Archive for jack mcdavid

Jack McDavid’s Tips on Keeping Your Thanksgiving Turkey Moist and Juicy

Thanksgiving Turkeys should be juicy.  Sadly, we’ve all endured our share of dry birds on the Day of Gratitude, but help is at hand.  Jack McDavid, Chef and Owner of the Down Home Diner shared two proven methods of keeping the bird from drying out.  Jack suggests employing both of these strategies on Thursday and he’s never steered us wrong.

Method One:

Immediately before cooking, fill the turkey with hot stuffing and pop it in the oven.  By placing hot stuffing into the bird, you begin an even cooking process from the inside out.  You also avoid the problem of the raw turkey juice seeping into the stuffing and making guests sick, because the interior starts off hot.

Jack’s Stuffing

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped carrots
2 TBSP minced fresh sage
1/2 lb butter
1 cup chicken stock (or more if mixture seems dry)
4 cups cubed day-old bread

Melt butter in large skillet and add vegetables and sage.  Sweat this mixture for about 5 minutes.  Add stock, bring to boil.  Add bread to pan and mix thoroughly, keeping heat on.    While stuffing is still hot, stuff into turkey and cook turkey immediately.

Method Two:  Brine and Rub the Turkey

1 20 lb turkey

For the brine:
4 TBSP sugar
5 TBSP salt
1 TBSP white pepper
3 gallons water

Mix all brine ingredients, and submerge turkey in mixture for 24 hrs.

For spice rub:

2 TBSP sugar
21/2 TBSP salt
1/2 TBSP white pepper

Mix all spice rub ingredients.

Remove turkey from brine.  Rub spice blend under skin, in cavity, and massage thoroughly for about 5 minutes.  Or, as Jack said, “Caress it like you would your girlfriend.  Get to know it real well.  Let that turkey know you love it.  Give it a good rubdown.”    Then stuff it as directed above and…

Roast turkey at 300 degrees for 4  hrs.  If you wish to brown top, raise temperature to 450 for final 10 minutes of roasting.  To ensure that turkey is done, check temperature at thigh.  It should be 165.  If it is not up to temperature, return to oven at 300 degrees and check again in 15 minutes.  Remove from oven, cover, and let turkey sit for at least 20 minutes before carving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Meatballs Mastered, Finally!

Since I’ve been on the topic of my culinary New Year’s Resolutions, I was reminded that one of them was to master meatballs.

For some reason, the ability to craft these delectable orbs has eluded me for decades.  Mine were either too mushy, too dry, lacking flavor, falling apart, overly seasoned–I simply never struck the correct balance.   It was just last week that I managed an affirmatively good version, earning even the approval of my very discriminating  daughter.    My son, on the other hand, never met a hunk of ground beef he didn’t like, so my trials and errors never went to waste. 

I recalled the seemingly unorthodox but very sound meatloaf advice from Down Home Diner’s Chef Jack McDavid–to  use a dough hook for thorough distribution and emulsification of the fat and flavors.  Figuring the principle was the same with meatballs, I used his method.    And it worked!

Here’s what I did…..

For the meatballs:
This made about 2 dozen.

2 1/2 lbs 85% lean ground beef
1/3 cup chopped garlic (I used the jarred stuff and it worked beautifully–use less if fresh)
2 cups Italian style seasoned bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup beef broth or water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Blend all ingredients thoroughly, using dough hook  if possible.  With wet hands, form the mixture into firmly packed balls approx 1 1/2 inches in diameter and drop them into simmering marinara sauce.  Cook on low heat for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Serve over pasta, on sandwiches, or solo.  (These also freeze really well.)

Ok, next resolution…..It’s only July.

Soups of the South

Seeking soups of the south gave me a chance to tap two of my favorite cooking men:  my husband Matt, who hails from Arkansas; and Chef Bill Beck, who was raised in New York, but food-wise he’s all New Orleans.

Matt’s latest specialty is black-eyed pea soup.  He starts with a meaty ham hock, chops a large onion, a few stalks of celery and carrots, 3 or 4 crushed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of chili powder and salt, and tosses the lot into a big pot with a pound of rinsed black eyed peas.  Or navy beans.  Or whatever beans you have on hand.  He covers the mess with water and simmers for about 3 hours.  Then he pulls the ham off the bone into bite sized bits, tosses it back into the soup, and is ready to enjoy.  [Alternatively, skip the ham hock, buy a 1 lb picnic ham,  cut it into cubes, and add them to the pot--saves the work of picking the bones.]

He recently visited his elderly parents for a few days on the Chilly New England Coast, and while there filled their freezer with a vats of homemade soup–chicken, simmering in the picture above, and black eyed pea.  Clearly he’s a keeper.

