June 27, 2005

Okay, I did it. Are you happy?

I made good on my promise and went to Sizzler. I had to try that Sizzlin' Trio thing, and I dragged Kelly with me to endure it too. For better or for worse, baby. Get your hoodie, I'll buy. Yeah.

So, I have to tell you, in all honesty, it was not as bad as I'd expected. It easily could have been a lot worse. The plating left a lot to be desired, but I could deal. I used to do "mystery shopping" (aka secret shopping), so I paid attention to a lot of little things. Forgive the detail if you find this boring.

When we walked in, the cashier was pleasant and friendly. She handled our transaction smoothly but had a hard time figuring out how to enter $100.20 into the register to generate my change (I was trying to break a hundred dollar bill. I never use hundreds unless I get them as tips. I don't mind getting them, but they're sometimes hard to spend.) She eventually figured it out and gave us our sodas on a cheap-ass ugly brown plaid tray and we went to sit down.

Shortly afterwards, a smiling waitress came by to double-check our order. She was totally efficient and asked us additional questions to make sure we had everything we needed. She was attentive throughout the meal. The table was sticky (we later overheard that the edges had been recently varnished and that they hadn't dried completely, but it was really gross that your forearms stuck to the table.)

When the food arrived, I'll be damned if that Sizzlin' Trio wasn't actually SIZZLIN'! It was sputtering up a storm, right there on the cast iron plate, with a little (filthy) potholder on the handle, and resting on a wooden plank. Kelly's food didn't do any tricks, it just sat there.

Food review: There were 5 shrimp on the rice pilaf, each only slightly bigger than a quarter, and frankly I think the quarter would have tasted better. It was to have been prepared scampi-style, but only one of them tasted like lemon. They were pretty much shrimp-shaped masses of pale pinkness. Pretty gross. The steak was cooked exactly medium as I'd requested. (How reassuring to know that a steak place can cook a steak properly!) The chicken was cooked through, though just a little too much, and a smattering of cheese, topped with bacon, topped with roughly chopped scallion. Then, the sides: The corn was sweetened somehow, like someone added corn syrup to the corn. Gross in a tasty kind of way. The rice pilaf had a pretty good texture, but there were these odd football-shaped things in it. Not nuts, not rice, maybe a pasta? The fajita peppers were okay, but sliced too thin, so they didn't hold up well.

Kelly's food consisted of a steak, battered-fried shrimp, and malibu chicken, served with fries. The steak was also cooked exactly to medium. The shrimp was actually tasty, but the malibu chicken! ack! it was a perfectly round breaded chicken patty (think JITB's 99¢ chicken sandwich) topped with ham and swiss cheese melted over that. It was disgusting. His fries were way underdone according to my tastes, but he didn't mind.

So, we ate. We ate it like it was a normal dinner, and managed to do pretty good with it. When we were finished, we decided it was the kind of meal that if someone in your family suggested Sizzler for dinner, we'd be ok with it...but not necessarily anywhere I'd go voluntarily any time soon. As we walked home, we both decided that we didn't feel too gross, the way you can feel icky after eating at Denny's or some greasy spoon.

We didn't get appetizers, salads or desserts. I had a pepsi (wasn't interested in the sutter home they offered by the glass) and Kelly drank water. Kelly's dinner was $12.99, mine was $11.99, the soda was $2, and about $2.50 for tax. I left $6 for a tip. Friends, this meal was not worth $36. Those were $8 entrées at best, especially figuring in the pathetic shrimp scampi, the small chicken breast (mine) the breaded tyson chicken patty (his) and undercooked fries.

In closing, if you were driving along the freeway at dinnertime, and found yourself hungry, you could do a lot worse than eat at Sizzler. But if I'm eating out locally, for my money, I'd much rather get a good burger and fries at somewhere like Cafe 50's (West L.A.) or a nice green curry at Toi on Wilshire (Santa Monica). Even the food at the Century City Mall's Food Court would be a better value.

See what I go through for you? Can you appreciate the sacrifices I make for your edification? Do you understand how I suffer? Ok, enough drama. I hope you enjoyed my experiment.

