Monthly Archives: January 2011

Just Call Me Betty

I’m turning into Betty Draper for the night.  Or at least the next two hours.

 

 

Off to a Mad Men party!  Maybe there will be some classic 1960s appetizers that I can bring back recipes for.  Let’s hope!

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Hospitality 101 Lesson

Tonight, I will give you a hospitality 101 lesson. 

A few hours ago, I discussed with some friends the fact that most people have a negative bias, meaning that they tend to remember negative things more frequently and vividly than they do positive things.  It is basic human nature, and I bet on average, you probably remember the bad parts of a conversation or a workday more than the good parts.  I’m just as guilty at this as anyone at times…just ask my parents.  🙂

In the hospitality world, there is a constant battle to stave off this negativity bias because it is the foundation for a scary “statistic” of sorts called The Rule of Ten.  The rule states that each single unsatisfied customer will tell ten of her friends, family members, or acquaintances about her negative experience.  Those ten people will then turn around and tell another ten people each, thereby magnifying this person’s bad experience and leading to a huge loss in potential business.  Scary stuff.

I’ve seen the negativity bias and Rule of Ten multiple times in different work and personal scenarios.  I can recall a retired couple who were on a weekend getaway in the mountains.  They loved every second of their escape; they hiked, enjoyed the views, drank local wines.  Unfortunately, when it was time to check out there were mistakes on their bill and it took over 20 minutes to refund their overcharged credit card.  In a matter of minutes, all the good experiences the couple partook in the previous two days vanished and all they could focus on was being overcharged.  ??Unfortunately, I know that’s probably what they remember most from that trip.  As the unlucky front guest agent that day, I can tell you that it’s not fun to be the messenger of the moment that causes the negativity bias to fall into play. 

Which is why it’s so nice to hear about how you did just the opposite and gave someone a positive bias, if only for a day.

Yesterday, a somewhat regular customer ate lunch with my boss to discuss an upcoming event for an organization of which she is a member.  I stopped by their table to say hello, and she began to recall a time a couple months ago when I surprised her with a plate of chocolate chip muffins and cookies after she divulged to me that she had bombed a job interview.  I remember that day because she was having a glass of wine at the hotel bar, and I could just tell that she was depressed in the way people are when things don’t go as expected.  When she explained that she performed poorly in a big interview, I thought that a little treat would help get her mind off of things.  So I left the bar, bothered the cooks for some chocolate, and delivered the sweets to her and her friends.  It was a tiny thing that took me three minutes to do, and yet she remembered it clearly months later.  I’m sure she recalls the interview, too, but at least she has a happy memory from that day that stands out just as vividly as the initial cause of her disappointment. 

Those types of experiences really do make you feel good.  It’s really not that hard to make someone’s day, and  I think it’s a good daily goal to have.  Now if only the hospitality books could be re-written to discuss a new Rule of Ten that’s based on a positive bias….

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Gone Berserk

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that food prices for basic necessities like wheat, eggs and meat are on the rise.  You may have already seen the effects of this in your grocery store. Well yesterday, after shopping for bananas (really, that’s all I was there for) I thought of a great job position that grocery store operators should create. First, the story…

In my local Kroger grocery store, certain produce items like spinach and bagged salads that are close to expiring tend to go on a “Manager’s Special” and be offered at 50% of the original price. I eat lots of veggies and LOVE when I find something that I want in good condition on sale. It’s almost a game — these items are highly coveted by constant shoppers like myself, so it’s rewarding when you are one of the lucky people that gets to snatch up a sale item.  Or maybe that’s just how I feel about it.

Anyway, I wandered over to this section yesterday merely to browse and saw that oyster mushrooms were on sale.  As I looked them over, a European woman approached me and began to promulgate about how great mushrooms are and what an extraordinary deal it was to find an 8oz. pack on sale for $1.89 when the same size package normally costs $5.00 at Whole Foods.  She was elated because her son is “berserk” about mushrooms and could not wait to show him the six (two of which were 16oz.) packages she picked up.

