Not too long ago I saw on Facebook that a bar near my apartment, called The Silver Ballroom, was having a salsa and guacamole competition. I decided to enter. This is about that, and not at the same time.
All of us eat food. (Hopefully, several times a day!) How many of us take the time to actually pay attention to what we are eating?
I pretty much always taste food I am cooking if I can. At work that is not always possible, but I generally get the help I need. When I make a dish the first time I will follow the recipe fairly closely (unless something just doesn’t make sense to me), and the next time I make adjustments as I see fit. Hopefully, you do something somewhat similar when you’re cooking for yourself.
I decided to enter the contest, more or less on a whim. I decided Thursday night about midnight that I would enter the contest that took place on the following Tuesday. Not a lot of time. Obviously, I had recipes that I felt fairly comfortable with, and figured they would be a good start. If I’m entering a contest like this I want to win! So, I realized that I needed to really make sure that I got my recipes right. (To tell the truth, for my salsa and guacamole there is no actual recipe, more of a concept. I just make them, and taste as I go.)
I wasn’t going to write something down, because then I would be following something that constrains me in these, and I didn’t feel like that would be the right way to go. So, I tried to really pay attention to the flavors in each of the dips. I did decide to take all of the salsa ingredients outside and put them on the grill rather than roasting them in the oven. I figured the charring on the pepper skins and tomatoes skins would give me more depth of flavor, and then since I was making some turkey burgers for dinner, and the grill was lit… Once everything was pureed I added the lime juice and salt and pepper and tasted it. Now, really pay attention… Is there enough salt? Bell pepper? Garlic? Jalapeno? etc., and I tried to really take my time tasting, adjusting until I really felt that I had it exactly how I wanted.
When I made the guacamole I did the same thing. I tried to be very precise with my cuts for each of the ingredients to get them exactly the way I wanted them. When you’re using a knife, you can actually impact the flavor of a dish by cutting things inconsistently. Imagine taking a bite of something only to find a large piece of raw garlic… Probably not what you wanted to go for. And it will certainly affect the flavor of that bite. Of course, if people are judging your food on a single bite, you probably just lost a vote…
Obviously, I was trying to get the flavors just right for the contest, but really we can extend this to almost any time we are cooking or eating. If you are already gluten-free you’re used to paying attention to labels on EVERYTHING you buy at the grocery store, right? And while that is a very good thing, there is more that you can do. Take a little time and when you taste the food you’re cooking pay attention to what you’re actually experiencing. Food is far more than taste and smell. Really, all of our senses go into cooking and eating. Look at the food, and notice the colors and textures. Do you hear anything? Maybe it is sizzling as you cook it… Touch it! If you’ve ever handled meat that has gone bad (yuck!) you’ll know that it feels different, as well as smelling different! Of course, that is not all you can tell by touching your food. In short, pay as much attention to the food you’re eating, when you’re cooking it as when you buy it. Take the time and really experience it. That was the challenge I gave myself. It didn’t really add a lot of time to the prep, but it may have made a difference in the end result.
When all of the salsa and guacamole had been eaten, and the votes were counted it turned out that I took first place in the guacamole and second in the salsa! It was a lot of fun to try something that was somewhat out of my comfort zone like this, and give myself a challenge. Of course, that means next year I will have to defend my title I suppose!
The other night Amy and I were trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Neither of us had anything thawed, and didn’t really feel like a big meal, but we both wanted something tasty. What we did have was a can of chickpeas(for some reason we thought they were actually cannelini beans until she actually got them out of her pantry), some pasta, a couple of roma tomatoes, fresh spinach, half of a red onion, some garlic, a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we only needed part of. This is actually a really simple thing to put together, and will get you a really quick and tasty dinner in under a half hour.
The first thing is to cook the pasta. Obviously, you need to follow the recommendations on the package since gluten-free pastas vary in cooking times. Once it is cooked drain it, and rinse it in cold water to cool it. Toss it in a little olive oil, and set it aside for now.
