Ginger Zest for Melon Soup
Sunday, September 16, 2012
This summer the melons were abundant, and my favorite way to enjoy them was in a savory chilled soup. I used a single basic template: 1 small melon, cut into chunks; 1 small cucumber, peeled seeded and cut into chucks; 3/4 cup plain yogurt; 1 small bunch of fresh herbs (usually some type of mint or basil); and salt and pepper to taste. Each time, I would like to vary it as much as I could. One night, I drizzled some Morris Kitchen’s Ginger Syrup as I might drizzle olive oil over a gazpacho. The sharpness was a nice contrast to the bland sweetness of melons. In the form of drizzled oil, there was a lovely capriciousness in the spoonful: just a trace in some spoonfuls, searing in others. The Ginger Syrup can be found at Art in the Age in Old City.
One of Those Urban Mysteries
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
What I have always enjoyed about farming in Philly is the shift in perspective needed to grow food in a city. In the country farmers think about how lines of trees affects the wind and the sunlight. In the city we think about how buildings do this. In the country farmers think about how to get their water out of wells. In the city we think about how to get our water off of roof tops. And in the country, farmers devise intricate plans on how to stop foxes and other predators from eating their chickens. And until three days ago, the threat I feared most for my chickens was from the packs of feral cats that roam the neighborhood.
When I heard from my wife that our alpha chicken Mother Clucker was missing, my first thought was of a cat stalking her and dragging her away, which is ironic because she was the hen who most terrorized our runt chicken on the bottom of the pecking order. But after a careful inspection of the coop, the likelihood that it was a cat seemed very low. From the accounts of chicken farmers in the country, the hallmark of a fox attack is the violent explosion of feathers that is usually found following the attack. But in our coop, there were no feathers and no signs of a struggle. And as I understand, foxes are much craftier hunters (hence all of the expressions about them) so if they would still leave a trail of feathers behind, it stands to reason that a cat would do the same if not worse.
Our next thought was that Mother Clucker had somehow escaped. But as I have witnessed, when one chicken flies the coop, they all follow. A few weeks ago I thought that all of the chickens had disappeared. But after a quick walk around the farm, I found them all hiding in the rows of tomatoes, and I chased them back to the hole in the fence from which they came. On reflection of this story, I remembered my initial reaction when I couldn’t find them was to say, “Someone stole all of our chickens.” After finding them all that time, I assured myself that I was being ridiculous. Who would want to steal a chicken? But as Elisa and I sat down at the kitchen table, staring at each other in disbelief, the question did not seem that ridiculous.
Could someone have stolen our chicken? If the answer is yes, then the immediate follow up question is who would want to steal a chicken. Was it some hungry person in the neighborhood who couldn’t tell the difference between a young hen ripe for broiler, and the old Mother Clucker who wouldn’t even be suited for the stew pot? Or was it what one friend described one time as he stumbled across a chicken nailed to a tree in one of the more wooded areas of the city with religious tokens at the feet of the sacrifice spot? I thought this theory to be bizarre until I stumbled into the Botanica shop down the street from my house today and perused the miniature statues of animal sacrifice amongst the soaps and incense.
Whatever happened, Mother Clucker is long gone, without a trace. The rest of the flock is holding up. But when I first got chickens, I worried about cats, I worried about my neighbors complaining and the police taking them away. But never did I worry that someone would sneak into our yard in the dead of night and make off with one of our chickens for who know what purpose. And then again, when I was learning how to farm out in the country, I never thought that I’d ever be growing food in Kensington. I guess this is just one of the many adventures you get when you bring the farm to Philly.
Posted by Nic on 09/11 at 03:17 PM
Friday, August 24, 2012
The early season apples are finally here, and last week I picked up a basket of gorgeous green Summer Rambos at the Lansdowne Farmer’s Market. For the August challenge, I decided to turn them into apple sorbet, inspired by the recipe from Kitsch in the Kitchen. I reduced the sugar by half a cup since my apples were a little sweeter than the Granny Smiths she uses, and since I don’t have an ice cream maker, I used the freeze-blend-refreeze method, and it worked just fine. I served the sorbet with fresh mint leaves from my garden. It tasted like smooth frozen applesauce, a summer treat with the taste of autumn too.
