Friday, November 20, 2009

The Beaujolais Nouveau is here!

While everyone else in the country camped out for a midnight screening of the latest "Twilight" movie, I was getting off of work and heading to the wine department of the local grocery store with one thing on my mind...I went up to the man working that department and asked, unable to conceal my excitement, "Excuse me, but has the Beaujolais Nouveau arrived?"

It's really quite nice, I like it a lot better than last year's actually. There's a certain brightness to it, a very pleasant fruitiness that doesn't come off as too sweet as some previous Beaujolais have done. They say that this year's press is the best they've had in 50 years. I'd definitely recommend buying it. I had mentioned it to a few people at work before I was able to get out and buy mine, and told them that I'd toured that region in France this past summer. The connection makes it even more fun, to think that I had been where the grapes were grown, it's pretty cool.

I had the day off today so I had a little fun with my Pepperidge Farm puff pastry. One of my favorite things to make with this dough is finger food. Just wrap up some tasty morsels into a little bundle, and that's what I did today. I had a package of little frozen scallops, which I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with when I bought them. I cut some of the puff pastry into squares and placed a thin slice of butter on each one. Onto that, I spooned on some finely minced celery, onion, and garlic. Four (thawed) scallops went on top of that, salt and pepper, and they were ready to wrap. They turned out to be very good! Simple yet tasty, which is just what I was going for. I still have plenty of dough left over, and with the holidays coming up I'll certainly find a use for it all. I might make napoleons with it, or make individual tartlet shells, that's what I love about puff pastry, it's so versitile!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Adventure always awaits!

This week I had the great opportunity to go to a holiday wine-tasting party hosted by Hy-Vee catering. It was a fun night, just the thing to get me out of the house! I dressed up a bit, even put on some makeup and was ready for a night on the town. Although it took a few extra turns to find the right building, the falling dusk and half-finished road construction were not exactly aiding my quest, I was parked in front just as people were starting to arrive. All of us were given a glass that we would be allowed to keep at the end of the night, and once I got up to the ballroom level, I hung up my coat and was given a map of the ballroom. Each table was listed, showing who was there to show off their wares, as well as a list of the wines they had to sample. A perfect way to remember which wines I'd taste throughout the evening and make future notes of what to buy the next time I go out shopping. I was happy to see that Glazer's Distributors were represented (although not by Joe and Jason, the Glazer's representatives that I'd met on previous occasions). I started off the evening with Hub City Brewery's Olde Brown Porter, which is surprisingly sweet. Same goes for their Oatmeal Stout, which pleasantly reminded me of Guinness. I'm Irish, after all ;-) After cleansing my palate I moved on to sample some lovely reds. Layer Cake Shiraz was the first wine I tried, it definitely lived up to its name. It has many flavors which unfold as it's sipped, as though delving through decending layers. Another that I sampled from the same table was called Inkberry, a mix of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The color was a deep dark shade of red-violet, very warm, just enough bite to the finish. One downfall that shiraz can be guilty of is its bitterness, but it was perfectly balanced by the cabernet. Well, at this point I've had a bit to drink, now it was time to scope out the finger food. At a nearby carving table, servers were making roast porkloin mini-sandwiches, which fortunately complimented my early-evening selections. Remembering a promise I'd made to a friend, my next wine selection was a pinot noir, which I drank in her honor.

I meandered around the room, nibbling whatever looked good, they had single portions of fettuccini alfredo, sushi, even a dessert table. It was all laid out in festive array, looking cheerful but not garishly so. At the next table, I sampled my first ever sauvignon blanc. It was quite citrus-heavy, and while I can see why some people would be drawn to it, it became rather cloying as I kept sipping. I was glad to finish with it and have some Red Muscat, which was something I'd never even heard of until that night. Back to the reds for me, it was sweet yet not overpowering. The next table had a selection of cheeses, bread, and dipping oils. These people sure know how to put together an elegant affair. There was a roasted pepper fontina of which I was particularly fond. What a treat! A mix of salty and sweet, so creamy yet sharp. I'll have to find out where to buy that, I bet it would be a hit at family Christmas in Wisconsin! That's half the fun of going, it gives me ideas for future culinary adventures. I mingled around, talked to a few of the chefs there, even accidentally ran into one of my readers! I was talking to a woman standing next to me, engaging in wine-humor ("This Merlot reminds me of my ex" "What, bitter anf fruity?") when I handed her one of my business cards and she said "I've read you!" so that was pretty cool! Yay for being recognized! At another table, I tried a wine that the representative billed as similar to a Beaujolais, which got me thinking, I wonder how this year's Beaujolais will be? I'll find out shortly!

