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

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