Next, we’ll make our “sauce.” Dice the tomato. Half inch cubes should be fine. Mince a few cloves of garlic. We used about four, but if you really like garlic use as much as you want. Dice half of a red onion. To that add white wine and olive oil to just cover everything. A fifty-fifty mix will work well, but it doesn’t need to be exact.
Open the can of chickpeas, drain, and rinse them. Get a medium sized skillet hot over medium heat, and add a small amount of oil. When the oil is hot add the chickpeas. Saute them for a minute or so to get them hot. Next, add the tomato mixture (There is no rule saying how much to add so go with what looks good to you.), and keep things moving in the pan. Add the spinach to the pan, and cook until it has wilted. You may be surprised at how little spinach it looks like once it is wilted! You’ll eventually get it up to a boil. Once the liquid comes up to a boil add the pasta, and saute everything until everything is hot.
Obviously, this kind of thing gives you lots of room to improvise, and make it your own. In this case, it was vegan as well as being gluten-free. Whatever it little category you want to cram it into, it was very tasty, very quick, and very easy!
I make a LOT of soup. Soup is especially great when the weather is less than warm. Like now, for instance. There is snow on the ground, although the temperatures are finally above freezing during the day. Sounds like perfect weather for soup, doesn’t it? I’ve been kind of avoiding writing about certain kinds of soups. What I mean is that I haven’t written about soups that are thickened. There are quite a few ways to thicken soups. You can use a slurry, a roux, cream can give body, eggs can give body as well(They are a little hard to hold for long though.), and sometimes the ingredients of your soup will cause it to thicken, potato, and bean soups do this fairly well. What generally gives us trouble is when a soup is thickened with a roux. Generally, a roux is equal parts flour and butter. It doesn’t have to be wheat flour though, and in this case we’re going to take advantage of that fact.
What we’re going to be making is called a velouté. That translates as velvety, or smooth on the palate. The velouté is one of the five mother sauces. In this case it’s not really a sauce so much as the base for our soup. To make it into a soup we’ll be adding some different flavors, and more ingredients. When I make this soup I generally go for a Cajun flavor. I looked for a blackened seasoning, but couldn’t really find one I was comfortable with. I made my own. I had everything I needed, although I would have added a few other things if I had them.
2 TBSP paprika
1 TBSP cayenne
1/2 TBSP kosher salt
1 TBSP thyme
1 TBSP black pepper
1/2 TBSP oregano
Blackened seasoning (see above)
1 4oz package of wild rice (prepared according to the directions)
4 chicken breasts cubed, seasoned lightly with blackened seasoning, and cooked
1 large onion diced
2 carrots diced
4 celery sticks diced
2 quarts low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 quarts water
2 sticks butter
8oz (weight) flour or starch of your choice (I used potato starch)
salt and pepper as needed
Wild rice is not actually rice, but it is gluten-free and very tasty. Wild rice is actually an aquatic grass. It is also very easy to cook, but takes a little bit of time. I found a 4oz package of it. Bring 2 cups of water and 1/4 tsp salt to a boil. Stir in rice, bring it back to a boil, and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes. By that time most of the water will be absorbed, and the wild rice will be tender. Drain any liquid, and cool in the fridge until you’re ready for it.
Next we want to move on to the chicken. I had four breasts which I cubed into small pieces, tossed with some of the blackened seasoning, and cooked in the oven for about 10 minutes. Later, I chopped them up a bit so that they would be small enough to fit on a spoon easily. Set this aside in the fridge as well.
Next up, mirepoix. You should have 50% onions, and 25% each celery and carrots. You’ll need about 2 cups total. Figure one large onion, three or four celery sticks, two or three carrots. This should all be a nice medium dice. Having everything exactly the same is not super important, but it helps to be close. That way you don’t get a piece of raw onion in a bit with nicely cooked onions. Whenever you’re cooking you should always try to cut things in similar sizes. Since food is cooking together if your onions are all the same size they will all be about the same doneness. Again, put all of this in the fridge, and we’ll get to it in a bit.