And no discussion of southern soups would be complete without a mention of Gumbo.  Strictly speaking, Cajun is different from southern, but geographically it’s nearby, and since Chef Bill Beck of Beck’s Cajun Cafe is a rising star on the Philly Food Scene he warrants some airtime.

Chef Bill Beck with a vat of gumbo.

Chef Beck will be competing in the Reading Terminal Cook-off on February 25 at the Valentine to the Market Gala, but he was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat soups with us.  “Gumbo is the quintessential Cajun dish.  The key is a good roux.  You really have to brown the butter and flour mixture thoroughly, constantly stirring for a good while to avoid burning.  The roux forms the base flavor as well as the thickener for the gumbo. “  In addition to gumbo, Bill was kind enough to share his famous oyster stew.  This recipe is a New Orleans version of a dish that is commonly served in coastal areas all over the US.  Bill’s rendition would typically be served as a first course for a holiday dinner in New Orleans. 

And finally, we’re dying to try this Cope’s Corn and Shrimp Chowder, which appeared in the late, lamented Gourmet Magazine’s “What is Southern?” issue from January 2008–the only one I saved from my vast subscription.  The chowder is definitely on our agenda soon.  We’ll be sure to report the results.

Jack McDavid’s Holiday Nuts

Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner taught us how to make these little lovelies…

These nuts offer the perfect blend of crunchy spicy sweetness, and they make a splendid gift.  Chuck them in a cello bag and tie securely with colorful ribbon.  We emphasize that you tie them up securely so that you are not tempted to nibble them yourself.  You might want to consider a padlock.

Maple Glazed Pecans

1 lb pecans
3 TBSP melted butter
5 TBSP maple syrup
1 TBSP dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 tsp kosher salt

Heat oven to 375.  Toss pecans with butter, syrup, sugar, pepper and sage.  Spread on parchment-lined, rimmed baking sheet and bake 12-14 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from oven and add salt.  Toss again.  Cool completely and enjoy as a decadent snack or use as garnish for salad or soup.

Thanks, Jack!

Jack Gives Back

Chef Jack McDavid is known for launching the farm to table movement in Philadelphia and creating the Down Home Diner,  which offers top quality southern food at an affordable price.  He is also famous for his trademark overalls and “Save the Farm” cap.  But did you know he is also famous for charitable works?

Jack says, “Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for what we have, and part of that is remembering those that don’t have.  My momma always taught me to give back and help others, even when we didn’t have much.  Well, that’s a lesson I’ve learned and I try to pass on.”

Clearly Jack learned the lesson well; this Thanksgiving, he’ll be providing dinner for the residents of St. John’s Hospice, a shelter for homeless men in Center City.

The menu will be identical to the one Jack serves at his family’s table later that day.

Pumpkin Soup
Roast Turkey
Smoked Country Ham
Mashed Potatoes
Sweet Potatoes
String Beans in Garlic with Sauteed Almonds
Pumpkin Pie
Apple Cranberry Crisp

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Jack McDavid’s Apple Cranberry Crisp

Jack McDavid, Chef/Owner of the Down Home Diner in Reading Terminal Market is justifiably famous for his authentic country cooking.   His recipe for apple crisp does not disappoint.  Not only is it simple to make, but served warm with vanilla ice cream it is a righteous dessert,   Better yet, it doubles as breakfast the next morning (sans ice cream)–if there’s any left, that is.

Jack’s Apple Cranberry Crisp

4 lbs Gala Apples, peeled, cored, and cut in 3/8 inch slices
2 TBSP lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 lb fresh cranberries

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 pinches salt
1 stick butter, cut in pieces
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats (NOT instant or quick cooking)
1/4 cup maple syrup
vanilla ice cream, cinnamon and allspice for serving

Heat oven to 375.  Mix filling ingredients in large oval baking dish.  In mixing bowl, blend flour, brown sugar, salt, butter, and oats.  Blend til mixture forms pea-sized clumps.  Crumble over apple mixture and press gently.  Drizzle maple syrup over crumble topping and bake 45-50 minutes.  When done, apples are soft and topping is browned and crisp.  Serve warm topped with Bassett’s vanilla ice cream sprinkled with cinnamon and allspice.  NOTE:  This can be done without the cranberries for a simple apple crisp.

Spring in to Rhubarb

Will this be me after trying rhubarb?

I eat most things, organ meats and mushrooms excluded.  And rhubarb isn’t on the ‘do not eat’ list exactly, but it is certainly not something I seek out.  I’ve never bought the stuff, and have unpleasant memories of a childhood episode in which my mother, an otherwise prize winning pie baker, concocted a strawberry rhubarb pie from some stalks growing wild in a field.  This was the one bad pie on her otherwise impeccable record, which continues to this day.  The strawberry rhubarb pie was puckeringly bitter.  Whether the recipe was flawed, she was distracted when she measured the sugar, or the wild rhubarb was more bitter than the varietal called for in the recipe is unclear.    But the memory of that acrid, mushy ‘dessert’ remains with me and as a result, I have more or less avoided rhubarb for decades.

