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eG Foodblog: Malawry - 34 hungry college girls


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(11:20am)

This should be a much easier day than the rest of the days this week. No extra people coming over for dinner, nothing too labor-intensive, just easy fun cooking.

When I came in this morning, there was a note with my name on it taped to my kitchen door. If you can believe it, the girl who orchestrated the fondue party Tuesday night left me a thank-you note! How ultimately classy is that? Nobody’s ever given me a thank-you note for doing my job before. It feels great. The note read:

“Rochelle,

Thank you for getting all the food and chocolate cut and melted for Tuesday’s crown event. The food was great and all of the girls had fun. Thank you also for your help in the past, especially with the chocolate-covered strawberries for preference. Thanks again!”

Background: Back when this sister asked me to do the fondue event, I explained the problem with not having enough chocolate. She asked if I could get it from somewhere besides Gourmeco, but I told her that I refused to chop enough chocolate to make that much fondue by hand (I hate chopping chocolate, and it’s not very safe to do anyway—the knife slips easily, even for somebody like me with decent knife skills). Whole Foods does sell some pistoles, but they totally rape you on the expense. So I ended up paying the delivery charge to get the pistoles delivered from Gourmeco. Her reference to “cutting chocolate” goes back to this conversation, even though I didn’t cut any chocolate at all. As for the “preference” reference: This is usually the last party before bid day, when the sororities officially invite girls to become members of the organization. It’s called “preference” because girls who prefer a particular sorority usually attend this party to show their preference—or is it that the sorority invites the girls it prefers to come to the event? I’m not sure. I made 250 chocolate-dipped strawberries for preference during rush earlier this semester—the same sister who orchestrated the fondue party also organized preference this semester.

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This morning has been fairly routine so far. I had the cheeseless soup from yesterday, so I just had to heat that up and add cheese to it to finish it off. Today’s special is club sandwiches, so I cooked up some bacon for them. Mmmmm, bacon. The Sysco bacon is pretty high-quality; my boss often comes by for some when it’s on the menu. I get applewood smoked bacon, and it’s cut into thicker rashers than supermarket bacon (a fine quality in my book). I tried frying it on the griddle once, but it made a huge greasy muck of everything, so I’ve fried it in pans on the stove since then. At least that makes it easy for me to dump the grease into an empty can. (Grease has its own dumpster for disposal, so I save clean empty cans for disposing of it.)

You've seen bacon a million times before, but I personally want you to see it again since I can't feed it to you directly.

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I did realize that I was out of shredded mozzarella, so I went and borrowed a bag from Stewart. (Sometimes I’m a little embarrassed at how much I rely on him. But then, he borrows from me often too.) We chatted for only a minute this time because we both had to finish setting up lunch service. Sometimes I spend 45 minutes hanging out with him if I don’t watch myself.

I normally start planning next week’s menus around Wednesday night or Thursday morning. I only plan a week in advance. This makes it easier for me to be flexible, it allows me to better take advantage of price fluctuations from Sysco and seasonal changes at the farmer’s markets, and it means I don’t have to come up with too much at a time. Usually the soups and dinner menus come quickly and easily to me, but I often find myself doing some research to get lunch ideas together. Ideal lunch menus don’t require too much of my time, use up odds and ends in my kitchen, and don’t necessitate a trip to the supermarket. (Fat chance of that!) I try to have next week’s menus ready by Thursday night, and then I finalize them on Friday morning for posting before my departure Friday afternoon.

I get menu ideas from all kinds of places. I try to survey the girls once a semester, and if I’m lucky these surveys will provide me enough ideas to keep me going for a while. Sometimes girls come to me and ask me for something—I love it when this happens, and I try to oblige as quickly as possible. Sisters’ requests led to my carrying Yoplait yogurt, fresh fruit, muenster cheese, raisin bread, tater tots. They sometimes request soups, which led to potato and broccoli-cheddar ending up on the menu regularly. Nowadays they request that a dinner menu come back again more often than they request a unique menu. I got some requests recently to bring back fried chicken, which I made once last semester. It was a lot of work, but frankly produced the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten. (I’m modest, too.) I promised to bring it back after Spring Break, when the Lenten period is over and everybody who might enjoy it will be able to dig in. And sometimes I just focus-group them—I’ll ask a group of girls eating lunch what they feel like eating next week, or I’ll just ask individuals as they come by what they wish I’d prepare for them. Finally, I read a lot of cookbooks and sometimes poke around eGullet, just looking for ideas for dishes. I get a lot of ideas from Joy of Cooking alone—probably the most useful book I own for this job.

(2pm)

So, here are the things I want to get rid of in next week’s menu:

I wasn’t 100% thrilled with the red bell peppers I got in on Tuesday, so I’d like to get use them up and get some new ones in. If they were truly bad I would have rejected them outright, but I needed them and they weren’t awful—just not great.