On to more food, a spicy seafood dip with shrimp and crab and cream cheese, very tasty! Along with the requisite crab-stuffed mushroom caps, I had my heart's content of seafood. I wasn't shy about going back for more, either! Of course, I don't think anyone was. The last table was serving egg nog, it wouldn't be a holiday-themed party without it. Nice and rich!

As I was leaving, I was given a reusable wine tote to use the next time I go shopping, along with a few coupons and a shot glass! So, after sitting in the lobby for a while, sipping water as I waited for my head to clear a bit, I headed home. I'm so glad I got to go, and I'll definitely keep my ear to the ground for similar events in the future.

Today I got a nice piece of mail, a coupon for Pepperidge Farm puff pastry dough! I have tomorrow off so I'll definitely pick some up and play around with it. This should be fun! I'll definitely report on my doings :-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

High times, hard times

I've started sending out applications again, hoping for some part-time hours to fill in the gaping holes in my schedule. We've had a few good busy days at work this week, so maybe if it continues then they'll put more hours up on the board. The trouble is, it's not just Champps. Several restaurants and hotels in town have been suffering lately. There just isn't a steady flow of business that we can count on. They say that the recession has nearly run its course, and things will normal out again soon. I'm hopeful of that. I'm used to living cheaply, so I'm still okay. If I have to I can always cut my cable. That won't be a huge loss, there's never anything on anyway. I can't wait for things to turn around, though, that'll be nice.

It makes such a difference in the attiudes of my coworkers. This quiet period has been making us rather despondant. When we get a busy patch it's like we all come back to life, we're excited, moving around, happy to have a stream of tickets come chirping in. We had a nice lunch rush today; when the grill and saute station start getting orders in, I start bouncing on the balls of my feet, my eyes on my printer, waiting for my turn, anxious to dive in. It's always a satisfying feeling to take on a bunch of orders at once.

So we've had a few days of good business, and as a result I've picked up a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, I'm thankful of that, so maybe this will lead into more across the board. I will not lose hope. I started the day off in good spirits, chopping my lettuce while humming the finale of Les Miserables, just playing it in my head still gives me chills :-) There was an air of activity at last, things to do, preparations to make. I had my station ready and waiting in good time, my mise en place laid out, I even snatched some extra towels from the linen closet (they always disappear the second you turn your back!) After the lunch rush I was able to restock and clean up and finish my prep list to be out the door on time. As much as I enjoy staying late to pick up the odd extra hour or two, I don't want to just hang back when everything's done. I've had a good couple of days in a row, and I have tomorrow off. Time to tidy up, do the laundry, and read my cookbooks. On Wednesday before work, I'm taking my grandpa out to lunch, he served in India during World War II and always likes taking part in Veteran's Day festivities.

My day was made even better this afternoon when I checked my mail and found a package from a dear friend of mine, she'd sent me some cds of a mutual favorite singer, Catatonia. Not many people in the US have heard of them, but they take up a good portion of my iPod. Good stuff.

Friday, November 6, 2009

When the well runs dry

Since Halloween, this past week has been really slow. I'm not sure what's causing this sudden downturn in customers, we were doing just fine up until recently, but it's resulted in a lot of our hours getting cut. I've been sent home early just about every day this week, and getting completely cut out from the second half of what was supposed to be a double shift. Everyone's getting this, right up to the management. I hope things start turning around, but in the meantime I'll start looking for more work because I can't live on 25 hours a week. Luckily, my rent is paid, all of my bills are up to date, so I'm good for another month. By then, business will be back on track with the holidays, that's the upside of working in a restaurant with an adjoining hotel. I have to keep telling myself that this is just a temporary setback. Things will get better, we just have to dig our heels in, tighten the belt, and hold on. I also have to remind myself of how fortunate I am, compared to many people in the world. I have a roof over my head, gas in the car, food in the pantry, and my cat in my lap. I'm good at living within my means, I don't need much to be happy.

Last night we were busy for about an hour or so, if we can start getting some healthy rushes like that again then it will make all the difference. What puzzles me is that in the past few days they've hired a few new cooks and a dishwasher. If we're not doing that great at the moment, why would they build up the staff now?

When I was hired at Champps, the chef really talked up how busy they typically are, how much money they pull down per night on the average, so while it's possible that he was exaggerating somewhat to impress me, I'm assuming that this recent slump is not characteristic of the business. Things are bound to improve. We have a few parties booked this week, so that's a good sign. One of them is a wedding, so that's good money. I'm only scheduled to work until 8, but when I'm on the banquet side, 12-8 could easily mean 12-midnight. That would be great if I could get some hours that way. I'll even stay and wash dishes if they'd let me, or get prep done for the next day, whatever they could hand me. Cross your fingers for me!