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. 
          After Jim and Billy made their initial visit, their group grew to  include a mother/daughter hairdresser duo and a few others. All were part of a Saturday morning crew that used to meet at the shop. It was people like them who made Saturday my favorite day. Even in the summer months, when business would slow nearly to a halt, they made my week.
          Now that I don’t put in 60 to 70 hour weeks, I have the chance to go out for a casual breakfast or lunch. On this particular day, Jim, the mother/daughter duo, and I met at a place where I didn’t have to serve (something I’ve really enjoyed since suffering my medical setback). These reunions often bring up memories of some crazy antics, many of which I’d forgotten. This rendezvous was no exception, as Jim came loaded for bear with the next chapter of a continuing tale.
          First let me introduce Joe, the employee. He was a grad student from downstate working on his Master’s. Intelligent and contagiously friendly, Joe is a slight guy with long, thinning, curly hair kind of like Kenny G. He was a baseball fan and an avid reader, and a natural fit for the clientele and for me. We were often mistaken for relatives, and for this I apologize to him. Joe didn’t always like me as an employer, but we got along well on a personal level.
         Late one afternoon Joe was working the counter and a regular customer came in for cookies. He was having a rough day at the office and needed his fix. My downtown location provided a steady flow of traffic from a diverse workforce, and they all appreciated our homemade cookies.
         I saw Joe snickering at the counter as the customer left. He seemed hesitant to tell me what he was thinking, but we both knew he’d spill the beans. He said it was funny that certain customers tended to buy certain cookies, and, over the past several months, he’d developed a theory and started an informal social test. Even regulars would ask about the available cookie selection, and Joe gladly went through the list (I had no patience for this). As he listed the available options, he’d note their reactions for his study. Joe’s theory was that men who appeared or were known to be homosexuals preferred peanut butter cookies and would raise their eyebrows and look pleased when offered that option. 
         Maybe you find this offensive, and if you want to climb up on a hobby horse and demonize us, that’s your perrogative. But if you’ve worked in the business, you know that this type of craziness is what helps us get through the day. And if you claim that you never stereotype based on behavior, you’re just lying to yourself.
         So this hypothesis-turned-theory immediately took hold with me and I was glad to assist with increasing the sample size. It became an ongoing source of entertainment for both of us. Soon we began to use the theory to predict future events. Very scientific. Or childish, depending on perspective.
         One day, Jim and the Saturday crew were wondering about our snickers and giggles behind the counter. It was rare that you could hear anything over the bellowing laughter from their table. We were hesitant to let them in on the study, partly because one of the crew belonged to the group in question. Would he be offended? Would it create that uncomfortable laughter that can change the way we view a person? I wasn't interested in losing any (more) business. After a well thought out argument that occurred during a 3-second glance, Joe and I made a decision. This was the perfect way to get the insight of an insider on our experiment. Yes, there were risks, and yes, the response was uncertain. But we both knew that regardless of the power of the argument, my inability to filter my thoughts from my words would supersede. Pushing people to the edge, and then grabbing them just before they fell was my hobby. I won’t lie, there were mishaps; but that’s how the scientific method works, isn't it? You can’t just approach the limit and assume it exists. You really do have to exceed it and then retreat to have it properly defined. 
          We let them in on our discussion and also on the “kitchen” name for one of our cookies:“penis-butter.”. This was a nod to the consumer, not production methods. 
          Armed with a special purpose, the Saturday crew now also monitored the interactions of cookie buyers. Their personal knowledge of other customers provided another set of data points. A slight nod of the head from across the room tipped us off, and we’d discuss the results after the customer left. The group enjoyed it so much they started listening in at other bakeries. Additional researchers and offsite input just added to the entertainment. It became a great running gag, and Jim reminded us of it during our recent breakfast. 
          Jim now lives in Sacramento and told me he frequents a bakery in an area with a high gay population. The owners were making those little, round peanut butter cookies with chocolate drops in the centers. You know; the kind people used to make at home. The bakery was giving them away with large orders as a little bonus. Jim was still watching counter activities and those little cookies made him feel nostalgic for Rochester.
          He asked if could buy some, and the owners looked at him with shock. “You want to buy those?” Jim smiled, and reassured them that he was serious. He went on to tell the owners of our ongoing east coast research and they all had a good laugh. He suggested that they sell the cookies instead of giving them away and they laughed at him again. He kept at them, suggesting that if preliminary findings held, he could almost guarantee success in their particular neighborhood. He finally convinced them in the name of science, despite their skepticism.

          Well, more data: they now sell those little peanut butter drops and they sell out every day. This is yet another example of the importance of listening to your employees and your customers. Sometimes the guys working the front lines come up with brilliant marketing ideas. Just don’t tell the customers. That is another story.

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.





Marvelous Margarita - Extended photos

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