A Secret Admirer

Working on the 9th floor of a very modern, 12 storey office block in the centre of the city, it’s not unusual to know very few of the people who actually work in the same building. I have been a PA for one of the directors of my marketing company for the past 5 years. I am single (by choice, mind you!), live alone with a cat for company, am an avid crime story reader, gym 3 times a week and love to travel. Nothing unusual about that I would say!

Anyway at the beginning of this year a strange event occurred which, at the time, was puzzling although not altogether unpleasant. It began when I arrived at work, went into the kitchen to make my morning cup of coffee and, when I took it back to my desk I found a delicious looking chocolate cupcake on a paper plate in front of my computer. I had absolutely no idea where it had come from or who had put it there. I always get into work earlier than most of my colleagues, and that day there was only a junior clerk, Janine, as well as Portia who worked for the MD (and her office was right at the end of the corridor from my office) already at their desks. Janine was shy and spent any free moment checking her messages on her mobile phone, and had never spoken more than the odd word with me since she had started at the company 6 months previously.

Anyway, I asked both Janine and Portia whether they had given me the cupcake and neither of them had, and also denied seeing anyone else on our floor, while I was making my coffee. Well, the cupcake looked very enticing and I couldn’t resist eating it immediately. It was as moist and delicious as it looked and somehow it made me feel happy and relaxed about the day ahead. I was incredibly busy and totally forgot about the cake once I was immersed in the day to day correspondence, booking hotels and flights for my boss for his forthcoming trip to Argentina as well as trying to sort out a problem with our internet provider. I normally am a typical A type personality and get very up tight if things are overly stressful, but this day I felt very relaxed. A nice change, I must admit.

The following day, having quite forgotten about my freebie of the previous day, I was once again surprised when I brought my coffee cup back to my desk. This time it was a choc chip cookie that was left in front of my computer. I really was sure that it must have been placed by either Portia or Janine, as I hadn’t seen any other staff members when I came down the passage from the lift. They denied knowing anything about the cookie and, somewhat perplexed, I still decided that the best thing to do (as I had missed breakfast once again) was to eat it. Whoever was baking these sweet delights was doing a very good job of it. The chocolate chips just melted in my mouth and also resulted in a feeling of total relaxation!

This strange ritual carried on for at least another 2 months with an amazing variety of cupcakes,  muffins and biscuits of varying shapes and sizes appearing on my desk each morning.  Although I kept on mentioning it to all my colleagues, everyone denied any knowledge of the cookies  although several of them mentioned the fact that I definitely seemed to be very much more relaxed these days than in the past . Did I have a new man in my life? Certainly not, but I did admit to feeling more in control of my emotions than I had done for quite a while.

One morning, about 8 or 9 weeks since the first cookie had appeared on my desk, I arrived at work to find a small package wrapped in brown paper together with a typed note attached – no cookie today. I was rather hesitant to read the note as now I would surely have some idea as to the person who had been leaving the treats for me over the past few months.  Before I read it, I ripped off the wrapping on the parcel and found a thin, paperback book entitled “The joys of marijuana – 30 tried and tested baking treats”. I nearly collapsed, and then looked at the note which had been attached to the parcel. “You have been an absolute pleasure to work with these past few months – glad you liked the cookies” and it was signed “Your secret admirer!”  To this day I have never been able to find out who was responsible for me being as high as a kite every day at work for all those months. I have never bothered to try out any of the recipes and, for better or worse, have decided that to take a few drops of Rescue homeopathic medication daily is possibly a more acceptable way of coping with work related stress.

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Caramel Sticky Buns

These buns are fantastic accompanied by an espresso.

Ingredients

  • 310 ml buttermilk
  • 55 g sugar
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant dry yeast
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 640 g all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 170 g unsalted butter, softened

Caramel

  • 165 g lightly packed brown sugar
  • 55 g unsalted butter, melted
  • 60 ml light corn syrup
  • 30 ml water
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Filling

  • 105 g lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • Buttermilk, for brushing

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, combine the buttermilk, sugar, yeast and salt. Set aside.
  2. Combine the flour, eggs and buttermilk mixture in a stand mixer using the dough hook or in a bowl using a wooden spoon, until a dough begins to form.
  3. Add the softened butter.
  4. Knead the dough for 5 minutes. It will be soft and slightly sticky. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, humid place for 1 hour.

