Monday, March 31, 2008

Fresh and Easy: News

It is being reported (skeptically I might add) that Fresh and Easy is suspending its expansion program for three months. Interesting. F&E says the suspension was planned and they are pleased with the stores performance to date statewide. Wall street disagrees, stating that store sales are flagging and there is quite a bit of disappointment. Hmmm. With the dollar as weak as it is, it would seem they'd be full steam ahead on an expansion using foreign money. Being that you're getting supplies at a deep discount to build now is the time to be moving full speed ahead. There has to be more to the story than is being told currently.

F&E also states that they have been giving the chain a chance to kick the tires and make a few changes customers had requested. I know one thing. My F&E has been given a lesson in customer service. The store manager actually made eye contact with me and asked if I was finding everything I needed last week when I was in. It was surprising as I had been in several times and tried to make eye contact with him and had him purposefully look at the shelf he was stocking. If it were one time only I probably would have thought he was busy working but when you go in and it happens over and over it makes you wonder. Well, finally he spoke, and I was glad he was more comfortable reaching out to a customer.

That last paragraph makes me sound as if I think the store personnel are there to be my friends. Not really. However, when I worked at Central Market, we were taught that a customer, is always greeted when they pass by, not only when it is convenient. Central Market has set the bar high and other retailers would be rewarded by looking at their model of customer service. Given the fact that the F&E I shop in rarely has more than 20 (and I'm being generous) customers in it at one time, making that about a 2 to 1 ratio employees to customers, there is no reason they shouldn't be able to do that. It makes perfect sense to teach your employees how to "sell" to the customers and make the grocery buying experience a learning process as well as meeting their needs. Given that a lot of the products are F&E branded it would be good to be able to highlight the features and benefits of a product such as English Bacon. What makes it different, better or superior to what a customer is used to purchasing.

I hope they make it. I love the fresh green I can purchase daily. They taste a lot better than the ready made salads available city wide in larger stores. I love the line of butters, cheeses and deli choices. Given time F&E will fill a much needed slot in the grocery arena. I applaud them for stepping up and moving into markets others fear to tread. Bristol Farms, Trader Joe's are not willing to build stores in my burb. Fresh and Easy has built two so far and I hear they are thinking of one other on the other end of the valley (east side). Bristol and Trader's use the excuse that we aren't near their distribution hubs and our population lags the rest of the county yet they both have stores 2 hours from here 4 hours from the nearest distribution center. Let's not even mention Whole paycheck, er um , I mean Whole Foods.

I hope Fresh and Easy listens to their customers, talks to their customers and continues their expansion. We need another alternative to the standard bearer markets.

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Food Bloggers take note

If you're looking to drive your stats up, this story may be of interest to you! The dollar has been hit hard, inflation is up, gas prices are at their historical (or hysterical) highs, food costs are raising daily and yes Virginia there is a recession! So what's a cook to do?

Cook at home. According to the article, people seeking recipes that use simple, inexpensive ingredients rose 91% over the past three months. Wow! FoodBloggers unite! We can feed a family of five on how much? Putting up our best inexpensive meals, the world will beat a pathway to our doors! And, Food Blog Search will help them!

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Perfect example of pantry food

Risotto, originally uploaded by foodchronicles.

Last night I got home and was tired. I had been on a photo shoot of a graduation for a friend. I took a gig of photos over the span of two hours.

Dinner? Oh yeah. Dinner. What to make. I turned to the pantry and quickly threw together a good meal because my pantry had some necessary items in it.

Left over chicken from Easter dinner. Mushrooms, always on hand. Butter. Parmesan. Risotto. Shallots. Chicken broth.

Mince shallots. 2Tbs of butter in saucepan. Add shallots cook until clear. Add 1 cup uncooked risotto. Stir for two minutes. Melt butter in med fry pan. Add mushrooms, chop left over chicken breast into 1 inch cubes. While cooking shrooms and shallots, bring chicken broth (3 cups) to a simmer. Add 1/2 cup of broth to risotto. Stir in until almost evaporated. Rice will begin the creaming process. Add remaining broth, one cup at a time, over the span of 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add chicken to mushrooms. Heat chicken to warm. Add 1/2 cup of parmesan to risotto along with 2 tablespoons of butter. Add in chicken and mushroom mixture. Serve.

This took all of 25 minutes. Served with a salad of mixed greens and romaine, with a bit of cheese and salami. And dressing of course.


I was able to throw this together at the last minute, being tired and hungry because I could turn to a well stocked pantry. It was easier than saying to myself, just run and grab something and being unsatisfied.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

New project

I've got a neat project going at Cooper Chronicles. Go take a look!

More food stuff tomorrow. Thanks!

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

March 20th Macaron Day!

Yes, the day has arrived. I will be in the kitchen perfecting macarons today. I'll be back later with pictures! If you live in the big city you may be able to pick up a few. If you, like me, live in far away places that don't even know what a macaron is, get busy! Go in to your kitchen and bake some up!

Recipes: here, here and in several cookbooks! There is also the link to eGullet I gave you in the last post leading up to Macaron Day.

