o'Bagelo's Famous Chicken Salad

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Another secret revealed!  I have denied many people the details of the Chicken Salad recipe during my years behind the counter and in the kitchen.  As I do not anticipate having the opportunity to serve my old customers, I thought you might want to serve yourself.

Chicken Salad

  • 8 oz Boneless/skinless chicken breast          
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt/pepper/granulated garlic
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup rasins 
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise (Hellmann's brand)
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp allspice
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes (includes 45 minutes cooling time for cooked chicken)


Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  Season the chicken breast with salt, pepper, granulated garlic on both sides of the breast.  Place on a sheet pan and bake, covered with foil, for 25 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. 


While the chicken is cooking, you can prep the rest of the salad.  Add the remaining ingredients to a large bowl to allow for mixing without too much mess (make sure to accommodate for the chicken).

When the chicken has reached temperature, place in the refrigerator to cool for 45 minutes.  You do not want to add warm chicken to the rest of the mixture, as the mayo will separate and turn.  

Once cooled, mince the chicken (I use a knife, but you can use a food processor) until a shredded consistency.  Mix the chicken with the rest of the salad mixture.  Add additional mayo to meet your desired consistency.








Charlie and the Chicken Salad

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           I recall a customer (and now friend) telling me about an experience he had at a very nice restaurant in New York City.  It must have been in the early 90’s based on our friendship timeline.  Charlie is in his 60’s and quite an entertaining guy.  He has a comedic personality that is streaked with “Woody Allen” wit.  Quite a coincidence as well, as his appearance mirrors the great Actor/Writer, or maybe it's not.  He (Charlie, not Woody) was having lunch at o’Bagelo’s when I spotted an emerging grin come across his face. Charlie was not only a smart man, but he had a good deal of social intelligence and a sense of timing that elevated his personal stock. He knew the right audience and the right time to regale a group with a topical story. It was obvious that he was about spin a tale as he felt a opening in the conversation and the appropriate grouping of people.
 
The New York City restaurant served him a pasta dish laced with some kind of seafood and he asked the waiter for some “grating cheese”.  The waiter’s demeanor changed quickly and Charlie sensed something was coming. For foodies, this has so many wrongs in it, that even the hypothetical “right” that it doesn't produce was shaking it’s head. Charlie didn’t tell this tale with any semblance of anger or even embarrassment.  Nope, in true “Woody” style in was dripping with humorous self deprecation.  

His first “wrong” was not indicating the type of cheese. Not only do the most common grated cheeses vary in degree of sharpness, but they also come from different animals. Although “grating cheese” may be a universal in certain types of restaurants, this was not one of them. 
Second, sir, (I a m sure the waiter was saying this all with his eyes), you have not yet tasted the chef’s creation, for which you are paying an exorbitant amount, and you wish to alter the finished product?  Certainly you are no chef, or you would never have insulted us in this manner.  
And thirdly, the old adage of never combining cheese with seafood was currently fashionable in many food arenas and being upheld in restaurants with a snarky distaste for the customer.  The waiter curtly informed him that he would not, and the chef doesn’t allow for  “grating cheese” on his seafood dishes (assume eye roll and derisive look).  

Charlie was a bit shocked but continued the story with a smile on his face.  He was in no way condoning the behavior, but was happy to have it in his repertoire of tales.  I don’t remember how it ended, but if you see a guy walking about town who looks like the Italian version of Woody Allen, you can ask him yourself.

The trigger for Charlie’s story was an all too common event we called the “Chicken Salad” argument.  It was a recurring interaction (often ending in an argument) with varying results.  A customer would order a chicken salad sandwich, and then ask for cheese.  If I was serving, the answer was a disinterested “No” and I would just move on to other questions concerning the order.  If it was one of the staff serving, they response included a sorry looking, apologetic pause, followed by “We can’t do that here. The owner doesn't allow us to put cheese on chicken salad.”
  
