Monday, September 24, 2012

Food Truck, part 3: The hood

July 12. 2012

It's another hot day and the truck is sitting in the sun.  Doug and I decide to move it to the other side of the building so he has a handy electrical outlet and can work in the shade.  Since the truck had been set up as a camper we start looking at the improvements the previous owner had made.  There was a sink and some 5 gallon water tanks and a dump tank under the truck.  It looks to be about 25 gallons.  The truck also has 4 different electric receptacles that have either a normal plug or a cigarette lighter power source.  We open the hood and find there are two batteries.  One battery runs the motor and the second is for all of those cigarette power sources.  The engine compartment also has a plug in receptacle.  We plug an extension cord into that and find we can run any electric power tool off of the normal plug receptacles.  That will be what I plug my generator into to get power for the back of the truck.  This is a wonderful discovery and saves me tons of time and money creating something like this.  I can get a refrigerator or hood or french fryer and just plug them in and turn on the generator-instant power!  Doug continues demolition and asks about the grill I am going to use.  I tell him it's at my house and he says "lets go get it!"

July 13, 2012

Doug and I take his truck to my house and load the grill into the back of it.  When we get back to the shop we lift it into the truck.  This is the first moment I feel like this could be a real food truck.  "Where do you want it?" Doug asks.  We try the front up by the passenger door, but decide on the back.  He says that our next task is to get and mount the hood I am going to have in the truck.  We head over to Lowes to look at hoods.  Most of them pull about 150-200 cubic feet a minute and I am apprehensive that I need more draw than that.  We decide to investigate further.

July 16, 2012

Doug has pulled all of the paneling off of the interior walls.  Underneath is some Styrofoam insulation that looks pretty shopworn and pieced together.  I say that maybe it will be OK.  He looks at me and says "No, you don't want something that is half-assed like that in the truck."  I begin to get nervous again-more expense and who is going to see it.  But actually I agree with him.  I think we should just insulate it correctly which will make a huge difference in the comfort level inside the truck.  Before I can even tell him OK he is ripping out insulation.  Once he gets done he says "lets take everything out and clean out the truck before we start adding anything to it.  A clean workplace is a happy workplace!"  So I get the hose and some soap and clean out the truck.  Doug is happy.

July 17, 2012

Doug calls me and tells me to look at Craigslist for hoods.  I go online and find four different hoods right away.  I call all four asking them to call me back.  One is a custom hood that looks very promising.  The seller of that hood calls me back.  It draws 600 cubic feet a minute.  We talk some more and make a deal.  He is even going to deliver it to my shop.  Doug has been putting in the new insulation.  It looks good.

July 18, 2012

The seller shows up with the hood.  It is brand new and was leftover from a building project.  Doug and I lift it into the truck and hold it up over the grill.  It is larger than I thought but will work perfectly.  We are pumped up!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Food truck, part 2: Demolition

Friday, June 22, 2012

Doug Coats is a friend who can do anything.  He remodels, fixes, tinkers and has fun doing it.  I call him to ask if he would be interested in working on making a food truck.  I catch him while he and his family are on vacation in California. He's at the San Diego zoo when he answers the phone.  He laughs and says he'll take a look at it when he gets back from vacation.  That night I play a gig with my band at Cutters, a bar-b-que place in Eudora. I'm all excited about the truck and talk to Herman, my guitar player, and Len, the bass player, about the rebuilt engine.  They Google the type of engine on Herman's phone and pronounce it OK.

June 28, 2012

I have been calling the health department all week trying to get one of their inspectors to come and look at the truck and tell me what improvements I need to make before I start to spend any money.  I want to make sure that this project is feasible. We finally hook up and she swings by in the afternoon to look at the truck. She likes it and gives me pointers on the sinks, water tanks and refrigeration.

July 7, 2012

I'm spending four days visiting friends in Spokane, Washington.  I've done nothing to the truck since I bought it.  Catering has been busy and then my trip has consumed my thoughts.  I contemplate what directions my life might take and I wonder if I could get the truck to Spokane.  I talk to my friends Billie Moreland and her husband, Steve Simmons, about the truck.  She has done some research on food trucks and both caution me about the potential problems with food trucks.  I resolve to call Doug again when I get back to Kansas City.

July 9, 2012

I get Doug on the phone.  He laughs again and says he'll come by that afternoon to look at it.  He shows up about 2:00 and hops out of his truck to take a look.  We hop up in the back of the truck. I can tell he is intrigued.  Doug asks what I have in mind.  I want to rip out all of the wood in the truck and strip it down completely, putting in aluminum or stainless walls.  I have a grill, but I need to figure out what kind of sinks I need and how to hook up refrigeration. I haven't even started thinking about a hood yet, but that is another problem.  Doug says "I love to tear up stuff.  This is going to be fun!"  I start to get nervous...

