• Sunday, April 30, 2006

    CEO on how to treat waiters – irony defined.

    Raytheon CEO drops bomb on the masses – etiquette bomb, that is.

    Insights in his new book include observations such as the following: People who are rude to waiters are not nice people.

    The news of this book dispensing pearls of wisdom from Raytheon CEO Bill Swanson, is brought to us by that hard news, analytical monster, USA Today. Did I mention that Raytheon is giving away 250K of his books? This must be the work of his poor PR person. As public opinion on the war - his company’s cash cow - plummets, does anyone out there besides me wonder about the irony of a man who profits from war coaching us on civility and values?

    Maybe these insights are news to those with the corner offices, but my guess is you could ask any 100 people laboring in the cubicles around him and they’d have some eye-opening info for him. Thanks Bill. By the way, have you checked your own employees to see who among them has footprints on their back resembling the shoes of their bosses?

    Bill warns us to be wary of those with situational values who can turn on the charm depending on the perceived status of the person with whom they are dealing. His example comes from a dining experience where someone was transparently rude to a waiter while being polite to him. Only someone as out of touch as the guy at the top could possibly think those of us who actually have waited tables, or worked in corporate America, needs this lesson on how to spot fair or decent people.

    But let’s put all that nasty war talk aside, it’s bad for digestion. Let’s dish instead!

    What are your top executive-without-a-clue stories?
    - I had a boss who chastised me for coming in at 9:05 ready to work, while she came in at 9:00 and spent 20 minutes blow-drying her hair at her desk. She also failed to notice that I worked 2 hours after she left each night.

    - Another dinged me on a performance evaluation for not making my numbers. Didn't think I'd save every memo about projects he stole from me when business was slow, so he could be sure to make his numbers.

    - How about the one who rewarded my co-worker who was running an internet porn site from the office while sending me to a client my predecessor had so embarrassed, our company was asked never to set foot there again. Thanks for the heads up there, Dave!

    Or bad service stories…Here are some of the LDG's pet peeves:
    - a server who asks "are you still working on that?"
    Unless I'm wearing a hard hat at your table, I'm eating, dining or enjoying a meal, not "working on that." "Working on that" sounds like, I don't know, I've made a bet with my companion that I actually finish every morsel served, or I'm in a competitive eating contest.

    - a server who is never wrong:
    e.g. "I'm sorry, there's a hair in my food." "No there isn't." "Yes, see, here it is."

    - a server who cannot answer a basic question about a menu item:
    e.g. "The osso buco?- "I don't know, I don't eat meat."
    e.g. “The salmon? – I don’t know, I don’t eat fish.”
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    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    Fewer breadcrumbs to follow

    Hooray! You can now find me in fewer steps. No more need to navigate down from Food and Drink on Suite101 - direct access can be had. See sidebar. Thanks for hanging in! And a whole new look is just around the corner for Suite101. Will keep you posted.
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    Tuesday, April 25, 2006

    Chocolate and Cheese

    So I don't know about you, but when I have trouble falling asleep (more often than I'd care to admit) I think about food. Last night/this morning in the wee hours, I was thinking the following: Maybe another martini is in order; is it too early for the AC; mmmm pain au chocolate and coffee for breakfast.

    I decided against the martini; put on the fan; and went back to bed. Hm, I’ll bet the laser-cut Cuisipro would be great (resisting the pun here.) The coarse side was fabululous and my dark Torino chocolate melted wonderfully on my lightly toasted Iggy's bread. Into all the nooks and crannies. Onto my fingers. And, oops, onto the keyboard. Note to self: clean before C. gets home.

    While I was happily noshing and sipping…I read Orangette’s post "Fritters, and Fair Warning" which begins by listing certain foods so naughty and luscious that we might need one of those warnings such as I used to laugh at on cigarette packs. Why do we expend so much energy in the struggle against our nature? They’re even putting “nutrition labels”on boxes of donuts, for God's sakes. Resistance is futile. We cannot be saved from ourselves. The fritters look and sound delicious!

    One of Molly’s irresistables is a mac and cheese which includes (you are sitting down, aren’t you?) a pound of cheese.

    I don’t make m&c often, but it has a special place in my heart. My husband is one of those who thought all m&c came in a blue box and was naturally orange. The first time I made real m&c for my husband was a revelation. It might have something to do with why we are now married.

    As luck would have it, I too made m&c last night – though much smaller quantities were involved. It was only me eating. Last night’s rendition was prompted by a fit of late night frig inventorying.
    • bit of cheddar that needed to be eaten,
    • a gem of a goat cheese (Crottin de Champcol, Moule’ a’ la louche),
    • some cream (don’t usually have that)
    • and pancetta I forgot was there.

