Post #442 An Eye Opening Shopping Trip

December 28, 2015 at 10:33 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #442 An Eye Opening Shopping Trip

Our holiday season usually starts on the 21st/22nd with the Winter Solstice, the continues on the 24th with Christmas Eve, sliding into the 25th for Christmas, and finally ending on the 27th with Partner/Spouse’s birthday.  This year, we started even earlier, on the 19th with a Guest who could not come for Christmas but wanted to celebrate with us anyway.  Today feels like the first day we’ve been holiday free for weeks.  Of course, there’s still the new year to ring in and Superbowl Sunday to ignore.  It’s been hectic, exhausting, thrilling, fulfilling, and fun.  The weather was weird; work was intense; wine flowed.  Overall, a very successful time.

Partner/Spouse took over the cooking responsibilities this year since my work schedule was all over the map.  We had a wonderful roasted chicken with roasted veggies and mashed potatoes for First Guest.  On the Solstice, we had a giant salad with the seared flesh of some animal.  Christmas Eve we were supposed to go out to celebrate, but plans ran askew when I worked later than scheduled.  We ended up with pizza delivery and homemade gallettes (more on that later.)  Christmas day was homemade tamales, rice, and refried beans, yum!  Really good stuff.  Birthday day I made tacos and we had a german chocolate cake made at my store for Partner/Spouse.  His favorite.  And it was this day that I had the eye opening shopping trip.

One of the gifts we received this season was a series of gift certificates to Barnes and Noble.  Probably one of the best and most reliable gifts to give us.  We love books and book stores.  We’ve been converting our physical library over to e-books simply because it’s easier to move a digital book than a physical book.  But we love holding a book in our hands so we occasionally go to the book store to browse.  I haven’t been to Barnes and Noble since we left Tucson nearly a year and a half ago.  My old habits were still there.

I first scanned the magazine area.  I looked for new titles, new issues of old favorites, and unusual titles that jumped out at me.  I picked out two old favorites on writing and put back one on cooking.  Then I followed my normal pattern around the store which finalizes in the budget section.  I visited nearly every section either glancing or scanning carefully.  I discovered that of the sections I looked at the largest one by far was the cookbook section.

I’m in the market for a bread book.  More specifically, I want to learn the “old” recipes.  I also want to learn to make donuts like a pro.  I want to learn to make scones.  I want to make “artisan” breads that look like they came from a stone oven.  I want to learn the kneading process, the rising process, the “fool proof” way to make great bread products all the time.

There’s a book for that.

Actually, there are several dozen books for that.  And they all cost $40.  So, I didn’t buy one.  Yet.

I found several books on artisan breads (probably the new “thing”, right?)  I found a book on cupcakes.  I found a book on donuts.  I even found a book on scones (that one was cheap, only $32.)  It seems a lot of people are interested in learning how to bake.

So here’s a neat recipe for a neat dessert that’s simplicity itself.  It’s called a gallete.  It’s like a free form pie.

galete

This one shown is a blueberry gallete with some other fruit in it.  You can fill a gallete with anything you want.  You can make it any size you want.  You can make the crust anyway you like.

Partner/Spouse took a ready-made pie crust and filled it with a can of cherry pie filling.  He took another and made a filling from nuts and sugar.  Then he folded up the edges as you see above.  He put an egg wash around the top edge and sprinkle it with sugar and colored sugar.  Then he baked it as he would a normal pie.  The result is phenomenal.  So easy and so good.  Baking at its finest.

Enjoy

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Post #441 From Our House To Yours

December 25, 2015 at 8:16 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

merry_christmas

 

Enjoy

Post #440 Christmas Spirit

December 22, 2015 at 9:07 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #440 Christmas Spirit

I guess I’ve mentioned recently how much I like my job, right?  It’s fun to wander the store and help people find the stuff they’re looking for, and to suggest alternatives when we don’t have the exact item.  They learn from me and I learn from them.

For instance, one small older lady asked my assistance to get the last two cans of whole cranberry sauce from a top shelf.  I had to grab a step ladder since they were way in the back.  I have no idea how she even knew they were there.  As I was reaching for them, she told me she makes a cranberry crumble for Christmas every year.

“It’s so good,” she said.  “Everyone asks for it but I have to have the whole cranberries to make it.”

“You don’t use fresh berries?” I asked.

“No, that’s too much trouble and this recipe is so easy.  You spread two cans of whole cranberry sauce on the bottom of an 8×8 baking dish then top it with about a half cup of brown sugar.  Then dot it with butter and spread oatmeal over the top.  When it’s done, it makes the best crumble you can eat direct or put on top of ice cream or anything else you want.”

“How long do you bake it?”  I was intrigued since it sounded so good.

“I can’t remember.  I usually just plug along without thinking about it.”

“Yeah, I do that a lot, too,” I said grinning.