The next morning Doug shows up.  I'm busy getting lunches ready and leave him to his own devices. After lunch I go over to the truck to see what he has done.  As I walk past the dumpster I can see that he has filled it with the cabinets, beds, table and paneling that had been in the truck.  I peek in the back. OMG, there is almost nothing left!  Doug is standing there with a hammer in one hand and a pry bar in the other.  He looks happy like a cat who has just caught a mouse.  I get this feeling that its too late now, but with all the junk out I really start to imagine the possibilities. Doug says "You said you wanted to get rid of all the wood!"

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Urban Assult Vehicle" Food Truck, part one

September 15, 2012

I've just finished the final polish on the aluminum exterior of the step van I bought last June to convert into a food truck.  I'm happy with the results of the final polish and glad that the truck is ready to go.  It seems like yesterday when I bought it:

June 16, 2012

My long time friend from college, Clay, has asked me to go to look at the Anderson County Prairie Preserve over the weekend.  I have no catering this weekend and gladly decide to go.  I want to "get out of Dodge" to get some personal problems out of mind and am looking forward to a weekend out of town.  We are going to look at the preserve that morning and then go to his own property that evening to camp.  He is restoring his land into a prairie preserve, too.  I pack some sandwiches and salads, go to the store and pick out some salmon to grill, and we take off that Saturday morning.  The Preserve is very inspiring, one of the professors who gives us a tour is wonderful, and we enjoy the morning.  After a meal with his ex-mother-in-law, we head to his property where we explore his property putting our new knowledge of flora and fauna to work.  I've brought my accordion and he has his harmonicas, so we jam after dinner.

The next morning we drive to Hillsdale to look at a house where Clay used to live.  Going through town we pass an RV park.  I spot a truck and exclaim, "I think that truck could be a food truck."  I make him stop on our way back out of town and I look it over. The body is all aluminum and is very oxidized.  The interior has been turned into a camper.  The body looks in good shape. I call Bill Isenhower, the RV park owner, to ask about the truck.  He tells me how great it is and says to take a look at it since the truck is unlocked.  I hang up and open the back door.  The camper part has a sink, microwave, refrigerator, table and bed.  It seems crowded but I think it could be a food truck.  We close it up and leave, not waiting for Bill.
The next day I'm still thinking about the truck.  I have been thinking of getting a food truck for some time.  I have even looked online for Airstream trailers.  I give Bill a call and tell him I'd like to come by to have someone else look at the mechanics of the truck. He says fine. and I plan to go down on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday is another hot day.  I head down to Hillsdale and meet Bill. He shows me how to start the truck and I drive it into Olathe to have a mechanic look at it.  It needs new tires and possibly brakes, but otherwise seems OK.  I head back down to Hillsdale to negotiate with Bill.  We agree on a price and I tell him I'll be back later in the week to pick up the truck.  Actually my friends turn out to be busy later that week, so I call Bill and he offers to come and pick me up. He shows up at my apartment with the title and notices my pedal steel guitar.  All of a sudden we both realize that I had been at a jam with him earlier in the spring.  That seems to break the ice and we head down to Hillsdale.  I start the truck and head back into town.  Amy and Dale want me to stop by with the truck.  Amy seems impressed but I can tell Dale is less than thrilled.  I'm anxious to start on it and Amy suggests that I call our friend Doug Coats to help with the restoration.  I decide to call him the next day.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: Valerie, part 2

March 1, 1982

It's 8:15 and Valerie is late today.  She is my first employee and is very good when she focuses on what she is doing.  I love talking to her about her life.  Her stories make the day pass quickly.  She was in the Hyatt disaster! This is the only person I know who experienced that horrible tragedy.  But she doesn't always focus on what I need her to do.  This is another ongoing problem I have with all of the chefs I will hire over the years.  I feel cooking directly relates to your mood.  If you are in a good mood, are happy with your life or day, the food you make will reflect that.  I don't have any empirical data to back that up, just years of watching chefs being great one day and lousy the next, and noticing that they seem to be lousy on days they are having personal problems.

8:30: Valerie arrives and I am starting to stress.  We have a busy day ahead and I worry that we are already a critical 1/2 hour behind.  Valerie has quickly caught on to the recipes and makes soups and entrees that are as good as anything I make--if she is on her game.  I worry that she won't be on her game today.  Today's lunch is Chicken Veronique.  It is a classic French dish that I have loved from the moment I found it. This is classic French comfort food.  I put Valerie on making the dish for lunch while I work on salads.  I have a new salad I want to try--curried rice.  Valerie starts talking about the night before and her date.  She says it did not go well.  I start to worry about the Veronique, while working on the curried rice. She continues to talk.  I look over and notice she hasn't added the mushrooms.  I ask her to check the recipe.  She looks at it and says, "Oh, forgot the mushrooms.  I can add them now though."  I start to get aggravated.  "Valerie, pay attention to the recipe.  I can't always be looking over your shoulder!"  This is the third or fourth time I have had to correct a dish she is making.  I wonder why this keeps happening and what I should do. I move over to the stove and work with her for a few minutes.  I add the mushrooms and taste the sauce.  I add a little salt and it is perfect to serve.  But, again, I worry.  We are too busy for me not to be able to totally trust one of my staff.  The first time someone eats a dish that isn't perfect, I have lost a customer.  I begin to wonder if I need to make a change.