Depending on the type of customer and specific server, there were a variety of reactions.  The docile customer went along and accepted the answer, albeit somewhat confused.  Some of these people just avoided confrontation. Others were unsure of their surroundings and didn’t want to look stupid (Questioning possible religious implications or quirky notifications they may have missed).  
The inquisitive customer wanted to know why, and would boldly ask.  If they did so politely and without a condescending attitude, I would give them a polite answer.  The others were served a different demeanor.  Even when busy, I would take the time to tell a polite newbie that we hand make our products, and this particular item had special ingredients and a little something secret that does not mix well with cheese recipe here(This is my interpretation of how those interactions transpired, but I’m sure if you asked some of the customers, they might recall it differently). This presented a crossroads for some.  Either accept my answer or challenge the response.  Which could transform the inquisitive into the angry customer rather quickly, since that was the end of my politeness (if it ever really existed). The customer was unaware of our “order it my way, or order something else” model for this menu option.  If they decided to hop on their high horse, the interaction wasn’t going to end well. 
The angry customer was offended at anyone saying no to them about anything.  The “Too Nice Suit” guy (or girl) wasn’t going to have a dirty deli guy tell them what they can and can’t do.  The “Walmart” girl (or guy) was destined to act any way they please where ever they were.  Either way the angry ones didn’t last long.  No extended argument with polite undertones.  No personal attacks (from our side of the counter, at least).  It was short, curt and to they point.  Not going to happen. Are you in or out? We have things to do here. 

The interactions were always a source of amusement or befuddlement for the customers not involved in the discussion.  Keep in mind that what started out as a very serious line in the sand, quickly turned into yet another marketing goldmine (see OTHER)  that only deepened the line. Not only did customers tell their coworkers about what had happened, but some went so far as to set their friends up for a practical joke.  These were just some of the responses that could be heard in the store:  

“You can put anything on your own chicken salad that you wish.  But not on mine.”

“I did not hand cut and trim every ingredient so you could ruin it with your McDonald’s      
  taste buds.”

“If you are adamant about getting things your way, I suggest you go home and make it yourself.”

There were times that heated discussions ensued with attempts to force my hand.  On occasion, a customer would turn around and leave.  Sometimes they would be defiant in their own way and refuse to order the chicken salad.  Either way, they were certain to tell as many people that would listen to their tale of mistreatment and humiliation. Most people thought this was a ridiculous behavior from both parties involved but enjoyed hearing about this experience. Once again, the marketing paid off, and listeners wanted to see this place for the themselves. A business can’t buy the type of advertising that this office gossip was producing.
This wasn’t the only rule we enforced, but it certainly got the most attention. Perhaps  my favorite was the ketchup, or catsup rule.  Simply put, we do not serve it. When asked why, I would casually respond, “Ketchup is a poor use for a tomato.” This one surprised people just as much, but it was less frequently an issue. We didn’t have many menu items that might invite a request for catsup, but that wasn't always the opinion of the customer. Those that insisted were going to be confused and disappointed. 

My aversion to this “antithesis of food” condiment, as I called it, stems back to my childhood.  I grew up in an italian household and with a large extended Italian family.  Though our neighbors represented a multicultural America, our home was still pretty ethnic.  I’m not sure if we even had any catsup in the house, but there was always “sauce”, “gravy”, “ragu”, or whatever your Italian neighbors called it a seemingly small difference. 

This is not to say that I wasn’t exposed to catsup, on the contrary, my exposure is most likely what secured my position with such vigor.  The neighborhood was a new development across from a elementary school which brought many new families to the small street.  Plenty of kids of all ages moving in around the same time, so we were all new to the area.  Quite a wonderful place to grow up and I am still in touch with all of those friends.  One of my friends was all Anglo and mostly irish.  When we played at his house and his mother gave us snacks, it always included a side of catsup.  Potato chips, sandwiches, it didn’t matter, always catsup.  This was very foreign to me, but I tried everything, as I was a guest.  My friend, even as a young child, was positive about any subject matter he chose to speak about.(something he holds onto even to this day).  He tried to convince me this was more the norm than the exception, despite my confusion.

When I started serving my own food with a bit of confidence, I found no qualitative value with the addition of that particular condiment, and therefore it wasn’t available.  But what usually came out of my mouth was something like “I cannot bare to witness you bastardize my food with catsup.” Yeah, I know, I’m an ass, but I will survive or fail by my positions.  

And that really is the whole point of this discussion. Businesses are too quick to accommodate any request from a customer. Whatever they might want, it is done. It doesn’t matter how much training, how successful, or how creative the output of the entrepreneur.  Somehow, somewhere, restaurants, and frankly all retail, lost their backbone.  Continued reinforcement of this behavior has the customer empowered with the wrong tools.  When they should use their shoes (by walking out) to build a better experience, they are using their mouths (creating scenes to force their way) to do so.  What used to be an adventure of different cultures and regions of the country through food is now merely an excuse to force one’s experiences, often limited, on others.  

