Thursday, April 30, 2015

Considering The Role of Salad

Dream restaurant menu deliberations continue. 

Today: Salad.

I'm part of an interesting generation.  My formative nutritional years were spent in the absence of Nutrition Facts labels.  Low-fat food was just starting to take hold in sophisticated, far-off places like California.  McDonalds sold nothing but burgers and fries.

I was in my late teens when the nutritional, dietetic world seemed to flip upside down.  Weight Watchers, calories, fat-free...all now part of the everyday vernacular, even in the Midwest.  I remember when McDonalds starting selling salads on their menu.  And salads starting becoming the popular, healthy alternative to a heavy, greasy lunch.

And seems any restaurant who doesn't have any decent, meal-size salads on their menu is just asking to be bankrupt in a year.  But, here's the question I have: is that because customers really do want to eat more salads, or because they feel like they should because we've had two decades of salad-friendly indoctrination? Hm.  Unfortunately, I have no answer nor data to begin to formulate an answer.

So, this café menu I'm working on.  Can't help but feel the salad pressure.  But, a small voice inside of me is saying NO! And it's getting louder every day. 

I don't want to be known for salads.  I don't want it to be my focus.  I want the sandwiches (and awesome condiments, yeah?) and soups to be the reason people are wowed.  I want salads to be the side.  Most of the places here in town (sit-down, that is) have a chef, a cobb, a Mexican, a Caesar, etc.  I'm not that interested in doing those...unless I can spin it in some way...but is it really where I want my energy to go?

Instead, what about a small selection of unique salads, and maybe not so "lettuce" heavy?  Roasted beets, chickpeas, celery-and-fennel, a modified wedge?  And no meal-size portion, either.  It's a side to the sandwich or soup.  It's not the main event.

This is what excites me.  I suspect, though, I'll need to keep a bag of iceberg and jar of ranch dressing on hand for that certain demographic around here that doesn't quite understand the paradox: a healthy, green, cancer-fighting drenched in sugar-laden, fake-food soaked ranch dressing.

And there, in a nutshell, is the irony of the American diet.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

I Discover I Own Nary A Butter Knife

One of the best things about getting married (so many years ago now) was registering for gifts.  For poor college students, it really is The Jackpot.  When, in one fell swoop, can two crazy kids in love get pots, pans, dishes, silverware, camping gear, board games, and crayons?

*Sigh* Those were the days.  When I had not-chipped serving platters, a gravy boat, a sugar-and-creamer set, and plenty of butter knives for any spreading emergency.

I've been working on a café menu, which consists of coming up with food ideas and testing them as well.  Yesterday, Brent and I tried an Italian grinder recipe I'd seen in my issue of Food + Wine mag.  Of course, you know me, I never make the recipe as is...and besides, I can't find mortadella at my local grocery store anyway.  I'd have to settle for salami, proscuitto, and capicolla.  The recipe also came with a garlic aioli, made from scratch, natch.

And I love aioli (aka Fancy Mayo).  However, I opted for roasting a couple of heads of garlic and pureeing them with three tablespoons of mayonnaise as the spread for my Italian grinders.  And to my never-ending delight, this spread was the perfect condiment for this sandwich, and it's terribly easy to make.  It occurred to me that it would be just as easy to make in large quantities and use as the default spread on any sandwich I might serve at South Market Bistro (just trying out names, readers, nothing set in stone).

Then.  I worked on this today.

A cranberry-orange preserve recipe, also found in F + W mag.  The idea is that I'd use this gem as a toast spread for the breakfast crowd, and then mix some with mayo for a roasted turkey sandwich at lunch.  A Thanksgiving sandwich, if you will.  The final product, shown above on a slice of toast, is darker than I like, but I suspect that was because I used mostly brown sugar in the recipe (as opposed to the white it calls for, but that I was totally out of).  However, I am quite pleased.  The cranberry-orange is rather tart, but goes well with a little salted butter on the toast.  I haven't tried the turkey sandwich, and I'm going with an extra sharp cheddar cheese, and I'm sure that will work nicely as well.

Thanksgiving All Year-Round!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A New Focus

But, before I begin, just a note: I will not be discussing tomatillos.  The moment is gone, and the salsa verde did not go over well with the fam.  I suspect there's some serious tweaking that needs to be done.  Alas.