If you’re wondering, breaking a project down into manageable steps is a big part of getting things done in a restaurant kitchen. I can have all of these containers on a tray in a cooler, and add things as I do them. Then if I have to stop I can step away, do what I need to, and come right back to my soup when I have a few minutes. The wild rice takes the most time to cook, so you can really just set a timer, and walk away to do something else.
Our next step is to get the broth heated up. Two quarts of chicken stock, and two quarts of water, plus a couple of bay leaves. In a large pot, and bring it up to a boil. This will take some time. You have everything else ready, right?
Now, what we’ve got to do is make our roux. In this case I used potato starch. I was expecting the potato starch to thicken more than it did. I ended up making a slurry of potato starch and water to get the consistency that I was hoping for. A roux made with wheat flour thickens at a nice one pound per gallon rate. Other starches, and flours will have different thickening abilities. You’ll have to play with them a bit. Generally a starch like potato or corn will thicken more than flour. Also if you’re using a wheat flour roux the darker the roux the less it will thicken. You will get more flavor from a darker roux though. Gluten-free roux will scorch before it will brown, so I wouldn’t try.
Since we’ve got a gallon of liquid on the stove to thicken, and the amount of roux we’re going to be needing is a pound (apparently) start by melting half a pound of butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Once it is fully melted, add a half pound of your flour or starch(Yes, you should weigh your flour. This goes for you gluten eating folk as well.). Whisk it into the melted butter. (Do NOT use your non-stick skillet for this.) You want to keep stirring the roux. You’re cooking the flour, but don’t want it to burn. When it is ready it will have a nice nutty smell. At that point season your roux with the blackened seasoning you made earlier. You’re not trying to make this soup super spicy, just a little. At work since I can’t taste the soup I go by smell when I season the roux. When I can smell the spices I know I am good. Remember, you’re going to be putting this into a gallon of liquid with vegetables, rice, and chicken. Cooking the spices helps the flavors develop, but if you end up a little mild you can adjust, after the fact. Next, pour in the mirepoix, and sweat the vegetables in the roux. You’re looking for the onions to start to get tender. They will simmer for a bit so they don’t have to get fully cooked at this point, but you do want to get them started. Once the onions are starting to get tender set the roux aside, and let it cool.
Once your liquid comes to a boil scoop a bit of the cooled roux mixture onto your whisk, and mix it in a bit at a time. As you do you’ll notice that the soup starts to thicken up, and you’ll see that the liquid will cloud up a bit. If you’re using wheat flour it will look almost creamy, and I would imagine that if I had made my roux from the usual flour blend that I use it would look creamy as well. Hopefully, you get a nice velvety consistency from your roux. If you decide you would like a little thicker soup (like I did) make a slurry of your starch and water, and whisk that in slowly. Whisking will prevent lumps of whatever thickener you have decided to use.
At this point simply add the cooked chicken and the cooked rice to the thickened soup. Bring it back up to a boil, and turn it down to a simmer. Taste your soup, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, and maybe a bit more of your blackened seasoning if you want it! Let your soup simmer for about 20 minutes or so. If you want your soup to be a bit richer you could add cream while it simmers. Serve, and enjoy.
The cool part of this soup is that you now have a basis for making lots of other soups. Shrimp bisque, for example, is only a few adjustments away. You could even use a velouté asthe basis for making New England Clam Chowder, and I know you’ve missed that one!
Hope you enjoy your soup!
I’ve been thinking about this blog a bit, and I have realized that it doesn’t really represent me all that well. Sure, I cook. What else do you know about me? Do you know why Amy, and my mom both think I’m out of my mind?