Chicken Veronique

This is a classic country style French dish that I have loved since I first found it.  It is relatively simple to make and always seems to please.

6 boneless chicken breasts
12 new potatoes, boiled and quartered
2 shallots, finely diced
1/3 pound mushrooms, sliced
1/4 pound ham, diced
2 T butter
flour seasoned with salt and pepper

Dice up the chicken breasts and dredge in the seasoned flour.  Melt the butter in a skillet and saute the chicken until just cooked.  Remove the chicken and add the shallots, mushrooms and ham to the skillet.  Saute until the  shallots are translucent. Stir in 1-2 T flour to absorb the extra butter.  Saute for another minute.

1/3 C white wine
1 C chicken stock
1/2 C heavy cream
1/3 pound seedless grapes
Add the white wine to the pan.  Simmer until reduced by 1/2.  Add the chicken stock and reduce by 1/2.

Add the whipping cream and return the chicken to the pan.  Bring to a simmer for a couple of minutes to reheat the chicken. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the seedless grapes.  Serves 6-8 

                                                            Curried Rice with Artichokes

I first tasted a version of this recipe made with "Rice a Roni".  We adapted it over the years.  I have customers who still stop me to tell me how they loved the Curried rice with chicken.  We only put artichokes in the rice.

1 cup white rice
2 cups water
1 t chicken base
1 t. turmeric

Cook the rice until tender.

1 cup artichoke hearts
1 or 2 green onions, chopped
1 T chopped fresh parsley

Chop the vegetables and add to the slightly cooled rice

1/2 cup mayonaisse
1/4 cup vinaigrette
1 T curry powder
1 t. cumin

Mix the dressing and pour over the rice.  Cool and serve

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: My mom

February 26, 2012

I'm getting ready to pick my Mom up for church.  It is her favorite thing to do, but doesn't really know where we are going when I pick her up.  She has Alzheimer's now and doesn't remember much anymore.  What a difference from the woman who helped me every day after I started my shop:

January, 1982

Mom comes in on a terror.  Scott is making a carrot cake.  I need to keep him busy and he works so fast that he can have all of the production of the breads, croissants and sweet breads completed in 5 to 6 hours.
So I give him some of the cakes, cookies, and dessert bars to make.  This is Mom's specialty and she takes one look at his carrot cake and rushes over to me. "That is not the way the carrot cake is supposed to look."  She cuts a piece.  "That's not the way it is supposed to taste."  She gives me this look.  Oh brother, now what am I going to do?  I go to Scott and pass on her concerns.  He needs to follow the icing recipe exactly, not make it as he thinks it should be.  This is an ongoing battle I will have with every baker I ever hire.

Mom is particular.  She will get a recipe that is good and that everyone loves and she will start changing it.  This is OK for her to do, but no one else!  She likes baking the most, but works to help me find entrees, salads, and appetizers.  She brings in things daily that she has been up baking all night or early that morning.  Some of her desserts are so good that customers point to different things and will buy it only if they know she made it.

Carrot Cake

This is a true 1970s-style carrot cake and the best I have ever had.

3 Eggs
2 t Vanilla
¾ C Oil
¾ C Evaporated Milk
2 C Sugar
2 t Baking Soda
3 T Cinnamon
½ t Salt
2 t Baking Powder
2 C Flour
1 C Rice Crispies
1 C Chopped Pineapple
1 C Coconut
2 C Grated Carrots

Mix all ingredients in a mixer for several minutes.  Add the flour last.  Bake at 350 degrees in 9” Cake Pan (2) for 30 /40 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Ice with Cream Cheese Icing.

Cream Cheese Icing

This icing can be used on many cakes, but is great on Carrot and Italian Cream cake.  My mom kept her icing very creamy and soft.  My bakers tended to add more powdered sugar to stiffen up the icing for decorating.

1 # Cream Cheese
½ # Unsalted Butter
1 # Powdered Sugar
1 T Vanilla

Soften the butter and cream cheese and blend in a Cuisinart or blender.  Add the vanilla and powdered sugar and beat until stiff.  Add more powdered sugar as desired for a stiffer icing.  It could take another pound easily.

Italian Cream Cake
I have seen other cakes referred to as Italian Cream that are totally different than this.  This is ours.