I have a belief that this all started in the back room of some major corporation. In an attempt to motivate a sales staff. The phrase was coined that has moved this country a few clicks in the wrong direction. Those few clicks are all it took to change many things we experience on a daily basis. That phrase “The Customer is always right” should have never been leaked out to the public.  What was an effort to get salespeople to listen to the customer’s needs and report back for evaluation has turned into a demon from Pandora’s box that has no inkling of going back home.

This may seem like a “Goose and Gander” argument, but I think otherwise.  The only loser in this scenario is me.  I either lose your business, or I lose my soul.  The customer can choose my offerings, or move on to find something more to their liking.  Their choice.  
This is not to say that I never made adjustments to my products based on customer input.  I absolutely did.  Anyone in business does this.  But there is a limit, and in some situations there is no budging.  The customer shouldn’t be condemned for asking, but neither should the business owner for denying.  You ask, I say no, you get to decide if you are in or out.  Seems fair to me. 
The economy of the soul has a bell curve too and I’m afraid the bell rings too loud and deep in today’s world.  Not enough acceptance of diversity. “Make me your ethnic wonders or individual creations, and then let me smother in ketchup, ‘cause I like ketchup.” Gag. Puke. Soul sucking behavior. 
    I like to project this belief onto to other issues but I get just as much push back. I'm not following the customer around and ripping cheese of other chicken salad sandwiches they may order, but I'm comfortable telling them it's not happening on the one's you order here. I have chosen to take a risk and produce a product I want to be proud to serve.  If the market for my product is not sufficient, I will suffer the loss. If you force me to change in order to meet your desires, my soul suffers and yours stagnates.  Exposure and experience reduce fear and increase understanding. And I think we all need a little more of both in this world today. 

I still think both parties lose when someone takes the position that a reasonable understanding can’t be tolerated of anyone who doesn’t use the same spices to cook with, or the same condiments afterward. 


So “Sorry Charlie. No . No cheese for you!” 

Follow up to: "The Nerd, the jock, and the catalyst"

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          This is a follow up to a previous post "The Nerd, The Jock, and The Catalyst" where I told you the story of a long running practical joke concerning the excommunication of a friend from the catholic church.  Recently my cohort in this soul risking action and I have had the chance to spend some time together. Not only was he able to dig up the original letters, but it was decided that we all needed some closure (well, he and I at least).

           In addition, my catholic guilt was starting to get the better of me.  A final letter was sent (see below), in the spirit of the new pope.  We rescinded the excommunication that was left dangling many years ago. Although I am not sure if this will reconcile my sins or exacerbate them, I thought it was worth a shot, and we both thought it was the right thing to do.  

Beets and Goat cheese, the fresh way.

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A very simple dish that will wow your friends with both color and taste.  Don't be afraid of fresh beets.  Fantastic dish, anytime of year.

Fresh Beets with Goat cheese and spinach.


  • 1 bunch of fresh beets
  • 8 oz bag of fresh spinach
  • 4 oz Goat cheese


Total time: 40 minutes.  Most of which is just boiling the beets.

Special tools:  A pair of disposable gloves helps, but is not necessary.

Trim the beets of the greens and other non-desireable pieces.  Place then in a pot of water and bring to a boil and let sit for at lest 25 minutes.  Cook until fork tender, and turn off heat.  You can let them sit in the water while you prepare the rest of the dish, or the rest of your meal.


Break up the goat cheese in a bowl larger enough to add and mix warm beets.

When ready to serve, drain the beets in a colander, and set them on a surface that will be easy to clean and resists staining.  If you need to trim the ends again, do so now.  I like to cut the beets in half and set the cut side down on the surface.  Pinch the skin of the cut beet and it should pull off very easily.
Discard the skins and dice the beets to desired size.




Place warm beets in the bowl with the goat cheese and mix thoroughly.  The beets should turn a beautiful pink color as the cheese melts.

Serve of a bed of spinach, while still warm.

Salt and pepper to taste.  Sprinkle a small amount of goat cheese on top of finished product to garnish. .












Arancini ( Fried Rice Balls)

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           This is a follow up to the Risotto recipe from the previous post.  My Sicilian mother always taught to me cook "as if a family of 5 walked in just as you sat down for dinner.  So, when those elusive family members or friends didn't show, there was leftovers.

           A big bowl of risotto isn't going to stay creamy and perfect for very long, but the next day (or two) you can turn it into another marvelous meal or snack, that will last a few more days.