She then went on to describe her favorite preparation method: simply sliced and sauteed in a half cup of white wine with salt, pepper, and a healthy dollop of sour cream that you add at the end until slightly melted.  “Just warm it, you don’t want it to curdle,” she explained.

When I asked about adding garlic to the pan, she said that she never does because she enjoys the taste of mushrooms too much and does not want garlic to overpower them.  This was a novel concept to me as I love garlic and add it to almost everything I make.

I was entranced by this woman and how she depicted this simple but beautiful recipe. In the time it took for her to describe how her son goes berserk for golden-cooked mushrooms and divulge that the best “cheap” white wine was on sale for $3.99 just three aisles over, I made up my mind to buy those mushrooms.  And the wine.  How could I not after she described it to be one of the best whites she’s had in a long time, and one that she finds just as easy to help make dinner as well as drink with dinner?

I was an absolute sucker for this woman’s stories, and I made her mushroom recipe to the best that I could last night.  I have to say that she was right on.  If you enjoy the actual taste of mushrooms, you will love this recipe. Simple, rich, and healthy all at once. I really don’t think I had previously cooked mushrooms just to serve as mushrooms.  Usually I include them as an ingredient in a main dish.  But this recipe lets you savor and appreciate them just as they are.

I doubt that Kroger planted this woman by the sale produce items, but think about how they could off-set their rising food costs by hiring people like her to scope out people like me that enjoy being schlepped into a good recipe!  Having a “secret buyer” of sorts (similar to a secret shopper) could help stores cycle through their inventory and reduce their waste.  The nerd is coming out in me, but really, Kroger should look into that.

I really hope to see this woman again in the store. But until then, the least I can do is share this recipe.

 

Berserk Mushrooms
Serves 2 to 3


8oz. sliced white or oyster mushrooms
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine, such as chardonnay
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sour cream

1. Slice mushrooms thinly (about 1/4″ thickness).
2. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and cook for 1 minute.  Add salt and pepper, cook for 1 more minute.
3. Add wine to pan.  Allow liquid to start boiling and then reduce heat to low to medium-low.  Cook until mushrooms are fragrant and slightly browned (about 3 – 4 minutes).
4. Add sour cream to pan and allow to liquify a little.  Stir to combine.  Keep heat low so the cream does not curdle.
5. Enjoy with a side of chardonnay.

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Two Day Ache

I’ve had a pretty awesome stomachache for the past two days.  And by awesome, I mean painful.

Is it the stomach flu?  No….knock on wood!

Did I enjoy a little too much vino on Saturday?  Nope, don’t think so.

Instead, I blame this:

Triple Chocolate Layer Cake with Kahlua Buttercream and Chocolate Ganache.  I die.

 

And this:

Handmade Gourmet Chocolates (from www.ChocolateSmiles.com). 
Right after I took this, I decided the dark chocolate Oreo needed to be eaten, stat.

 

All I can say is thank God birthdays don’t come more than once a year.  I’m typically a very healthy eater, but something about my birthday always makes my sweet tooth come out like a lion from a cage.  It seems to be especially bad this year though, and I’m now the proud owner of a chronic unhappy tummy.  Even so, I can’t stop eating them, and I’m ok with that.

In case you don’t like looking at sweets that you can’t grab through the computer screen, here’s another pizza recipe to get you by…

Zucchini White Pizza
Adapted from Eat, Live, Run

1 ball of store-bought pizza dough
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium zucchinis
1 cup mozzarella cheese
3 Tbsp. pesto sauce
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

1.  Preheat oven to 450 deg. F.
2.  Shred zucchinis using a regular cheese grater.  Squeeze zucchini shreds in small batches over the sink to drain out any water, and place all shreds in a medium bowl.
3.  Add mozzarella cheese to the zucchini and set aside.
4.  In a small bowl, stir together ricotta, garlic, salt, and cayenne.  A little bit of cayenne is all you need in this!
5.  Roll out dough into a rectangle shape on a floured surface (remember to let it sit at room temperature for 20 minutes first).  Transfer dough to a cookie sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.
6.  Spread ricotta mixture over the dough.
7.  Top with zucchini and mozzarella mixture.
8.  Drizzle pesto sauce over pizza and add a little more cayenne if desired.
9.  Reduce oven to 425 deg. F and bake for 12 to 15 minutes until crust is golden and cheese has melted.