I have some chicken leg quarters taking up room in my freezer that I’d like to move out.

I have a lot of starchy baking potatoes that need to be used before they start sprouting on me.

I was supposed to make jumbo lump crab cakes for dinner this Wednesday night, but because of snow and the resulting menu madness, I moved them to next week. So those have to go on one night.

I have some sour cream that’s about to turn if I don’t use it.

Some things mostly take care of themselves. Obviously, special events require one of a limited range of mass-produced menus. If the event is not at mealtime I make something simple that day so I can devote extra time to the festivities. Every Monday night is “pasta night” because the whole chapter eats in the house that night, and I serve dinner earlier than usual on Mondays. Often it’s simply linguine or penne with an assortment of sauces, but I try to shake it up sometimes by offering ravioli or a baked pasta dish. I ordered ricotta cheese this week so I can make lasagna for them next Monday night. And on Thursdays, I usually do some sort of ethnic or regional American night. These are probably the most fun I have with the menu, and the girls love those nights best of all. (They’re also normally the most work of any menu I execute during the week.)

I’m already about 85% there on next week’s menu—I need two lunch entrees, but that’s it. As I write the menu, I write the next week’s order list using the menu as a guide. There are things I order routinely every week or every other week. Here’s what I have so far:

OJ, skim milk, eggs, ground beef, broccoli, baby spinach, sliced mushrooms, lettuce, cucumbers, lowfat cream cheese individual cups, 6oz chicken breasts, Italian turkey sausage, scallions, celery, onions, frozen green beans, frozen spinach, shredded mozzarella, tortilla chips, some kind of lamb for skewers, strawberries, cantaloupe, granny smith apples, red grapes.

(3:10pm)

Here’s tonight’s menu:

Assorted antipasti and fruit

Flank steak with rosemary and garlic

Roasted potatoes with thyme

White beans with fried garlic and sage

Tiramisu

This is supposed to be a sort of Italian-style menu. If I had a grill, I’d grill the steak to make it a little more Tuscan-like. Since I don’t, I’ll be searing it off on the griddle and then finishing it in the oven. I’ve already trimmed the steaks and started marinating them with the garlic, rosemary, some EVOO and Kosher salt. I just slid the potatoes in the oven. The secrets to crisp-edged new potatoes: plenty of olive oil, don’t move them except to shake them lightly for the first 45 minutes at least, and don’t overcrowd them in the pan. I roast the potatoes in two pans but serve them in one—using two pans keeps them in a single layer for the most part, much more effective for crispy edges.

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I put together the antipasti right after I took my break earlier. Since I was ordering the chocolate from Gourmeco already, I decided to order a couple of goodies for tonight’s menu. So there are cieglini, little cherry-sized balls of fresh mozzarella, which I spiked with assorted herbs and a tiny bit of cayenne. And there are beautiful long-stemmed marinated artichoke hearts. I also threw some hearts of palm and Divina black olives on the platter. Another platter has assorted Italian meats: proscuitto, sopressata, genoa salame. I planned to wrap some of the proscuitto around cantaloupe, but decided some girls might like cantaloupe without meat. So instead I refreshed the lunchtime fruit platter with some additional red grapes and some cut cantaloupe.

If I was a sister in the house, I personally would be very excited by this dinner.

The tiramisu is mostly done. I need to chop down some pistoles of chocolate in the Cuisinart and add them to the top. I am thinking of making whipped cream and adding that too—some of the ladyfingers sort of “floated up” through the mascarpone custard, and now the top of the tiramisu doesn’t look so nice on its own. I’m not huge on presentation here (it’s impossible when you serve and plate off a steam table in front of hungry girls), but I try to make everything at least look somewhat attractive.

Today feels like the first time this week I haven’t been working behind the 8-ball. Sometimes I like that sensation, but it gets tiring after a while. I like to have at least one day each week when I am not too busy. It gives me a chance to go bounce ideas off of Stewart, or to do some deep cleaning, or to run to Costco and not fight the crowds. Today, it’s giving me a chance to sit down and relax for a few minutes—and to keep up this blog, besides.

(5:10pm)

Now this is how I like to go into dinner service: All the prep dishes are done, the oven is off, the griddle has been scraped. Everything is ready and set out, including dessert. I’ve even cleaned and put away my knives and my cutting board. The dishwasher is on and ready to receive dirty dishes. My ponytail is tightly tied and my nails are clean. It’s dinner time!

(8pm)

My boss Kathleen came by to say hi right after I wrote that last paragraph. Kathleen works full-time for the university in the Department of Residence Life. As a former resident assistant, she reminds me a lot of the folks I worked with when I was a college student. She’s very cool and I love that she trusts me to be a professional and do my job well. Since she does not enjoy cooking, she tends to stay away from the kitchen. I fed her some of the dinner potatoes. Some weeks I don’t see Kathleen at all; other weeks I see her almost daily. She’s there if I need her, though.