More Than Just Cheesesteaks: The Philadelphia Sandwich
Monday, August 20, 2012
Even though Philly’s hot and humid summers do not exactly lend themselves to hot sandwiches, now is the time for the perfect grilled cheese. Why? Well, I would argue that it’s all about the tomatoes. I like a grilled cheese with a slice of tomato, but the tomatoes I’m getting at market right now are as close to tomato perfection as it gets. The sandwich above is honey wheat bread (made with local honey) with Doe Run Farm fontina and heirloom tomatoes (bought from their stand at the Lansdowne Farmer’s Market)—it was my lunch today, and I’m quite happy about that.
If tomatoes aren’t your thing, I still think this is the time for grilled cheese. There are so many other vegetables that go great—zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, and more.
We’re also really lucky to have such great dairies in the vicinity. Cheese makers are plying us with great goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, and dozens of other cheeses that melt fantastically.
My question to you: What’s your favorite combo of locally made/grown bread, cheese, and vegetable to make a summertime grilled cheese?
Posted by Nicole on 08/20 at 11:39 AM
Crab and Cucumber Soup and a Fishmonger Recommendation
Sunday, August 19, 2012
The weather may have cooled considerably, and the interminable heat wave(s) may finally be behind us, but I’m not quite ready to give up on chilled soups for the summer. So, here’s one from Nigel Slater, a chilled cucumber soup topped with crab meat. The recipe is easy to follow and accurate, but one word of advice: be sure to dice the cucumber very finely, as it will determine the consistency of your soup.
More importantly, if you’ve been looking for a fishmonger in Center City or South Philly that is as concerned about sustainable seafood as you are, try Ippolito’s Seafood. You’ll know where and how the fish was caught, and just how sustainable those methods and fish stocks are. I first learned about Ippolito’s and their business practices at a demonstration by the restaurant C19 at the annual Good Food, Good Beer, and the Rest is History (hosted by Slow Food Philly and Farm to City). Since then, I’ve been there at least once a week for oysters (raked from Virginia), swordfish (hook and line from New York), and even New Jersey fluke. I can finally try all those recipes in the River Cottage Fish Book without guilt.
Composting for City Dwellers
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Many of us at Farm to Philly practice varying methods of composting, but not everyone has the room to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t compost your garbage, though, and reap the benefits later on!
A friend sent me a link today to Bennett Compost. For $15 each month, you get a five gallon bucket and weekly pickup of your saved food scraps, cardboard, fireplace ash, and a whole host of other compostibles. Each spring Bennett returns the resulting compost to its clients for free. The website indicates that each customer routinely receives ten gallons of compost.
Here’s the rub: you have to live in Philadelphia—they don’t offer the service to the burbs yet. And if you’re an organic gardener, there’s no guarantee the compost will be made from organic scraps. Bennett won’t accept lawn trimmings treated with pesticides, but there are no rules about fruit and vegetable trimmings.
Still, it’s a cool service if you lack space for a compost bin.
Posted by Nicole on 08/15 at 08:56 AM
USDA Undersecretary Tours Local Farmer’s Markets
Monday, August 13, 2012
With all of the recent clamor in Washington over the 2012 farm bill’s provisions of supplemental food assistance benefits and farmer subsidies, it was great to hear that USDA Undersecretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Joani Walsh took the time to tour three area farmer’s markets as part of National Farmer’s Market Week. I don’t say this because I think that farmer’s markets should take precedence over farmers assistance or supplemental food assistance programs. I say this because it has been my experience that farmer’s markets are the ideal place where people can not only connect with their food, but also connect with the people who are consuming and producing it.