    I’d also had a bit of the Vya vermouth saved, swirled over ice and around glass then poured out to be used in…what?

    So here’s how my m&c evolved.
    1. Boiled the little elbows.
    2. Browned the pancetta, moved it out.
    3. Add butter. Softened minced shallot.
    4. Deglazed with vermouth.
    5. Added some sauce and gravy flour. Some milk, some cream.
    6. Stirred in the cheddar, the goat cheese, combination of pecorino romano/parmiggiano regiano,
    7. Seasoned with cayenne, mustard, sauzon con azafran (search for saffron fruitless – I know it’s in there), S&P.
    8. Macaroni, mornay into two small calphalon tapas pans.
    9. Breadcrumbs, butter, pancetta and more pecorino/parmiggiano on top,
    10. popped under the broiler…

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    Monday, April 24, 2006

    Chomping on chips or sucking on lemons?

    This week's posts on Suite101 include an article covering some salty snacks. Some gourmet, some maybe not so much. My blog there covers traditional Southern chow chow pickle and brand new dills, and importance of reconnecting over food with good friends.

    You'll also find the answer to the question "what the hell does she mean sucking on lemons?"
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    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Confessions of a DiningIn 12-Stepper

    They say, any trauma you survive is okay, as long as you get a good story out of it.

    So here’s why I HATE DiningIn. Like most addictions, we hate ourselves for returning to them more than we hate the thing itself. I have told myself a number of times that I will not use DiningIn again. I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and damn it, people like me.

    It’s only when you hit rock-bottom that you can truly begin the journey of recovery.

    Honest disclosure.
    So first off, I hate food snobs, but I also know that “dining” is not something that happens out of a Styrofoam container. It’s food that we hope is okay. It makes us not-hungry. Food in a Styrofoam container is not expected to do more. If once in awhile it does better, we’re really happy.

    I love to cook, so take-out is not even something I am inclined toward. But what about those days when you want to work on your jammies, not do the shower, primping thing. I admit it, I am weak. Sometimes I just want to roll out of bed and jump on the computer and stuff something passable in my mouth when the grumbling of my stomach gets louder than the click of my keyboard.

    One day at a time.
    So today, I took out the DiningIn catalog. I looked at a menu and decided I might get more info on some of the items on the website. I logged on. I found many more dishes than my old paper catalog. I began my order. Shortly, I found myself caught in an endless loop of broken code. After spending far too much time working around it and correcting my order, I clicked to “continue” to review and place my order.

    At the bottom of the page (right below the $70.00 total), was a warning that some of the menu items were not available. There was no indication of what the offending items were. The only option was to “Confirm order”. I picked up the phone.

    We always have choices.
    I had two options, Press 1 to place an order, Press 2 for customer service. I picked customer service. By the way, this might be a good time to let you know that if you are ever in a supermarket, theater, or bank and you see me choose a line, DO NOT FOLLOW ME. I will ALWAYS make the wrong choice. Without fail, my cashier option, even though the line looked shorter and moved faster, will always come to a screeching halt for a price check, a cash drop or a shift change. Without fail. (Don’t say I never did you any favors.)

    Okay, back to my new worst enemy, DiningIn. After selecting 2 for customer service I get a recorded message instructing me that operating hours are 10 AM to 10 PM or something like that. The point is it was 4:15 PM. Just about dead on middle of the hours by my reckoning. I’m asked to enter an extension to leave a message. Then, a ray of hope. If I require off-hours assistance, press 0. I take the bait, press zero. Fool.

    My first customer service guy asks how he can help me. I first offer the feedback that they need to fix the code and give him details about where the problem occurred. Then I explain the difficulty with completing the order. His solution is to tell me I should call back and press 1 for order placement help. I explain that I’ve already spent about half an hour placing my order and reporting bugs on their website, and I’d like him to just tell me what the problem is. He can’t. They don’t have access to that information. He decides the only possible explanation is that there may be some items on my order that might be lunch items and now that it is after 4 they switch to the dinner menu.

    The road to hell.
    His next solution is brilliant. He will call the restaurant and review my order and ask them which of the items are no longer available. Before I can ask him to just place the order, since he has the list of items and is calling the restaurant anyway…but no. He’s gone. Next, I get Mr. Helpful Supervisor who is ready to hear me repeat my story and help me in whatever way he can. Clearly reading from his “irate customer script.” Blood pressure up? Check. Blood sugar down? Check. Click here to confirm. CLICK.

    He can understand why I’m upset, he’d like to help me. He suggests that it’s probably that they’ve run out of the items I ordered. I’m not buying it. He offers that it might be that the website had items that the catalog (printed four months earlier) did not have. (that's the 'sympathize with the customer' part of the script) Nope, ordered from the admittedly more current website. Then he says, it’s probably an issue with the time of day. The items I selected might be only available on the lunch menu and by the time I finished the order, it was dinner menu time. I ask him why there is no indication on the website or the catalog of limited availability. Has no answer.