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By the way, if you've never done steak for 34, here's some advice:

Buy large pieces of steak. That way you, if you're skilled, you can work it so they're medium-rare towards the center and well-done on the outside. Sear them off in batches so the pan (or griddle, in my case) stays super-hot. Arrange them on racks if you have them or in a single layer in a pan and finish them in a hot oven. Pull them out and let them rest for 15 minutes. Slice thinly against the grain--thin slices look attractive and are easy to manage with cheapass foodservice knives. It will sit on the steamtable, covered for heat retention, for about 45 minutes with no major quality loss. I finished mine about 20 minutes before service.

Dinner was popular, as I suspected it would be. One of the girls brought a male friend by, and he made a point of coming by and telling me dinner was good. “No, seriously, it was really good,” he said. The tiramisu seemed to be rather challenging for some people—one girl shied away because it contained a tiny amount of rum, while another (picky one) asked me directly, “Will I like this?” (I should have said “no” just for kicks.) A lot of the girls also didn’t recognize the artichoke hearts and cieglini, which surprised me. They all knew steak and potatoes, though, and most of them gamely tried a couple of new items. One girl who studied in Italy last year told me she had not consumed fresh mozzarella since her return to the US.

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I’m about to head out and start on tomorrow night’s dinner by shopping. My parents are coming into town because my husband’s choir is performing this weekend—they usually come up once a year for a concert. So of course, I will be cooking dinner for them. I am still working on the menu mentally, but it should be fancier than what I cook at work—plus I’ll actually plate everything. Stay tuned...

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What do the girls do when they want to impress their friends with their cooking, or hold a dinner party? 

If any of them does, they haven't whined to me about it yet. This particular batch of girls just doesn't look to cook generally.

If you want to add more organic foods you could check out a natural foods purveyor like Tree of Life Northeast.  I think another is Albert's.  I'm not sure what their minimums are, but if you switched some of your staple ordering to order with them maybe you'd meet it.

I am familiar with Albert's. But I have a hard time meeting Sysco's minimum some weeks--I don't have enough business to spread it around. I must get produce in weekly, so I couldn't easily alternate either.

Great Blog!! I am wondering how allergies are handled? Real ones, not the "i'm allergic to brussel sprouts" kind :wink:

Are the girls suppose to tell you at the beginning of the year and you work around it or do you just make multiple things available. I was thinking about that when I read your Thai dinner menu since quite a few people are (deathly) allergic to peanuts (my guy being one of them).

I ask girls as soon as they get past rush to tell me about any allergies. I had a girl my first semester who was very allergic to peanuts, so I didn't do Thai style food or anything for them at that time. She graduated, so it's peanuts for everybody now. Nobody currently in the house seems to have a life-threatening type food allergy. One says she is allergic to pork though. (I wonder, is she really allergic to pork, or just nitrates? Who knows, she doesn't want to eat it. She has company with some of the Jewish kids and the two vegetarians, and she's amenable to almost anything nonpork so she's not an issue for me at all.)

Thanks for adding the pictures, but even without them, your commentary is fascinating. Could you blog forever, please?

Are you kidding me?!?! :angry:

Seriously, this is fun, but it's a buttload of work. I'd rather not keep going after this weekend, thankyouverymuch.

When I talked to Stewart this morning I vented briefly about how much work this is on top of an unusually busy week. But I also told him I'm going to move on from this job eventually and back towards writing and teaching more, and eventually there will be a 3-year-old kid and no energy to cook for my family. And then I'm gonna come back and read this blog and wonder how in the world I managed to feed 34 girls every day. It's pretty amazing when I step back and think about it.

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So, while I was at the Silver Spring, MD Whole Foods Market, I took some photos. This way you can compare and contrast with Han Ah Reum from earlier in the thread.

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Whole Foods produce: Very pretty. Very expensive though. Decent selection but not overwhelming. (Ask JPW about the Silver Spring Whole Foods and fennel sometime if you want to be shocked.)

Han Ah Reum produce: Almost as pretty. Extreme cheap prices. Mind-boggling selection of produce you may not recognize unless you've cooked in Vietnam, Thailand, China, Japan, India, and at least a half-dozen Latin nations. Plus they sell durian.

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Whole Foods fish: Very pretty. Reasonably fresh, though you should insist on seeing things before buying them. They get it for you every time and you have to take it the way they sell it unless you make arrangements in advance (this usually means filleted and deboned). Expen$ive, but you guessed that.

Han Ah Reum fish: Fresher and much cheaper than Whole Foods. And they have a list of 8 ways they'll prepare it for you--just gutted, gutted and fins clipped, totally filleted, etc etc. A lot of the fish is out and you just grab it yourself with tongs. Plus they sell some live fish, including catfish which I used for my final in culinary school.