½ C unsalted Butter                   Cream the butter, oil and sugar together until smooth
½ C oil
2 C Sugar

1 C Buttermilk                           Add the buttermilk, vanilla, egg yolks and beat.                              
1 t Vanilla
5 Egg Yolks

5 Egg Whites                           
2 C Flour
1 C Toasted Pecans
1 t Baking Soda
1 C Coconut
Beat Egg Whites until stiff.  Add flour, pecans, baking soda and coconut  to cake batter and beat until smooth.  Fold in the egg whites gently.  Pour into greased 9” cake pan (2) and bake at 350 degrees until a toothpick comes out clean-about 30 minutes.  Ice with cream cheese icing and top with coconut.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: My sister Nancy

December, 1981 and January, 1982

One of the big secrets of my initial success is my sister Nancy.  The entire family rallies around my new business.  My Dad, recently retired, decides to help with the bookkeeping for the shop.  I think he really wants to keep an eye on me and my business skills.  My Mom jumps in to help with the baking.  She makes cakes, pies, and desserts night and day.  She also pushes me for new recipes and comes up with a gingered pear salad that is a wonderful alternative to a Waldorf salad.  But it is my sister Nancy who makes a big difference.  She wants to do something other than be a dental assistant and decides she can run the front of the shop.  She is perfect for the job.  She is young, blond, and pretty with a generous and patient attitude--perfect for all of those picky customers.  She takes her job very seriously, coming in early with a great attitude every day.  I soon find I don't even worry about the front anymore.  She stocks all of the paper products, arranges and cleans the display cases, and is ready for our lunch customers.  We are so busy at lunch that we use a number system to fairly serve all of the customers.  Most of our lunch items are pre-portioned or go in specific containers to control portion size.  Our most popular lunch sandwich, French roast beef, however is not portioned.  I want a sandwich that will set us apart and establish that we are not just a ladies' lunch shop.  I love our quiches, tarragon chicken salad, and soups, but want a hearty sandwich.  Thus, the French roast beef.  Each night I slowly bake an inside round all night with herbs and wine until it is fall apart tender.  We slice it at lunch and serve it on my sourdough with Dijon mustard.  The sandwich is a huge success.  I notice, however, that customers will wait for Nancy to wait on them.  At first I think they just want to have her wait on them because of her personality and looks, and then I realize that they are choosing her because of her portion size on the sandwich.  I think that I give a good-sized sandwich, but I notice that Nancy gives about twice as much.  This starts an endless bit of squabbling that eventually involves Dad, who is watching the bottom line.  The truth is that her sandwiches are bigger, but probably not that much and that there are tons of guys who are coming day after day to get a big sandwich.  She defends her sandwiches arduously.  She and Dad and I go round and round.  But the customers keep coming.

French Roast Beef

Inside Round, 15-20 pounds, not trimmed

Put the beef in a pan fat side up.  Pour in enough water to fill the bottom of the pan about an inch.  Add 1 cup of red wine.  Shake Worcestershire sauce all over the top of the beef.  Slice an onion, 4 or 5 cloves of garlic, a couple of carrots, and a couple of ribs of celery and add to the pan.  Sprinkle thyme and bay leaves over the top of the roast.  Add pepper and coarsely ground salt.  Add a few shots of Tabasco if desired.  Put in a cold oven and turn to 175 degrees.  Let cook overnight and remove the next morning.  Cool and slice.

Gingered Pear Salad

1 apple, diced
1 pear, diced
1 cup seedless grapes
1/2 cup celery, diced
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 T milk
2 t. lemon juice
1 T fresh grated ginger

Mix together the dressing and toss over the fruit and nut mixture.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: Health department inspections

January, 1982

My health inspector Gwen calls me wanting to do another inspection after seeing a review of my shop in the Kansas City Star.  Gwen is attractive and I like to think that I charmed her during my initial inspection.

She asked a lot of questions about the business during that initial inspection, and having been through many inspections at Henny's in Spokane, I had a good answer for everything.  I  passed the initial inspection and opened the business.  One thing I soon learn is that you cannot charm a health inspector.  Gwen does like me and likes the idea of the business.  She tells me on the phone that there were some concerns she had during our initial inspection.  She wants to revisit the shop to get me to correct those concerns.  Oh boy!

She arrives the next morning dressed in a lab coat, hair net, glasses and white gloves.  She has an assistant with her.  I know I am in trouble.  Together the two of them comb the shop, looking in the walk-in, under all the shelves, testing temperatures of the hot and the cold cases, and inspecting our food handling techniques.  It seems like the inspection takes hours.  During that time I can't do any production.  One thing I have learned--when the inspector is in the house, stop what you are doing and pay attention to what they are looking at.  I grab a pad and make notes of all of her concerns.  Why bother? She will give me a long list in detail at the end of the inspection.

Another thing you never do with health inspectors is argue with them.  Their mission is to prevent food borne illnesses, and, depending on the inspector, they can be real sticklers on food preparation, storage, temperature, etc.  Gwen means business and I feel helpless.  She is nice enough about it, but I have hours of work to do to correct all of her minor infractions.  She smiles as she hands me the list and says she will be back in two days to verify that I have corrected the problems.  I look at the list.  How will I get these things fixed and manage to produce any food?  It's only 10:00 A.M. and I already have a headache.  I begin to think she is not so attractive.

Since it is Friday, I want to make something with fish in it.  I decide to make Seafood Strudel.

