September 28, 2015

Apple and Kale Pork Loin

Welcome to the recipe that had everyone raving at Tomato Day 2015!  The recipe that made my grandmother call me to tell me that she has decided if she wins millions on her trip to Vegas, she is giving me money to open a restaurant instead of money to put towards a house.  Because, she said, "I realized that you really know what you're doing in the kitchen."  Honestly, this was pretty easy.  All I did was raid the fridge and spice cabinet for what I thought would work - and it worked!  Let me know how this recipe goes for you when you make it!

What You'll Need:
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons celery salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground sage
  • 2 teaspoons dried tarragon
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 apples, diced
  • 1 red onion, sliced thin
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 1 bunch kale, torn from stems
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • (2) 2-lb. pork loin
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 4 tablespoons butter

1.  Mix first five ingredients in a small bowl until incorporated.  In a large mixing bowl, mix diced apples, red onion, garlic, kale, and HALF the spice blend until incorporated.  Lay on the bottom of a roasting pan with a rack on top.

2.  Season pork loin liberally with the other half of the spice blend, adding more salt and pepper if necessary.  Place pork loin on top of rack.  Cover and put in a 375-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees (medium) or 170-degrees (well done and most likely dry).  Let pork rest so the juices redistribute, about 10-15 minutes.

3.  While your pork loin is resting, dump the remaining ingredients from the roasting pan into a skillet.  Saute for about 5 minutes, and then add white wine and butter.  Stir until butter melts and sauce becomes rich and velvety.  Slice pork loin and spoon sauce over top.  Enjoy!

August 23, 2015

Italian Macaroni and Cheese

Oh good God.  Oh yessss! Make this today.  That is all I have to say.

What You'll Need:
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound sausage, casings removed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons red wine
  • 1/2 cup butter, unsalted
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 cups 2% milk
  • 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound medium shells
  • 8 slices pepperoni, sandwich-style, diced
  • 2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded 

1.  Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and add sausage to the pan.  Break up sausage with wooden spoon under crumbled.  Add garlic to the pan and saute until sausage starts to brown.  Add red wine to the pan and incorporate.  Cook until browned all the way through and drain onto paper towel-lined plate.  Set aside.

2.  In a sauce pot, heat butter until melted.  Add flour and Italian seasoning, and whisk until incorporated.  Let cook until browned and flour is cooked.  Add room temperature buttermilk and heat.  Then, add milk and heat through.  Add crushed tomatoes.  Whisk everything together and bring to a slow boil.

3.  Cook pasta shells according to package directions, but drain about two minutes before they are finished cooking.  In a large mixing bowl, toss pasta, crumbled sausage, and pepperoni.  Transfer to a large baking dish.  Top pasta with a mixture of 1 1/2 cups Parmesan and 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella.

4.  Pour tomato cream sauce over top the entire dish evenly.  Wiggle the dish around a little bit, ensuring the sauce starts to fall through the pasta shells and start melting that cheese.  Top with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and 1/2 cup mozzarella.  Put in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Now you may begin eating the most glorious macaroni and cheese ever.  You're welcome ;-)

August 11, 2015

Buffalo Chicken Cheesesteak / Buffalo Chicken Salad

I love sandwiches - probably as much as Joey Tribbiani loves sandwiches.  That's why this recipe is well equipped with not one, but TWO ways to use this buffalo chicken to make different sandwiches.  You can also use it on top of a salad, on crackers, or by itself, but why waste a beautiful carb-loading opportunity?  Use this recipe to make your best chicken cheesesteak, or a cool and creamy chicken salad sandwich - enjoy!

What You'll Need:
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup Frank's Buffalo Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Ranch dressing
  • 3 pounds chicken, shredded
  • 2 celery stalks, finely diced
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • Salt, pepper, onion powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon celery seed

1.  Whisk buttermilk, yogurt, buffalo sauce, and Ranch dressing in a large mixing bowl.  Fold in chicken, celery, and carrot.  Season with spices and toss to mix.