Me and Pierre Herme´ are tres sympatico baby! The macarons turned out sooooo good! I cannot believe I have put off making these for fear of not getting them right. Woohoo! I'll put up photos as soon as the hard drive I ordered arrives. My hard drive is full and cannot take another byte! I guess 10,800 pictures are a lot!

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Well Stocked Pantry

What exactly is a pantry? Oh wow. What a question. Pantries can be different to everyone. Depending on your cooking style and tastes, a pantry can have almost anything in it. The lists can never be definitive. Indian cooks are going to have different pantries than Italian cooks versus a southern cook and so forth. That said there are basics. Let's break it up by area, but please don't think that if something is on the list it needs to be in your pantry. Remember, if you don't like it, don't store it.

When deciding to fill a pantry, you have to look backwards to go forward. Let me explain. Generally you want your pantry to be a rotating inventory of food that gets used and replaced over a few months. I've shared and listened to more than my fair share of stories regarding a specialty item that expired in the back of the pantry. So before you begin buying, you really should look at your consumption of items prior to adding them. Foodstuffs do expire so keep that in mind when purchasing them.

The next thing to consider is storage. If you don't have a large kitchen, and very little storage space elsewhere, your needs and wants are going to be limited by your ability to store them properly. However, that does not mean you can't have a full pantry of foods that can make a meal in a pinch. Buying items packed in smaller quantities has its advantage at times. If you use a lot of spices but can't store large containers, look for the new spice systems available like this one.

flour, wheat, white (unbleached),rice, almond, potato etc.
granulated sugar
powdered sugar
brown sugar
baking powder
baking soda
chocolate (milk & various degrees of dark)
cocoa, dutched and regular

Dried Goods
dried beans (various types)
dried fruits

arborio rice
brown rice
white rice
wild rice

Tomatoes (canned)
chopped tomatoes
tomato sauce
tomato paste
whole tomatoes

apple cider vinegar
balsamic vinegar
red wine vinegar
raspberry vinegar
rice vinegar
white wine vinegar

Dried Pasta
angel hair
egg noodles

Dried Herbs
anise seeds
basil leaves
bay leaves
caraway seeds
cayenne pepper
chili powder
curry powder
dill weed
fennel seeds
herbs de Providence
dried mustard
peppercorns (assorted)
poppy seeds
salt (a good variety)
sesame seeds
Hot sauce (your favorite)

cinnamon (ground & whole sticks)
cloves (ground & whole)
nutmeg (ground and whole)
ground allspice
ground cardamon
ground ginger
ground mace

chicken broth
beef broth
hoisin sauce
gelatin (unflavored and flavored)
lemon juice (make sure it's real lemon)
lime juice
maple syrup
mustard (dried, seed and paste)
peanut butter
pickles (sweet, dill & relish)
sliced pimentos
soy sauce
sun dried tomatoes
Teryaki sauce
Worcestershire sauce

extra-virgin olive oil
vegetable oil
walnut oil
truffle oil

evaporated milk
powdered buttermilk
powdered milk
sweetened condensed milk

Canned Goods
beans - black, garbanzo, pinto, baked etc.
cream of mushroom soup
kidney beans
olives (green & black)
tuna fish

coffee (regular & decaf)
tea (various types)

almond extract
vanilla extract
vanilla beans

Specialty Items
artichoke hearts
curry paste
dried mushrooms
olive paste
roasted peppers
shrimp & crab boil
smoked oysters

Fresh Produce
fresh herbs (various)
garlic bulbs
onions (red & white)

Dairy and Nuts
parmesan cheese
sour cream
various cheeses
various nuts

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Cooking, task or love?

Well, anyone who is cooking for a family can probably tell you that it is a task most days. However, if you use a few basic tools, it can also be a love do to thing in your life.

1. Menu planning. If you take some time to plan ahead life goes a lot smoother. Menu planning is difficult for some, who wants to admit they have a set dining schedule? And, easier for others. Real Simple had this article on paid menu planning services. Well, you can pay for a variety of menus or just look around the net for ideas. Check out the sidebar of the article at Real Simple. There a variety of recipes. There are so many food bloggers out there though, that menu planning could turn into a PhD. seeking event if you're not careful.

Remember to choose items that you enjoy, or think you might enjoy cooking for meals. Don't fall into the trap of "we'll eat this because it's healthy" routine. Menu planning is like food storage, if you don't eat it now, don't store it, you won't eat it then either. Most people would rather starve to death than eat something they don't like. When menu planning, make sure the food is going to be enjoyed by most of the people at the table.

2. Cooking from scratch doesn't take any more time than using processed foods. When you have done your menu planning correctly, most meals can be pulled together in thirty minutes or less. Of course, if you're having homemade chili, or bread, or a roast, there has to be a bit of pre-preparation done. When you've done the prep work, the meal can actually be on the table in 30 minutes at the end of a long day.

I have been removing all prepped foods from our diet lately. I don't like the ingredients being used today so I have opted to cook only from fresh foods, or from scratch. No processed foods means I have to plan ahead and cannot wait until the last minute most of the time. However, if I keep a well stocked pantry, I can get somethin gon the table with little or no pre-planning when needed.