Seafood Strudel

I found this recipe in Spokane before a dinner hosted by friends John & Marlow Peters who were introducing me to a great Spokane chef--Billie Moreland.  She ran a French-styled bistro and had a wonderful selection of copper pots that I always admired.  Each of us were to bring a dish, and when I found this, I thought it would be perfect. That night it was a hit.  Over the years, I changed the recipe slightly as well as the method for filling the strudel.

Make a bechamel:
2 T butter
2 T flour
1/2 t Dijon
1 C milk
1/4 t salt, cayenne pepper, nutmeg
Melt the butter in a sauce pot, and add the flour.  Cook for a couple of minutes and add the heated milk, Dijon and seasonings.
Add the following ingredients to the bechamel and let it cool in the refrigerator.
1/2 C grated Swiss cheese
3 hard boiled eggs
1/4 C chopped parsley
1-2 shallots, diced and slightly sauteed
2 T chives
1 clove garlic, diced
2 T grated Parmesan
1/2 C sour cream

Take one package phyllo and let thaw in the refrigerator overnight if frozen.  Unwrap the phyllo and spread out on the counter.  Take one sheet at a time and place on a sheet of tin foil.  Butter each sheet with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with a mixture of finely ground bread crumbs and Parmesan.  Take the next sheet and cover the first and repeat with the melted butter and bread crumbs. You can mix a little olive oil in with the butter--that will help the strudel brown more evenly.  If your phyllo is sticking together, you can use two sheets at a time.  The butter should not be too heavy between the sheets.  If your phyllo is tearing, take a deep breath, be gentle and go slowly.  You can use more sheets so the strudel won't leak after you roll it.

When you have 12 sheets of phyllo (there are 20-24 in a box), take the cooled bechamel mix from above and place on the lower third of the strudel lengthwise.  Top the bechamel with 1/3 pound each of cooked peeled shrimp, crab meat and cooked whitefish.  Roll the strudel like a burrito by folding up the sides and rolling to cover the filling.  Place seam side down and butter the top of the strudel.  Fold up the tin foil to make a sling to transfer the strudel to a baking sheet without breaking it. Score the strudel with a sharp knife to make six slices.  Do not slice all the way through.  Bake at 375 degrees until the strudel is golden brown (this should take about 20 minutes or so).  Butter occasionally while baking, being careful not to tear up the top.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly.  Slice and serve.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: our first review

January, 1982

Now that I have hired Scott, my baker, I can concentrate on working more closely with Valerie on the entrees, soups, and salads.  We still don't have the grand selection that I have in mind.  Valerie comes in every day in these extravagant high heels.  I don't know how she can stand, much less work, but she plows ahead each day.  She chatters incessantly while she is cooking and I learn lots about her life.  She has truly had many experiences.  I worry that all of this conversation about things other than what we are cooking will take away from what she is making, and I often catch her leaving out ingredients.  When you are cooking, it is essential that you focus on what you are making, not on your problems.  Use what you are making to undo any stress.  Gradually we ramp up our production, adding things like quiches, keeping them in the case daily.  Additionally, we are not only getting customers stopping by for lunch, but they are also taking something home or stopping by in the afternoon for an entree for dinner.  I add a hot entree for lunch each day in addition to the soups and sandwiches we make.  Salads are another area in the case that is sadly lacking.  I consult some cookbooks since we didn't make "to go" salads at Henny's in Spokane.  We do a nice tossed salad daily and I add a couple of potato salads-new potatoes with the skin on-something not in the deli cases in the local grocery stores.  I come up with a great Julia Child recipe called "Rosie's great potato salad".  I also consult my James Beard cookbooks.  He has lots of good ideas.

In the midst of all this work, I get a call from the Kansas City Star.  They want to feature us in their "Getting Started" section.  The reporter stops by, gathers some facts, and takes a picture.  The article comes out the next week with a clever  headline: "Your place or dine".  She is very positive and mentions several of the dishes we make.  She loves the service she gets and I realize that business is going to break open.  Sure enough, there is a line at the door the next morning when we open.  I quickly run out of everything in the case that day.  Later that afternoon I get a call from my attractive health inspector Gwen.  She had given me an opening inspection that was good, but after reading the article she wanted to come back and get me to tighten up my standards. Great, too much to do and now I have to take time to meet with Gwen and spend even more time cleaning.

Quiche Lorraine

While I am waiting for Gwen, I get back to production, making quiches. People are always telling me that quiches are no longer something worth cooking since they were so popular in the 70s and are now dated.  My response is that a properly made quiche is one of my favorite breakfast or luncheon foods.  Really, I could eat quiche at any time of day.  I started making this same recipe in 1972 or so and have done many variations on it, but the standard Quiche Lorraine is my favorite. 

This quiche will be best if you go to the trouble and expense to get the two types of Swiss.  It can be made with a standard Swiss but won't have quite the pungency.  Don't use skim milk to save calories.  Walk an extra mile or just have a small piece.

