto the plane with us.  Plum and cherry tomatoes came out a vibrant red and pleasantly chewy.  Hot peppers were the easiest - popped in whole and ground in the food processor later.  Skins from peeled ginger made a surprisingly strong tea.  I estimated that we made up the difference in what we paid for the dehydrator that first summer, some of it using produce that might otherwise have gone to waste.

      We haven’t had complete success.  I was excited to try to replicate the sweet dried peppers my mother remembered my grandfather hanging from the garage rafters, but the results were tough and mostly skin.  Large plum tomatoes are best left to oven roasting on a low temperature and preserving in olive oil. 


      Most herbs do as well or better hanging to dry, so long as you’ve got the time.  And the celery was just… confusing.  But anything else we’ve made has easily surpassed any store bought version in taste, not to mention of course the added bonus of being made with local produce.  We’re going to try local cranberries next, if we can figure out a way to sweeten them slightly first, and haven’t even had a chance to try our hand at the many jerky and dried fish products that are possible as well. 

      All that and no tomatoes on the dashboard.


      Posted by Donna on 12/04 at 01:57 PM

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