I also took some photos of my home kitchen for your perusal, since there's only about 5 of you who have seen my kitchen in person...

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This is the area immediately to the right of the door when you enter the kitchen. I think the diagonal sink is a cute idea but not a very practical use of a corner. Dig the 1987 cabinets and the "dusty rose" backsplash. The coffee pot is in heavy use. I prefer wood cutting boards, but I use the white plastic NSF one for raw meat. Wusthof knives, wedding gift. :wub:

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My trusty Jenn-Aire range, gas cooktop with electric oven. Works great, but the grilling attachment is worthless and sometimes I wish I had a superBTU eye for boiling pasta water quickly. Those little spices in front are cool pepper-herb-flower blends I bought in France in January. On the shelf above is some sherry vinegar purchased in France and some champagne and zinfandel vinegars given to me by JPW and Mrs. JPW.

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I love the built-in shelf for cookbooks, but I've long outgrown it. We still don't have a solution, so they're stuffed in the other bookcases in the house. The basket contains my bread, various nuts, Splenda for coffee, and other stuff. Notebooks next to the microwave include my official L'academie de Cuisine perfect-score graded recipe book. There's a small jar of pickled eggs from a Louisiana farmer's market next to it--I meant to open them at a party in November but forgot about it.

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The door on the CD player doesn't want to close any more. It currently contains a Supreme Beings of Leisure CD that I wish I could play. (I have an MP3 player I listen to while cooking, and we use this mostly to tune in to NPR mornings and weekends.) Hjshorter gave me the mandoline. :wub: My mom made me the needlepoint on the wall, which reads, "A house without a cat is not a home." We are owned by three cats in our household, and we have a roommate just so we can maintain the 1:1 feline:human ratio. (Well, and for other reasons, but y'know that's a big one. Can't have the cat lobby outnumber the human lobby.)

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I have a chest freezer. It desperately needs to be defrosted. And all you can really see are CarbSmart ice cream, IQF chicken wings and some homemade stocks. There's more interesting stuff underneath.

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The side-by-side freezer contains more interesting stuff since it's mostly small things I don't want to lose in the big freezer: passionfruit Ravifruit puree, organic chicken livers from a vendor at the Dupont Circle farm market, and pork belly from Han Ah Reum that I need to cook at some point.

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The fridge doesn't usually look this bad, but it does right now. My roommate just got back from some travel and has loaded up her shelf, third from top. I have two ducks defrosting in there for dinner tomorrow night. We have some typical roommate fridge problems like two kinds of milk, two cartons of eggs, two bags of celery. :rolleyes: The wine in the door is dirt cheap shit we use for cooking and not much else. Good wine is normally drank promptly in this house.

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I tried frying it on the griddle once, but it made a huge greasy muck of everything, so I’ve fried it in pans on the stove since then. At least that makes it easy for me to dump the grease into an empty can.

Have you tried cooking the bacon on a sheet pan in the oven? I found this trick back when I worked at a group home and had to cook breakfast for 8-10 each morning. The slices come out flat and perfect, and it frees up stovetop space and doesn't require anything in terms of attention, other than pulling the tray out when they are done to your liking.

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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Thanks for adding the pictures, but even without them, your commentary is fascinating. Could you blog forever, please?

Are you kidding me?!?! :angry:

Seriously, this is fun, but it's a buttload of work. I'd rather not keep going after this weekend, thankyouverymuch.

When I talked to Stewart this morning I vented briefly about how much work this is on top of an unusually busy week. But I also told him I'm going to move on from this job eventually and back towards writing and teaching more, and eventually there will be a 3-year-old kid and no energy to cook for my family. And then I'm gonna come back and read this blog and wonder how in the world I managed to feed 34 girls every day. It's pretty amazing when I step back and think about it.

Hehe. Yes, I was kidding, of course. I have no idea how you have the energy to do ANYTHING after the hard work you put in every day. Not only that, but you seem to be providing them with food service above and beyond what is expected. I'm admiring you from afar.

Dear Food: I hate myself for loving you.

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I don't want to sound like everyone else, but this blog is great! I would have killed for this in college.

When I was in college (finished last year), I lived in my Fraternity House for two years. The greek houses at my school had kitchens for student use, but everyone had to buy a University Meal Plan and eat with everyone else at the Student Union (which was very decent for institutional food, but got really old after three years-I moved off campus for my senior year). My dorm also had a kitchen. The sororities did use their kitchens, but usually it was small groups of girls.