It’s appropriate that I should bring up my experience with farmer’s markets being that I have a personal connection to two of the markets that the undersecretary toured. The first is the Waterfront Market on Ferry Ave. in Camden, NJ. My first farmer’s market gig, which was also my first introduction to working for a farmer, was at the Walter Rand Transportation Center Market not too far from the Ferry Ave. market. Although they are in different locations, I imagine that the experience is the same. At the Walter Rand Market, I worked for a farmer from Hammonton, NJ who trucked in her family farmed veggies every week for the hundreds of lower income families who would line up with their WIC vouchers to get produce. Our line was so long because the only other alternative for fresh food was a Pathmark on the other side of the city. At Walter Rand I learned how to run a market, brushed up on my Spanish, and while most people equate getting robbed with a trip to Camden, I was tipped on more than one occasion for carrying bags of vegetables to our customers’ cars. Sometimes it was money, other times it was pray cards, but our customers were always so gracious that we came into the city with fresh food that they happily returned the favor with their kindness. My favorite story was the day I was walking to the store before going to the train after work and felt a group on men coming up from behind. When I turned around I was confronted with three men in white tank tops and tatoos. I remember thinking to myself that this was it, my luck had run out. The man pointed to me, and in a very direct voice asked, “You the fruit guy at the market?” I said I was. He took a look at me, leaned in and asked, “You gonna have concord grapes next week.” I shook my head yes, and he replied, “Good, they’re the best.”
The next farmer’s market toured by the undersecretary was the Clark Park Market in West Philly. This market will always be dear to my heart being that it is one of the pillars of the neighborhood that made me fall in love with Philadelphia. Fifteen years ago, Clark Park was not the destination that it is today. But since the market has taken hold, it has become a neighborhood center for sports, leisure and community for a large diversity of West Philadelphia residents, and much of that credit can be given to the farmer’s market. It was also where I managed my first crew of youth farmers through the Urban Nutrition Initiative, and then through Philly Rooted.
The last stop was at the Camp Hill Borough Market in Camp Hill, PA. Although I have no connection there, I imagine that the undersecretary witnessed the same power of community that I described above. For all of those experiences, from connecting with a lower income population that too many people write off as stereotypes to the power of community that a market can build, are all examples of what a farmer’s market can do. And when you go down to your local farmer’s market, you’ll see why food assistance programs are needed, or you’ll meet the farmers who need to be supported, both by consumers and the federal government. So the best thing you can do is to follow the undersecretary’s lead and go down to your local farmer’s market this week. I can assure you that you’ll be affected by the stories you come home with.
Posted by Nic on 08/13 at 02:03 PM
Curry Carrot Ice Cream
When I saw the recipe for curry carrot ice cream over at Not Eating Out in New York, I got pretty excited. But in reading the recipe (and trying it out), I think the ice cream is misnamed. It’s really curry coconut brown sugar ice cream with carrot bits. And that’s fine. I mean, curry brown sugar ice cream is pretty good. And the carrot bits, made from some carrots I bought at the local farmers market, added a tasty boost. I should specify here that my husband tried this ice cream and didn’t like the lingering curry aftertaste (I used mild curry powder).
But back to the curry carrot ice cream . . . of all the ice creams I’ve made for Farm to Philly’s Frozen Treats Challenge, this is the one with the fewest local ingredients. It’s also the first that includes coconut milk. The texture turns out quite different because of it, too. It’s just as creamy, but so far the ice cream hasn’t the same texture you get with only cream and milk. Not better or worse . . . just different.
Roasted Garlic Ice Cream with Raspberry Preserve Ribbon
Friday, August 10, 2012
Many years ago I took a trip out to California to visit a friend in the San Jose area. During my trip, we drove past Gilroy. If you’re a big fan of garlic, you probably already know all about Gilroy—it’s home to a huge annual garlic festival. My friend mentioned the garlic ice cream she’d had there the year prior, and I thought that was kind of odd. Fast forward, and here I am, making my own garlic ice cream for Farm to Philly’s Frozen Treats Challenge Month.