So in essence, what I plan to do is to let you in a little more. I’m going to show you places I go, things I do. I’ll still be cooking for you, but from time-to-time you’ll get a glimpse of what my life is like. Life is about so much more than the time we spend at the stove (or doing dishes), its about how we live, and sharing with people what we can. You might see me at a bar seeing some live music, or out for dinner, or perhaps you might even get to see me playing disc golf. (I spend enough time doing it, I might as well let you see it.) You might get a couple of these posts, since I have some plans for this weekend.
In the not to distant future, you will hopefully get some video of me cooking, and whatever other adventures I have. Thanks to Jessie at Savory-bites I will be getting a new video camera to play with. She does some really cool stuff, and I have plans to tackle at least one of her recipes. Of course I will have to adapt it to be gluten-free, but it should taste great!
That is it for now, hopefully you had a safe and enjoyable New Years, and are ready to have a fantastic 2011. I think there are big things in store for us.
Since I am a cook, and we are open for Thanksgiving, I work. After, I go to my mom’s for dinner. We have a pretty basic Thanksgiving dinner. Of course I am also on a gluten-free diet, which complicates things a bit. Amy’s family has Thanksgiving dinner while I am at work, and she comes to our dinner late. It works out well enough. I don’t get to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner of my own, but I try to cook something that feels nice and fall-like. This year I decided to take a shot at gluten-free butternut squash ravioli, and a sage beurre blanc. This was the second time I have made pasta, and the first time gluten-free.
The first thing I did was start with the filling for my ravioli.
1 small butternut squash cut into cubes, and seeded
2 thin slices of guanciale(I used less than a slice of bacon. Use pancetta if you don’t have guanciale.) finely diced (optional)
1/2 small onion, finely dice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 TBSP herbes de provence
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup shredded asiago cheese
Start with the squash. Cut off the top and the bottom, then cut the neck off. Cut the neck into one inch cubes, and quarter the bottom, seed it, and cut into one inch cubes. Toss with a little oil, and salt and pepper, and roast it until it is softened and brown. Let it cool for a few minutes, and pull the skins off. This will be easy.Next I heated a skillet, and added a little oil, and then the guanciale to render it. Once it had started to brown a bit I added the garlic and onion. Once the onion had become a bit transparent I added the squash, and herbes de provence, and a little bit of salt. Next I transfered everything to my food processor, and pureed it in batches. I added part of the asiago with each batch. Once I was done I put this in the fridge to cool before I filled the ravioli. If you want to make this vegetarian the only change you would have to make is skip the guanciale, and just saute the onions and garlic in a little oil.
Pasta is a fairly simple thing. With wheat flour it can be as simple as flour, eggs and salt. The time I made lasagna noodles by hand that is what I did. With gluten-free flours it is a bit more involved, but only because you need xanthan gum! I used the four flour bean mix from the Gluten-Free Gourmet by Bette Hagman, but I would imagine any good flour blend would work well. This is a variation of her bean pasta recipe. It worked well. In the case of gluten-free pasta we have an advantage. We don’t have to spend a long time kneading to develop gluten, and the dough doesn’t have to rest before it can be worked, and we also don’t have to worry about overworking the gluten.
1 cup flour
2 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 TBSP oil
2 large eggs
That is all it takes. Combine the dry ingredients, whisk the eggs and oil together, and combine, and mix until a ball forms. I had to add a little water to make it all come together, but it was maybe a tablespoon. Kneed for a few minutes on a counter dusted with cornstarch, or you can do what I did. I worked on a piece of parchment, and then rolled it out between a second piece. This allowed me to cut down on the mess in my small kitchen! If you have a pasta maker you could use that, a rolling pin would work well, and if all else fails, improvise! An empty wine bottle would work just fine. I rolled my dough out as thin as I thought I needed it. (I was a little off! Oops, next time I do this they will be a bit thinner!)Add a small amount of filling to the center of the ravioli. In the picture above I have the right amount of filling. When you are ready to top the ravioli with the top dough a small amount of watter along the edge will help them stick together. Pinch the edges together, and set aside. Make sure you have a pot of boiling, salted water ready.
