Sunday, July 31, 2011

Reading Terminal Market's makeover

Reading Terminal Market's makeover -- Philadelphia Inquirer

Reading Terminal Market homepage

More on the makeover

If you live in or near Philadelphia, and you don't shop and eat at Reading Terminal Market, you're missing one of the great food destinations in the country.
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm there regularly -- typically two or three Saturdays a month.  Breakfast or lunch with Adam or Carmen at The Dutch Eating Place or Down Home Diner, shopping for veggies and fruit at Iovine's, meat from Charlie Giunta, roasted chicken from Dienner's, raisin-pecan cinnamon buns from Beiler's, cold cuts and pepper bacon from Hatville Deli, coffee (medium, extra cream) from Old City Coffee, bargain produce from OK Lee, steamed dumplings from Sang Kee, bread and fig bars (!) from Metropolitan Bakery, roast pork sammiches (with broccoli rabe and provolone) from DiNic's.   

The market went through a major rejuvenation at the time that the Convention Center was being built, which saved it from developers who were intent on jettisoning the Market from its perch under the old Reading train shed.  

Now it's about to go through another bit of renovation and expansion.  Business is good, and that's good for all us food lovers and inveterate food shoppers, who love good quality and freshness.  RTM is good, not only because it offers so much to its customers, but because it is real, not a phony, tourist "festival marketplace" selling crap T-shirts and soft pretzels.  (Do you hear that, Faneuil Hall and Inner Harbor?)

 Adam, dazzled by the selection at Reading Terminal Market!

Philbert, the Market's mascot.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jam-making day

Too damn hot and humid to be outside today, so I'm enjoying the day in the air-conditioned kitchen.  I made some amatriciana sauce yesterday (that's a tomato sauce made with bacon or pancetta and lots of onions; recipe to come), and a summer-fruit pandowdy.  I bought 5 pounds of apricots at Gentile's Produce Market last week, planning to make a pot of jam.  Today was the day.

I always refer to a favorite website when I'm making jam -- The National Center for Home Food Preservation.  The Center is part of the University of Georgia's Extension Service and the US Department of Agriculture.  A resource of remarkable depth.

The recipe I used today was for the fruit jam without added pectin.

Jam-making is not difficult, but it does require a few specialized tools -- a canning funnel, a jar-lifter, and a candy/deep-fat thermometer at the minimum.  You also need a big stockpot in which to do the sterilizing and hot-packing.  I have a pair of long leather barbecue gloves that I find very handy, too, to handle the hot jars. 

One of the pleasures of apricot jam is that the flavor of fresh apricots is made much more prominent when confected into a jam.  Also, apricots do not need to be peeled when being made into a jam; the skins disintegrate upon cooking.  

Barbara from NYC stopped by today to take me out to brunch for my birthday.  She arrived just as I was removing the jars from the hot-pack processing.  She got the first jar of jam to take home with her. 

 Boiling the fruit and sugar. 

 Filling the sterilized jars with the hot jam.  This is where the leather gloves come in handy. 
You can see the wide-bottom canning funnel, designed specifically for this task. 
The bands and discs for the lids are off to the upper right.

The finished jam.  Few things are better.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Nigel Slater

I read Nigel Slater's Toast years ago, and enjoyed his storytelling.  Like MFK Fisher, he writes stories that are not 'about' food (they aren't cookbooks or food reviews), so much as they are 'around' food. Food and cooking are characters in his stories.

There was a very good feature in the Wall Street Journal recently about him.

He's also a cook who loves his wooden spoons.  I can relate.

WSJ feature on Nigel Slater

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Peach and plum pandowdy

I had half a dozen peaches, nectarines, and plums on the far side of ripeness, so decided to whip together a pandowdy.

A pandowdy is simply a one-crust pie, with the crust on the top.  I love making them because (a) they're quick to put together, and (b) the soggy bottom crust is eliminated by simply eliminating the bottom crust.

Lazy chef cheat -- I always keep a box or two of Pillsbury pastry crusts in the freezer so I can do a pie on the fly.  I will confess my sin on Saturday.  Honestly, though, they're really quite good.

Cut up enough peaches, plums, and nectarines to make five to six cups cut-up fruit.  You can take the time to peel the fruit, but honestly, it pretty much disintegrates when cooking and it's a waste of time.  And forget about trying to peel a plum.