Arancini

  • Left over Risotto, chilled until ready to use (pictured is a spicy pepper risotto)
  • 4 cups vegetable oil for frying (olive oil is best, but this is less expensive) 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup bread crumbs (I prefer the Seasoned bread crumbs for this recipe)
  • 1 Sausage link (cooked and chopped)
  • 1/8 cup cubed Fresh mozzarella cheese
  • Your favorite Tomato sauce to serve with finished product.
      Risotto recipe here

Total time: 30 minutes


Start by heating vegetable oil in a large, deep, heavy bottomed pot. Be sure the pot is filled less than 1/3 of the total to leave room for displacement, splatter, and safety.

While the oil is heating up, prepare two large bowls; one with the three eggs, whisked well, and the other with the bread crumbs.  I have used two serving bowls to best show of the process,  but I prefer to use metal mixing bowls for ease and less mess.



Have the sausage and mozzarella ready to use on separate plate.

Next, take a large meatball size portion of the risotto (about 4 oz) and roll it into a ball.  Push one finger into the center of the rice ball about halfway through, making a space to stuff with the filling.

Now fill the half of the empty space created with equal parts of sausage and mozzarella. Roll the ball again with your hands, closing up the space completely.  If you need to add a little more risotto to patch it up, that's fine.  Set aside and continue with the rest of the balls.


Once you have them all ready, it's time to bread them.  Roll each ball in the egg wash and coat thoroughly on all sides.  Let excess egg drain off and roll the ball in the bread crumbs. Cover the entire surface and set aside for frying.





























When the oil is at temp, place three or four of the rice balls in the fryer for about 5 minutes total.  If they are completely submerged, they can be left alone to cook.  If they are not, you will need to rotate after 2-3 minutes to make sure all sides are cooked.



When done, place on plate with paper towel, or or cooling rack to drain.

Serve with a side of your favorite tomato sauce.

These can be refrigerated for several days as a wondrous Sicilian snack as well, so don't let the risotto efforts go to waste.



   
         













Peanut Butter Cookies and the scientific method

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          Warning! This story isn’t politically correct in any form. I’ve tried to round the corners and make it acceptable, it’s still not PC. Read on and live with it or be offended. Your choice.
          I had breakfast with Jim, a friend who was back in town from California. He’d started coming to my bagel shop many years ago on the recommendation of Billy, one of my favorite regulars who’s since passed away. Billy became a close friends through the years, and he‘s missed by anyone who knew him. His is a story (or two or three) that I’ll tell another day, but one of the many things he did for me was to continually bring in new customers.

Mushroom Risotto

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Mushroom Risotto

I like to think that most of the recipes I have posted are easy, but at first they may seem a bit daunting.  Repetition and tweaking for your own comfort is the key.  They will get easier each time.

Mushroom Risotto


  • 1 Cup Arborio Rice
  • 3 cups Chicken stock (warmed on the stove)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked mushrooms (your choice)
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • Fresh parsley
  • Truffle oil (optional)


Cooked Mushrooms


  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms (your choice, but a mixture works best)
  • 2 tsp Tamari (high end soy sauce)
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt/pepper/cayenne
Melt butter in pot big enough to hold all the mushrooms.  Add the rest of the ingredients and sauté for  20 minute. Do not let the mushrooms get dry.  Set aside until ready to add to rice.
This can be done while you start the risotto.

Total time : 45 minutes

Tip: You will notice that I use a concentrated chicken stock that comes in the form of a paste.  I have used this for many years and it lasts for some time in the fridge.  Just add water to get the desired consistency. The pastes are available in many stores, but you may have a hard time finding them in places that are trying to enhance their brand by carrying mainly their own labeled products.  Be diligent. Quality counts.


Tip: I have found better luck using a large flat skillet for my risotto, distributing the heat over a larger portion of the rice.


Start by warming your chicken stock and keeping in on the stove near the pan you plan on using for the rice.  Next warm up the skillet for the rice and add the oil and butter.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until translucent.  Now add the rice and toast in the oil and onions. Be sure to completely coat rice on all sides with the oil butter mixture.



Once the rice is toasted, add the white wine and stir the rice slowly.  Add salt/pepper at this stage. When the wine ahas absorbed into the rice, ladle the chicken stock 1/2 cup at a time into the rice mixture and stir frequently to release the starch.  I like to add the cooked mushrooms when 3/4 of the fluid is in the rice.  Keep this up until the all the liquid is absorbed into the rice.  You may need to add some more stock if the rice is too firm.  
When the rice is done, turn off the heat and add the parmesan and the heavy cream and mix.  Transfer to a serving bowl, and drizzle some truffle oil (optional), and finish with parsley and more parmesan.  Serve immediately as the rice will continue to absorb the liquid and get thick.