Now, we need to make the sauce. Beurre blanc is literally white butter. It is a simple sauce, but brings a lot of flavor! Start with white wine, and cider vinegar, in equal amounts. I started with 1/2 cup total, and a tablespoon of finely diced onion (shallots would be more traditional, but this worked fine.) and a little fresh ground pepper. Reduce the liquid au sec, add a half dozen torn up leaves of fresh sage, and then whisk in room temperature butter. I used a bit less butter than would traditionally be used. I used a quarter pound of butter, to make a lighter sauce rather than the half pound that should have been used in a traditional beurre blanc. It was still a nice sauce, and tasted great. While you are working on the sauce, boil your pasta for about 7 minutes, and serve hot, topped with the sage beurre blanc! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Obviously I’m going to be writing about soup, again. Remember what I said last time about leftovers? Well, this one is exactly what you need to get rid of all those random bits of leftover veggies. Seriously, it almost makes no difference what it is. What I’m talking about is minestrone. Its a classic Italian soup. Minestrone means big soup, and it is certainly big on flavor. There is no standard recipe, and varies from family to family. Traditionally, it will have beans, but they are not a requirement. Today I made a lot of minestrone. This soup can very easily be made vegetarian or even vegan, depending on what you have around the house, and what you want to put in. This is a vegetable soup, but it doesn’t have to be a vegetarian soup. Through history meat wasn’t eaten as much as it is now, but it was eaten, and probably by almost everyone. In a soup like this pancetta is used to flavor the soup, but it is a minor component in the actual ingredients of the soup. If you don’t eat meat, leave it out.
2 TBSP olive oil
1/4 inch thick slice pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 carrot medium dice
1 stick of celery, medium dice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBSP crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 cup white wine
1 bay leaf
1 TBSP herbes de provence
Now, once you get to this point you’ll want to just eat it, but don’t! This is kind of the base of the soup, so stick with it!
So, what do you have in the fridge?
Green beans? Corn? Gluten-free pasta? Kohlrabi? Broccoli? Cauliflower? Kale? Spinach? Zucchini? Squash? A can of canellini beans?
You’re also going to need some chicken stock or vegetable stock.
Ok, so lets get started. You have everything cut up? In a large pot, heat your oil, and then add the pancetta if you’re using it. With the pancetta you just want to render it over medium heat, until it is browned but not crisp. Next, add the onions, carrots, celery, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Add a little salt, and sweat this over medium heat until the onions have started to turn clear.
Add the tomatoes, mix them in, and add the wine, and herbs. Add the stock, bring it up to a boil, and then depending on what veggies you have to put in the soup start adding them. You’ll want to make sure that you add things that will take longest to cook earliest. As you simmer the soup add things, keeping in mind how long they will take to cook. The last thing I would add would be something like beans or pasta. Beans and pasta taste great, but they tend to soak up liquid, and swell up. They can very easily take over a pot of soup so add way less than you think you should!
That is really all it takes to make great minestrone. No recipe at all, just go, and cook it. Now, for the funny part… I actually adapted this from a cookbook! Henry Hill wrote a cookbook based on his life, and its called the Wiseguy’s Cookbook. If you are a fan of Italian food, as well as the movie Goodfellas you’ll want to get a copy of this book. There are lots of recipes, and its got some pretty interesting stories as well. Not all of them are gluten-free, but a lot of them can be made gluten-free with a little playing around.
Well, now, for a quick bit of trivia? What does Doozy refer to? Give up? Dusenburg were at the time the most expensive, fastest, most powerful and most advanced American built cars. Thus the expression, “Its a Duesy.” Why I know this is a good question, and I have no answer. Why I titled this post this way, well… let’s just say, “Its a doozy.”
I’ll start by giving you the plan. Use the CIA’s gluten-free baking book, and adapt to what I have on hand to make the focaccia recipe.