Our kitchen barely got used, except for the brewery that my friend and I operated out of the kitchen and storage closet in the basement. We usually had 10 gallons going at a time, and 10 in kegs (5 gallon soda kegs). We made all-grain beers, and they were really good. Good enough that we bought locks for the keg taps since people would try to break into our rooms and get free beer (as we each had a kegerator in our room). Great fun. People did bitch about the hop smell when we were brewing, but I thought it covered the stale beer (among other things) eau-de-frat nicely.

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I also had a cafeteria plan. The one nice thing was in the evenings we could use our meal cards in the Student Union pub. I think we got to use $3 towards the purchase of a sandwich off the grill. Other than that, the cafeteria was pretty boring and loaded with lots of high-fat foods.

I am curious as to where the budget for your cooking comes from. Is it from the sorority, the college, or both? Also, do you know if the girls pay more to live in the house than they would to live in a dorm room?

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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I am curious as to where the budget for your cooking comes from. Is it from the sorority, the college, or both? Also, do you know if the girls pay more to live in the house than they would to live in a dorm room?

Individual sisters pay dues. The dues schedule includes room and board for those living in the house. It includes enough money for two meals per week for those who do not live in the house. Nationals doesn't give money to the chapter--the chapter gives money to the nationals. Dues also includes money for social events, recruitment, some of their t-shirts and other swag, supplies, etc etc. I think sisters are hit up in addition for some events, but I believe almost everything official is covered by that dues check. (You still have to shell out for appropriate attire for the various dances, parties, recruitment and official events. And gifts for your little sister. And dinner Friday and Saturday nights. And...) Dues pays my salary, my boss's salary, Launchcoast's fee.

I don't know the dues schedule, or the fee schedule for those living in dorms. But I understand that the portion of fees that covers room, board, and pay for the three employees is less than room and meal plan in the dorms. This is a major selling point for ZTA. Plus the food's better, of course. :biggrin:

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Yeah, but it's the mushroom selection (or lack thereof) at the SS Whole Paycheck that really gets me worked up. :smile:

Great stuff Malawry. I think it dredged up some memories for all of us who ever lived in a Greek house. Causing most (like me) to be extremely jealous of your girls.

Mrs JPW and I need to take you out soon.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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(12:10pm) Ahhh, Friday. How I love thee. I usually don’t come to work until 10:30 on Fridays. I don’t make a special Fridays—I put whatever’s left from earlier in the week on the menu. (This way, I have a lot less food waste. And the girls don’t seem to mind. Plus it spares me from having to come up with more lunch ideas.) Stewart came by to chat and borrow some ice this morning and ended up hanging out for 20 minutes, talking about what we’re doing this summer. (My plans are still up in the air, workwise.)

Fridays are a fairly slow time, so I often catch up on little jobs I haven’t managed during the week. Today I’m cleaning the milk fridge inside and out, including scrubbing out the little drip tray underneath. I also finalize the next week’s menus, and finish working up my next week’s order list. (Monday morning is too busy for me to write it then, and I often don’t even glance at it before Beth shows up to take my order.) Fortunately, there are no special events next week that require my involvement (though it sounds like a fraternity is coming over again the subsequent week. I should watch out!) Here’s next week’s menus:

Monday L: Creamy spinach soup, tuna salad sandwiches

D: Lasagna—spinach or beef, garlic bread, sautéed mushrooms

Tuesday L: Creamy spinach soup, proscuitto/roasted red pepper/provolone on sourdough bread

D: Jumbo lump crab cakes, stuffed portabellos, rice, sautéed spinach

Wednesday L: Thai coconut-chicken soup, Italian turkey sausage subs

D: Herbed roasted chicken, vegetarian chili, baked potato bar, broccoli

Thursday L: Thai coconut-chicken soup, taco salads (beef or bean)

D: Greek-style night: Lamb or veggie skewers, spanakopita, rice, slow-cooked green beans with tomatoes

I don’t expect any of this to put me out, and it should be fun to make for the girls.

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Malawry -- I was SO excited to see a new post now. It's pretty pathetic how I sit and wait for your updates. It's so exciting to see what you come up with in terms of the menus.

I'm sad, I know. But thanks for blogging. :smile:

There's a yummy in my tummy.

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So now it's a little after 4pm. I wrapped up at work for the day around 2:30pm. There's no dinner service Fridays, so Friday is a short as well as an easy day for me. I did finish cleaning the milk fridge. I also scrubbed out the trap on my griddle, cleaned down the griddle thoroughly, and wiped out the steam table. I learned a long time ago that it's much more pleasant to return from vacations to a clean house--and I treat my kitchen the same way when I leave for the weekend.

