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.