There are quite a few recipes for garlic ice cream floating around, but the one I chose features roasted garlic rather than raw. I like garlic—a lot—but roasted garlic has a sweeter, smoother flavor that lends itself to ice cream a bit better. I also like the combination of garlic and raspberries. The inclusion of homemade raspberry preserves added a nice ribbon through the ice cream. I admit that this ice cream reeks. I mean it. Everytime I open the tub to eat a bowl, I get a giant whiff of garlic. And combined with the cream scent, well, it smells really wrong. But the flavor is more mellow than the odor, and it tastes pretty darn good.
2 cups cream
1 cup milk
2 Tbsp honey
1/8th cup of sugar
2 heads of roasted garlic, bulbs squeezed out and mashed into a paste
6 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup (or more) of raspberry preserves
Combine garlic and cream in a saucepan over medium heat; bring to a simmer. Using a stick blender, blend the garlic/cream mixture for a minute (this also works in a blender or food processor). Mix egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Mix a ladleful of the cream mixture into the yolks and stir briskly; mix the yolk mixture into the saucepan. Simmer for 30 minutes or until the mixture is thickened to your liking.
Pour in your ice cream maker and freeze according to directions. When the ice cream has thickened, dribble in spoonfuls of preserves to make the ribbon. Alternatively, or in addition to, layer ice cream into a container, spread a layer of preserves over top, add more ice cream, then preserves, and continue until you have all ice cream in the container.
Makes a little over a pint of ice cream.
Aside from the sugar and vanilla, all ingredients for this ice cream can be had from local growers and suppliers.
Popsicles for the Brave
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
This one, I know, is a tougher sell than the blueberry-nectarine pops. It takes basically no work to convince kids and adults alike to grab a fruity, juicy treat, but it takes a significantly bolder palate to take on a brazen blend of chiles, spices, fresh mint, and seriously dark chocolate. I’m a confirmed chocoholic and a big fan of mixing in some heat, but even I second-guessed my decision when I ordered ice cream with all these elements on a vacation jaunt this time last year. The first bite, though, completely obliterated all doubts, and by the time I was scraping the bottom of the cup, I knew I was going to have to recreate that perfectly intense experience in my own kitchen somehow.
This month’s challenge provided me the opportunity to do it, since my two pots of varied mints are the only part of my herb garden that managed to just laugh in the face of the neverending heat wave of the past two months. Absolutely nothing can kill those puppies, so I constantly need to find ways to use bunches at a time. This recipe used up a giant handful of my spearmint, which I could also have achieved by steeping it in some water for iced tea, but trust me, this is a much nobler end for my weedy little leaves.
If looking at this recipe has you picturing chaos, let me describe the amazing harmony you get instead: Your first impression is the coolness of the mint, then you get the deeply fudgy denseness of the cocoa and chocolate, and then you’re hit with a warm tingle of chiles and spices. The next bite combines all of these at once, in a seamless symphony of flavors and textures very much for adults, wrapped up in the sneaky fun of eating something that deceptively looks like an innocent fudgesicle. The fact that it’s a pudding rather than an custard base means you get the dense, almost chewy texture of super-premium ice cream, and that same viscosity means there’s no drip factor even when it starts defrosting.
If you like the idea of dark chocolate infused with warm spices and cool mint but don’t want to bother with frozen treat making, hang on to this recipe for the holiday season instead. Double the quantities, spoon into pretty stemware, chill, and serve topped with barely-sweetened whipped cream and some shaved chocolate, and you’ll have a New Year’s firecracker of a dessert for eight, with almost no energy required.
Mexican Chocolate Pudding Pops
A large handful of fresh spearmint (10-12 sprigs)
1 ½ cups whole milk
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch cocoa
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ancho chile powder
⅛ teaspoon allspice
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
2 ounces excellent-quality dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon almond extract
Place the mint and all but ¼ cup of the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a strong simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for five minutes, then lift out and discard the mint.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and spices. Stir in the remaining ¼ cup milk until a basically smooth paste forms, then whisk in the warm mint-infused milk. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, whisking regularly, until thick, around 5 minutes.
