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A Midwinter’s Day in the Lehigh Valley

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Between the melting mounds of old, dirty snow and the perpetual construction in the neighborhood, we had a strong urge to get out of the city yesterday.  So, we made a return trip to of our favorite local wineries: Pinnacle Ridge and Galen Glen, both in the Lehigh Valley.  As Craig Laban noted in his 2014 article, Lehigh Valley white wines are remarkable, but Pinot Noir is also served well by the cooler climate.  On this trip, however, we weren’t so much sampling recent vintages as a stocking our wine cellar.  (Please note that by “wine cellar,” I simply mean a cleared out space space on the floor and shelves of our basement pantry, which remains a fairly steady temperature year-round.)  Tasting the wines with that specific intent altered the experience.  Rather than deciding which wines I liked best, I was deciding which wines I liked that were also most versatile. 

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From Pinnacle Ridge, we brought back the Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.  The Cabernet Franc has a nice, light mouthfeel and herbal, peppery taste that is slightly tannic.  While the tannins could soften over time, I don’t think it will be hanging around that long.  Unusual for us, we also picked up two bottles of the Chardonnay - the oaked one, mind you, and not the one fermented in stainless steel tanks.  Over the winter, I found myself wanting a glass of oaked Chardonnay along with roasted whitefish or chicken.  It may be the presence of butter in those dishes, or my own association of butter and oaked Chardonnay, but eating them without the wine was feeling incomplete.

From Galen Glen, we brought home a full case, eight bottles of which are the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner.  I’ve written about this wine on several occasions before, so there isn’t much new that I can say about it.  It’s delicious, fragrant, and beautifully balanced, and I can’t imagine it not improving any food it’s paired with.  It’s also complex enough that I can imagine drinking eight bottles without tiring of it.  We also brought home two bottles of the Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer and two of the Stone Cellar Riesling.  The Gewurztraminer has a heavily floral nose and tastes of tropical fruit.  I imagine pairing it with curries or spicy food quite easily.  The Riesling is bracingly acidic, and it somehow manages to evoke most of the citrus fruits in a single glass.  If I could ever convince the relatives to come here for Thanksgiving, this would be the wine I would serve, but this wine is so refreshing, it will work with just about anything. 

 

Posted by Kevin on 02/07 at 04:24 PM


Local Bitters for the Holidays

Friday, December 04, 2015

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We just got back from the member preview of Bartram’s Garden’s Holiday Greens Sale, where we picked up armfuls of lovely holly and other evergreens along with a jar of Bartram’s Bitters.  The bitters are made locally from John Bartram’s own recipe by Philadelphia Distilling and Fair Food Philly.  The Greens Sale runs tomorrow from 10-3, promising wreaths and centerpieces as well, along with various artisan vendors. 

Posted by Donna on 12/04 at 07:53 PM


Just Add Water

Sunday, November 01, 2015

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Savoie Organic Farm is now growing these beautiful little Mexican black turtle beans, a wonderful addition to the variety of dried beans to be found at Headhouse Farmers’ Market this time of year.  I love turtle beans both for their texture and versatility, so we bought plenty to last until the next harvest. 

Posted by Donna on 11/01 at 05:22 PM


Cheerful Weather for the Mash

Saturday, October 03, 2015

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The chilly wind and rain of the last few days sent us straight to brand new British Pie and Mash shop Stargazy’s Facebook page in the hopes they hadn’t sold out yet for the day.  They hadn’t, and in addition to shots of the daily menu and the pies themselves we also noticed something that’s always a good sign to us: a proud picture of their weekly farm delivery, this one from nearby Wuillermin Farms in Hammonton, NJ. 

Posted by Donna on 10/03 at 05:55 PM


Crack Open A Book

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

With Sunday’s Headhouse Market closed due to the Papal Visit, we had stocked up the week before.  Then the weekend came, and the blissfully car free streets full of happy residents and visitors made eating out seem so much more appealing than cooking that fridge full of food.  I was feeling a little dispirited by the idea of getting through it all, until I decided to take a look at a cookbook or two for some motivation.  A few minutes later, having flipped through 100 or so pages of Tender by Nigel Slater, I had three recipes we could easily make with everything we had on hand.