My parents are coming into town soon, and spending the weekend with us. I always cook for them when they come in. They're good eaters (hell, they raised me!) and my dad especially is proud of his chefly daughter. I've got great parents. :wub:

Here's tonight's menu:

Aperitifs

Butter lettuce salad with dried cranberries and spiced pecans

Seared duck breast on a bed of shredded duck confit, with a mustard sauce and braised red cabbage

Mulderbosch South African sauvignon blanc 2004 (Mom doesn't like red wines much :blink:)

Sauteed apples with spiced fromage blanc

Poire william eau-de-vie, calvados

My parents (specifically my dad) taught me most of what little I know about alcohol. Dad's always been an enthusiastic connoisseur of whiskeys especially, and he loved explaining how different alcohols are distilled back when I was in high school. (We start early in the Myers household.) At Thanksgiving, the only real questions are when we start drinking (adults) or when we open Hanukkah gifts (kids) (we don't gather in December, so we exchange Hanukkah gifts at Thanksgiving). I picked up the calvados and the poire william in France, and am eager to crack into them with my dad.

So far, I've cut up two ducks. The breasts are scored and resting in the fridge, the legs are curing for the next batch of confit. The old confit has been dug out of the container I keep in the fridge--I had two legs left. The fat was almost a year old and was starting to look a little squirrely, so I decided to pitch it instead of reusing it. I'm rendering fresh fat from the skin off of today's two ducks.

I've also gotten the cabbage going: Shred in the Cuisinart. Slice an onion thinly. Sweat off onion and cabbage in some duck fat. Add chicken stock, old zinfadel rattling around the fridge, zinfandel vinegar, s, p, fresh thyme, a bay leaf. Top with a cartouche (parchment circle) and cook in a medium oven, stirring occasionally, until done. Dad is exceedingly fond of my braised red cabbage. His birthday was last Tuesday, so tonight is a sort of a birthday dinner for him. (Hence all the Dad-centric favorite foods and beverages.)

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Malawry, I don't envy your work load. May I suggest that part of that excess budget needs to go for a dishwasher/kitchen helper?

I read all e-Gullet blogs and love them, but yours has special meaning to me. Here's why:

From 1994-97, three school years, I was the House Director (read house mother) for a sorority house at Vanderbilt University…a cushy job compared to yours. I planned menus and grocery shopped, but had a cook who prepared the food, did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, plus housekeepers who did the rest of the cleaning two days a week. Merely six girls lived in the house, usually the top officers, and we served seated dinners only for them (and me) Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. One or more chapter girls cooked on Monday night for the entire chapter, about 90 members in all. The first year I thought I had found my dream job, even though the pay was nothing.

At the beginning of each year I had each girl fill out a long questionnaire about her food preferences. I then color-coded them so I could tell at a glance how many girls would eat a certain food. It was a balancing act to be sure that each girl had enough foods she would eat at each meal, and these girls were very particular. My role in foods was to plan the menus—my favorite part of the cooking process—provide recipes and supervision for the cook, who was herself a retired supervisor from the school lunch program. I would help her cook when a recipe was beyond her scope, or when she got behind, and fill in for her when she couldn’t make it. I also made extra treats for the house girls, like a bowl of chicken salad for the weekend or some special dessert, and ran around town buying their frozen yogurt and bagels and whatever else their hearts desired.

The food we served was home cooking, lots of comfort foods with occasional leanings toward ethnic or French. Unless a special request from one of the girls, everything was made from scratch except breads from the bakery and frozen yogurt. Most of the time we’d have menus like this: Veal Paprika, Spaetzle, Carrots Veronique with brandy glaze, Green Salad, Lemon Mousse. But the food was varied…we might also have a vegetarian meal, a picnic, a birthday or holiday dinner, make your own taco salad or pizza night, all-breakfast or all appetizer meals. Like you, we hosted date nights, bring a friend, and provided late plates for anyone who couldn’t make dinner on time.

It took only a short time to learn that this sorority had the reputation on campus for being the “anorexic” sorority. Two of the three chapter presidents were anorexic during my time there. Late plates became a tool for their disease, as they would sign up for a late plate and not eat it. Strangely, they never threw the food away but left it in the fridge for a “later” that never came. A cry for help?

There were some lovely house girls, especially the first two years, but my experience in the third year is what I want to talk about. The only thing the third-year girls cared about was whether food was fat free. They requested a green salad every single night, with (what else?) fat-free-bought dressing. (There went the Waldorf salad, homemade applesauce, cole slaw, marinated cucumbers, watermelon with celery nut dressing, carrot-pineapple salad and all the other fruits and salads that the girls had liked in previous years.) They loved Oven Fish Chowder the first time we served it, but by the time it was posted on the menu again someone had sneaked into the kitchen and read the recipe, learned that it contained butter and cream, and announced to me no one would eat it. Towards the end of the year, they were starting to reject foods they had previously eaten, like meat loaf, and waiting to tell me about it after the food was cooked and on the table. Yes, two of them were deliberately mean, even though I gave them everything they asked for.