The picture is green bowl below is right out of the pan. Creamy and a bit fluid.  20 minutes later when we sat out on the pork with the other dishes we made, it had already began to thicken.  Still delicious, but a slightly different texture.  Not to worry though, the next recipe (Arancini) will help you tun the leftover risotto into little fried gems!

Sausage with Rappi and beans

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                                                                                                                                                                         A quick little side dish or a nice light meal
       

  • 1 lb Italian Sausage 
  • 1 bunch rapi (rappini, broccoli rabe)
  • 1 16 oz can cannelloni beans
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Parmesan cheese
  • crushed red pepper
  • Sour Dough bread
Total Time: 20 minutes

First bring a 8 cups of water to a boil.  Place rapi in boiling water for 3 minutes, remove and set aside in a ice water bath.


Cut sausage into 1 inch pieces, and brown in a heavy bottom stock pot with oil.  When the sausage is almost cooked add the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes to taste (You may want to start with fresh oil, if the sausage is too fatty).   Cook for 2 minutes.







Next, rinse and drain the beans and add to mixture. Drain the rapi, and add that as well.  Add your chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for 5 minutes. Serve in bowls with slices of sourdough bread and finish with Parmesan cheese.

A few on the fringe

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The store did not only attract business, legal and sports people; there were a fair share of those who lived outside the behavioral norms and some on the edges of life as well. Many of the stories told in this outlet represent interactions and experiences with those still within the fattest part of the bell curve, but being downtown, diversity was still king.  This post is a collection of some of those customers throughout the years.  
Let’s start with George.  I’m not sure that was his real name, but that's what we decided to call him. He acknowledged it, and in most cases responded in return.  George was a short, slender man, with long wavy sliver hair that seem to glisten. It was always neatly combed, and he ran his hands over it often, keeping it that way. Oddly it never appeared dirty or greasy. George presented as if he knew his away around a can of pomade.  His clothes were layered in a manner that indicated his body was also his closet.  There was a slight accent, English or Scottish maybe.  George could often be seen having  one, if not several conversations on the street with some of the voices he was hearing.  They were usually animated but with a reasonable volume, and as a gentlemen might, he usually paused as someone walked by, nodding if greeted. 
 

Chocolate Raspberry Cookies

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Another favorite from the days of the bagel shop.  This is a recipe that I am taking full credit for, whereas others I only take partial credit.

Ingredients:


  • 1/2 lb butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup raspberry preserves or raspberry jelly
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup Raspberry flavoring (Any of the coffee syrup brands will work fine) 
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Parchment or non stick spray

Total Time: 45 minutes. (To mix and bake, but I suggest an overnight cooling in the fridge.)

 First step is to melt the butter.  (Although many pastry chefs will tell you never to do this, we did it this way at the store for all our years.)

Next, place the flour in the bowl you plan on mixing the dough in, and cream in the melted butter.

 Now add the eggs and mix thoroughly.  Add the raspberry flavoring and the raspberry preserves, mix again.  You should a wet dough mixture that is slightly pink.
                                                         

Add your all purpose flour next and before mixing, add salt and baking soda. Mix this well and then add the cocoa to finish the dough.

Finally, fold in the chocolate chips. You can mix them in with the whisk, just be careful not to let the chips melt by mixing too long.

(I suggest you taste at this point, even though the dough had raw eggs, because it is just delicious.)

Refrigerate the dough for at least 2 hours (overnight is best).



 I like to bake them at 360 degrees in my home oven for about 12 minutes.  But I recommend you run a single cookie test because every oven is different and this dough can be sensitive.

At home, I generally bake on parchment paper, but we never did this at the store.  If you do not use parchment, be sure to use a non-stick  spray.



I have finished the plate with a little of the raspberry syrup for that fancy restaurant feel.




Marvelous Margarita

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A little something from California.  I never really liked Margaritas until I started making these.

Ingredients:


  • 3 oz Good tequila ( I use Espolon)
  • 2 1/2 oz Cointreau (orange liquor)
  • 3 Limes
  • 1 oz Blue Agave 
  • Ice
Total time: 5 minutes

In a shaker, add the tequila, Cointreau, juice of 2 limes, blue agave, and ice.  Shake until a frost forms on the outside of the shaker.

Serve over ice, and garnish with lime.

If you wish, you can put all ingredients into a blender, and make a frozen version.


Extended Photo section here.