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.