Local Wine, Local Food, Local Waters
Saturday, August 30, 2014
It is difficult to imagine an event that more perfectly blended three of my favorite aspects of the Jersey Shore: wine, seafood, and the ocean. For two-and-a-half hours, a small group of us were taken on a cruise of the tall ship the A.J. Meerwald out of Cape May. As we sat enjoying the brilliant, sunset-lit skies and views, Chef Lucas Manteca (of Cape May Point’s Red Store) prepared food and the staff of Hawk Haven Winery poured us wine - lots and lots of wine.
Of Chef Manteca and the Red Store, I have posted a great deal. To this I will only add that there is a very good reason the staff laugh in recognition when we come in yet again. This is some of the finest, freshest, most creative and varied food to be found on the Jersey Shore.
Of Hawk Haven, I have posted before, and they remain one of the finest wineries in New Jersey. This is a far greater distinction than it might at first appear: there are now myriad wineries in the “Outer Coastal Plain” and many, like Hawk Haven, are worth far more than just a visit on a rainy day. Hawk Haven’s Signature Series, in particular, offers unique, high-quality wines grown and bottled on the estate.
Beyond the obvious combination of these things on a sailing ship, both Chef Manteca and Hawk Haven went to great lengths to make the event even more memorable. The food served was always attuned to the wines poured: as we progressed from lighter whites to heavier reds, we moved from taquitos to seared tuna. Moreover, the variety of wines allowed for some very interesting comparisons, comparisons you would rarely be able to find at a winery or restaurant. Thus, we were able to compare vintages (2009 versus 2010) and fermentation methods (oaked versus unoaked) in a highly informative juxtaposition.
Most memorable, though, was the singularity of the experience - an experience that could not have happened anywhere else. Local wines with local food while sailing the local waters.
A Polenta For Summer
Thursday, August 28, 2014
For the first time ever, we grew corn this summer in our community garden plot. We were warned by nearly everyone to expect little. One gardener said as he walked by our foot high stalks, “You’re growing corn - you must be an optimist.” But it kept growing, along with the pole beans we planted as part of a “three sisters” planting. (The third “sister”, zucchini along the base of the corn, didn’t fare so well. Next year we’ll try another form of squash.) Soon it was nearly the tallest thing in the entire garden, and cobs appeared seemingly overnight. Some trouble did arrive, in the form of massively aggressive squirrels who took about six of the ears for themselves, but we learned the nifty if slightly nutty looking trick of slipping a paper bag over each ear and managed to save the remainder for ourselves. We grilled the first several ears and ate them with lime butter, but then tried this Sweet Corn Polenta With Eggplant Sauce by Yotam Ottolenghi. Don’t be misled by the name: there is no dried ground corn to be found, as this is made entirely with fresh corn kernels. If you are left with the inevitable pot of leftover boiled corn after a barbecue, you have to make this recipe. Both the polenta itself and the sauce involve very few ingredients, come together quickly and are perfect for the season. Hillacres Pride’s feta works beautifully, as it is almost as moist and creamy as the polenta itself.
If the paper bags continue to work, we’ll be making this at least once more.
Who Needs Farmed Shrimp?
Saturday, August 23, 2014
In the wake of The Guardian’s investigation into slave labor in large scale shrimp farming, it seems a better time than ever to commit to knowing exactly where your seafood comes from. We’ve written many times here about how lucky Philadelphia area consumers are to have the likes of Otolith, Ippolito’s and Shore Catch, purveyors that either catch their own product or provide a scrupulous account of its provenance and sustainability. Our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean means access to a vast variety of freshly caught options as well. H and H Seafood, located just outside Cape May, offers such a diversity from their own small boats that we visited three times in one week on a recent vacation, never eating the same thing twice. One night we brought home triggerfish, once considered “trash fish” not worth even hauling in, and grilled it with herbs sandwiched between the fillets. It not only had a meaty texture, it also soaked up the flavor of both the grilling and the herbs as well as any meat. The lobster above came steamed for us as requested, which we ate with boiled new potatoes from the Fincas Del Mar CSA box and grilled corn from our garden.