Rhubarb from Iovine’s–ready for me to take the plunge!

But everyone deserves a second chance, even vegetables.  And the recent Inquirer feature on this harbinger of spring prompted me to reconsider my position on the stuff.  As a devotee of local produce whenever possible, I realized that rhubarb is one of the few items available these days that fit this bill.

Turns out, Claire is a big fan.  She found this rhubarb chutney at Reading Terminal Market which she served with roasted pork.  She also assembled a gorgeous cheese plate with a scoop of the chutney  on the side.

Food and Wine’s May issue proffered rhubarb-cheese strudel as an elegant way to showcase this quintessentially spring ingredient.

And our friend Chef Jack McDavid suggest the following rhubarb-centric dessert:  Grill rhubarb til it’s just al dente and cut it into bite sized pieces.  Set grilled rhubarb aside and make vanilla syrup–a basic simple syrup made with a cup of sugar, a cup of water, and a whole vanilla bean scraped into a saucepan.  Cook the syrup slowly until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has thickened into a syrup.  Remove the solid bits of vanilla, place the grilled rhubarb in the syrup, and leave it there to soak for a bit.  To serve, pour the rhubarb mixture over vanilla ice cream, flan, or custard.  It makes a beautiful presentation with a dramatic pink color, and is a unique but simple dessert.
So, I seem to be surrounded by ideas for using the spring stalk in a number of ways.  I’m going to give it a try.  Stay tuned for *feed*back.

Celebrate Burger Month!

May is national burger month, and I do love a good burger.

I must admit, my husband, who has become quite the cook, made some righteous burgers last week.  He used 85% lean ground beef, which he seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and Worcestershire Sauce.  He packed the burgers loosely, using about 6 oz meat for each, and grilled them for about 4 minutes per side on a high flame.  If I hadn’t married him already, I’d have done it on the spot.

As the mercury rises and grilling season moves into full swing,  it seemed an opportune time to check in on one of our favorite chefs for some hints on what makes a tasty burger.  Not that I feel improvement is necessary on hubby’s work (I’m referring to the burgers, people) but it never hurts to get some professional advice.

Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner is never shy about sharing his opinions, and he was happy to give us his take on burgers.

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The key to a great burger is great meat. We use 80% lean 20% fat freshly ground shoulder Pennsylvania beef from Halteman’s right here in the Market. For a great hamburger, you need an open flame. This sears the outside and allows the fat to escape and caramelize on the meat, which adds a touch of sweetness. You also need a pinch of salt and some seasoning–most folks oversalt the meat in an attempt to add flavor. Meat lacks flavor if it is not top quality.”  So we’ve come full circle.  The key to a good burger is good meat.

For turkey burgers, Jack suggests a different technique.  “Use a griddle.  You don’t need an open flame, because you don’t need to render fat in a turkey burger; they’re low in fat and you’ll dry them out.  You add some seasoning, and cook them slowly to preserve the moisture.”   Full disclosure:  I am not a fan of turkey burgers, so I’ll take Jack’s word for it, but am unlikely to follow his advice.  When it comes to burgers, I’m a traditionalist.

Down Home Diner’s Big Cheese Burger

We certainly enjoyed the Down Home Diner’s burgers.  I took the traditional route with the Big Cheese, and Claire opted for the barbecue burger with bacon and fried onions.  I retained my membership in the clean plate club, C. left the bread and fries behind.  (I like her anyway, though.)  Other favorite burgers around town?   500 degrees for a quick and casual experience,  Butcher and Singer for a fancy lunch, and Good Dog Bar for something in between.

What’s your favorite Philly burger joint?

Southern Sides: Braised Collard Greens and Creamed Corn

Smoked turkey hock, a bunch of collard greens and Beck’s Cajun spice

Despite the fact that Reading Terminal Market is firmly affixed above the Mason Dixon Line, it offers a respectable array of southern food and ingredients.  We are, of course, delighted to report this, given the fact that we recently hosted a Kentucky Derby Party as part of a charity fundraiser for a local school – none of us backed the winning horse, unfortunately…

Collard greens grace many a southern dinner table and are readily available from a number of the merchants at the Market.  What we needed, however, was a fail-safe recipe for how to cook them.  We scouted around for inspiration at the Market, settling upon the Down Home Diner, which carries them all year round on its menu.  As a Brit, I’d not eaten collard greens until about a month ago…and had no idea how to cook them. I tried them at the Diner and managed to grab its chef and owner, Jack McDavid, for tips on how to prepare this Southern staple.  