Off the heat, whisk in the chocolate until melted through, followed by the vanilla and almond extracts. Let cool to just about room temperature, pour into popsicle molds, and insert the sticks. Freeze until solid, then unmold and offer up to your adventurous eaters.
A Popsicle for Everyone
I make ice cream at least once per summer, because I have an ice cream maker and it has to earn its place in my cabinets. I always enjoy it in the end, but the process of pre-freezing the sleeve, making the ice cream base, chilling the custard properly, churning the ice cream, and then maturing it in the freezer before getting to enjoy it is so long and involved that I pretty much only do it once per summer.
Popsicles, on the other hand, I could make just about every week from June through September. They’re so much less work and planning, and with a summer like we’re having, who wouldn’t want to have a refreshing, icy popsicle every single day? They’re also a perfect and perfectly easy way to use whatever perfectly ripe fruit catches your eye at the farmer’s market, like the blueberries and nectarines did for me last week. Just blend them with a little bit of orange juice, some simple sugar syrup to balance out the tartness, and a small shot of orange liqueur to punch things up for the grownups, pour them into molds, wait a couple of hours, and you have all the flavor of summer with a tiny fraction of the work a sorbet or granita would require.
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup boiling water
3 ripe nectarines
½ pint blueberries
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
Mix the sugar and water together in a one-cup heat-safe measuring cup until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Peel and roughly chop the nectarine, placing it in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Add the blueberries and juice, and blend with an immersion blender until mostly smooth but still speckled with blueberry bits. (You can do this in the carafe of a regular blender instead.) Add about a third of the syrup to the fruit mixture and taste, adding more as necessary until it’s as sweet as you want it, erring on the side of a little too sweet since freezing will dull the flavors a bit. Add the Cointreau if using.
Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and insert the sticks. Freeze until solid, then unmold and enjoy.
Note: You can swap out the fruit for anything other kind you prefer in this basic recipe, and you can also scale it up easily to however many popsicle molds you have.
West Philly Block Party—With Urban Garden Talk!
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
If you’re looking for something interesting to do this weekend, head over to the Memorial Garden at 54th & Wyalusing Streets. On Saturday, August 11 (4-9pm), Neighborhood Foods, Urban Tree Connection, and Scribe are throwing a block party and street film festival.
What’s on the agenda? Kids participating the Philadelphia Youth Network/Neighborhood Foods program to work in Philadelphia urban gardens will talk about their experiences, and Scribe will present several short films about community-led projects. There will also be live music, a spoken word performance, food vendors, and a flea market. Find out more at the Facebook event page.
Posted by Nicole on 08/07 at 06:03 PM
Frozen Treats Challenge: Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream
Saturday, August 04, 2012
Coldstone Creamery used to have a flavor combination I loved that was made up of chocolate ice cream, brownies, fudge swirl, and cherry pie filling. It’s no longer on the menu, but you can still get them to make it for you. But when you can make your own using fresh, local cherries, why would you bother?
I didn’t know what to expect when I made this Black Forest ice cream recipe from Kitchen Simplicity. Most of the time when I include fruit chunks in my ice cream, it freezes solid and turns into fruit ice cubes. Apparently, the key is to candy the cherries. It makes sense. I mean, the key to keeping popsicles the right bite-able consistency is sugar, so why not the same for fruit? And let me tell you: this ice cream is fantastic. It’s rich and fruity and has great mouth feel.