Both Otolith and Ippolito’s offer delicious varieties of wild and sustainable shrimp to keep you away from those questionable bags at the supermarket, but why not try the literal ocean of new and familiar seafood just an hour away?
In Search of the Perfect Potato Salad
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Anyone who grew up near Vineland in South Jersey will surely know Joe’s Poultry. Our parents would never consider fast food appropriate for dinner, but a stop at Joe’s little shop for a rotisserie chicken was a different case altogether. But it wasn’t the chicken that was my favorite - it was the potato salad. Almost creamy, with bits of shredded carrot and diced pickle and never too much mayo, the potato salad deservedly became the standard by which all others were compared in my family. (Joe’s Poultry is still going strong, by the way, and if the reviews on Yelp are any indication, we’re not alone.)
A few years ago I tried my hand at potato salad, thinking I could definitely come up with something delicious with all the wonderful local potatoes at hand. Nope. I used Tom Culton’s lovely fingerlings, which according to many recipes should have been the perfect texture, and left the skin on. The result was more like like pieces of potatoes dressed in mayonnaise - not at all the moist and flavorful texture of Joe’s. While the skins were delicious, there was way too little potato exposed, so nothing cohered. I tried again, this time choosing young potatoes with thin skins, but big enough to allow for pieces with plenty of exposed potato. I also mashed the potatoes slightly with a fork and added tiny diced bits of pickles and chives. My family wholeheartedly approved.
So why is the potato salad pictured purple, you ask? We picked up a massive jar of naturally fermented pickles made by Amanda of Phickle at the food swap the week before and they had a fantastic half sour taste that was perfect for potato salad. The only potatoes we had on hand were from Savoie Organic Farm and just happened to be purple. Prettiest batch I ever made.
2 pound potatoes, skin on is fine if they are new potatoes, cut into pieces of 1 1/2 to 2 inches
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more, depending on your preference
1 bunch of chives, chopped
1 dill pickle, diced
Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to boil. Boil potatoes until fully cooked - usually no more than 10 minutes, but test with fork. Drain and allow to steam dry.
Transfer potatoes to a bowl and roughly mash some with a fork to desired consistency. Toss potatoes with mayonnaise, chives and pickle. Add 1 tsp salt and taste to adjust salt or mayonnaise. Serves 4-6.
Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy. It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine. And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market. At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.
This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food. However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients.
And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second. The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned. Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. That’s it. But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand.
We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine? In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso. Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti. However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one. Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices. The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish.
It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved. The only modifications I would offer are:
1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven. The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did). We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper. Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat. Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat. This will keep them from getting soft.
3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni.
4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves. Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes. The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed.
5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates. The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.
A New Way with Carrots
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
When I pulled an actual bunch of carrots from our garden last week, it was cause for a (minor) celebration. After years of trying and failing with Scarlet Nantes, I’d found a new variety perfectly suited for our plot. To celebrate, then, I wanted something special. Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, I found it.
What’s particularly impressive about this dish, and Ottolenghi in general, is how he uses spices and small quantities of exotic ingredients to create vibrant, unique vegetable dishes. Many other chefs would resort to slabs of bacon - not that there is anything wrong with bacon. Here, however, Ottolenghi creates a curried flavor that relies on olive oil and yogurt for its fat content. It certainly showcases the carrots, but it is also worlds away from the roasted carrot salad I normally make in summer. I made only a few minor changes: omitting the preserved lemon and cilantro (not by choice, only by circumstance); altering the cut and, therefore, cooking time of the carrots; omitting green chiles; and substituting chives for green onions and adding them to the yogurt. Ottolenghi suggests this as a side to a fried fish, but it was perfectly satisfying as a part of a light summer lunch along with an omelette and a green bean salad.
So, should you find yourself in possession of a fresh bunch of carrots, think twice before adding bacon.
P.S. Unlike Smitten Kitchen, I do not ever doubt Yotam Ottolenghi’s sanity.
Another Season, Another Swap
Sunday, July 13, 2014
On Tuesday night, we participated in our sixth food swap sponsored by Philly Swappers, who host four swaps a year. The summer and fall swaps are by far our favorites, as the range of local produce available makes for endless preserving and baking possibilities. With each swap, we learn a bit more about what makes for a popular swap item.