“I’ll bring the recipe back to you after I make it.  How can I get it to you?”

“Just put it in an envelope with my name on it (we wear giant name tags) and leave it at customer service.  They’ll get it to me.”

“I’ll tell them the nice looking man with the silver hair,” she said with an impish grin.

Made my night.

At the holiday, people are much more willing to share stories and information, smiles, etc.  I was helping a cashier out by bagging and a couple about my age were putting together an intimate party for 5 and I was playing a game by guessing what appetizers they were creating from what I was bagging.

“So this is going to be baked brie, right?”  At their nods, I continued. “Let’s see, drizzles with honey and a balsamic glaze?  And then topped with the berries and almonds?”

They grinned at my guesses and we chatted for a bit.  “Have you ever been to XX restaurant in MYLITTLETOWN?”  They’d heard of it but hadn’t been there yet.  “They serve a wonderful baked brie very similar to this.”  I described it to them since we’ve had it a couple of times.  The man’s smile widened as I told them how good it was.

“Yes,” he said.  “They bought that recipe from me.”

There I was swapping recipes with a successful chef!  I gushed like a groupie.

Last night, though, the best thing happened.  I got a call for assistance at a register.  It was fairly late, after 8pm.  A young man in his mid-20s was panicking a little.  He forgot his wallet at home, a significant drive of over an hour.  He had purchased about $30 worth of groceries but only had about $10 on him, in his car.  He wanted us to take his credit card over the phone.

“Our systems aren’t set up to do that, sir,” I replied.  “I’m very sorry, but we can’t do that.”  There were also significant security issues, but I wasn’t going to voice those at that point.

He went out to his car to get what cash he had.  While he was gone, I handed the cashier a dollar I was going to use for a bottle of water.

“I know it’s not much, but let him have that too.”  I then apologized to the people who were waiting.  The woman in the couple said not to worry about, it was a pleasure to just stop and relax for a few moments.

I got called away for another issue and when I returned the other couple were just finishing up.

“Did we get him squared away?” I asked the cashier.

“Yes,” she said.  “This couple paid for the whole thing.”  She handed my dollar back to me.

I thanked the couple and they said, “We’ve all been there at some point.  It was our pleasure to help him out.”

Like I said, I like my job!

Enjoy

Post #439 Steak Sand W OJ

December 16, 2015 at 8:36 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #439 Steak Sand W OJ

A long while ago, Partner/Spouse and I were driving around as we like to do.  It’s a good way to get out of the house and discover local treasures we never knew existed.  This particular trip we were in Oklahoma and we found areas that looked nothing like where we lived.  It was like visiting another state altogether.

As usually happens on these trips, we got hungry and found a small diner to eat in.  I don’t recall the name because apart from being a diner for our collection, it was completely unremarkable.  The food was only okay; the atmosphere was the type to get you outa there fast; the other diners were quiet and concentrating on eating and leaving.  I normally get a cheeseburger in these situations.  It’s easy to make, easy to eat, and hard to do wrong.  This time we both ordered the steak sandwich, although I had fries to Partner/Spouse’s cole slaw and onion rings.  In short order, we were served a slightly toasted roll with a strip of sirloin that tasted as though it had been frozen moments before.

I normally don’t order a steak sandwich in a diner, or really in any restaurant because they tend to give you a medium sized chunk of meat that’s been seared to toughness and is impossible to get your teeth through.  I took one bite of this emissary of epicurean endeavor and immediately deconstructed it into a steak dinner with a roll on the side.  My butter knife cut it well enough to eat, although it took some doing.  But the truly remarkable thing about this plate were the onions on top of the steak.  They had been cooked to perfection, and turned into some kind of saucy topping that set off the flavor of the steak like a bomb.  Really good stuff.  But the best part of the whole meal was when the check arrived.

“2 Steak Sand w OJ   R    1 FF  1 Rings Slaw”

We discussed it for several moments and finally decided the orange juice had been in the onions, maybe.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about steak sandwiches off and on.  Right about the same time, The Food Network started a new show starring the sandwich king, Jeff Mauro, the current winner of their contest show.  He made a steak sandwich that I wrote about at the time that used the tenderest cut of steak around, the filet mignon.  It also had a spread made from blue cheese and mayo and once it was assembled tasted terrific.  We only had it the one time since the ingredients were costly, but I have that recipe memorized.

My favorite steak sandwich is the Philly Cheesesteak.  I used to work near a cheesesteak restaurant, and they’d make me a mushroom cheesesteak anytime I asked for one.  A cheesesteak sandwich, for the uninitiated, is a ribeye steak cut into very small slivers as it cooks.  It’s sprinkled with a little salt and pepper.  Onions and sometimes mushrooms are added during the cooking process.  A large roll is toasted alongside the steak.  Just before serving several pieces of provolone cheese is melted into the meat and the whole mess is scooped directly into the bun.  Mayo, lettuce, and tomato are added and it’s wrapped and handed to the customer.  It only takes minutes to make and it’s a hot cheesy pile of goodness.  Of course, you can ask for extras and for things to be left off so each sandwich can be as individual as the consumer.

