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.


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