Here’s what is in the CIA’s book:
1 packet instant yeast
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups Flour blend #1 (their weakest blend)
1/2 cup Flour blend #3 (medium strength)
1 1/4 cup sparkling water (room temp)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 tsp white vinegar
olive oil and coarse salt for garnish
As it stands, right now I have broken my mixer. The motor literally was smoking! So I continued mixing it by hand to the best of my ability. It proofed, but didn’t look like it did much to be honest. It is now in the oven. We shall see what happens.
So, what I did as far as the recipe goes
1 packet of yeast
1 1/2 tsp herbes de provence
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups Bob’s Red Mill AP Baking Flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
3 tsp xanthan gum
1 1/4 cup sparkling water
1/3 cup canola oil
I would have added the vinegar because I was looking at the recipe while mixing, and suddenly I smelled ozone, then smoke, and the mixer stopped dead. I grabbed a spatula, and started mixing by hand as well as I could. I was a bit nonplussed, but decided to continue. So I put it in the pan I had chosen for this particular adventure (an old skillet I have), and let it proof for about 35 minutes. Right now, it is in the oven. It smells good, but I’m a bit dubious at the moment.
It just came out of the oven, and since I don’t have any olive oil at the moment I used a little bit of the smoked Extra Virgin rapeseed oil I have and a little kosher salt sprinkled on top. What does it taste like? I have no idea right now. My plan is to let it cool fully overnight, and see what it does in the morning. Of course, right now I’m thinking about new mixers. I’ve hated the one I had, and now that it has finally bit the dust I can justify a new one that will hopefully be able to stand up to what I am trying to do! So, this didn’t go exactly as I had envisioned, with any luck it will still be tasty!
I decided I would take a shot at eating a piece of the bread. I should have thrown it like a frisbee into my neighbors yard. You could tell that there was almost no leavening going on, which may have been because it wasn’t fully mixed, but also because the buckwheat was cold and didn’t let the yeast really do anything. Or the yeast may have been dead, that was an old packet of yeast. I’ll try it again, but for now I need to find a new mixer! It didn’t taste bad, but it is just kind of a slab of cooked dough.
As the temperature starts to drop, and I no longer have to contend with the temperatures in my apartment soaring when I turn the oven on for more than a few minutes I start to think about baking. Baking is not something I do a lot of, but I know how. I’ve even been fairly successful at it, but I don’t know that I will ever really call myself a baker. I’m not sure why. I was always very good at science in school, but they exacting nature of baking has just never been something I have been concerned about. Since going gluten-free, and abandoning the easy and cheap availability of breads, cookies, cakes, brownies, etc., I have started to become more interested.
Between my personal life and my professional life I straddle two worlds. Personally, there is nothing in my home that includes any gluten whatsoever. Professionally, however, I am a line cook in a club. My job is to prepare whatever I am asked following any recipe that is put in front of me, and in certain situations create dishes (This tends to be soups mostly, in my case.). This means at work I am making soups that are thickened with roux, dredging things in flour, and from time to time I even bake things. All of this involves flour, and has in some ways made the transition to gluten-free baking more difficult. Although it is a good thing to understand what is going on from the other side so to speak I find it harder to wrap my head around the maze of flours that are required in gluten-free baking. Of the various cookbooks I have, each has at least one flour blend unique to that book. The CIA book I have is great, but has five flour blends. Those five are designed to give various levels of protein to approximate various types of (wheat)flours. Those blends are then used in various combinations! It is all a bit too much.
Because I kind of crave the simplicity of using one type of flour I have considered working on some things from the Babycakes cookbook. It uses Bob’s Red Mill AP Flour. This is a bit problematic as well. It is all vegan(but not all gluten-free), and this means that I am either going to go on a quest for interesting items like coconut oil, agave nectar, and a few others, or I will be working out how to sub plain white sugar for evaporated cane juice.