Whew, that took a bit of time and effort to write.  Gotta go now….ganache is calling my name. 

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Pizza Party 101

Thanks again for the birthday wishes!  I had a great day and night celebrating with friends.  There was much pizza, wine, cake, and board games involved, so it was a very fun night.  I think I ate my weight in food last night and am still stuffed today, but it was delicious.   

Up until Thursday night, I had no idea what I was going to make for the crowd of 15 or so friends.  But while enjoying the sights and tastes of Logan airport, I finally had  a few moments to think about what to prepare that would suit a variety of tastes and dietary needs and also follow the KISS method (Keep It Simple, Stupid).  I tried to think of things that I could buy from the store but then jazz up to make them look and taste more homemade.  Here’s the menu I came up with:

Appetizers:

– Cheese Log and Crackers
– Hummus Boat with Crudites
– Caramelized Onion, Pear, and Blue Cheese Flat Bread
– Classic Red Sangria

 

  

  

  

  

 

 

Pizzas and Sides:

– Zucchini White Pizza
– Chicken Sausage and Mushroom Pizza
– Italian Roasted Tomatoes and Mushroom Pizza
– Vegan Pesto and Sundried Tomato Pizza
– Curried Chickpea Salad
– Garden Salad with Carrots, Clementines and a Cranberry/Balsamic Vinaigrette

  

 

 

 

Secrets to Pizza Party Success:

Buy storebought doughTrader Joe’s and Whole Foods make great dough and sell it in balls for really cheap!  You just roll it out, add your own toppings and bake. 

– Think of your guests’ likes and needs  – I decided what pizzas to make based on the following realizations:

  • Some of my friends eat meat, some don’t.  Some of them like tomatoes and some don’t.  Having just tomato-sauce based pizzas was not a good option.
  • Guys tend to need meat to feel full, so I couldn’t have all vegetarian pizzas.  Girls also like meat, but at least in my friends, they prefer to go vegetarian more often.
  • The vegetarian pizzas needed to be filling and substantial so it didn’t feel like you were just eating bread and cheese.

With sides, few ingredients + flavor + pretty presentation = success 
The salads I made literally took me minutes, but looked and tasted like I spent a lot more time on them than I did because of the fruit and curry flavors I added.  Also, I took storebought classic hummus and made it look fancy in a really simple way:  I cut a square from the middle of a loaf of French bread, filled it with hummus, and then decorated the outside with vegetables to use as dippers.

Let me know what recipes you’d like me to post!  Anyone can make them, I promise.  Here’s one to start out with….most people were surprised that they liked this so much last night! 

 

Caramelized Onion, Pear, and Flatbread Pizza

1 storebought pizza doughball
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium red pear, sliced
3/4 cup blue cheese crumbles

1.  Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a saute pan over medium-low heat.  Add onions and cook for 30 minutes stirring occassionally.  The onions should turn a deep golden color, shrink up, and taste sweet when finished.
2.  Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray.  Heat oven to 450 deg. F.
3.  Roll out dough on a floured surface (make sure to let it rest at room temperature for 20 minutes before doing so).  Place dough on cookie sheet and press into corners to fill the pan.
4.  Brush remaining tablespoon of olive oil over the dough until lightly coated.
5.  Spread onions over dough and top with pear slices.  Cover with blue cheese crumbles. 
6.  Place in oven and lower temperature to 425 deg. F.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until crust is golden and blue cheese looks slightly melted.
7.  Cut into 2″ x 2″ squares and serve.