Quiche pie crust
4 ounces Gruyere, grated
4 ounces Emmental, grated
3 eggs
1 1/4 C. light cream
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. each pepper, white pepper, mace, grated nutmeg, dry mustard powder
3-4 strips bacon, lightly fried and crumbled
1 green onion, diced

Roll out the pie crust in a standard 9 inch fluted quiche pan.  Cover with foil and baking marbles and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and remove the foil and marbles.  Spread the grated cheeses over the crust.  Add the crumbled bacon and the diced green onion.  Whisk together the eggs, cream, and spices and pour over the cheese mixture.  Return to the oven and reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake another 20-30 minutes until the custard mixture is set and the quiche is slightly golden.

Cool and slice. This serves 5 for lunch or 6 for brunch.

Variations:  Substitute freshly chopped spinach, grilled salmon, crab meat, or grilled vegetables for the bacon.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: baking

December, 1981

I'm not a professional baker, but I want the shop to have freshly baked breads every day and can not afford to hire anyone to do the baking for me. I decide to do it myself. Years before, when Joyce and I moved to Montana and lived in a commune with 5 other people, we made our bread daily for our lunches and dinner, taking turns (it was a commune after all). I remember this was the only shared chore that I honestly loved. So I jump into baking cinnamon rolls and breads the first day we open. I rise early in the morning and go down to the shop and start the breads. All of this takes hours and I race to get things out before customers come in. I never make it and I don't know how I ever think I am going to have time to help Valerie, but the kitchen is so small that I can't help but look over her shoulder while she is chopping ingredients. We talk constantly.

I have bought a huge Robo-Coupe, similar to a Cuisinart, and use that to mix the doughs. It holds 25 quarts so I can make a good amount of dough, and it turns out the dough in just a few minutes because of its high speed. Every baker I hired over the years would look at me like I was crazy, but they all learned to love that machine. Each day I would make a sourdough, a wheat bread and a Swedish Rye. I would also make cinnamon rolls, French breakfast puffs and croissants. I don't know anything about making croissants, but there is only one French bakery in town making them and I want to bake a filled croissant with ham and cheese for lunch, chocolate croissants, and plain croissants for our Tarragon chicken salad. So I practice and learn.  Finally I make three coffeecakes and a couple of sweet breads.

One problem I initially have is with the pans I use for the bread. I have bought used pans that are precoated with a rubbery like substance. These are for professional bakers who don't have time to spray the pans. The pans tend to work with yeast breads, but not so well with quick breads that have lots of sugar. Large bakeries send these pans in often to be recoated since the coating tends to wear off. I decide to ignore that and go back to spraying the pans for yeast breads and spraying and coating the spray with flour for the quick breads. The loaves come out fine.  We sell out every day.

Here is a recipe I brought with me from Spokane:

 Zucchini Bread 

This recipe was one of the first I collected. We used it in Spokane at Henny’s on the bread plate that each table got. It was always a favorite.

3 Eggs
1 C Oil
1 C Brown Sugar
1 C White Sugar
2 C Grated Zucchini
 2 T Vanilla
 3 C flour
 1 t Baking soda
¼ t Baking Powder
 ¼ t Salt
1 T Cinnamon
 ½ C Pecans, toasted and chopped
 ¾ C Raisins

Mix all ingredients in a mixer until blended. Grease 2 or 3 loaf pans. Line each pan with parchment on the bottom if desired. That will prevent the bread from sticking. Fill the pans from ½ to ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool and remove from the pan.

February 7, 2012

Yesterday I was talking to Amy about our cookies.  I was frustrated that they vary so much from day to day depending on who is baking them.  I started cursing all of the bakers I have had.  All of them have been talented, but most bakers tend to specialize in one type of baking over another.  In other words, some bakers make excellent bread but fall short on their cakes.  Some are production wizards but have trouble with making things taste good.  I think the key to baking is treating each thing you make as if it is your baby.  More than cooking, the baker must be emotionally invested in his product.  He has to love each thing he produces and feel it is the best he can make.  If he doesn't, people complain that the cookie isn't very good, the cake is a little dry, or that the pie is a little runny.  I was not able to continue to bake every day in my shop for more than a few months.  I was spending way too much time making far too few products to be profitable.  But baking got into my soul and allowed me to be able to critique and improve all of the bakers I subsequently hired.

Early January, 1982

I have decided to hire a baker to increase our production.  It takes me at least an hour to roll out all the croissants I need each day and another 1/2 hour or more for the cinnamon rolls.  I am introduced to a young man who has worked at the French bakery on the Plaza and knows baking.  He comes in to talk to me and we hit it off.  He shows me how he makes croissants and he has about 3 times the speed I do.
I hire him immediately.  Scott Self becomes my first baker.  He is a monster at production.


I had to get some French cookbooks to find how to make croissants. After I got the recipe perfected, I realized that our Reed oven made a huge difference in making a perfect croissant. This was a wonderful baking oven that had 4 racks on reels that rotated in the oven-very bulky but effective and gave a perfect bake.  My croissants tended to be very crispy when coming out of the oven and were an immediate hit.  We filled them with ham and swiss for a grab-it-and-go sandwich, as well as a chocolate and an almond filling.