I guess I am going to have to do a bit of truly experimental baking. What I’m going to try (to start with at least) is to use the recipes from the CIA book, which seems to work more along the lines of a normal baking book, but with the Bob’s Red Mill Flour. Essentially, I am going to try to cut through some of the confusion!
There are a few hurdles I have to figure out how to clear, and I’m sure that there will be mistakes along the way, but hopefully none will be so horrible that I won’t even be able to eat them! I’m pretty sure I will have a pretty good idea if this is going to fly or not after a few attempts. Wanna watch?
I guess I have mentioned that I am a cook in a restaurant. Technically, a private club, but as part of the day to day operations we are a restaurant. This puts me in a unique situation. I get to see life on both sides of the kitchen door. At work I deal with special requests, dietary restrictions, allergy issues, people who don’t know the difference between medium rare and well done when they order a steak, and so on. When I go out to eat, I am the dietary restriction. I know that in the kitchen there is a cook who is busting his ass to make the dish the way the chef/kitchen manager/corporate office tells him is the correct way every time he puts it in the window as quickly as humanly possible. I know full well how difficult his job can be, and I don’t really want to make it more difficult. I tend to go to the same places when I go out because I know that they are good at dealing with my particular issues. Neither side in this situation is really in an enviable position though.
The side we are at least theoretically familiar with is the dining room side. We do our best to communicate clearly, and effectively what our needs are, and that we are not on some fad diet. We also have to remember that everyone in the place (hopefully) does want us to have a positive experience while we are there, so that we will come back. At the same time they are working very hard, and doing a job that involves a lot of work that we may not even be aware of until somebody doesn’t pull their weight and the cracks start to show. Generally, if we are friendly and make our situation known, clearly, and without hysterics there will hopefully be no problems. Right? We are our own best advocate. Don’t be afraid to speak up if there is something wrong. I’ve emailed places in advance to ask questions so that in the crush of a lunch or dinner rush I don’t have to worry about asking the stressed out manager if they have a dedicated fryer for french fries or whatever. This is the part we have at least nominal control over.
Where things get a bit murky is in the kitchen. Again, no one is out to hurt anyone. Things happen quickly in a kitchen, and there is just not always a lot of time to think about X or Y, much less the gluten-free dish on table 27. My goal on the line is not to think. Too much time thinking leads to mistakes, and slows things down. As checks come into the kitchen via the little printer on my station I have to quickly assess what dishes I have to make, if they are substituting something/leaving off sauce/gluten-free/allergic to olive oil/no bacon/etc., temps on steaks, what I need to start first, what I already have working, what can I just add to and make a second order. I also have to know what I can wait to start, what the grill has going that will slow down a check, and if the pantry station is buried by toasted club sandwiches. But I can’t really THINK about any of this. I can glance over and see the eight checks hanging on pantry, and see a burger that just got put on the grill. While all of this is going on I am also trying to keep track of how many orders I have on my station of each particular item, and hopefully I know what I have backup of too.
Now, to compound what is probably already a daunting task to a lot of people there is the time issue. There is a lot I can be doing at once. I have eight burners that each put out more BTU(40,000/burner) than your whole stove(7,000/burner)! Two ovens that are set at 500F, and a convection oven set at 425F. Two steamers, and a salamander broiler. I do have to keep track of each item though! Everyone that placed an order wants to eat in a timely fashion. The time frame I have is 12 minutes to get an order in the window. Some things are easy to do, and other things are damn near impossible. I just can’t get a filet mignon well done in 12 minutes.
Keep in mind that you are not the only guest in the house, and that your order requires a serious break in the flow of the station. If you order a steak from me and need it to be gluten-free I need to stop what I am doing, wash my hands. Clean my cutting board, my knife, get a fresh container to season your steak in, heat a skillet for your steak, get a clean skillet for your asparagus, cut them, season them. Start your potatoes. Get clean tongs to handle your steak with. In other words, stop everything, clean everything, make your dish, and make sure to handle only your food with the tongs and spatula that I just got. If it is not that busy, no big deal. If I am already in the weeds, I’m screwed.