I took photos, by the way, you can see them here. The first one is of me, wearing sunglasses and hiding behind my soda, to prove that I was actually in a Sizzler. Please notice the careful backlighting technique that Kelly used to help conceal my true identity. The second is my Sizzlin' Trio, and the third is Kelly's Steak, Shrimp and Malibu Chicken Trio.

Last thing I ate or drank: miniature marshmallows, straight from the bag. Cuz I'm crazy like that.

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June 26, 2005

Instead of cross-posting...

allow me to give you a link. I posted a restaurant review of Thai Dishes (in Santa Monica) on la.foodblogging.com

Last thing I ate or drank What I'm about to eat & drink: Indoor picnic! French Demi-Baguette, Humboldt Fog cheese (a type of bleu), Brillat-Savarin cheese (super-soft, buttery, white rind) assorted olives, and a pear, washed down with a 2003 Lindeman's Reserve Shiraz. It's movie night, and we're watching Chocolat, so a picnic is just the ticket! (I have a chocolate-covered almond cluster if I need it.)

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Wake up to this!

Click here to see how I want to wake up every morning!

Last thing I ate or drank: Scrambled Eggs, Bacon, Pancakes, and Hash Browns (cooked in duck fat!) with a latte. The above link made me hungry (!) and I considered going to the ihop a block from my house, but I am always creeped out by the fact that the eggs are so rubbery. Going out to breakfast isn't the treat it used to be, since I can make eggs, bacon, pancakes and hash browns for two, from scratch (with top-quality, non-commisary ingredients) in the space of about 30 minutes. It's the washing up afterwards I'd rather avoid. Gratefully, my husband did the washing up, while I sit here and blog while finishing my coffee. (Thanks, Kel!)

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June 22, 2005

what's your poison?

today I plan to subsist on hamburgers and tamarind kool-aid. (I already had my latte, so that doesn't count. it's essential. going without my latte in the morning is like saying, "I think I'll wake up today and not breathe".)

I found some tamarind kool-aid at the store and I bought 5 packets of that stuff. I love tamarind, I absolutely love it. The kool-aid is just okay, it's good but it kind of tastes like iced tea. I defrosted some ground beef with no specific plans for it. So I made burgers. I absolutely love my burger recipe. lots of onion, very moist. I made three of them. Which I plan to eat today. with ketchup and pickles but no bun/bread. then I'll have some tamarind kool aid.

it's a one girl, one recipe food orgy. yee-ha.

Last thing I ate or drank: beef hamburger and tamarind kool-aid

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June 20, 2005

Sizzler's misleading commercial

Here's today's social commentary:

Sizzler put out a commercial advertizing their new Sizzling Trio... but the way they advertise it is kind of misleading. They show a family of three at the grocery store checkout, watching their groceries being rung up. Here are some screen-captures from the whole commercial (which can be viewed on their website).

I feel that this ad is misleading because there's no way you'd use the whole bunch of cilantro, the entire bag of onions or the whole package of cheese that they show being rung up. Unless you have a personal relationship with your cardiologist, you shouldn't be splitting a pound of butter between three people...so that final total price doesn't really reflect the breakdown of what the meal will actually cost unless they threw everything that was left in the trash instead of stashing it in the fridge.

Then they show the family cooking the meal in their home.

There is a pot of milk boiling over (who's boiling milk for a steak, shrimp and chicken dinner?) and smoke billowing out of their George Foreman grill. You'd have to be over-the-top incompetent to have that thing smoke out like a tire on a bonfire!

Finally, they show a skillet featuring the final product prepared by the nice Sizzler folks:

That $12 pricetag is a bargain, don't get me wrong...but keep in mind that $12 per person doesn't include drinks, tax & tip.

There's a Sizzler two blocks from my house. I may just suck it up and go there for dinner tonight, just to see what you can get for $12 a head. In fact, maybe I should be buying those Sizzler dinners and serving them to my guests... because there's no way I can do that kind of food for $12 per person unless I paid myself and all my workers minimum wage, used the cheapest possible ingredients, and cooked the food way in advance and just kept it hot until someone ordered it... Oh, wait....