Sprinkle the fruit with a good cup of sugar, and add 2 tablespoons Minute® Tapioca.  Sprinkle some cinnamon, a few grates of nutmeg, a pinch of salt.  Let it sit for 5 minutes while you prep the baking dish.

Spray a 6-cup baking dish with release spray.  Dump in the sugared fruit.  Dot with butter. 

Unroll the Pillsbury crust and cut it into strips (I use a ravioli cutter -- a paring knife will suffice.)  Lay the strips on top of the fruit in any sort of pattern you like.  Random looks quite fetching.

Paint with some cream or half-n-half.  Sprinkle some coarse brown (turbinado) sugar on top, and pop into a 400°F oven until the crust is nicely browned, and the fruit is bubbling up all around the edges, 45-55 minutes.  I use the convection setting on my oven, which encourages a nice browning of the crust. 

Lazy chef cheat -- put the baking dish on a sheet pan which has been covered with Reynolds® Non-Stick Foil.  You will thank yourself later after the fruit syrup bubbles up and over the baking dish.

How beautiful is that?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hot summer day -- time to roast peppers

Few foods are as tantalizing as roasted red peppers.  When peppers are in season this time of year and are inexpensive (I've gotten them recently as cheap as $1.35/lb), I fire up the grill and start roasting.

Get the grill very hot, and lay the peppers across.  Close the lid and let them char on one side, which will take a few minutes.  After the one side is charred, turn them, and char the other sides.  

   Once charred, place them in a covered pot or a paper grocery sack and let them steam and cool.  This will help the skins to detach from the flesh. 

Peel the charred skin from each pepper -- it will pretty much fall off.  Don't rinse the peppers under water, though you might be tempted.  The bits of clinging charred skin that you can't remove adds nice flavor. 

Pull our the stem and seed pod.

Pull apart the tender, roasted flesh.  You probably won't need a knife.

Let the sliced up peppers drain in a colander for an hour.

Dress the peppers with salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, parsley and ample extra virgin olive oil. 

If you make a large batch of peppers -- and I recommend that you do -- dress only what you'll eat now, and freeze the rest in zipper bags for later use.

Ferry Building farmers' market

I was traveling for business last week in San Francisco, and had some time between client meetings in the city.  I was right downtown, so wandered over to the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, where there's a great indoor market/restaurant space and an outdoor farmers' market a couple days a week. 

The produce for sale was beautiful and I had to get some photos.  (One of these days I'm going to collect all the photos I've taken at farmers' markets and put them in one place!)  The pictures speak for themselves!

Peaches, nectarines.

Sweet peas and snap peas.

Beautiful cherry tomatoes. I bought a basket to munch on.  Sweet as sugar!

California garlic.  None of that awful Chinese stuff!

I bought a jar of honey from this very nice vendor -- Snyder's Honey -- who let me taste them all.

Worthy of a Dutch master.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Feast for a friend from faraway

I hosted a supper on Friday evening for Hilda, a friend visiting from the UK.  Long story short: Carmen met her years ago when traveling in London and she was the tour guide.  They've kept in touch all these years.  Back in the US after about a decade, visiting NYC.  Popped down to Philly to say hello.

Dinner outside on the patio, under a pop-up canopy.  (Thanks, Steve!)  Perfect weather, and a perfect size gathering for supper.  Lighting courtesy of the Coleman gas lamp.

Munchies -- Goat cheese sprinkled with zatar with crackers, olives, peanuts. 
First course -- Pasta with fresh-tomato sauce and lots of basil from the garden.

The guest of honor and the first course.

 How beautiful is that??

Main course -- Roasted chicken with herbs from the garden, arranged on croutons over which all the pan juices were poured, making a kind of "pane inzuppato." ** (Best quote of the night, from Dewey: "We will ALWAYS serve chicken this way from now on.")

Side dishes -- Mushroom rice pilaf and green salad.

Dessert -- Apricot-cherry cobbler, ice cream, water ice, coffee and tea.

The next morning, at Reading Terminal Market.

**inzuppare, v. tr.
    1. (intingere) to dip, to dunk
    1. (bagnare completamente) to soak, to drench