Caramel

  1. In a bowl, combine all the ingredients with a whisk until smooth.
  2. Pour into a buttered 33 x 23 cm glass baking dish. Set aside.

Filling

  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. On a generously floured surface, roll out the dough into a 50 x 35 cm rectangle. Brush with the melted butter and cover with the brown sugar mixture. Roll the dough into a log 50 cm long. Cut into 12 slices.
  3. Place the dough slices onto the caramel. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, humid place for 1 hour.
  4. With the rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  5. Brush the buns with buttermilk. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked all the way through.
  6. Let rest for 10 minutes.
  7. Place a large serving platter over the baking dish. Turn out the sticky buns onto the platter.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

Roast Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 1.5kg ripe tomatoes halved
  • 2 red peppers deseeded and quartered
  • I large onion cut into chunks
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tblsp dried oregano
  • 1 Lt vegetable stock
  • 2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tblsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp white sugar
  • Salt
  • Cracked black pepper
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Heat oven to 160 degC.
  • Combine the tomatoes, onion, peppers, and garlic in a roasting pan.
  • Add oregano, balsamic vinegar, a good splash of olive oil and sugar and mix altogether using your hands.
  • Roast in the oven for about 30 – 45 minutes until the tomatoes are breaking down and releasing their juices. Its Ok if some of the skin blackens as this adds a slightly smoky flavour.
  • Transfer ingredients to a medium sized pot and add the tomato paste and enough stock to cover all ingredients.
  • Gently simmer for about 1 hour.
  • Transfer ingredients to a blender and blend ingredient into a smooth, thickish liquid.
  • Strain through a sieve back into the pot, adjust seasoning in need, and keep warm.
  • Serve with croutons and fresh basil.

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

Bourbon Honey Pork Ribs

Ingredients

  • 5 kg raw pork ribs
  • 500ml chicken stock
  • 500ml Apple juice

For the Rub

  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Maldon salt
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp Coleman’s mustard powder
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp onion salt.

For the Bourbon honey Glaze

  • 100 ml apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp tomato sauce
  • 2 Tbsp mustard sauce
  • 2 tsp gochujang paste (found in any Asian supermarket)
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 100 ml Bourbon

Method

  • Combine all the rub ingredients
  • Combine all the glaze ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate until use
  • Cut rib racks into more manageable pieces +/_ 5 -6 riblets
  • Cover the ribs in the rub and leave covered in the fridge for 4 hours (preferably overnight)
  • Turn the oven on to 120deg C
  • Put the ribs in a roasting tin, add the apple juice and stock and cover tightly with foil.
  • Cook slowly until the meat is very soft – approx. 4 hours, basting with the juices every hour or so.
  • When cooked, take out of the oven, uncover and allow to cool for about an hour.
  • Increase the oven temp to max (approx. 250degC)
  • Brush the ribs liberally with the glaze and heat in the oven, basting every three minutes or so. Take care that the glaze doesn’t burn.
  • Remove the ribs when they are heated through and they are well coated with the sticky glaze

Serve with a side of slaw and corn on the cob.

Nice! and Tasty – Chris

Too Many Choices

Wouldn’t our lives be so much easier, albeit rather boring, if we had far fewer choices to make every single day? From the moment we wake up each morning we have to decide what we are going to wear. There is no problem if you belong to an organization which has its own uniform or are in a job such as a nurse or a fireman which determines a dress code. Most of us, however, have a certain amount of freedom when it comes to deciding on what to wear today and it can be a real headache. So much depends on the weather as well as which of one’s clothes have been washed and ironed and are already back in the wardrobe. Making a choice that suits our current mood is also part of the equation.

Right, so you have finally made up your mind on how to dress for the day. Now it’s a case of deciding what to eat for breakfast. Remember that we are constantly being bombarded by so called experts telling us that this is the most important meal of the day. Now to decide as to whether to have a bowl of cereal or some toast and marmalade or to cook some eggs, or to go the healthy route and make a smoothie. Do you feel like your normal cup of coffee or is it to be rooibos tea or juice this morning? Decisions, decisions, decisions and the day has only just started. If you have a family to consider then the scenario just mentioned soon becomes a battle ground with every member’s mood as well as their own way of making choices potentially creating absolute chaos. Suffice to say that morning mayhem, due to having to make choices, could be ageing you well ahead of your time!