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It seems so silly to say “and then I thought of my cookbooks!”, but this time of year I really do tend to forget them.  So much of what’s available right now needs little in the way of a recipe to make a delicious dinner.  Blogs, newspapers, and magazines all offer recipes perfect for the season.  But a cookbook like Tender, as the subtitle “A Cook and His Vegetable Patch” suggests, is perfect for looking up individual vegetables and finding simple, seasonal dishes.  I immediately made a broccoli and bacon soup for lunches, the recipe available here, then moved on to baked eggplant with tomato and parmesan for dinner. 

Posted by Donna on 09/29 at 06:09 PM


Last of the Summer Wine

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

As the Summer of 2015 is officially coming to a close, I wanted to include one last word.  We drank several local wines throughout the summer (especially Hawk Haven‘s Pinot Grigio), but the standout was unquestionably Turdo’s Sauvignon Blanc.  Like Gruner Veltliner, Sauvignon Blanc can come off a bit austere.  Bracingly acidic and bright, but with little in the way of nose or finish.  Not Turdo’s.  First, the color has a slight blush - perhaps from some contact with the skin.  Second, the nose contains citrus fruit, but there is also something, in my opinion, herbal to it.  The acidity is nicely balanced, and the finish surprisingly long. Rather than suggest a perfect pairing for this wine - because it is so versatile, I would find it impossible to recommend only one - I suggest a perfect setting: a blanket on the beach, some cheese and salumi to snack on, and a late summer sunset. 

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Posted by Kevin on 09/22 at 05:11 PM


Market Highlights: Headhouse Market June 7th

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Green Beans

t’s starting to really feel like summer at Headhouse Market.  The zucchini is here for one, available at Blooming Glen and Savoie Organic Farm in all sorts of lovely shapes and colors.  Other new arrivals included fennel, new potatoes, beets and fava beans.  Queens Farm also had these flat green beans that the attendant told us last week were so good she ate them for breakfast.  She was right - we came back this week for two quarts.

Posted by Donna on 06/07 at 05:42 PM


A Bike Share Grows In Philly

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

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Don’t worry, this one will get around to local food.  On Sunday we took our first ride on Indego, Philadelphia’s brand new bike sharing program.  We signed up online, picked up our bikes at the station a block from our house, and headed out.  Since it was our first ride, and neither of us are by any means veteran city riders, we went straight to the Delaware River Trail that leads past the new Washington Avenue Green and continues south.  We rode down to check out the construction of Pier 68, a new park featuring fishing and a sloping lawn for picnicking, due to open later this summer. 

The bikes were smartly designed, solidly built, easy to check out and return and absurdly fun to ride. 

And the local food?  I don’t know if it was because I had just read Marie Viljoen describe them on her blog 66 Square Feet or our new vantage point from the bikes, but I spotted several patches of japanese knotweed growing along the trail.  According to Viljoen, local forager David Siller and others, the invasive knotweed has a sour, lemony taste similar to rhubarb.  We might just have to return and fill those handy baskets.

Posted by Donna on 04/29 at 04:52 PM


Unionville Vineyards

Saturday, January 03, 2015

I’d first read about Unionville in reading about the Judgement of Princeton and, of course, through Carlo De Vito’s East Coast Wineries blog.  This reading prepared me for the quality of wine.  What it did not prepare me for was the gorgeous countryside adjacent to the Sourland Mountain Preserve.  This is some of the most idyllic wine country we have seen in either Pennsylvania or New Jersey. 

Unionville is actually four separate farms making wine under one moniker and winemaker, Cameron Stark.  As a result, the wines vary greatly in style, from dry whites to ports.  Each tasting constitutes eight wines, so we were able to sample a large portion of that variety.  The tasting room is a gorgeous, bi-level, repurposed barn, and our server was knowledgeable and amiable.  It is so nice, and more rare than it should be, to have a conversation about the wines we were tasting.  We came away understanding the particularities of Unionville wines as well as a better understanding of winemaking in general.

