Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge

Yesterday, I spent far too much money at Clemon's Produce. I spent my entire week's allowance on things like Indian Eggplants, tiny cucumbers, three boxes of strawberries (ripe for the ice cream maker, now that it's finally stable weather here in CenFlo), a massive basil plant, gargantuan beets, and too many more things to count.

It's time to eat down the fridge, my friends.

Cliff and I are still in school and desperately trying to get jobs at this point. We just blew our last Spring Break in glorious Key West (more on this later...Food Tour!), so now it's time to buckle down, break the camel's back, and spend less. At this point, we're good on rent money until June. After that - who knows?

Here's the game plan. The fridge, as you can see, is well stocked. Somehow we ended up with a jar of red caviar (don't freak, it's not the good stuff) and a plastic package of quail eggs in the same vicinity.

Yes, there are lots of fruits and vegetables. I collect food. It makes me happy and makes my life worth living. For some people it's stamps, some people collect cats, others collect religious convictions. Me? I collect food.

Other strange stuff in the fridge/freezer:

More corn tortillas I can never seem to use up
Half a loaf of pre-made garlic bread (going to Chef Hell for that one...)
A pound of frozen fresh yeast
Tube of smoked salmon pate from IKEA (yes, I said "tube")

Here's the pantry cabinet:

Behind all that stuff, there's also a few cans of lychees, some coconut milk, and a jar of green curry paste that's just dying to get its little mitts on those eggplant. Other strange things in the cabinet:

Chicago-style Kelly Green Relish
Crystallized ginger
a pound of dried Shiitake mushrooms
a can of collard greens (no idea where that came from)

Yes, there is a jar of French chestnut paste in the cabinet. I seem to remember a recipe for a chestnut cream cake floating around in my recipe folder somewhere. That will happen soon, though I should have just gotten it done with in the Christmas season.

Too bad we were barely home during the Christmas season.

Also, check out the liquor cabinet (yes, that handle says, "Holly" on it. I'm protective of RonRico) and wine rack. Full. No reason to head to Total Wine. Sad.

Now for the challenge. For the next month, I will not grocery shop. I will save about $300 this month by not going to Publix, Clemons, Dong-A (local Viet market), Lombardi's, Whole Foods, or any other grocery store to which I have a growing the persistent addiction.

Grocery store = Holly's crack.

I can handle this. We might have some really creative foods over the next month (honey, brace yourself), but the money we'll save will be totally worth it. I'll blog about the adventure from time to time, especially if I end up making something either completely stellar or absolutely horrendous.

Shouldn't be too bad for the first week or two, but I bet that by April 1, things are going to get a little rough in the kitchen...

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Diner's Bill of Rights

I found this on Scott Joseph's blog. Scott Joseph was the food and dining critic for the Orlando Sentinel for 25 years and was recently relocated (read: laid off) to Orlando Style Magazine, whom I also work for as the Contributing Food Editor. Now, I don't necessary agree with many of Scott's reviews, nor do I really like his style of writing - but with what follows, he was right on the money.

So many people scoff at the way I dine - I get angry when I'm asked to "hold on" to my used fork or when I'm asked "are you still working on that?" People look at me like I'm a complete snob and a horrible dinner companion.

The Diner's Bill of Rights totally makes me feel justified in all of my nit-pickiness. I wasn't taught at culinary school how to run a restaurant properly for nothing. The President of the Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago told me that my service was the best he'd received from any "student manager" at the school's cafe. I know what I'm talking about.

Review these. Don't be shafted by a restaurant again. You have rights when you eat.

The Diner's Bill of Rights

You have the right to a pleasant and relaxing dinner.

You also have the right to a speedy dinner. If you plan to catch a movie or have theater tickets, please tell the server before ordering. He or she can alert the kitchen to your schedule and advise if certain items will take longer than others.

You have the right to relax following your meal. The check will not be delivered to the table until you request it.

No one will ever refer to you as "you guys."

In relation to your right to relax and enjoy your meal, you may also expect an environment free of children running about or being unruly. My managers will ask parents to keep such children under control.

You have a right to bring your children to my restaurant, to educate them on the pleasures of dining out as a family and to teach the manners that are expected of them.

You will never be asked if you're "still working on that?" If you find eating our food work, then we have done something wrong.

If you're joining us as part of your celebration of a special occasion, we're honored that you selected us. However, if it's a birthday, my staff has been instructed not to sing "Happy Birthday" so as not to disturb your fellow diners.

When you call my restaurant to make a reservation, you will be greeted warmly and promptly, and every attempt to will be made to honor your preferred date and time.

You have the right to be seated promptly, but please understand that the scheduling of tables is not an exact science and is subject to the vagaries and whims of previous diners (see "right to relax following your meal").

If you are made to wait in the lounge for a table to become available, you have the right to transfer your bar tab to your table.

The server will not read the menu for you, nor will he or she offer a list of his or her favorite dishes unless a guest asks. The servers are instructed not to congratulate you on your "good choice" each time you order an entree.

No one will ever bring food to the table and ask who ordered each item. It's our job to know which guest ordered each entree, even if the food is brought to the table by someone other than your server.

Someone other than your server might bring your food to your table because it is our policy not to allow hot food to linger in the window just because the assigned waiter isn't there to deliver it.

If there is a delay in your order, someone will explain the reason for the delay honestly. Your server will not tell you the cook made a mistake, and the manager will not tell you the server is having a bad night. We will make every effort to correct the problem as quickly as possible.

If it takes longer than 30 minutes for your appetizer, or if you wait that long between courses, the tardy item will be taken off your bill.