2.  Figure out how you want to serve this deliciousness.  I tried it both cold, with avocado slices on toast and hot, with melted cheese on a roll.  Honestly, it was good both ways, but I preferred the "chicken cheesesteak" over the "chicken salad sandwich".  I heated the chicken in a saute pan, placed two slices of cheese on top and covered the pan until the cheese melted.  When you leave the chicken in the hot pan to wait for the cheese to melt, it develops a crust on the bottom, which enhances the sandwich so much!

August 6, 2015

Red Wine Onion Burgers with Hoop Cheddar

The first time using this "Hoop Cheddar", and it is one of the greatest cheeses for a burger.  It melts beautifully, it is rich and creamy, and it has the perfect sharpness that works with the burger where you can still taste the cheese, not just see it.  There's nothing worse than using what you think is going to be a good cheese, but it ends up just getting lost in the rest of the flavors.  Also, the red wine onions on this finish it off in a sweet and tangy way - you could just eat those by themselves!

What You'll Need:
  • 8 slices bacon
  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1 pound ground brisket
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 5 ounces portobello mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 8 ounces Hoop cheddar cheese

1.  In a skillet, fry bacon until cooked, but not crisp.  Drain on paper towel-lined plate.  Set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, mix chuck, brisket, salt and pepper.  Do not over mix.  Form meat into four 8-ounce patties, and salt and pepper both sides.  In the same pan used to fry the bacon, sear the burger on very high heat.  Flip to create a crust on each side of the burgers, about 3 minutes on each side.  Put burgers on rack over a baking pan.  Top with slices of cheddar and put in a 350-degree oven until cheese melts and burgers are cooked to desired temperature.

3.  Meanwhile, in the hot pan, add sliced onions and mushrooms.  Add sugar, salt and pepper and begin to cook down.  Add the red wine to the pan and cook until wine reduces by half.  Add flour, and stir until onion sauce thickens.  Stir in balsamic vinegar, and cook until liquid reduces completely.

4.  Remove burgers from oven.  On a toasted roll, stack the cheeseburger, two slices of bacon, and sauteed onions and mushrooms.  I also added a nice crisp piece of iceberg lettuce for a cool crunch.

10 Easy Ways to Annoy Your... Customers?

If you are a bartender, server, host, or work in the restaurant industry in general, you have probably "liked", "shared", or at least read articles such as, "25 Easy Ways to Piss Off Your Bartender", or "The 10 Worst Things You Can Do To A Waiter".  You've laughed along with the satire and felt your fingers nearing the top of your head to pull out your hair, considering you've had 96% of the list done to you at one point.  My personal favorite was always when I arrive at the table and ask how the customers are doing, they immediately reply with "I'll have an iced tea."  Hm.  Well, my name is Christina and I am doing just fine tonight, thank you for asking.  Or when the customer just had to tell you they "used to be a bartender", but ends up tipping you 4%.  Come on! 

Recently, while dining at a new bar one night, I got to thinking about those articles.  I would look around and see folks committing the same infractions I recently read about.  But then I noticed the bartenders.  Some were engaging in conversation with customers, but most were playing on their phones, watching the Thursday night football game/channel surfing, or chatting among themselves behind the bar.  As a former restaurant manager, the lack of attention paid to the customers (it was later in the evening on a weeknight, not too busy) was starting to frustrate me.  Not because I needed anything in particular at the time, but if I had, there was no way to get it anyway.  Maybe I'm just a picky judge of character when it comes to industry service, but I couldn't help but compile my own list of "10 Easiest Ways To Annoy Your Customers". 

1.  Playing on your cell phone in plain view.
There's nothing worse than seeing a bartender or server playing on their phone while you are waiting for something.  I understand there are emergencies, but posting on your Facebook is not an emergency (depending on who you talk to)!  Listen, I have a mild obsession with my phone and I am not ashamed to admit it.  And maybe when I was bartending, I wasn't the best at following this rule, either.  But if you need to post on social media, text your friends, or check your email, just run off to the bathroom at least - doing it in sight of your customers is a no-no.