For Tuesday’s swap, we brought Momofuku pickles, a simple quick pickle we’ve brought to every summer or fall swap, kale pesto, and giant meringues based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe. The kale came from our garden, and the pesto recipe was unique in that it didn’t require any type of nuts, a great option to offer at a swap to those with nut allergies. The meringues - by far the most popular item we brought this swap - were essentially a byproduct of the gelato we’d made, as they were little more than egg whites and sugar flavored with a walnut liqueur. I’d been making meringue since our first swap, but was never happy with the tiny, deflated bits my recipe turned out. Then we went to Borough Market in London last summer and saw giant, fluffy scoops of meringue dusted with nuts or dried fruit. Turns out these and dozens of others were imitations of Ottolenghi’s, who adapts a traditional recipe with the simple process of heating the sugar before adding to the egg whites.
The swaps are always delightfully full of creative and novel foods, and this one was no exception. At least two swappers offerd kimchi, one with cabbage and one with zucchini. A few other swappers offered a either quick or naturally fermented pickle like we did, which I love for their mellow, half-sour taste. We’ve seen kombucha at several swaps, but finally took a lovely blueberry ginger flavor this time. We used the zucchini butter, recommended for crostini, tossed in pasta the next night and it was delicious. The tahini cookies barely made it home.
Looking forward to the next swap in October
Posted by Donna on 07/13 at 05:50 AM
A Day In The Garden By The River
Monday, June 30, 2014
Last weekend we attended the Community River Fest, held at the beautiful Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia. We missed out on samples of Little Baby’s oyster ice cream, doled out on a floating parlor to those participating in the Schuylkill Boat Parade or lucky enough to snag one of the free kayaks, but we did get to see something new since our last visit: a thriving community garden.
In addition to education programs and plots tended by nearby residents, the garden holds a weekly farmstand from 3:30 to 6:30 every Thursday through October 30th.
Posted by Donna on 06/30 at 05:43 PM
Next Philly Food Swap July 8th at the Wyck House
Thursday, June 19, 2014
We’ve written about our participation in food swaps sponsored by Philly Swappers before, but this time we’d like to encourage anyone who might still be hesitant about attending to try it out. The upcoming event is the perfect time for a first swap, and both my favorite location and time of year. The Wyck House grounds and gardens are beautiful and a completely fitting setting for a summer swap. And while I love bringing a pile of homemade bread to a winter swap, nothing beats being able to can and pickle all sorts of fresh produce for one, not to mention what we get to take home. The event is free, the people are friendly, and the food is amazing. Hope to see you there.
Posted by Donna on 06/19 at 07:50 PM
Asparagus for the Colder Days of Spring
Thursday, June 12, 2014
I know there are many vegetables that signal spring has come, and I suppose Dan Barber should have shamed me into looking for other crops, but he didn’t it. Asparagus has always served as the harbinger of spring. So thrilled to have fresh green vegetables again, I find asparagus at its most satisfying when it is most simply prepared: grilled, roasted, or blanched with some citrus and spices. Nonetheless, I gorge on asparagus so fully that I occasionally need a richer preparation - if only for variety. In this case, a recent Nigel Slater column prompted me to dig out an old Mario Batali recipe. Although Goop claims this was an exclusive for them, my version dates to his immutable Simple Italian Food. I made a few changes to the ingredients, but the essentials remain.
There isn’t much to it, really. First, I should note that I made polenta in the way that I usually make it (which is Nigella Lawson’s) with my addition of a parmesan rind. As the polenta cooks, render fat from some pancetta cubes and then toss in onions and garlic (green garlic would have been fine as well). Pour in some white wine, and once it has reduced, add some blanched asparagus and toss. Then, serve over the steaming polenta. For a little more substance to the dish, I topped it with a poached egg.
It isn’t really a dish to celebrate warmer days, but it’s a dish for those lingering cold nights in early May that require both comfort food and a reminder that spring has, in fact, arrived.