Last thing I ate or drank: Plain yogurt with blackerry jam, sprinkled with Kashi cereal, and a latte. Time for lunch though... so I'm going to go raid the fridge and see what's in there!

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June 18, 2005

What makes "IT" worth it.

Most frequent readers of my blog know this is LESS about being a chef and MORE about being an entrepreneur. Of course, the nuts and bolts of my business is deeply integrated with food, cooking, clients and such, that it's hard to separate the two, but I don't post many recipes, menus, or techniques. I never got into the "is my blog burning" or "paper chef" memes, and I don't post any google ads here. Many would say that I'm doing the whole blogging thing wrong. I'd like to think "differently" doesn't have to equal "wrong". It's just a food blog from a different perspective. Here's one of those perspectives:

I did a very small party last night. Only 9 guests, so I did it all by myself. I was on the phone with the client almost every day this week, and I must have spent 45 minutes per phonecall (including ensuing emails). On one hand, it crosses my mind that if people did that much negotiating and research for everything they did, they'd probably not get much done in life... but on the other hand, people who spend that much time getting to know me are probably more likely to call me again. Anyone who's worked with me knows -- repeat business and referrals are what I consider to be the highest compliments.

But it's more than the work. It's a relationship. My clients have invited me into their homes, and asked me to put on a good show for their guests. They want all the luxury of having a professional chef for the night, and I'm going to indulge them. I work hard, they appreciate it. They have a good time, I have a good time, they get a great meal served to them, and they pay me fairly. It's a good way to make a living.

I am lucky that I have regular clients as wonderful as LS, or B&A. I really love them. Once in a while I'll have clients who hardly even talk to me. Even though they were friendly on the phone, once I got there and was working, the dynamic changed, and suddenly, I was The Help™. I don't expect to be treated like a guest -- my job is so that you feel like YOU'RE a guest, in your own home! -- but when a gesture of friendliness is extended, that's a big deal to me.

Like last night: the simple gesture of offering me a taste of their champagne, and a slice of the fruit tart they served for dessert is truly the most appreciated gesture. It was such a wonderful, warm feeling to be standing in my client's kitchen with the two sisters who hosted the party, talking about our various cooking equipment while we ate this simple fruit tart purchased from WF. It's special to me because by sharing the dessert, they're not treating me like The Help™... I'm just someone who happens to cook for a living, and tonight I'm doing it for them.

If I wanted a job where I showed up, did my work and left, I'd be a Patn¡a slave. I'm just not interested in that. I need a connection with the people I cook for. Feeding people is a really intimate thing. I don't expect applause after a dinner, or a hug from the host after the event... but I truly do appreciate a sincere "thank you". As long as I know you enjoyed it, it's worth it. Not in that sappy "they like me, they really like me" way, but I know that clients who enjoyed themselves will call me again. They'll refer me to their friends. They'll find ways to get me involved when they know of events that have food as an element of the festivities. That is what's worth it!

Last thing I ate or drank: a nice little latte and a fresh mango.

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June 14, 2005

Cooking.com Gift Certificate

I've got a $50 gift certificate from Cooking.com, and I can't come up with anything that I need -- or even want! -- from their entire website. Either the stuff they've got is too expensive for what you'd get, or it's not of a high enough quality to be used professionally. Regardless, I've come to one conclusion: It's official, I've got TOO MUCH STUFF.

Last thing I ate or drank: Banana bread that I made this morning, with some iced tea sweetened with home-made rose syrup. (simple syrup steeped with dried rosebuds from Whole Foods)

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June 13, 2005

no free time to post

I'm really sorry, I've been so busy I haven't really had time to post. I still don't like posting about my clients, but I've had a couple new ones over the past week that I really liked, I hope they turn out well. I got a call yesterday afternoon from a woman who wanted to give a gift certificate for three weeks of Personal Chef services to her parents for their 40th wedding anniversary! Very cool.