    Now, he’d like to help me by taking my order. For God sakes will someone make me a G&T already? I ask him what part of this makes sense and also, why the poorly coded website, why the phone tree problems, why the first guy WHO HAD MY ORDER AND CALLED THE RESTAURANT didn’t just place it? No answer. Make that a double. So, if I’d like, he will take my order all over again, and call it in. I decline.

    Rock bottom.
    By now, I could have showered, pressed fresh clothes, done makeup and hair, gone out to eat and come home. Like an alcoholic on a Monday morning, I vow I will not be weak again.

    1. I admit I am powerless over the temptation of food, delivered to my door in one hour.
    2. I believe a power greater than me might restore me to sanity. (Old Raj.)
    3. I will turn myself over to this higher power. (Make it a triple so my head won’t explode while I finish this list.)
    4. I have made a searching and fearless inventory of my pantry. (Damn it! I had another pack of ramen and I didn’t’ know it!)
    5. I admit to Old Raj and my husband (on his way back with local takeout) the nature of my oversight.
    6. I am entirely ready to have this defect of character removed. (maybe I should have a quadruple?)
    7. I humbly ask to have these shortcomings removed.
    8. Hmm, list of all persons harmed. Does my cat count? His dinner was late because of my distraction. My husband, who had to go out for takeout?
    9. I have apologized to both cat and husband. I promise to be more vigilant about shopping and feeding schedules.
    10. Prayer. Hm. I prayed not to run out of ice, it worked. Also, my husband returned with dynamite barbecue from Chinatown.
    11. Continued to inventory and found that indeed, I was even out of eggs and bread. Not even a fried egg sandwich would have saved me if that ramen weren’t hiding.
    12. Sated and having had this epiphany, I promptly returned to said keyboard. In jammies. To spread the word.

    If you need help, call my friends at Bauer, THEY deliver.
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    My New Post on Suite101

    As promised, I'll add a note here letting you know about my posts on Suite101. Check out my foie gras article. On my blog I talk about grilling wurst. Ballparks used to serve hot dogs, cracker jack, peanuts, beer. Now it's coconut shrimp and chardonnay. I once had ramen, but then, that was in Hawaii and I was ten. What's your favorite ball park nosh?
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    Sunday, April 16, 2006


    This is the rice ball, ready to eat. Yum.

    In the Boston area, Kotobuki-ya is a Japanese grocers in the Porter Square mall in Cambridge is where I get my origiri.
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    This onigiri has a bit of salmon on top. My favorite has umeboshi in the middle. (more)
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    The wrapping is a double layer of plastic with instructions that show how to unfold the rice ball. As you unfold the triangular rice ball, the double-wrapped nori is revealed to be separate from the rice ball. (more)
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    The wrapping is a double layer of plastic with instructions that show how to unfold the rice ball. As you unfold the triangular rice ball, the double-wrapped nori is revealed to be separate from the rice ball. (more)
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    Every culture has a similar treat. Often, it’s a humble lunchbox item, usually eaten with hands and simply prepared, always endearing. It might be some recipe brought by grandma from the old country, like empanadas or pierogi. Or at least something that makes you remember her. For me it’s onigiri, or rice balls.

    These are simple rice balls with a bit of something in the middle. Usually, but not always wrapped in nori. (Picture a giant piece of maki sushi.) Japanese being the masters of wrapping, have elevated onigiri to something that always makes me say “how do they do that?”

    Everyone has seen ubiquitous supermarket sushi. One of the many problems with supermarket sushi is that the nori is soggy and damp, the rice usually is hard and cold. Part of the joy of sushi is having the crisp bite of nori give way to delicately seasoned rice and a savory filling.

    Onigiri, if left to supermarket product experts would be just like soggy, chewy, icky thing that supermarket sushi is.

    I first encountered onigiri to go in Japan at Narita Airport. It’s a long, long flight. I was hungry. I was eager to taste all of Japan. I couldn’t believe my eyes at the first vending machine, when I saw onigiri. I was prepared to be disappointed, but bought one. It looked just like this one.
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    Thursday, April 06, 2006

    Honest, Straightforward, Patient – Kurobuta is “Some Pig”

    With all due respect to Wilbur, Kurobuta is really the most extraordinary of pigs. How to describe this superb pork? I turned to the Chinese Zodiac for help.

    Honest, Straightforward and Patient - traits attributed to people born under the sign of the pig. They provide good insight into the characteristics of this exquisite pork derived from the heritage breed: Berkshire. Today’s Kurobuta is honest and straightforward – it can define for your palate in one bite what pork should be.

