Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Hour

I think that it should be mandatory that everyone, at some time in their lives, work in a restaurant. It really doesn’t matter in what capacity you work, be it a bus boy, bartender, bar back, or waiter just as long as you spend at least a year serving the public. Not only is it usually downright fun working in a food and beverage environment but you see some things behind the scenes that will stay with you for life. Most importantly you will learn how to speak in public, be assertive, and the how and why of generous tipping. In addition you can also learn some of the industry’s tricks of the trade.

Things like dusting dropped food off before being happily presented to an innocent diner, scraping mold off of bread before serving and the legendary desecration of a complaining diner’s food or drink. Now, I didn’t see these things happen very often but they do happen. One thing probably every former food and beverage worker might tell you is, if you are going to square off with your server, do it after you have your order in front of you.

Bartending was my favorite job in the food and beverage world, but coming in at a close second was cocktail waitressing. During my time serving drinks I waited on Julia Child, Calvin Klein, ZZ Top lead man Billy Gibbons and screen legend, Gene Tierney. Even though they were the most famous customers I waited on, they were far from the most interesting. My most entertaining customers were the happy hour office groups on Friday evenings.

It would start out innocently enough with five or six happy men and women out to have a good time drinking cocktails on the company. After a couple of drinks, one by one the wiser ones of the group would say their thanks and head home. Inevitably, the crowd would wind down to the boss and an employee of the opposite sex sitting too close and having one drink too many. More than once I felt like slipping the woman a note that said, “Run now. You will regret this on Monday morning.” But, being a good waitress and wanting to secure a big tip, I’d cheerfully bring another round and keep my opinions to myself. The things I’ve seen and overheard could have brought down a marriage or two. Thank goodness I was never subpoenaed.

Personally, I preferred working at boutique hotels and fine dining establishments over high volume, inexpensive places. Not only was the money great but the employees’ nationalities were so diverse that they resembled UN delegates in aprons. Their origins ranged from Mexico to Austria and South Africa to Belgium. I learned some very valuable skills from these people, everything from cursing in Spanish to recognizing a good piece of strudel when I saw one. We had a blast and, on occasion, we even got to dine on day old chilled lobster and drink slightly flat Dom Perignon. Those were the days.

All of this cocktail talk has made me hungry for some of those fantastic little nibbles that are served with them. I love dips and spreads and boiled shrimp but what I really love to pair with cocktails, especially wine, is cheese straws. I’m not talking about puff pastry sprinkled with cheese then baked. No sir, in my book that’s a cheater’s cheese straw. I’m talking about cheesy little crispy bites that are tangy and buttery and addictive. Here’s my favorite recipe. Don’t worry if you don’t have a cookie press or pastry bag. You can roll the dough into a log, chill it until it is firm, then slice it in 1/4” slices before baking up little cheese crackers on a non-stick baking sheet.

Ultimate Cheese Straws

1 stick (113g) butter, melted
8 ounces (250g) medium cheddar cheese, room temperature, grated
1 cup (110g) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 – 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, 180C.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine all of the ingredients; process until the contents are combined and form a ball in the processor bowl. Transfer dough to a pastry bag or cookie press fitted with a large star tip; pipe dough into 2” long straws on a non-stick cookie sheet. Place in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 20-30 minutes or until they are brown around the edges and crispy; cool and serve.

Makes approximately 70 straws.

If Kraft Old English cheese in the small 5 ounce jar is available in your area, try the following recipe:

1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
1 5 ounce jar Kraft Old English cheese spread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 -1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place all of the ingredients in a medium size bowl. Mix well with a spoon or process 30 seconds or so in a food processor or until dough forms a ball. Transfer to a cookie press or pastry bag that has been fitted with a large star tip. Pipe dough onto a non-stick cookie sheet in 2” straws. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until edges are brown and straws are crispy.

Makes about 60 straws.

Feel free to customize this recipe to suit your own taste. In the past I've added Parmesan cheese, bacon bits, finely chopped sun dried tomatoes and herbs to the dough with great results.


Eric Houser said...

I love happy hours and going out. I was a busboy at a pizza place when i was 16. It has made me a better tipper ever since then. Thanks for the recipe that looks good.

The Inexperienced Foodie said...

i don't drink but i sure love to eat i will definitly make those cheese straws

Conor @ HoldtheBeef said...

Karen I couldn't agree with you more! I have been working in customer service for many years, and have always thought that everyone should be made to do some customer service at some stage in their life!

Great recipe :)v

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Velva said...

I have always wanted to experience being a waitress in a high-end boutique style restaurant...Funny, I should read this post. :-) I can only imagine the conversations that could be overheard....I am sometimes just amazed at the random conversations that I hear.

You are right, the cheese straws are a perfect smalla ppetizer for Happy Hour.

Nice post.

Anonymous said...

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