I've finalized all the plans for my spa retreat with my friend Kumari, we're going to this fabulous getaway in Palm Springs to get facials, manicures, massages and other weirdo treatments. One of the ones she picked is this wine treatment. She's going to marinate in wine, and I'm going to be wrapped with veggies. Gives new meaning to the expression, "stick a fork in me, I'm done!"

ok, dragging myself to the bathroom to brush my teeth, and then off to bed!

Last thing I ate or drank: pineapple cake with blackberries and French vanilla ice cream

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June 04, 2005

Chef JoAnna's PSA on wedding budgets

It's that time of year..."What should I spend on a wedding caterer?" Here's a general guideline that you can use to plan a budget for a wedding:

Choose the kind of restaurant you'd take your guests to. Let's imagine that you could fit them all in there and they would let you close them down for a Saturday night, and you can choose the exact menu to suit your specific tastes. Figure out the average cost per person for an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert. After all, that's probably what you're serving at your wedding, so to compare fairly, let's use that to help us calculate. Let's determine that the level of service would be related too....
Would you take your guests to:
Taco Bell? KFC? McDonalds? Under $10/pp, no service to speak of.
Sizzler? Denny's? Then $25+/pp, poor service
Outback Steakhouse? $40+/pp, good service
Michaels? Josie? $70+/pp, excellent service
Spago? Ortolan? $100+/pp, impeccable service
(If you're thinking of doing a shower, tea, brunch, or rehearsal dinner, this might also come in handy. I included the more expensive restaurants' price points because this also applies to estimating costs for any at-home catered dinner. People who plan on doing at-home weddings might also consider doing a Moms & Dads dinner, for an intimate get-together.)
Are you starting to get the idea?
Good. Now add tax, and a tip.
Call this the "total food budget".

Next, let's find out how much the wedding cake is going to cost: Most quality bakers in Los Angeles charge $2.00 to $2.50 per slice, so that's how we'll base our estimate. Take the number of guests, multiply by 2.25, and that's a good guide for the "cake budget". (beware the caterer who also wants to do your cake -- that's another post entirely!)

Subtract the cake number from total food budget. That's what you should spend on your caterer. Now divide that number by the number of guests you have, and that's your per-person price. Please notice, I didn't include drinks in this number! Alcohol is the biggest place to save money. Don't think that by serving "wine and beer only" you'll be saving any money... I'll explain that in a future post, too!

Now that you've determined what you'd pay for that, you'll understand that if you can get a caterer to come to your place, carry everything in, set it up, cook it, and serve it, and clean it up, for anything close to that number then you'll realize that you are, in fact, getting a bargain. Can I get an AMEN, Emilie?

If you know anyone getting married, please, for the love of all that is good on Earth, send them to my blog (here's the link: http://chefjoanna.blogspot.com/2005/06/chef-joannas-psa-on-wedding-budgets.html) and together we can end this madness!

Last thing I ate or drank: latte... hungry, though, so I'll grab a luna bar as I run out the door to the Farmer's Market for today's party.

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June 02, 2005

still barefoot...

figuratively speaking, of course, as soon as I made that fancy spreadsheet, I haven't been able to use it. I had a recipe for "coconut chicken legs" that I wanted to try out (I did, it was great, like a curry, but so easy!) so I didn't make Tuesday's plan. I had a Personal Chef job tonight, so I didn't make wednesday's plan. I'll have another one tomorrow, so that knocks Thursday off, Kelly's "you quit you lucky bastard" party is Friday, so that's off (but I'm making pineapple upside-down CUPcakes for them) and Saturday, I'm in negotiations with a couple who wants a formal seated dinner for 12 on a Sizzler budget. So Sunday... yeah. Totally Sunday... if we don't go to the doggy beach in Huntington Beach. Or if I don't go to Artesia with my friend Kumari to indulge in Indian food and buy more weird unknown foods! In the meantime, I'm eating junk. C'est la vie!

Last thing I ate or drank: a piece of chicken

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June 01, 2005

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