2.  Chatting it up with just one couple or person.
Look, I know there are some really great regulars out there.  I've had many in the past - and one of them is now my fiance!  But when you have a steady bar with many different people, you have to dedicate some of your attention to others.  It's easy to chat-up and wait on a few of your favorite customers, but truth is, some of your future regulars could be sitting right in front of you, waiting to be engaged as well.

3.  Disappearing.
There's a fine line here, but I'd rather have you refilling my water unnecessarily five times, then disappear completely and have you no where in sight when I want my check.  Although, find the line and work it evenly.

4.  Uninformed or lack of interest in finding out.
"I don't know, I've never had it," or "I don't eat [insert food here]," are among the top phrases that make me physically cringe.  So you haven't tasted the mashed potatoes?  Or, maybe you're a vegetarian and haven't had any of the meat dishes.  Either way, "I don't know" is never the answer.

5.  Crouching next to or having a seat at the table while taking orders.
This one is a toss-up for me, but I included it because of the "cilantro-esque" feeling people have about it.  You either love it, or you hate it.  Some people may like this sort of interaction, and it very much depends on the type of restaurant you are in.  If you are a server in a casual bar or mom-and-pop restaurant, crouching at the table may be perfectly fine.  It puts you on the customer's level and creates good eye-contact, allowing you to give the customer a fun experience with their server.  If you are working in a very fine-dining atmosphere, where there are white table cloths, three different types of forks, assorted glassware on the tables, and you're likely making over $25.00 tip on each table you turn, it's in your best interest to stand up straight and be professional.

6.  Blame the kitchen.
If you happen to get a customer who has worked in the industry, they know when it's your fault, and when it's the fault of the guys in the back.  As a customer, if my food is taking an inordinate amount of time, and you finally bring it out and tell me, "sorry the chefs are backed-up", but the plate itself is scalding hot, and the food on the plate is just luke-warm, it was likely (95% likely) sitting under the heat lamp while you were backed-up.  It's much better to be honest with your customers, most of them weren't born yesterday.  Not to mention, you are basically throwing your kitchen guys under the bus, which doesn't bode well for the establishment in general.

7.  Ask if you need change.
Ugh.  Cringe-worthy.  Pick up the check, cash it out, and bring back the change.  Whether they want the change or not, they can leave it when they want.  Asking someone if they want change feels like you are either assuming the rest is for you (which isn't cool), or you are letting your customer know you don't have time to deal with them anymore, and would rather just pick up the money and not come back.  Bringing back the change gives you the opportunity to "complete the sale", essentially, by thanking them, asking them to return to the establishment, and making sure their experience was a good one.

8.  Drinking behind the bar.
I've been to many, many places where drinking behind the bar is encouraged by the owners/managers.  I don't really agree.  I understand that some customers want to be able to buy their bartenders a shot or two during their time there.  However, the truth is, there's a lot of flaws to this system.  Not only would I not be comfortable with drunk bartenders handling my money, but if you can't handle your alcohol properly, you're going to cause problems with your customers, fellow bartenders, and ultimately, yourself.  
9.  Being visibly angry, or in a nasty mood.
Not everyone is going to be having a great day, everyday.  And that's okay.  But, there are negatives to working in the service industry, and this is one of them.  You don't work at a desk all day.  You don't work from home.  You work in front of people all day long, and unfortunately, this means you have to "suck it up, buttercup," some days, even when you wanna throat-punch everyone you see.
10.  Complaining/bitching with/about your coworkers.
This is a little obvious.  It's probably not the best practice to complain about the people you work with, the people you work for, or other customers.  A few words to really hit home why it's not appropriate to do this: They. Will. Find. Out.  While you think you're only talking to your best friend at work, chances are someone can hear you - whether it be your coworkers or your customers.  Once people find out you are a big-mouth, you'll start to have problems with your fellow staff members, and when your boss finds out you were complaining about his establishment or the way he runs things, you're going to have way bigger problems then people thinking you can't be trusted.

What are some things that you can add to the list?