East Coast Wines with The Wine School of Philadelphia

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Philly Farm and Food Fest

Sunday, April 13, 2014

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

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


Food Swapping with Philly Swappers

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

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

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

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


    Arugula Pesto

    Sunday, April 06, 2014

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

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

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

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

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


    Don’t Use Your Good Napkins

    Wednesday, April 02, 2014

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

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


      North Fork: Long Island, NY

      Saturday, March 29, 2014

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

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

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

       

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

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

       

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

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

       

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


        Market Report: Spring 2014

        Wednesday, March 19, 2014

        In honor of the first day of spring, after one of the longest and snowiest winters imaginable, I had hoped to publish a list of opening dates for as many of Philadelphia’s Farmers’ Markets as are available.  That didn’t turn out to be much, I’m afraid.  Both The Food Trust and Farm to City, which operate a total of 43 markets between them, have pages full of information on each market - find them here and here - but no opening dates are yet listed for the seasonal markets.  Two bits of good news while we wait, though.  We can still visit the five year round markets at Clark Park, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse Square, Chestnut Hill and Bryn Mawr.  And in a news post about The Food Trust’s Headhouse Market being chosen one of the “10 Best Spots For Foodies”, the opening date is given: Sunday, May 4th.  It can’t come soon enough.

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


        Tattie Scones: What Your Mashed Potatoes Want To Be

        Saturday, March 08, 2014

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        I love the flexibility of latkes or similarly made potato pancakes - they can be served with breakfast, as an appetizer with any number of delicious things on top, or as a dinner side.  I’ve tried to do similar things with pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes, but they always seemed to come out with a bit of a crust that sticks to the pan and tasting mostly of - well, warmed leftover mashed potatoes.  Last week I came across a recipe for a tattie scone, which adds just enough flour and leavening agent to create a pancake that stays together, browns beautifully and tastes of potato, but slightly chewy and springy. 

        1 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
        1/2 cup flour
        1/2 teaspoon baking powder

        Combine mashed potatoes, flour and baking powder thoroughly, forming a dough.  (If your mashed potatoes had no butter or salt in them initially, melt a tablespoon of butter and add to mixture along with a generous pinch of salt).  Form four or five balls and dust with flour.  Heat a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan on medium and add a teaspoon or so of butter.  Flatten each ball of dough in the skillet to a thickness of about half an inch.  Cook for a few minutes on each side until browned.

        Posted by Donna on 03/08 at 05:48 PM


        Not-Yet-Spring Comfort

        Wednesday, March 05, 2014

        Sous Vide Compote

        Since we’re still waiting on the polar vortex to release its death grip once and for all, the only real novelty at the farmers market the past couple of weekends was the return of Taproot Farm’s lovely golden-yolked eggs. I decided to feature them as prominently as possible in dessert form, which meant a vanilla-rich creme anglaise served over a very simple compote of apples, raisins and toasted nuts.

        We recently acquired a sous vide machine, so I used it to make both components. Although it makes the custard foolproof and significantly less work than making it the usual way, you certainly don’t need a sous vide for this recipe. I’ve included instructions for making it both ways.

        If you’re still in new year healthy eating mode, this is actually a fairly low-sugar dessert, since there’s no added sweetener in the compote.

        Apple Compote with Creme Anglaise
        Serves 4

        For custard:
        5 egg yolks
        2 cups half and half
        6 tablespoons sugar
        Pinch of Maldon or other flaky sea salt
        1 vanilla bean

        For compote:
        6 firm eating apples, peeled and cored, and sliced in 1/2 inch thick wedges
        Zest and juice of 1 lemon
        1/2 cup raisins
        1 tablespoon unsalted butter (if not cooking sous vide)
        3 tablespoons apple cider (if not cooking sous vide)
        1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or walnuts

        Using a sous vide machine:

        Follow these instructions for the creme anglaise, and chill for at least several hours before using.

        Toss the sliced apples with the raisins, lemon zest and just enough of the juice to lightly coat them.  Vacuum seal the apple mixture or just use a zip-top bag and press out as much air as you can.  Cook at 185F for about an hour, until the apples feel tender through the plastic.

        Without a sous vide machine:

        Split the vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and the pod to a small saucepan with the half and half, bringing it just up to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for 15 minutes, then pull out the vanilla pod.

        Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.  In a smaller bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and salt.  Bring the half and half back up to a simmer, then pour in a thin but even stream into the yolks while continuing to whisk.  Scrape the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a spoon, around 2-4 minutes.  Clean the bowl you used for the egg yolks and set it in the ice bath.  Pour the custard through a strainer into the smaller bowl to get any stray egg filaments, leaving the custard over the ice bath until it’s at room temperature before transferring to the refrigerator, tightly covered, to chill thoroughly.

        Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the apples, sugar, lemon zest and juice.  Toss in the pan until the edges begin to caramelize just slightly, then add the cider and raisins and cover the pan, cooking a few minutes more until the apples are tender and the raisins are plump.

        To serve:

        Decant the warm apple compote into pretty bowls or stemware.  Pour a few tablespoons of creme anglaise over each serving, and top with the nuts.  Circulate a pitcher of the remaining custard for your guests to add more to their taste.

        Posted by Gabriela on 03/05 at 07:01 PM


        A Little Gardening Today?

        Monday, March 03, 2014

        Last summer, I made a mess of a first attempt at winter sowing seeds - a seed starting method involving creating mini greenhouses out of recyclables, planting with seeds and setting outside to sprout in the early spring.  I loved this idea when I first read about it - no need to set up tables and grow lights in the room we didn’t have and no need to buy anything new to try it out.  I went a little crazy - saving every disposable container that came through the house, madly slashing drainage holes in the bottoms, filling them with soil and seeds, soaking them and setting them outside to wait out the remaining winter days.  By spring I had sodden containers, and although many sprouted anyway, others did not.  Here’s what I did right - and wrong:

        1.  My containers - plastic milk jugs are the ideal container for winter sowing.  Their height allows for room for the seedlings to grow, and their lids can be removed for extra ventilation and moisture come spring when it is still too cool at night to remove the seedlings completely.  I’d imagine 2 liter bottles would be good for similar reasons.

        2.  My method of creating drainage holes - I used a knife, which made a slit in the plastic that didn’t really allow for drainage as it should have.  This year I used a screwdriver.

        3.  My preparation of the seeds and soil - I took the directions to “moisten” the soil a bit too far, and my little greenhouses remained soaked throughout the early spring, obviously compounded by my poor drainage holes.

        So yesterday I tried again.  Right now is the perfect time to sow tender crops such as tomatoes and peppers, so I got my collected milk jugs out, sawed them in half, poked drainage and ventilation holes, filled with potting soil and seeds, moistened with a spray bottle and set them outside. 

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        And then it snowed again.

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        Posted by Donna on 03/03 at 11:33 AM


        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.

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        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. 

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

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        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. 

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          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.

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          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

          Sauce
          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.

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          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.

           

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


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