8 C flour
3 T yeast
1 T salt
1 T sugar
3 & 3/4 C water with some milk

Mix the dough until sticky.  Cover and let rise until doubled.  Punch down and turn out onto a floured table.

Soften 1 pound butter and flatten out.  Roll out the dough into a rectangle.  Spread butter over the rectangle evenly and fold into thirds (this is called a three fold).  Cover and let rest in the refigerator for 20 minutes or so.  Take out and roll the dough out into another rectangle (your rectangle will have to be rolled out the opposite direction of your first fold.  You are trying to add layers to the croissant and to seal in the butter by this procedure). Make another 3 fold. Let it rest.  Roll out again and make another 3 fold the opposite direction of the last.  Let rest and roll out the entire dough to about 1/2 " thick.  Cut into triangles and roll each up placing the tip of the triangle at the front of the croissant.  Shape and let rise until doubled.  Brush with egg white or milk and bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: Valerie

December 1, 1981

Valerie is the first employee of mine who is not a member of my family. I have decided that I am going to bake breads fresh every day. I have my grandmother's Swedish Rye bread, a good wheat bread, cinnamon rolls, and croissante. I will teach Valerie to make my soups and entrees and I will help her while I am waiting for the breads to proof and bake. Valerie is perfect for the job. I think she looks French. That should add to the mystique of the shop. She is not professionally trained, but has an intuitive sense of how to cook. We start with soups. We make a new soup every day. Most are recipes that I have brought from Spokane. One of the best and most unique recipes is Hungarian Hangover. That was a creation of David Lindeman. I can't remember how he got the name, but he always has a story that makes the soup sound more exciting. I remember him telling me that he was out drinking one night in Budapest and woke up the next morning with a terrific hangover. Thus, the soup was born.

Hungarian Hangover 

2 Qt chicken stock
1 medium can diced tomatoes
1 ham hock; 2-3 small smoked sausage (polish, etc)
2 carrots, sliced into 1 inch pieces
1 small bunch celery diced into 1 inch pieces
1 large onion, diced medium
6 new potatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 can sauerkraut
1 T. paprika
1 C. sour cream

Dice the vegetables and saute with the sausage in a small amount of olive oil in your soup pan. Add the potatoes and cook all until slightly crunchy. Add 1-2 tablespoons of flour to absorb the oil in the pan, and add your stock and the diced tomatoes and the ham hock. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 15/20 minutes and add the sauerkraut and bring to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the ham hock and strip the meat off and add to the soup. Mix 2 T flour with a little water to make a thin paste. Add a little of the soup stock to the flour mixture and whisk together and add that to the soup. It should be slightly thick after it simmers for a couple of minutes. If not, add more flour and water until it is thickened. Whisk in the sour cream and serve.

The soup goes over well and I teach her another:

Thai Fried Egg and Pork

This is another David Lindeman recipe, and one of the first oriental style soups I made. I like the way the eggs are fried for this soup and then added at the end. I have added a few things to the body of the soup over the years. The pork was originally thinly sliced pork loin, but I like the meatballs in this soup. I also think you should adjust the soup's "heat" to your taste by adding tabasco, red pepper flakes or an oriental hot sauce at the end.

1 quart chicken stock
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, grated
1 rib celery, diced
1/4 bunch green onion, diced
1/2 # ground pork, made into small meatballs
1 clove garlic, chopped
6 eggs, beaten
1/4 C soy sauce
1 t. black pepper

Saute the small onion, the celery and garlic together. Add the soy sauce and chicken stock and bring to a simmer. Add the grated carrots. Take the pork and make small meatballs with a little bit of breadcrumb and milk to bind them and bake in a 375 degree oven until cooked--probably about 15 minutes. Add to the soup. Beat the eggs and add the pepper to the eggs. Heat a large skillet with a little oil until the oil is starting to smoke. Quickly add the eggs and cook until set. Flip if necessary and remove from the heat. Cut up the eggs in the pan with a knife into small squares and add to the soup pot. Thicken the soup slightly with: 2 T cornstarch mixed with a little water.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Secrets of the Gourmet Grocer: The beginning

June 20, 1981, Kansas City, Missouri

I am at my parents' house and have just gotten a call from my former partner and manager at Henny's, a restaurant where I am head chef in Spokane, Washington. David has just called to tell me I have been fired from my job by the owner Bob Dewey while I am on vacation visiting my family in Kansas City. I turn to my wife Joyce with a sick feeling in my stomach. The restaurant had struggled the last two years with declining attendance and the after-effects from the eruption of Mount St. Helens. All of the work I had done for the last 6 years seems to have been for naught. I am unemployed. But as I start thinking, I realize that I have gained lots of confidence in running a restaurant. I have lots of confidence in planning menus. I have lots of confidence in starting a new restaurant since I have been involved in the creation of Henny's and two smaller lunchrooms that the owner had added to his original restaurant. And I have a stack of recipes that I know are winners after serving them night after night.