Jack grew up on a farm in Virginia, where he learned a healthy respect for fresh produce.  He  continues to advocate for the farm to table movement and wow his customers with authentic, fresh food from, as he calls it, “The Best Market in the World.”  Jack was kind enough to share his collard green recipe with us, and it was truly a revelation.  He uses no water

Prepping the greens was a labor of love…one large bunch wilts down to a small pile of cooked collards.  For our dinner party of ten, I prepped five whole bunches of greens, which equated to an entire sinkful. 

That’s right, all you folks who have been boiling greens for years, (my fellow hostess for the Kentucky Derby Dinner included) apparently it’s just not necessary, as Jack counsels:  ”The vegetables contain mostly water, so as they cook down, they bring out their own liquid and that enhances the flavor.”  We discovered that this is absolutely right!

To make Collard Greens Jack’s Way:

2 bunches rinsed collard greens, center ribs removed
1 smoked turkey neck/hock or leg
2 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp honey

In large stock pot,  heat oil, and add smoked turkey and any seasonings (I love onions, so I also included a large Spanish onion, which I finely chopped and threw in with the garlic cloves; I also like a bit of spice so added a little of the Beck’s Devil Dust seasoning to Jack’s recipe).  Saute briefly, 5 mins or so to release flavors.  Add greens, and turn with tongs to distribute flavorings.  Cover, lower heat, and braise for a minimum of 20-30 minutes, turning frequently with tongs so greens do not stick to pan.  When greens are completely cooked and wilted, add remaining ingredients to season.  Pull bits of smoked turkey from the bone and add them to the greens if desired. 

A number of the merchants at the Market stock smoked turkey.  We bought ours from Giunta’s

Another insider tip Jack shared with us…”The greens are good today, but even better tomorrow.”  If you let the greens sit in the fridge for a day or two then the flavors intensify and blend beautifully with the greens – you can then reheat them either on the stove or in the microwave.
Keri has also used this ‘no-water’ technique successfully with kale, and substituted ginger/garlic/soy for the turkey neck to accompany Asian dishes with beautiful results.  Never again shall we adulterate any of our greens with unnecessary water… 

Rice and corn:  southern staples.

Married to a Southerner, Keri is well versed in Southern cuisine, she takes over here:

Corn is another staple of southern cooking, used in virtually every form:  ground corn meal for bread; hominy for grits; fresh off the cob as a favorite summer vegetable; and the list goes on.  With that in mind, we couldn’t very well host a Kentucky Derby Party without showcasing corn in a supporting role.  Hence our visit to Pennsylvania General Store for their super sweet Copes Dried Corn, which we used to make creamed corn with rice for our southern dinner.   

To make this carb-alicious dish, simply follow the directions on the package for the creamed corn, and separately, make an equivalent amount of long grain white rice.  When both components are done, mix them, add some salt and pepper, and voila:  carb heaven!

And this is just the side dishes.  Wait ’til you see the mile-high dessert!

The “Frys” Have It

We caught up with three of Reading Terminal Market’s reknowned chefs this week who were kind enough to share their secrets to successful frying.

Jack McDavid doing what he does best

Down Home Diner’s Chef Jack McDavid, never one to mince words, said bluntly in his trademark Virginia drawl:  “Yankees cain’t frah.”   (Translation:  “Yankees can’t fry”) or “People born in the northern US are not conversant in frying techniques.”  He elaborates:  “They’re too rushed.  Frying takes time (“tahm”) and patience.  The secret is in the seal.   I mean, ya gotta completely coat the fish with the breading–whatever you use–corn meal, flour, or pecan crust like our Down Home Diner catfish–it’s gotta be gently but firmly pressed into the fish so that it sticks, but not so much that it crushes the proteins and makes the end result soft and mushy.   Then ya gotta carefully place it in the hot oil.  If ya drop in in hard, that knocks off some of the breading–remember what I said about the secret being in the seal?  The breading is the seal.  If you break it, then the oil seeps inside, and you end up with greasy fish.  Who wants to eat that?”  Can’t argue with that.

Anna Maria Florio working her magic in La Cucina

Then we visited Chef Anna Maria Florio of La Cucina at the Market, who shared further intel.  She agreed with Jack on the seal issue.  She elaborated:  “People think that frying is an unhealthy preparation; if done correctly, it’s not.  The coating acts as a seal, as Jack said, and if the oil is hot enough the crust forms an immediate barrier so that the oil does not penetrate the food.  The key is to heat the oil enough, but not too much.  If your oil smokes, you’ve gone too far and it will burn the food.  In that case, you have to start again.”

Wally McIlhenny, Executive Chef of the Reading Terminal Market Catering Co., offered a tip on testing the oil temp:  “Drop a small piece of bread into the hot oil.  If it sizzles to the top immediately, then you’re good to go.”

Chef Wally with his famous sweet potato salad

And as one who is a sucker for BritCom, I offer you up another Fry–a skit from the old Fry and Laurie Show on the BBC–these guys are hilarious. Enjoy.