Posted by Kevin on 06/12 at 07:41 PM
Strawberry Jam and Philly Muffins
Monday, June 09, 2014
The strawberries are here. After buying an early pint at the farmer’s market, we got a brimming bowlful from our own community garden plot on Saturday. We eat these weekday mornings over granola, but by the weekend I wanted some jam. The problem with traditional jam is that it takes quite a bit of time and to me loses that lovely fresh taste that we all love about strawberries every spring. Thanks to this recipe from Nigel Slater, I can make warm jam with decidedly less sugar and a vibrant strawberry taste before the cappuccino’s made. Don’t be afraid to scale down to whatever amount of fruit you’ve got - I made this batch from no more than a handful.
Posted by Donna on 06/09 at 05:43 PM
Shore Catch Flounder
Thursday, June 05, 2014
Flounder was probably the first fish I ever had. My father was an avid fisherman and would bring them home regularly, so much so that my mother still refuses to eat them or any other whitefish. Once I started cooking for myself, there always seemed to be more exciting choices - tuna to sear or swordfish to grill. This recipe from the New York Times for Egg Battered Pan Fried Flounder was such an appealing combination I had to try it, especially when Shore Catch started offering local flounder regularly through both Winter Harvest and Headhouse Farmers Market. We had it with shaved fennel tossed with olive oil, parsley and spring onions.
Posted by Donna on 06/05 at 05:36 PM
Market Highlights: Headhouse Market June 1st
Sunday, June 01, 2014
The first market in June still had plenty of early spring favorites such as asparagus, various greens and pea shoots, along with tunnel grown cucumbers and zucchini, fennel, radishes, mushrooms, scallions, green garlic and lots of herbs. Many vendors are still carrying seedlings for your late spring planting. And the strawberries are here - last week only Savoie Organic Farm brought a limited amount, but this week at least three other farmers had them. Hillacres Pride again has the wonderful Puddle Duck, which will make one happy lunch this week along with Ric’s Bread’s whole wheat crackers. And for the second week in a row, we couldn’t leave without sandwiches from Heart Food Truck - Country Time pork roll and cheddar with a fried egg and smoked salmon with watercress, creme fraiche and capers.
Posted by Donna on 06/01 at 03:19 PM
Cayuga Organics To Offer Local Rolled Oats
Monday, May 26, 2014
We love oatmeal. And granola. And crumbles and muffins made with oats. All of these things are healthy and can use a variety of local ingredients, but the oats themselves are decidedly not among them. Believe me, we’ve looked everywhere, but no one seemed to be producing oats in the area or the greater region. That will change soon when Cayuga Organics completes its new beanery and starts processing local organic rolled oats. This recipe from Smitten Kitchen is a perfect showcase for them and really any seasonal fruit - I’ve made it here using maple sugar instead of light brown sugar and the first of our rhubarb from the garden.
Posted by Donna on 05/26 at 03:01 PM
Mother’s Day at Coda Rossa Winery
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Last year, I thought I had the highly original idea of taking our mothers to a local winery for Mother’s Day. We would taste everything, buy a bottle to open and sip outside, and bring a picnic lunch. While it was a good idea, it was not that original. In fact, it wasn’t original at all: the Garden State Wine Growers Association has thrown a lot into making Mother’s Day the perfect day for visiting a local winery; events even begin on Saturday. So much for originality.
This year, it was Coda Rossa’s turn, which we learned of from our East Coast Wine Class. While the winery does make wines using California grapes, they also make many wines with New Jersey grapes grown primarily at the winery with some brought in from nearby farms. There were the requisite fruit wines, yes, but Coda Rossa also makes some very interesting reds. My favorite, and the one I took home, was a Cabernet Franc.
After a thorough and comprehensive tasting (all in the name of research), we unpacked a picnic of flatbreads from Wild Flour Bakery, dips from Talula’s Table, and “savory eclairs” from Market Day Canele (all purchased in a rush to the Headhouse Market this morning); we opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio on the patio; and we looked out over the vineyard and enjoyed a warm Spring afternoon in the sun.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Posted by Kevin on 05/11 at 06:12 PM