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Birthday Wishes

Thank you for all the birthday wishes today!  I’ve been having a very good day so far cooking and getting ready for a dinner party with friends tonight.  Lotsa pizza is on the menu, and I’ve been preparing enough to feed a very hungry crowd of 15 or so.  Recipes will come later….need to make sure they turn out well first!

Looks like someone will be wishing for a cleaning lady to magically show up at her doorstep tomorrow when she blows out the candles tonight. 🙂

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Lessons in Logan

image

Delayed in Boston at Logan airport on my way back to Durham.  Just had a great discussion about generations in the work force and hospitality industry while enjoying a Victory Red brew from Boston Beer Works.  I feel a bit traitorous because it was brewed in honor of the Red Sox, but when in Rome.  The consensus between a construction salesman from Providence and myself was that corporate culture, positivity, and support are the most important things in a job.  I’d say my meetings from this week proved the same points.  Need to go catch my flight!  Hopefully I’ll catch some sleep and be good to go tomorrow for work.

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Adventures in Travel

Secretly, I had hoped to spend last night in NYC wining and dining with friends from high school.  Secretly, I really wanted to watch James Blunt perform in the middle of the Jet Blue terminal at JFK.  Secretly, I wanted to arrive in Virginia this morning, rather than late last night.  But, none of that happened.  Let me explain…

I’m in Fairfax, Virginia for a couple days taking part in some meetings about conference centers.  Yes, I go to conferences about conferences…go ahead and laugh.  For some reason, the prices for all direct flights from Raleigh to Dulles were astronomical for this time of year, so I booked a ticket on Jet Blue and had a connection in JFK.  In all, the trip went well, just a bit longer than expected.  A typical January East Coast snow storm led to a 90 minute delay on my flight out of Raleigh.  I made my connection to Dulles, but it was a close one!

I landed at JFK at 6:10pm, pulled up to the gate at 6:18pm, and deboarded quickly at 6:22pm thanks to the goodness of the passengers without connections who let me off the plane first.  I then full out ran to try and make my 6:30pm flight to Dulles.  As I booked it through the airport, I passed by James Blunt who was performing in the middle of Jet Blue’s terminal!  Only in New York, I suppose.  James, you’re beautiful

As I ran, I couldn’t help but experience deja vu.  The only other time I’ve been in JFK airport was on the way to Rome with my family in the summer of 2006, and since that day, I have dreaded returning.  There was miscommunication as to which terminal our flight was taking off from, and I remember we successfully sweet talked the guard at the security line to let us cut in front of a hundred people so that we could make our flight.  While waiting in line, it was decided that I would run ahead to the gate and convince the attendants to hold the plane for my parents and sister.  We thought this was necessary as all the departure screens showed our flight as boarding while we were still in security. 

The fun thing about security nowadays is that you have to take your shoes off.  Not wanting to waste time, I told my parents to grab my shoes and carry-on for me, and I would just run.  So yes, I ran shoeless and looked like an absolute fool.  We all made it to the plane, boarded breathless, shoeless and sweaty, and then sat for 40 minutes before it even left the gate.  So all that rush was for nothing.

Maybe the next time I’m at JFK I’ll be able to leisurely walk through it and be able to enjoy any impromptu concerts going on.  But for now, I’m at the Mason Inn and Conference Center on George Mason University’s campus.  It’s a beautiful property that just opened this past July, so it still has that great “new” feeling about it!  I’m off to my meetings!

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So Sophisticated

I’ve had sweet potato fries on my mind for the past couple days, and for two reasons.  First, I bought a blue sweet potato at the local farmer’s market on Saturday morning and really wanted to cut it open to see the color (it looks like a regular orange sweet potato from the outside).  The second reason is that I was told french fries are not “sophisticated” earlier this week, and I wanted to redeem the American classic in my mind.

(Hello, JMU colors!)