The thing I dislike about most steak sandwiches is that they’re mostly a slab of seared meat on bread that need a knife to break into neat mouthfuls.  The bread disintegrates; it gets sloppy; and I’m left with a slab of meat hanging from my mouth.

I realized that what I like about hamburger and cheesesteaks is the ease of the bite experience.  What causes this is the meat is chopped into small, thin, manageable pieces held together somehow.  So why couldn’t I take a regular steak sandwich and cut it into manageable pieces?  Because it falls out the other end of the sandwich, that’s why.  If you pick up two slices of bread with random pieces of stuff in between them, the random stuff falls out.  So, something has to bind them together.  Think hard.  What would that be?  Mostly, it’s mayo.  I don’t like mayo.  So, then, how about melted cheese?  Well, then you just have a cheesesteak on sandwich bread.  Unique, but sometimes (not often) I don’t want cheese on a sandwich.  (Partner/Spouse has often remarked that for me a sandwich is just a vehicle to transport cheese into my mouth.)

Then I thought about that popular sub shop.  You know the one, where they cut into the top instead of the side.  If I used a roll and made it a self contained vehicle to hold everything, well, that would work.  It did, but it was uninspired.  It was just steak chunks in bread.

I turned back to the sandwich king and remembered the blue cheese mayo, the tomatoes, the lettuce.  I thought back to the cheesesteaks and the extras in the sandwich.  Even my favorite burgers had other stuff on them.  This sandwich didn’t have to be boring.  It just needed something to make it stand out.

Then I remembered “steak sand w OJ”.

I wasn’t about to add orange juice to my sandwich, but it made me think about marinating the steak before cooking it.  The stronger the flavors of the marinade, the better the sandwich.  But that defied the goal of quickness.

Keep in mind, this process continued over months and years.  It wasn’t a driving force, just a niggling thought at the back of my mind so long periods would pass before I thought about it again.

And I reconsidered the OJ in the steak sand.  Because I read an article about dressing up plates and sauces and sandwiches with, wait for it,  . . . . . . . .  Onion Jam!!

The onions on top of the steak were saucy and flavorful and were Onion Jam not orange juice!

OnionJam

So I researched, experimented, changed things up.  I found that onion jam is basically onions that have been caramelized in sugar and vinegar, then allowed to reduce to a syrupy glaze.  Most of the time red onions are used, but it can really be any onion at all.  The more I learned the more I realized onion jam is like anything else.  It’s as unique as the individual making it.  Things can be added or left out to make it something inspiring.

Slice an onion thinly (red or white, but most recipes call for red) then slice them the slices in half.  Cook them in a very little olive oil until they start sweating and go limp.  Add one or two tablespoons of sugar (experiment with this to find your right balance) and half a cup of red wine vinegar.  Reduce the heat to a simmer and allow the liquid to reduce to syrup, about twenty or so minutes.  Serve either hot or cooled.

You see, something happens to vinegar when it’s reduced.  It’s no longer sharp and acidic.  It turns sweet and the flavors intensify.  I’ve used a balsamic vinegar glaze many times, and can’t wait to try it with this.  With the sweetness of the onion combined with the onion’s biting flavors, this jam will find its way into many of your favorite recipes.

It sure turns a steak sandwich around.

You can store any extra onion jam in an air tight container in the fridge for several days.

Enjoy

 

Post #438 Seens From the Store

December 14, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post #438 Seens From the Store

I love my job.  That’s a serious statement.  I love my job.  I work in what passes for a high end grocery store here on the peninsula and my short career (six weeks) has been a meteoric rise.  I willingly accepted the position as a bagger knowing that it would be hard work, but also knowing that I would interact with my coworkers and customers and every day would be different.  Within two weeks, they had me in cashier training where I aced the produce quiz (I missed three, but two of those I challenged and was found to be right; the produce manager has been trying to get me to come work for him ever since.)  I remained a cashier for about two and a half weeks, and have been in training as a CSR (Customer Service Rep) for two weeks.  There’s already plans to let me go farther but they have to wait for me to understand each position thoroughly.

So I’ve been having a blast.  The things that crack me up the most are the interactions with the customers.

*****************

I was checking out one lady and she had a prime rib roast that was on sale.

“Wow, that’s a nice looking roast,” I said.  “And a great price, too.”

“Yeah, I got it for my husband.  He says he’s had pizza too much.  I hope I don’t ruin it.  I’m not much of a cook,” she explained.

“How are you going to cook it?” I asked while continuing to check through her groceries.