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Everything we tasted was of excellent quality, and if I didn’t leave with more bottles, it was only because there are so many excellent local wines and so few square feet in my house.  Therefore, I am always looking to take away the bottle or bottles that were most unique to that winery.  To my tasting, the Unionville’s chardonnays were the distinguishing wines: they had the most subtle hints of oak I have yet tasted, and the most prominent citrus flavors.  However, I wouldn’t want to reduce my description to only those terms; there is far more to them.  The Pheasant Hill Chardonnay, which came home with us, is so complex and varied that it deserves a long, slow sipping (and savoring) over a multi-course meal.

 

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Posted by Kevin on 01/03 at 02:42 PM


A Day of Wine in the Lehigh Valley

Friday, November 28, 2014

Several weeks ago we had the opportunity of visiting four very different wineries within the span of a week.  It was highly effective (not to mention enjoyable) in learning how different wine can taste - and by that I mean how different wines made from the same grape can vary year by year, vineyard by vineyard within the same area, and microclimate by microclimate.

I was particularly impressed with what we found during our day trip to the Lehigh Valley, following a route similar to Craig Laban’s.  Our first stop was Pinnacle Ridge, where we focused on tasting their dry red wines.  This was the first (and likely only) time I actually enjoyed a chambourcin, but more importantly I understood clearly something that Luca Turdo explained to me this summer: cabernet franc does best in colder climates.  The cabernet francs I had tasted from warmer microclimates were thinner, less interesting stuff than what Pinnacle Ridge is making here.  In fact, it was quite nearly the quality of Roanoke’s cabernet franc from North Fork, Long Island.

After a quick and delicious lunch from Wanamaker’s General Store, we wound our way up (quite literally) to Galen Glen winery. 

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This was not my first tasting of Galen Glen, but this was my first visit to the winery.  It may be the most picturesque tasting room I have seen on the East Coast.  Even more impressive were the wines.  The Stone Cellar Gewurztraminer had an incredibly floral bouquet and palate of tropical fruit.  The dry Stone Cellar Riesling was bracingly so, with a taste of citrus.  However, my absolute favorite was, and is, the Stone Cellar Gruner Veltliner.  Delicious, complex, and refreshing, I have a difficulty imagining that I would ever tire of this wine.  I am still kicking myself for only buying two bottles.  Thankfully, they do ship within Pennsylvania. 

After our week of wine tastings, and an additional one since, I have a newfound appreciation for the number of truly unique, excellent wineries within an easy drive of the city.  We have had consistently and reliably good wineries for some time, but we have not gone even further with some truly exceptional ones as well. 

 

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Posted by Kevin on 11/28 at 01:23 PM


Beyond Red Gravy

Saturday, November 15, 2014

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We’ve tried a few types of Vera Pasta over the past few months and have loved their variety and seasonality.  Their beet linguine was a unique starter to Easter dinner with soft goat cheese melted in, and we inhaled their kale and lemon linguine with a walnut sauce.  This time, we tried their crab cake ravioli and were a bit stumped for a sauce until I saw the Delicata squash in the fridge.  Cut into small cubes and sauteed in olive oil, it was ready faster than the ravioli.

Posted by Donna on 11/15 at 06:06 PM


Wyebrook Farm - Honey Brook, PA

Friday, November 07, 2014

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To celebrate the end of Daylight Savings Time, we took a beautiful drive last Sunday morning to Wyebrook Farm, a little more than an hour from Philly in Honey Brook. 

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Wyebrook raises cattle, pigs and chickens, all to meticulous sustainable standards.  Their meats, milk and eggs, some vegetables and a large selection of local cheeses and other products can be purchased at their market, while the cafe and restaurant serve lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

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The brunch omelet, with fresh made sausage from the farm, was delicious, as was the “bread basket” full of beautiful little pastries and quick breads. 

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We took home fresh ground beef and chicken along with various other local items from the market.  Definitely better than an extra hour of sleep.

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


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


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


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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