Candying cherries (recipe for this is also over at Kitchen Simplicity) is simple, and you get the added bonus of having about a cup of cherry syrup leftover. What can you do with cherry syrup? Well, it turns out quite a few things. It makes a nice addition to a variety of cocktails, for starters. And then there are these ideas:
- Add it to milkshakes and smoothies
- Use it to make cherry sauce for pork chops or chicken
- Crush ice and use it as a sno-cone flavoring
- Mix with balsamic vinegar and olive oil to make a cherry salad dressing
The chocolate-cherry ice cream is a bit of a process, I admit. Candying the cherries and letting the dry, making the ice cream base and chilling it, melting the chocolate to pour into the batter when it freezes in the ice cream maker . . . but it’s well worth the effort. And if you don’t have an ice cream maker, the batter would make excellent popsicles, with or without the addition of cherries and chocolate ribbon.
Little Baby’s World Headquarters Grand Opening
Friday, August 03, 2012
It’s appropriate that this month’s frozen treat challenge coincides with tonight’s grand opening of The Little Baby’s Ice Cream World Headquarters on Dauphin and Frankford Ave. in Kensington. Although after having their bicycle carts at music venues and parks across the city and being on the cover of this weeks Philadelphia Weekly, I wondered if they needed any more press. But after dropping by the store last night to take a sneak peak on my walk home from dinner, I was reminded that these guys deserve as much press as possible.
They earn this first and foremost through the ice cream. I remember sitting in a friends kitchen over a year ago and meeting company co-founder Pete Avengine and having my taste buds blown as we ate Earl Gray Sarachi out of chinese food containers. Since then their flavors have evolved into flavors such as blueberry ginger, sour cherry, birch beer vanilla, and my personal favorite coffee toffee, just to name a few. These are pretty adventurous flavors and are probably pretty hard to make. But none of the flavors have even a hint of artificial blandness. If anything, the chunks of ginger and skins of the blue berry can be accused of being too overpowering, but I personally think they have a perfect balance.
They can create these flavors because they predominantly use fruit from local farmers and I personally know that they searched far and wide for the regions best milk to craft the best cream consistency possible. Working with farmers both large and small, I know how hard it can be to source these products locally and I think I speak for the sustainable farming community when I say thanks to a company who holds that commitment.
And the last accolade I can give this company is from my entrepreneurial admiration. Being that I too am in the process of starting a small business in Philly (The Head & The Hand Press, check out our kickstarter) I know how tough it can be trying to be profitable while trying to run a socially responsible business. But everything I have seen from these guys has been professional through and through, from the way the structure their business to the way they deliver their product, to the way they treat their employees.
So excuse me if I sound like too much of a cheerleader for these guys. But I really love what they are doing, and being a bit of an ice cream junkie myself, I’m pretty darn happy that this ice cream parlor is three blocks from my house. So come on down to Frankford Ave. tonight for the grand opening. Aside from it being First Friday, Little Baby’s will be providing beer, music, ice cream and I think there was even talk of a barber. What he’ll be doing, I don’t know. But I do know that there will be some very tasty treats worthy of this month’s frozen treat challenge.
Posted by Nic on 08/03 at 08:04 AM
Frozen Treats Challenge: Beet Ice Cream
Thursday, August 02, 2012
Since it’s Frozen Treat Challenge Month on Farm to Philly, I thought it would be fun to kick things off with something . . . different. Behold the beauty of beet ice cream with orange zest and poppy seed, recipe courtesy of Cosmo Cookie.
Seriously, is that not gorgeous?
Not all the ingredients are local—the poppy seeds, the corn syrup, orange zest, and cornstarch, for instance. But everything else is, including the beets, which I picked up last weekend at the Lansdowne Farmers Market.
Now, I can hear you thinking to yourself, That’s all well and good, but why would anyone in their right mind eat beet-flavored ice cream? It’s true. The idea is a little oddball, even if you really love beets, like I do. But the beets are roasted, which makes them sweet, and then there’s the addition of cream and sugar, and that makes them sweeter still. It’s just the tiniest bit savory, but this ice cream is delicious. I inhaled the batch I made.
Full disclosure: My husband was less enamored of it, but he’s a very picky eater who refuses to eat beets. Boo hiss.