She looked helplessly at me and shrugged.

“Okay, really all you need to do is cross-hatch the fatty side and rub herbs into it.  Then cook is low and slow for a few hours.  Can’t fail.”

“How do I cross hatch it?”

“Okay, get a piece of paper.”  I explained cross-hatching and herb rubs.  Then we went on to cooking.  “Set your oven temp to 450 and cook the roast for 7 minutes per pound.  Then turn the oven off and don’t open that oven door for three hours.  When three hours have passed, you’ll have a perfect rib roast at medium rare.”

Her eyes were wide as she scribbled furiously.  I gave her tips for the other dishes to have with it.  And even though I’m not supposed to, I told her about the blog.

I hope she’s reading it.  I hope she’s enjoying it.

*********************

A couple came through with six large bags of collard greens.  Buying in such large amounts isn’t unusual around the holidays, but this seemed excessive.

“What are you doing with the collard greens?”  I asked.

“Makin’ a big pot o’ greens!” the man said with a big smile.  “Love me some greens.”

I’ve had greens off and on ever since I moved to Virginia in ’87, but have never cooked them.  “What’s your recipe for them?”

I was treated to ten minutes of detail into the various ways to prepare and fix greens, all which included onion, garlic, salt ham, and a little oil.  I’ve got their faces emblazoned on my memory.  I’ve never seen two people so excited about a dish, and so happy to tell another person how to “fix ’em right!”

***********************

A couple came through in the early evening.  He stood out for standing tall and strong.  He was about 6’7″ and was a solid 350 pounds.  No fat on him, just a big healthy guy.  His wife was no slouch, either, standing much taller than most women.  They were one of the happiest couples I’ve talked to and we all three played and joked and laughed as I processed their transaction.  After wishing them a pleasant evening, I turned to my next customer.

“Was he a body builder?” she asked in awe.

“No, I don’t think so.  He didn’t have the shredded shape of a body builder.  Certainly lifts weights, though.”

“He was so big!  He had muscles on his forehead, did you see that?”

I had to grin.  “No, didn’t notice, but I’ll take your word for it.”

**************************

Then there’s the juxtaposition of these two incidents.

I’m dealing with a customer at checkout a 40-something woman who’s asking about a store special.  While working with her, I glance over and see an older “church lady” type setting some groceries on the belt.  I smile but she doesn’t acknowledge which doesn’t bother me much.  After a couple of minutes when I’ve completed the interaction with the first customer, I turn back to the belt to find the groceries sitting there and no person.  It happens quite often that someone will forget something and rush off to find it, but ordinarily they’ll say something.  It also happen, though not as often, that someone will abandon their groceries.  I was looking around for someone who was obviously rushing to get back to the checkout when another customer, a gentleman about my age came up.  We were both at a loss since no one was obviously making their way back to my lane, so we carefully pushed the groceries back on the belt to make room, and I started ringing the gentleman up as he had less than ten items.  While I was ringing him up, the original customer appears and starts berating me heavily.  It surprised me so I tried to explain.

Then a stream of profanity poured from this woman’s mouth that would make a sailor blush.  I almost laughed, but the gentleman I was waiting on wasn’t having it and turned to her and told her off, defending my actions.  After he finished his transaction, I turned to her and listened to her four-letter diatribe and remembered in training the “kill them with kindness” instructions.  I just smiled and listened and was overly polite.  After she left, my next customer said, “I’da killed her.”  The next two customers agreed.  Then the MOD (manager on duty) came up to find out why this gentleman customer came up to the customer service desk to defend me when no one had complained.

Fast forward a couple of days, I’m working the express check out, the busiest lane(s) in the store.  A lady had left her groceries on the belt without saying anything and two more ladies were waiting.  I carefully moved the groceries and started ringing the next lady up.  In the middle of that transaction, the first lady showed up.  She was extraordinarily polite, embarrassed, and apologetic.  We all chuckled about it.  I finished the lady I was with, took the original lady next, finished the third lady, who happened to be an older, confused lady who was with the lady I helped while waiting for the one who disappeared.  By the end of it all, we were all four fast friends and helping each other with the carts and orders.

I can only assume the “church lady” from a couple of days before was having a very bad day.

***************************

As a CSR, one of the duties is to stand in front of the check out lanes and guide people to the fastest moving lanes.  We have a spot, next to a store telephone where we stand and can clearly see all the lanes, etc.  As I was standing there, one of the GMs passes by.

“Glad to see you have everything under control, Joe,” he said with a good deal of humor and a smile.  I’d only been training as CSR for a couple of days at that point.

I replied, “It reminds me of that old joke when the kid is leaning against the wall and the older guy asks him why.  ‘I am holding it up,’ the kid replies.  When he leaves, the wall falls down.”

I thought the GM was going to break a rib laughing too hard.

Enjoy

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