    First noted in the stories of British army exploits nearly 300 years ago, the humble Berkshire pig has, like many of our foods today, traced a long and storied trail before ending up on our plates. After the Berkshire hogs were gifted to Japan by British diplomats in the 1800’s, a pure breed was developed now called . So, we can see this little piggy has had to exhibit patience in the extreme to survive as a breed long enough to be discovered by gourmands and heritage breeders.

    Thank the stars it has. This pork is now highly prized the world over as a shining example of what pork should taste like. As with Kobe beef, the more marbled and less lean nature of the meat has much to do with the tremendous flavor and tender bite.

    The relatively dry and tasteless commercial pork product we’ve become familiar with, (you know “the other white meat”) takes to sauces, dried fruits and spicy rubs so well in large part due to it’s lack of a strong flavor of its own. Unlike pork which has been fed hormones to speed its time to butchering, this pork is allowed to grow at its own pace, usually by small heritage farmers practicing organic and humane farming methods. The result is a tender, luscious, juicy pork that is unparalleled.

    Once one has tasted an heirloom tomato one can never again tolerate the tasteless cottony and pale facsimiles bred to survive early picking and cross-country trucking. Now that Kurobuta pork has passed my lips, I’m looking for other budget items to jettison, to make way for this unique porcine product on a more regular basis. Hey, eats this good don’t come cheap, but I guarantee you, it is an experience worth every penny, euro or yen.

    My Kurobuta initiation was guided by our good friends at Lobel’s, and financed by my generous husband (as appreciative a diner as you’ll ever find at your table.) As advertised, this pork is darker and richer than mass-market pork. A lush and distinctive flavor profile is delivered through that beautiful and cruel force of nature: fat. This meat truly “glistens when you cut into it.” But I hasten to add, it is not fatty. The sweet fat is so well integrated into the meat itself you barely recognize it.

    Consulting once again our Chinese Zodiac attributes I note that “rampant hedonism” is also part of the profile of our patient, honest and straightforward porcine friends. Perhaps my birth under the sign of the Ox was just a mistake...?

    Here are the Leather District Gourmet’s Kurobuta Pork recipes. (Readers will note that my cooking does not strictly lend itself to recipes – these are more guidelines. Trust your nose, trust your palate. And, by all means, write me with any questions or suggestions!)

    Herb rubbed Rack roast of Pork

    For Herb Rub
    Shallots, butter, olive oil, mustard (I used a combination of whole grain and a shallot champagne Dijon style mustard from Napa.)
    Fresh thyme, fresh sage, parsley. Grated orange zest.
    Herb spice mixture (fennel seed, coriander, white pepper, fleur de sel, rosemary)

    Wash & pat dry roast. Season with fleur de sel and crushed white pepper.
    Massage herb rub all over roast. Wrap with plastic or waxed paper, return to fridge for 2-4 hours.

    Roast at 375 for about 20 minutes per pound. Note: do not overcook. Approximate times.
    Be sure to use good meat thermometer and cook to internal temperature of 145 degrees, no more! Temp will rise during resting at least five degrees.

    Baste with drippings if any, being sure to baste potatoes and onions, too. My pork actually produced so little pan drippings, I used some demiglace and wine to make a bit of basting liquid for the potatoes mostly.

    Remove, tent with foil and allow resting time of 5-10 minutes. Finish pan sauce while resting, and sauté asparagus.

    For salad
    Crisp romaine, sliced apples, shaved fresh fennel bulb. Mandarin orange sections (navel, or blood orange sections would be good too, as would pomegranate seeds.)
    Small garlic clove, champagne mustard, s&p. Yuzu vinegar (cider would work well too)

    Whisk in light oil, canola, grapeseed oil with a bit of good fruity olive oil. You want a balance of tart, sweet, peppery and citrusy flavors here.

    For potatoes
    Wash dry quarter Yukon golds. Strew with thyme S&P around roast in roasting pan. The potatoes will probably take more time than the pork to fully roast, so even it out by starting them ahead or by cutting them in smaller segments.
    Add onions (red pearl onions, or cippolini would be nice)
    Baste with pan juices.

    Spring Vegetable Saute
    Saute of asparagus, morels, butter, shallot. I added a bit of mushroom stock (reserved and frozen from my last use of dried porcinis. You could easily use a bit of good chicken broth.) A sprinkle of Wondra Sauce and Gravy flour.

    Pan Sauce
    Degrease if necessary – wasn’t with my Lobel’s Kurobuta. Deglaze pan with a bit of calvados, Madeira. Demi-glace or stock. Season, reduce. Add a bright note at end using a touch of cider vinegar and/or fresh parsley, more zest.

    Wine – Good Oregon pinot noir. (Thanks Sujata!)
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