If you stop any staff member going by your table and ask for something, you'll never be told "I'll get your waiter." The person you ask will see to your request promptly; everyone on my staff is working for you.

Your waiter will check back with you after you have had a chance to taste your food.

If something is not right with your food, please tell the server who checks back with you after it has been served. We need to know if the food is overcooked or undercooked, or if it is not hot enough. We'd also like to know if the dish is just something you don't like, or it wasn't what you thought it would be. If any of these problems exist, the dish will be removed, and you may either request the same dish be done to your liking, or you may ask for something else. Either way, your request will go to the front of the line and be done as quickly as possible. The server will offer to keep your companions' food warm while the mistake is being corrected. It is important that you let someone know you're dissatisfied right now, tonight. If you wait until tomorrow to call and complain, there is nothing I or my managers can do to make tonight more pleasant.

You have the right to make special requests, and the chef and other cooks will do everything they can to honor them. But keep in mind that our menu was designed with specific ingredients and cooking methods in mind, and to be more efficient as a restaurant, certain things are prepared in advance, so some requests may not be possible.

All my staff are empowered to correct a problem. Once the situation is corrected, a manager will stop by to ask if you are satisfied. There will always be a manager on hand in the dining room.

No one will ever say "no problem" in response to a request or your thanks. They will say "my pleasure" or "you're welcome." You're welcome.

It is considered improper to remove the plate of one person while others are still eating. Doing so can make the others feel rushed and uncomfortable. Therefore, all my staff are instructed not to remove plates until everyone has finished. If you feel you really need to have your plate removed before your companions have completed their meals, you may certainly make that request.

You have the right to privacy. Servers and assistants sometimes can't help overhearing conversations, but no one will ever offer a comment or anecdote.

I have purchased plenty of flatware for my restaurant. Therefore, no one will ever ask you to "hang on" to your fork or knife following a course so that it can be reused for the next course. Clean flatware will be automatically offered.

You have the right to inspect the kitchen and see a copy of my most recent health-inspection report.

You have the right to tip as you see fit. If you feel the service was not worthy of the customary 15 percent to 20 percent, please let me know so that we can bring the service up to your accepted level of standards.

This is a business, and I'm in it to make money. The food here costs more than it would if you were to make it yourself at home because there are costs associated with operating a business that are factored into the price of each dish. But I pledge that my overall markup will be fair and reasonable. Otherwise, everything else here is just talk.

Reprinted from the Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, August 5, 2007

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Movin' On Up

This is what my kitchen used to look like.

This is what my NEW kitchen looks like.

An upgrade, I'd say. :)

Monday, March 02, 2009

Bright Knives, Big City, Big Disappointment

I'm not exactly sure what happened to Top Chef this season. Unlike past seasons, I really didn't care who won, or have any real emotional stake in the outcome. I didn't mind that I didn't have time to watch the finale until 5 days after it aired. I didn't particularly like Carla (a little nuts, if you ask me - Hootie who? Really?), nor did I like Hosea (I have to admit that I was pretty happy when I found out that the cheater was no longer with his girlfriend (who I'm sure is much more awesome than that brat, Leah,) after the show), and of course, no one liked Stefan.

Stefan posed a problem for me early on. He was cast as the asshole - the Steven Asprinio (season 1), the Marcel (season 2), the Hung (season 3),and the Dale (season 4) - and yet I worried throughout the entire season whether or not we were going to have a Top Chef this season that NO ONE in their right mind would work for. Really? Tom Colicchio, you know better. None of the above "asshole chefs" won, except for Hung, but even Brian Malarkey, who I had the pleasure to interview and ask in person, thought Hung was a really great guy and he'd work with him again if asked. Of course, he said the same thing about Marcel, but I have a hard time believing that part of the answer.

Carla, on the other hand, was the uber-underdog. One comment on the Village Voice website says that the men (Hosea and Stefan) completely "dismissed Carla all season in a manner I thought was very sexist." During the entire finale, all those stupid boys could talk about was each other - Stefan was the one to bet, Hosea is an idiot, etc - but not one of them thought Carla was ever a threat - never mind that she beat their asses multiple times AND drove away in a new car.

The Village Voice writer Hailey Eber put it best in her line: "In the end, it all came down to one big meh." Really. Usually, at the end of Top Chef, I'm in tears. When Stephanie Izzard won last season, I was ecstatic, and my heart was broken for Richard Blaise and his "I choked," line. So sad. When Hung won, I wasn't surprised, but the live reveal at the end was so dramatic that I still felt my heart jump. Plus, he looked so cute and Vietnamese and happy. I wanted to hug Hung Huynh and take him out for a banh mi.

At the beginning of the season, I took a survey after the first episode to see who people thought would win at the end. I didn't bet on Hosea - he's annoying and has no spine (if I had to listen to him talk about "HOW EXCITED!" he was to cook for the guest judges one more time...). I didn't bet on Carla (which made her even more awesome at the end). I did bet on Stefan, even though I didn't want to. I wanted Jamie. I wanted her to win SO BAD. It didn't happen, but even to the last, Stefan wanted her, too. Which made me laugh. When men have crushes on women that will NEVER LIKE THEM, it makes me laugh. Jamie is a lesbian. She will never like you, Stefanasaurus.

One more thought - the look on Jeff's face at the end of the finale broke my heart into a million pieces. I hate to see a blonde surfer chef from Miami look that sad. It's just not right.

So, Hosea is Top Chef. Meh. Well, Fabio - I guess it is "Top Pussy" instead of "Top Chef".