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So, you (and hopefully the rest of the menagerie – cats and dogs included along with a spouse and offspring) are dressed and fed (usually no clothes are involved for the cats and dogs) and ready to face the challenges of the day. As for you, well you have a shopping list which somehow needs to be taken care of along with your normal commitments.  This will have to wait until after work when you can stop off at the local shops on your way home. You have had to make choices in your office environment all day long and despite being exhausted, making choices just continues when you look at your shopping list.

Is it better to buy toothpaste for sensitive teeth, whitening toothpaste, fluoride toothpaste? Surely one that does the whole bang shoot is the best choice in a busy life? Then what about the shampoo? One which all the family can use or one for thinning hair, one for dry hair, one for oily hair, one for heat damaged hair – oh for goodness sake now what to choose? Right, let’s get on with this as it’s getting late – one bottle for all hair types will just have to do for now.

Over to the groceries and more decisions to make. Beef, chicken, pork or fish for dinner or should it be a vegetarian meal tonight? Most of the vegetables look a bit jaded after being in the fridge all day but the carrots look ok and the green beans seem fresh enough. Now for the bread for tomorrow. Should it be brown, wholewheat, a farm style loaf (but that’s white bread and it’s meant to be unhealthy). Oh what the heck, it looks the most appetising of them all, so in the trolley it goes.  Rush, rush, rush – time is running away and the family will all be at home by now waiting for your return so you can whizz up a delicious evening meal.  Just remembered, there is washing powder to buy and which brand should that be? The usual one is out of stock so it takes forever to compare prices as well as claims regarding the efficiency of each product before a box is put in the trolley. By now you are totally fed up and, along with every other tired, and disgruntled end of day shopper, you have to stand in the queue to pay for your purchases.

When you finally get to the checkout lady you still have to decide whether to pay with your already heavily loaded credit card or to use those extremely rare bank notes. When will the decision making end? You carry away your shopping and put it in the car.  Now to decide on whether to hoot at the gate of your home in the hope that someone will come out to help carry the packages inside, or just to drive in, park and go it all alone. Just another day filled to the brim with having to make choices – but what would the other option be. Daily rations of bread and water and an orange jumpsuit to wear every day perhaps? Maybe not such a good option after all! So carrying on making choices has to win the vote!

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Service with a smile – the ups and downs of running a pub/restaurant – Part 1.

Part 1

There are so many memories, both good and sometimes not so good, which I hope will make interesting reading for anyone who frequents pubs and restaurants.  Knowing what goes on behind the scenes whilst you are tucking into that succulent steak and taking a sip from a glass of really good wine could surprise you if you ever found out! However, some secrets are best kept secret to protect innocent people involved!

After having tired of the many years of being witness to the constant presence of in-house politics in the corporate world, my other half decided that it was time for us to have our own business and to take control over our lives. Little did we realise that having control, when dealing with the public at large, is more a dream than a reality. However, we were excited to try something quite new and, after a great deal of research, decided that to go the franchise route would offer us a much better chance of succeeding in our venture than trying to go it alone.

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man,
by which 
so much happiness is produced as by
a good tavern.
” – Samuel Johnson

Due to many stumbling blocks along the way to our getting our business up and running, we finally opened our doors (under the watchful eye of several members of the franchise head office staff) a few weeks before Christmas. What an opening it proved to be. From the moment the locals knew we were in operation, it was absolute pandemonium. Despite all of us, owners and managers, front of house staff, as well as the entire kitchen complement, having received fairly in-depth training from the franchisor, the reality of providing quick, efficient service to the masses was daunting to say the least! None of us had time to eat anything at all whilst on duty during the first few weeks. Our uniforms started hanging off us due to weight loss but we were too busy rushing around to even notice!