That evening she and I start planning. Maybe I would go to work for someone else. Maybe I would start a restaurant in some other city--Atlanta, where my cousin lived, Chicago, where my aunt lived, or even Kansas City. One thing we know for sure, we are moving from Spokane, which is in the midst of an ongoing depression.

We return to Spokane and started preparations for moving. I am teaching cooking classes at a local culinary shop. As I prepare for my next class, I talk to the owner, Gloria Fox, about my options. She mentions that there are some new shops in New York and San Francisco that she has read about that are "Gourmet to Go" shops specializing in carryout restaurant style food for people too busy to cook. She recommends that I think about the retail aspects of food service.

The more I think about it, the more the idea appeals to me. Restaurants are night time jobs. I now have three small children and if I work until 1 or 2 in the morning, I will miss their childhoods while I am sleeping waiting for the next evening shift.

In September, we return to Kansas City after putting our house up for sale. Joyce's sister Jamie and my father promise to put up some cash so I can find a storefront and outfit it with equipment. I start looking for a space, driving around the suburbs during the day, and checking census data to give me an idea on where to look.

October, 1981

I have just come upon a newer strip mall shopping center with a vacant German butcher shop. The center has a nice bookstore, a tennis shop, a health food store, a bagel shop, a yarn shop and several hairdressers. It seems perfect, and the butcher shop overlooks a simple courtyard with concrete tables and benches. The shop has deli cases and a walk-in already installed. I call my brother to help me negotiate the lease. The owners are Vic and Helen Regnier, some of the largest landowners in Johnson County. We meet with Helen. She takes to me and my idea immediately and offers us a lease. She brings in Vic, who stage whispers to her, "What makes you think this guy can make it?" I leave their office pumped up ready to look for equipment.

Early November, 1981

I have been to dozens of auctions looking for equipment. I have picked out a deli case for $300.00, a slicer, a coffee grinder and some tables and chairs. I have also found a small reel oven made in Kansas City by the Reed Oven company. My folks have decided they are going to help and have found a glass display cabinet, a French baker's rack, and an antique cupboard. I meet with Bob Mick, the owner of the equipment in the German butcher shop. He wants to sell me the state-of-the-art refrigerated German glass display case, but wants $10,000.00 for it. I think about my $300.00 deli case, aged, but $300.00. I pass. He drops the price to $8,000.00, but I still can't afford it, even with him financing it. I'll always regret not buying that case, but the price is too high and ties up too much of my capital. We do come to an agreement on the walk-in.

Late November, 1981

We are ready to open. I have spent weeks cleaning the equipment, painting the walls, tiling the bathrooms, and cleaning and polishing the floor. My idea is to make everything fresh daily. We will serve lunch to bring in a steady income and bake our own breads, cakes, pastries and desserts. I will also make fresh salads, soups, entrees, and appetizers to sell out of our display cases. I have some specialized groceries that I am buying as well as specialty coffees and cheeses and crackers. My sister Nancy will man the front counter with my father, and my Mom will help with the baking. I hire my first employee--Valerie.

Monday, January 23, 2012

tarragon chicken salad

Saturday 1/21/12: women's living expo. 5:00 pm. I'm waiting to start my cooking demo. The guy before might is supposed to be done and he is still handing out samples. He has been grilling meat and I can see grease everywhere.
5:05: He's still talking and hasn't started to clean up.I go up by the stage with my cooler full of my ingredients and start staring. It doesn't even phase him and he keeps talking and passing out samples and not cleaning up. About five minutes later he does a brief wipe down of the counter and stove top, gives me a glance and leaves the stage. I hop up and start setting up my ingredients. It is getting late and I decide to only make one of the two items that I had intended to prepare. I glance out and notice that most of the crowd has left with only about a half dozen seated. There are about a dozen vendors watching, so I plow ahead. Amy comes up to help wipe down the countertop as I try and figure out how to adjust the mike. The woman who facilitates the chefs has disappeared and I figure it out by myself. I start talking and making the tarragon chicken salad. It has been about 20 years since I gave a cooking demonstration, but it comes back pretty readily. I end up giving a few pointers on knife technique, which herbs I prefer, and how to poach chicken. This is the recipe:

1 cup cooked chicken, diced (poach in stock with celery, onion, carrot, thyme, bay leaf and salt and pepper)
2 ribs celery, diced
1/2 cup grapes, sliced
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 green onion, chopped
1/4 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1-2 T fresh tarragon, chopped
1/2 lemon, juiced
3 T Mayo, light or regular
1 & 1/2 T Sour Cream

Toss the vegetables with the chicken. add the seasonings and mayo and sour cream and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings. It may need more tarragon. I am used to dried tarragon and usually use a lot to get that flavor.

5:30. I am done with the chicken salad. I show it a couple of ways. First is a bruchetta with fresh arugula on a baguette and the second in a croissant as a sandwich. I make several samples of each and look up. Everyone left looks hungry, so I signal Amy and she passes out the samples. No questions from the audience, but they love it. I clean up and am done for the night.