The house furnished breakfast cereal, milk, juice and eggs (I refused to buy egg beaters so they never ate the eggs) for breakfasts. They were supposed to buy their own groceries and cook for themselves at lunch and the remaining 3 dinners a week, unless they ate out, but there was one girl who simply lived on the house cereal. Six girls would go through about 7 or 8 boxes of cereal a week. One girl was vegetarian except for chicken breast, and hated most everything, but she ate candy bars all day. These girls simply believed that if they ate fat they would be fat, and that carbohydrates did not count.

Some of these girls saw food as evil and me the enemy trying to force them to eat. While I love to food-pamper people who appreciate it, these girls did not. It was not fun anymore, and while I try not to be soured on the experience, it’s difficult. I have to keep remembering the girls who thought they were the luckiest college students on campus.

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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Malawry, I don't envy your work load.  May I suggest that part of that excess budget needs to go for a dishwasher/kitchen helper?

....

Some of these girls saw food as evil and me the enemy trying to force them to eat.  While I love to food-pamper people who appreciate it, these girls did not.  It was not fun anymore, and while I try not to be soured on the experience, it’s difficult.  I have to keep remembering the girls who thought they were the luckiest college students on campus.

The budget for food, and the budget for my salary, are two very separate budgets. I've asked for help and been denied. Even if I could get somebody into my kitchen for two or three hours a day, it would make a huge difference in what I could do for the girls. I'd love to have them do some prep work, some of the deep cleaning I don't get to as often as I'd like, some dishes. If it was somebody interested in such things I'd gladly teach them.

Stewart's girls are a lot pickier than mine. He makes a LOT of egg white omelets for them. But then they'd eat dessert every night. :wacko: ("It's like a fucking bat mitzvah over there," he told me once.) I don't think I could cook for girls like you describe, Ruth. I was cringing just thinking about what you went through there. Such a terrible experience! Wow. I'm glad it didn't keep you from cooking for others later in life, because that sort of thing could turn off the most enthusiastic person after a while.

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Having cooked with Malawry for a crowd, the miracles she's been able to pull off here are no surprise to me. I also ate my share of fraternity and sorority meals over the year, and having someone as dedicated as her makes the entire college experience all the more meaningful. I wish I could come up and help her put on a good ol' Southern meal!

A couple of days ago I noticed photos of you wearing gloves. Are you considered a restaurant under the state and local laws, subject to those regulations? Is your kitchen inspected? Or are you just following so-called "best practices" of kitchen hygiene?

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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A couple of days ago I noticed photos of you wearing gloves.  Are you considered a restaurant under the state and local laws, subject to those regulations?  Is your kitchen inspected?  Or are you just following so-called "best practices" of kitchen hygiene?

I am unclear on the regulation of my kitchen. I was told when I started that eventually the health department would come by for inspection. I try to behave every day as if they're going to show up any minute. But I haven't seen them yet. :huh: I am a certified food-safe handler, and I follow "best practices" as much as possible. I wear the gloves more because of my skin condition than an interest in hygiene--my hands break out easily, and it happens more often if I wash my hands constantly. Wearing gloves means I don't have to wash quite as often. (Of course I still wash after eating, using the bathroom, touching my hair, taking out the trash, etc etc. It still adds up.) I wear gloves most of the day.

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Cabbage competed. Sherry-walnut vinaigrette emulsified. Pecans spiced. Table set. Wine chilled. Cranberries rehydrated. Fromage blanc spiced. Prep dishes washed. Duck necks and gizzards roasting in the oven for sauce. Confit ready for shredding. Breasts ready for searing. Parents still not here.

I love cooking for friends and family. I even like the before-arrival, I-think-I-did-all-my-prep, where-are-they moments. It's such a different rhythm from work. I think of more details when I'm at home, and I cook at a much more leisurely pace. I'm more careful in how I trim the duck breast, how I slice the onion, how I whisk the vinaigrette.

Mom just called. I think it will take them about 45 minutes to get here from where they are.

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[...]Here’s next week’s menus:

Monday L: Creamy spinach soup, tuna salad sandwiches

D: Lasagna—spinach or beef, garlic bread, sautéed mushrooms

Tuesday L: Creamy spinach soup, proscuitto/roasted red pepper/provolone on sourdough bread

D: Jumbo lump crab cakes, stuffed portabellos, rice, sautéed spinach[...]

What will you stuff the portabellos with?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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...

Here's tonight's menu:

Aperitifs

Butter lettuce salad with dried cranberries and spiced pecans

Seared duck breast on a bed of shredded duck confit, with a mustard sauce and braised red cabbage

Mulderbosch South African sauvignon blanc 2004 (Mom doesn't like red wines much  :blink:)

Sauteed apples with spiced fromage blanc

Poire william eau-de-vie, calvados

...

Nice menu, as is the one for the 'girls' next week.