3. Have a well stocked pantry. There are basic foods that shoul dbe on hand to grab when needed. I will post a pantry list for you tomorrow. You will need to change it to suit your needs. You will find that if your pantry is kept stocked with basic items you can put together a meal in a snap. And, unexpected guests will no longer get the evil eye in your home!

Pre-planning, menu preparation and a well stocked pantry also will give you the opportunity to enlist others into the kitchen. Everyone will be willing to help out and learn about cooking when the opportunity arises.

4. Treat yourself to a few cooking classes. What better way to improve your skills? I live in the burbs. Cooking classes are at least an hour away. Ugh. However, when the closest Williams-Sonoma emails me and lets me know there are cooking demonstrations for free close by, I sign up! I know they are designed to sell me things I probably don't need, but the benefit of sitting through the class is the tips and techniques they share! If I have the will power, I may not buy anything, but then again maybe I do need that asparagus cooker!

There are also cooking classes on the web, on video and dvd! Netflix has them. YouTube has a few. And, your favorite food bloggers are always willing to share a few techniques along the way. And don't forget the food blog search on the right sidebar, it's got thousands of recipes right there!

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Why cook?

I remember as a new bride telling my husband that as soon as my children were old enough to tell their friends I was a good cook, I would be. My wedding shower yielding me the usual suspects of cookbooks: Betty Crocker's, Good Housekeeping's, and a subscription to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. In fact, one of my favorite bread recipes is from Better Homes and Gardens magazine from 1978 or so.

And so it began. In childhood my diet consisted of awful foods like macaroni and cheese with stewed tomatoes (yeccch!) and s.o.s. My mother was a single parent from the time I was 4 and a half and she worked full time. We ate whatever she threw together at the last minute and we didn't complain. If we didn't eat it, she served it for breakfast. Aaack.

I did not have a bowl of spaghetti, other than Chef Boyardee, until I was a junior in high school. We never had tacos, well not until the local Del Taco opened in my senior year and both my brother and I worked there. My mother was the daughter of a British immigrant and they ate British foods. No ethnic foods of any sort. Sometimes on a Friday payday we'd run down to the local greasy spoon and buy 10 hamburgers for a dollar. We'd each get two and split a large coke. When she began dating a guy when I was twelve pizza entered our world.

But, I digress. As soon as I began dating the big guy (all 6 feet four inches of him) my food odyssey began. He took me to the only real Italian place in town. The owners were friends and they were from Italy. The Pride of Italy was the most amazing place I had ever eaten. Real meatballs. Real pasta. Ricotta cheese. Wow. It was delicious. I dreamed of being able to cook like that someday.

When I read on other blogs about women not being able to cook, it saddens me just a bit. Cooking is not hard. It just takes practice. Yes, there are those talented few that don't need to practice, it just happens for them, but most people can cook with a little effort. But then again there are plenty of stories out there talking about the newlyweds trying out their first smoker, their first fondue set and their first organic dinner and it makes me smile.

So we'll begin a little journey. I'm going to put up a few recipes and techniques to help you become more food savvy in the next couple of weeks. It should give you a good foundation to begin on your own too. Like Katie says, "Cooking for someone is loving someone!"

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

March 20th!

Calendar it! Pierre Herme´ has designated March 20th as Macaron Day! So in the spirit of Macaron day we should all make some Macarons!

The ingredient list includes almond flour so you'll need to find some before baking day! Bob's Red Mill makes it and I have found it at Trader Joe's also.

Then you need to set aside a bit of time to review this really good tutorial on eGullet. If you are not a member you can view it, but not post to the forum. The pictures explain it very well. The recipe is there too!

Soon you too will be a cooking diva!
French Macarons

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Friday, March 07, 2008

Here, there and everywhere

Oh my I can't believe it has been a week! What have I been doing? Well, working on a slides to digital images project that must be finished next week! Anyone else want some slides converted? I've been working on this project for ever. There were 1560 slides and I am just about through them. So in the interest of your cooking/food curiosity I give you:

Megan. This post has been through the bologsphere and if you haven't seen it you should. I am sure you have at least glanced at it a bit though. I think I am going to give it a try when I get the summer tomatoes off the vine. Mmmm. A real live BLT salad!

In the dolrums? You simply must go take a look at Cupcakes Take the Cake. How does one stay in a blue funk with all that sugar? Now run off a bake a few using Chokylit's recipes. There has too be one to please you!

Easter is coming around the corner. Sur La Table is having a 30% off sale. There is always something good to add to the "stuff" sectin of your kitchen! The cutters are getting a second look from me.

Get your tivo ready! TopChef 4 is on it's way! Yippee. Just finished watching Project Runway and we head to the kitchen! I'll never get into designer clothes if Bravo keeps this up! Top Chef was filmed in Chicago this time around. This should be good.

And last but not least a picture from my photostream:

French Macaroons
It's almost Macaroon day! March 20th has been designated Macaron Day by Pierre Herme! We're going to have to celebrate too.

I'll be back tomorrow with a real food post!

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