 

This past weekend at work, I hosted a group of 100 or so teenage boys that were visiting for three athletics-filled days.  My main job was to feed them, hydrate them, and ensure that they felt at home.  These boys were from all over — Oregon, Canada, New York, Arkansas.  Most of them seemed perfectly fine being away from their parents for a few days, but a few didn’t seem as comfortable (such as the one who asked how he could get a new key to his room after he lost it within an hour).  My job has taught me a lot about different types of people and groups, and I think I’m a pretty good judge of knowing what people need once I observe them and determine why they’re staying at the hotel.  With these young men, I knew that having food they felt comfortable with (and lots of it) was going to be key to keeping them happy. 

For this reason, I was pretty happy with the menu that the chefs created for the group.  It featured a taco bar for dinner the first night, a build-your-own deli sandwich buffet for lunch, and burgers with fries for dinner the second night.  It wasn’t necessarily food that I would choose for myself, but I was certain that no complaints would be heard.

Unfortunately, the teenagers did not judge the menus.  On Friday morning (the day before the group arrived) the leaders of the group deemed the lunch and dinner menus “unsophisticated.”  To them, tacos and french fries were not good enough food to serve to these young men.  While I agree that those items are not the most refined, I laugh just thinking of the disconnect that happens between adults and kids sometimes. 

These boys did not care about sophistication.  That doesn’t mean they were barbaric (they were actually very polite), but  I knew before I even met them that I would end up having a huge mess to clean in the dining room after every meal because they would spill their food, drinks, and do other “unsophisticated” things.  However, the goal is to make the client happy, and the menus were changed to include roasted chicken, spaghetti Bolognese, and tiramisu.  It went over well;  so well that 30 pounds of pasta disappeared within 45 minutes flat.  But, I was not surprised when I received 10 room service orders later on for club sandwiches and cheeseburgers.  Sophisticated, indeed.

Anyway, back to fries.  I don’t usually order french fries at restaurants because I would rather make my own at home in the oven.  It’s so easy to do with regular white potatoes or the sweet variety.  The pretty blue sweet potato gave me the perfect opportunity to fulfill my urge, plus the chance to try out a new vegetable.  I hope you enjoy and revel in your unsophistication.  I know I did.

Baked Blue Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 1 or 2

1 blue sweet potato
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne red pepper

Heat oven to 400 F.  Cut sweet potato in half, then cut each part in half again to creat quarters. 

Slice potato into 1/2″ thick slices.  Try to make them of uniform thickness so that they all cook equally.

Cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and put potato slices in the center of the sheet in a pile.  Pour olive oil over the slices and toss with your hands to coat.  Then, spread the slices out so that none are lying on top of other pieces and add seasonings. 

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, turning fries once half-way through cooking.  Remove, and enjoy with a nice side of ketchup!

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United States of Food

 

Just found this map from a blog post on CNN’s Eatocracy.  How awesome is this? 

 

You can see the full map at www.myfoodlooksfunny.com.  A goal of mine is to travel to and stay at least one night in all 50 states in my lifetime (only 15 more to go!).  I may expand this goal to include eating what each state is known for!

Looking at the map, I’ve already eaten most of the items for states I’ve traveled to.  Most recently, I tasted Oregon hazelnuts on a pizza that featured fresh salmon and hazelnut butter (sounds weird, but it was delicious!).  I may “take a trip” to Vermont tonight and pick up a pint of Ben & Jerry’s later on.

There are a few things I’ve never heard of like chislic (South Dakota), coffee milk (Rhode Island), and knoeplah (North Dakota).  There are other states that I’m just curious as to why they ended up with the foods they did.  Anyone know the significance of green Jell-O in Utah? 

This map brings up a question — if you could choose any state to live in solely based on the food representation in this map, where would you live?  I think I would either go with Hawaii or California.  I am a grape fiend and pineapple never gets old.  But then again, I do love a good omelet, so maybe Colorado.  Really, I think I could live anywhere, and this map reinforces it.

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