Can you describe the sauteed apples and spiced fromage blanc a bit more? It sounds like great fruit and cheese course I would like to make sometime.

Have a wonderful dinner with your family. :smile:

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Dinner is over, and the folks have gone to the place they're staying for the night. (For some reason, they don't like to sleep on my old futon when they visit. :rolleyes:) We had a great time.

I started off my afternoon with some duck prep. First I broke into the whole birds and cut them into pieces. I cut off whatever excess skin I could and set it aside for rendering.

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These ducks each cost me about $9 from Han Ah Reum.

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I love the sight of duck parts with the light streaming through the window. This normally would have taken me about 10 mintues, but my husband called in the middle of my elite cutting action so it took me closer to 30. The Ziploced bags of carcasses go into the freezer, and then on a rainy day I make duck stock out of them. I don't bother messing with the wings, so they become part of the stock.

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The various innards, the neck and the wishbone get roasted in the oven until cooked through.

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Then I deglaze the pan with red wine and scrape up all the good bits on the bottom. I added veal demi-glace (duck demi would have worked well, if I'd had it) and reduced to sauce consistency. I then strained, stirred in some Maille mustard from France, and added some perfect brunoised onions sauteed in duck fat. I finished the sauce with butter at dinnertime.

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The cabbage is shredded in the Cuisinart and sweated down in a pan with a thinly sliced onion in some duck fat. Meanwhile, the duck skin renders into fat in another pan.

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I add vinegar, wine, chicken stock, bay leaf, fresh thyme.

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When it comes to a simmer, I cover it with a cartouche (parchment circle) and stick it in a moderate oven to cook gently for about 40 minutes.

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Result: Dad's favorite Rochelle vegetable.

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This is the old batch of confit from the fridge. I pulled out the two legs and discarded the fat--it was time for a fresh round. The meat got shredded and crisped in the oven, and then plated under the fresh seared duck breast for the entree.

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These are simple: pecans with five-spice powder, cinnamon, a tidge of salt and sugar, and butter, all sauteed together. Everybody loves these in salads or in a bowl for snacking.

Mom and Dad finally showed up. We started the evening off with a cocktail:

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Dad just had to sample the Pyrat rum Busboy, Mrs. Busboy and Hillvalley gave me back in November. I had a Campari and soda. Mom stuck to caffeine-free diet coke. I like to think of my bar selection as limited but reasonably useful.

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After happy hour, we moved into the dining room. We started off with the salad: butter lettuce with cranberries and the pecans. The vinaigrette was made with Hediard sherry vinegar, some interesting nut oil from Fauchon, a touch of Maille mustard, s&p. Mom really liked it.

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The plated duck breast and confit with braised cabbage and the mustard sauce (on the plate). Dad was practically beside himself. Like me, he loves duck.

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A very simple dessert of sauteed apples with spiced fromage blanc. We all try not to gorge on sugar and fat, so this was an appropriate ending to a lovely dinner.

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Dad was messing around with the camera, and he took this picture of my mother.

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He took this picture of me so he could play with the zoom function.

After dessert we cracked into the calvados I brought back from France. Mom didn't care for it as she isn't into brandies in general, but Dad and I loved the brandy/apple sensation--the heat in the throat and the full fruit flavor in the mouth. A fabulous ending to a great dinner.

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What will you stuff the portabellos with?

I usually make a quick-and-dirty bread stuffing, using the ends from the bread I buy in from Ottenberg's. I'm open to other suggestions, though.

Can you describe the sauteed apples and spiced fromage blanc a bit more? It sounds like great fruit and cheese course I would like to make sometime.

Have a wonderful dinner with your family.  :smile:

Apples: peeled sliced organic Granny Smiths, sauteed in butter with a little cinnamon and a tiny bit of sugar. The fromage blanc is the Vermont Butter and Cheese Company product, stirred with some cinnamon, some nutmeg, and a little Chinese 5-spice powder. Plus maybe a half-teaspoon of sugar. I put a dollop in the bottom of each bowl, then added the apples, and then topped it off with more fromage blanc. It wasn't very sweet and was a little tart, which I know is a set of flavors my parents appreciate.

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I have so enjoyed all your photos and your blogging notes. Wish it could go on and on.......

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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This is my last official blog post--it's time for the next candidate to take over.

But I wanted to mention this morning's breakfast first. My folks came back to my house to join my husband and I for a late-morning breakfast. I prepared a base of sauteed mushrooms, tomato concasse and chicken andouille sausage from Poche's market in Louisiana. I loaded the base into some New England bean pots my mother-in-law gave my husband years ago, and I cracked an egg or two on top of each. I added a dot of butter and baked the bean pots until the eggs were cooked through. We ate them with some sliced pears.

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Thanks for all the great comments here, folks. It's been a fun week!

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