I've been mulling over for some time on how to make the best use of this blog.  While my natural inclination is to fill it with random things I am learning and working on, I can't help but feel like I should also devote some time here to developing a purpose, a point.

And I think I've finally got it.

The future is rather uncertain for me at this point, and that's okay...because after all, not all who wander are lost.  Because of where I live, and who I know, I've got some business opportunities coming my way.  My dream job is to cater customized dinners for people, in their own homes.  However, I also understand this is may not be totally lucrative, so I'd also like a small capacity café...serving breakfast and lunch only.  And the first step to a project like this is to develop a menu, because after all, that dictates the layout and equipment of the kitchen.  And the first step in developing a menu - knowing what your clientele will eat.  It's a balancing act, to be sure.  There are lots of things I'd like to make, but if it costs too much or if it's too "out there" for my customers, then it's all for nothing.

So, I looked at the various other 'competition' lunch spots in town (roughly five other restaurants).  Here's the highlights of my data compilation:

It's probably best if I stay away from Fried Pork Tenderloin and Reuben sandwiches.  Two of the five offer this already.  Also, three of the five offer a grilled chicken sandwich, but in a pretty basic form.  I could maybe do something new with grilled chicken, then.  Two of the five offer general fare like BLTs and club sandwiches, so I'd probably shy away from that...unless I did a California-style BLT with avocado.   A couple of grilled cheeses, one pulled pork, meatball sub, etc.  And of course, I forgot to mention the 'competition' I listed here are locally-owned places; I didn't even count McDonalds, Subway, etc.

Soup-wise, there's room for play here too.  The local coffeehouse in town is famous for its cheeseburger chowder, so I doubt I'll try to touch that at first.  The tea room-type place has lentil chili and Italian beef soup (du jour, anyway), and the barbeque catering place has cheeseburger chowder (heh) and Zuppa Toscana.  Otherwise, it's chili or chicken noodle around the horn.

It's a place to start anyway.  And I hope to detail my findings and developments here.  Now! With More Purpose!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015


1. It's the end of April...nearly!  And don't you know what that means?  It's my birthday!  This year I turn the big 4-0.  I don't really feel forty, physically, but professionally, I feel about 65.  I'm still in search of the dream, and since patience is not my forte, this is turning into a really difficult stage of my professional life.  Working at a job I'm not happy with, waiting for the good things that will come, and making the most of where I'm at right now.  I started a new part-time job yesterday at The Cellar Peanut Pub.  This is a local watering hole with a national reputation, and the owner is keen on selling good craft beer.  I'm hoping to learn a lot about craft beer, as well as work on my customer service skills, which have grown a wee rusty since I left the education field.  If you're in southeast Iowa on a Monday or Wednesday afternoon, come and see me!

2. April is a busy month for birthdays.  There are several family members who not only have birthdays this month, but this week especially.  So, a nice big shoutout to all those birthday kids...not to mention friends, etc. who celebrating this week as well.  You know who you all are.

3. I am working with tomatillos tomorrow.  This will be my first time.  I will try to post the adventure tomorrow.

Cheers and Happy Tuesday, readers!

Friday, April 3, 2015

This Happened This Morning

I usually am not much of a fan of wrapping bacon in things, around things, or under things.  I think it's because I'm not a fan of taking something that is pretty good by itself and manipulating it with something more powerful and dominant like bacon.  It's got a weird, twisted Fifty Shades of Grey feel to it that I just can't support.

Maybe this is different, or maybe it isn't, really.  I saw the Mad Genius Tips video by Justin Chapple (here at Food & Wine), and thought it didn't look too hard and would maybe taste okay.

In a word, they are sublime.  And actually easy to do, if you use the ones in the can.  Frozen cinnamon rolls, I expect, would be more difficult.  Chapple tops his with maple syrup, but I used the frosting that came in the can.  Just a thin strip around the top of the roll, because one of the reasons I don't do cinnamon rolls all that much is that I'm not a fan of the thick, cement-y icing that usually hides the roll.

So.  Sweet + smoky + spicy-yeasty = sublime.

Just in time for Easter brunch, folks.