Its not so much that I can’t do this, don’t want to do this, or anything else. It is that my goal on the line is not to have to give even a thought to what I have to do when I get a check. If your server was less clear about your special order than they should have been and I have to ask the chef, who has to track them down to get the answer, and then come and tell me, or worse yet the server has to take the extra step to ask you at the table, this slows things down. A LOT! Now I’m thinking, and that is when I start wondering. How long has that tilapia been in the oven? Do I have everything ready to plate it? What about the noodle pot? Do I have all of the sauces ready? Did I miss anything on a check? Did I forget to pull a check that I finished? How many steaks should I have “all day”? In other words, “What am I about to fuck up?”
I’m sure you’re reading this, and wondering what my point is. It is this, because of the way that a kitchen works sometimes mistakes will be made. I couldn’t even guess the number of times I put mayo on a sandwich that was ordered without it. Not because I didn’t care, but because I’m moving as quickly as possible, and you develop habits. The habits help you work faster. When you don’t have to think about what is in a particular dish, you can just make it. A big part of this is how you would set up your station. Each item has a set of ingredients that goes into it. You want to group them together in some sort of logical order. If there is an overlap between dishes, put the overlap so that it can be part of both groups. Again, as little thought as possible when you are working.
Am I telling you to avoid eating out? No, just know that you are taking a risk, but that there is no one that wants to make you sick. Mistakes will be made, but don’t hesitate to talk to the manager when something even looks strange. I was at an Italian restaurant with a good gluten-free menu, and found a noodle that looked different. I called the manager over, and told him I had ordered gluten-free, and showed him the odd noodle I found. He apologized, pointed out that it is possible that the noodle got cut incorrectly, took my dish, and told us not to worry about the check, he would take care of it. He actually took care of both of our dinners. As it turns out, I didn’t get sick, but I was very concerned when I saw a strangely shaped noodle in my dish that should have had penne. We have to be our own advocates. Generally, as long as you are clear about what you need people will do what they can to help you. If I am unfamiliar with a restaurant I will generally call ahead, and ask to talk to a manager. This can help avoid surprises on everyones part. If you know that you really can’t eat someplace then you won’t try. If they understand the situation, and are able to take care of you most places will do that.
I’ve been playing around with pasta a bit lately. As any of us who have been gluten-free for any length of time have surely noticed, most of the pasta sucks. It generally tastes fine, not really like what we were used to, but good enough. It tends to just have a strange texture. Rice is the worst because it is just gritty. Corn just never ends up feeling right.
The other day I ended up at the grocery store, again, and found pasta made from quinoa. Quinoa is an ancient grain originally grown in the Andean mountains, and is highly nutritious. It is a complete protein, which is a very good thing for all you vegetarians! Apparently it also makes fantastic pasta! It is a blend of corn and quinoa, and tastes pretty good, and can actually be cooked al dente, just like the pasta we all miss!
Now, Amy is not really big into sausage, or pork, or beef. I love sausages, and generally the porkier the better! However, since she said she would give them a shot I bought some turkey salsiccia. They are Jeanie-O brand, and actually not too bad. I started by cooking a couple of the sausages. (I was making dinner as well as my lunch for tomorrow.) Then started the pasta. I always cook pasta according to the directions on the box. Cooking time varies by grain as well as shape. I only had the shells so that is what I went with.
Next I split the sausages down the middle, and put them in the skillet with some sauce. I had a jar of cabernet marinara. It is very tasty with just a hint of wine flavor, it’s there, but not overwhelming. I always try to get the sauce ready first, because you don’t want your pasta to wait for the sauce getting cold and mushy. The sauce had thickened a bit so before I drained the pasta I added a splash of the pasta water to the marinara. Then drained the pasta, poured the pasta into the skillet with the sauce, and tossed a bit to get everything sauced. Then onto a plate, a little cheese, and mangia!
Hope you like it!