The pub we bought had an Irish theme and catered for 75 people in the restaurant area. There were also tables in the bar area where one could eat as well. Therefore, it stands to reason that for brand new owners and staff it was no mean feat to keep demanding patrons happy all the time. Despite having had a trial evening where friends and family had been invited to test our capabilities in preparing meals and giving the appropriate service, the first few days of business were totally crazy. The most relaxed members of our entire staff were the barmen as they had taken to their job like ducks to water, or drunks to drink! They were young, enthusiastic and great with the public.

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We had really hit the jackpot by finding ourselves a true Irishman several weeks before we opened and we employed him as our head barman due to his previous experience and outgoing personality. He was confident in handling a busy bar and he proved to be an absolute bonus for the few months in which he worked for us. He left in a bit of a hurry under some sort of a cloud, by all account but it was probably due to domestic problems. He was in his early twenties and had a great affinity for a certain four letter word whilst telling you where to go! This came out of Gordon’s mouth regularly in a broad Belfast accent. He was working in a pub and not a church or a school so there was no need to censor the barman.  The piece de resistance was the fact that he taught one of our young Black kitchen staff to parrot his expression. Every evening as Jonathan left to catch the staff transport, Gordon would ask him to repeat his favourite saying.  The reaction of the patrons when they heard a Black guy swearing in an Irish accent had to be seen to be believed.

The kitchen staff were under great pressure in those early days but all things considered the mistakes were few and far between. The food which came out of our kitchen was first class and relatively speedily prepared. There are many amusing incidents which I would love to share with you which involved our kitchen workers, but this I will leave for a later post.

Our young waiters had all just recently left school and there were some amusing incidents (in hindsight, and not at the time). A few weeks into running the business a rather irate woman called me over to her table to complain about one of my waiters who had sworn at her. I asked who had served her and she told me who it was – the only boy we had as yet employed (girls were the favoured choice of the franchisor – but we soon changed the dynamics to suit our needs). I called the youngster over and, away from prying eyes, I asked him what had happened. It turned out that the woman had asked him what was in the pie of the day? Being new to the menu as well as the job he answered “shit, I don’t know!” We all found it amusing – pity the miserable old bat couldn’t see the humour! Anyway, afterwards we tried to ensure that all the young staff actually had a good idea of the contents of each day’s special pie!

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We were put on a spot by our replacement bank manager to give his blonde and rather dumb daughter a part time waitressing job. Suffice to say she didn’t last very long as she just could not learn at all. The best memory I have of her was the busy Sunday lunch when one of the waiters was frantically looking for the chicken schnitzel which the kitchen staff had prepared ready for delivery to the customer. It had disappeared from the relevant preparation station. However, there was an abandoned ostrich fillet starter standing all alone in the cold prep section. We soon found out what had happened. The dizzy blonde had grabbed the schnitzel and taken it to the customer who had ordered the ostrich starter, who in turn hadn’t said a word and proceeded to devour it. When the waitress was told what she had done, her reply was, “well, I knew it was some kind of a bird!”

So many memories, but that is all for now! Will be back with another batch of memories of those busy days (and nights too!).

“I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they  wake up
in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going
to feel all day.” – Jack Lemmon

Lamb in white wine with green olives.

Ingredients

  • 750g Lamb leg or loin cubes
  • 3 large carrots cut into small cubes
  • 1 large brown onion diced
  • 1 cup green, pitted olives
  • 500 ml lamb stock
  • 500ml dry white wine
  • 3 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1 heaped tsp dried mixed herbs
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 300ml cream
  • Salt/pepper
  • Olive oil

Method

  • Heat a good splash of olive oil in a heavy based pan and a high
    heat
  • Season the raw meat well with salt and pepper
  • When oil is hot, brown the meat in batches being careful not to
    overcrowd the pan
  • Remove the meat and set aside
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add onions and carrots to
    the pan. Sautee until starting to soften – about 7 minutes
  • Stir through the garlic and herbs and gently fry for about 1 minute
  • Add the wine and stock, cover the pot and gently simmer until the
    meat is very tender – +/- 2 hours – check seasoning half way
    through
  • When the meat is ready, add the olives and simmer for a further
    5 minutes
  • Remove pan from the heat and stir through the cream
  • Serve in a bowl with steamed rice

 Nice! and Tasty – Chris