I stab them.

If you’ve never worked in a restaurant, you may have only ever seen a check spindle on TV. I call it a stabber. In the kitchen and the bar, it’s used when a check is complete and the food/drink has been delivered to the guest.

In the office, I use it to signify the day’s end. I have a tall pile of stabbed to-do lists that goes back 6 months on my desk.

This is my to-do list for today. Got to much of it. More for tomorrow.

Reconcile cash
Update all house account charges
Update entertainment list on restaurant website
-Update beer lists in the bar books
-Update menus on internal website for staff
Re-order business cards for executive chef
Complete unemployment paperwork for former employee
-Follow up on upcoming food drive
Pick up tri-fold brochures from the printer (http://www.cranberrytwp.minutemanpress.com/ if you’re interested, and they’re going to deliver, thank goodness)
-Figure out how to make vacation days accrue on paychecks
Create agenda for manager meeting
-Tell staff that they did such a good job finding glass flaws that we’re getting 7.5 dozen glasses as credits
-Write down 10 strengths for co-worker
-Work on November e-newsletter
Post on the blog

Blogging (present participle of “blog”): Add new material to or regularly updating a blog

I’m the office manager at Restaurant ECHO, so I end up having quite a mixed bag of responsibilities, tasks and (okay, okay) fun. The blog was my idea, and I think it’s time I take a bigger bite of the job of blogging. I’m not entirely sure what kind of content I can regularly generate, but I’m willing to think creatively (and take my lumps). I’m also a more newly-minted restaurant person. I continue to make comparisons to the offices and corporations of my previous work experience. Some of it holds; some of it doesn’t.

Like many of you, I’m a consumer of food and (sometimes) the Food Network. A big part of their appeal seems to be the behind-the-scenes operations of creating food, especially in restaurants. We have one of those. I get to see the behind-the-scenes operations every day.

When chefs arrive, they get dressed and start the business of preparing their stations (sauté, grill, garde manger, etc.). This involves physically checking the station, butchering meat, preparing sauces, chopping vegetables, and verifying that every part of the station is ready for service. It involves a lot of list-making and checking-off. And it’s scored with the daily flavor of music, which yesterday was the Mumford & Sons channel on Pandora or Spotify (I forget which one). Mumford & Sons is a little mellow for us; you’re more apt to hear 1980s Michael Jackson or 1990s metal.

At this time of day, I like the energy in the air.

It’s not like office energy – typing or answering a ringing phone. It’s an energy that nudges each of my senses. My ears hear rhythmic chopping, sudden laughs and music. My eyes see bright colors and stark reality – a bucket of peppers or a pile of salmon heads, ready for compost. My skin feels the warmth and humidity of the room itself. My nose loses and wins at this time of day… I win when french onion soup is bubbling away and I get a whiff. I lose when the onions are being peeled.

Tasting is the strangest part of working in a restaurant. The chefs around me really love food and the process of cooking it. And any food I eat makes their work harder and their days longer.

Today I have canned soup.

CSAs

What’s a CSA?

“CSA” stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In practice, it means that somebody (I, for example) pay some amount of money to a farm or group of farms at the beginning of the growing season. In return, I receive weekly (or bi-weekly) harvests from the farm, usually in a box.

More about CSAs here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community-supported_agriculture

In western PA, we’re lucky to have so many different types of farms, and thus, fresh farm products. CSA boxes in our area vary by season, but it’s not unusual to receive onions, carrots, peppers, corn, cheese, herbs and beets in summer months.

Why would I ever want to do a CSA?

Most importantly, the food coming from a CSA box TASTES GREAT and is HEALTHY. It’s local food which has not traveled 500-2500 miles in a refrigerated truck to reach you. It has been picked when ripe, not ripened in a store. Because of the short time between harvest and consumption, the nutrient content of the food is high. Things taste the way you remember them tasting.

Participating in a CSA supports the local economy. It also encourages creativity in the kitchen. Rather than preparing your usual mix of fruits and vegetables, that CSA box will having you pulling out old recipes and searching for new ones. You’ll discover new favorites and improve cooking techniques. If you head out of town on vacation, you may end up sharing that week’s items with a neighbor (“c” is for community).

This sounds like a lot… but I’m thinking it over.

Consider splitting a CSA box with a friend, neighbor or relative. You’ll lessen your cost and cooking obligations.

Where can I find out more?

There are CSAs all over the area. Here are a few:

http://www.pennscorner.com/csa-faqs
http://www.kretschmannfarm.com/Signup12.html
http://blackberrymeadows.wordpress.com/
http://harvestvalleyfarms.com/csa-program/
http://sarverhillfarm.org/index.html/?page_id=290

10 Tips For Hosting Your Holiday Party

It’s that time again! The school year has begun and the holiday season is quickly approaching. For members of the food service industry this festive season promises longer work days, less sleep and customers with high demands and expectations (reasonably so). It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, all rolled into one.

To help reduce your holiday stress (and mine) I suggest to you party planners that you book your parties now. In the wise words of Thomas Jefferson, “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.” So let’s jump in and get started.

Recently I was asked by a local Pittsburgh magazine to contribute some tips and trends for planning a successful cocktail hour. After developing my “10 Tips” I realized that the list applied not only to cocktail hour but to the planning of the event in general. I thought it might be useful to share my perspective in hopes that it will reduce some of your own stress and result in happy guests.

(1) It’s not all about you. Consider that your guests’ tastes and preferences may differ from your own. Remember that not everyone is a culinary daredevil. On the contrary, not all guests are impressed by raw vegetables and dip.

(2) Incorporate stationed and passed hors d’oeuvres. Limiting hors d’oeuvres to stations can create unwanted congestion (or excessive lines). If room allows, create several stations in strategically placed locations (away from doorways and high-traffic service areas). Utilize servers by having them pass hors d’oeuvres as well. This results in guests who are more engaged and keeps people from feeling singled out as “the first to eat.”

 Stationed hors d'oeuvres are great,
but they will attract a crowd.

(3) Insist that servers are educated regarding the foods they are presenting. An uneducated server detracts from the special feel of the evening. It may also cut back on the number of hors d’oeuvres consumed which could result in unhappy guests (or unhappy hosts).

(4) Plan in advance. Leave yourself with plenty of time to wrap up the details. Advanced planning means more choices and fewer restrictions. Following a timeline will keep you on track.

(5) Limit seating.The more seats you provide for your guests, the more guests will sit. Cocktail hour is a time for mixing, mingling and socializing. Incorporate cocktail tables as a resting place for drinks and/or appetizer plates. Offer lounge seating along the perimeter of the room for those guests who require seating.

(6) Incorporate a “featured cocktail.”

(7) Limit bar service to beer and wine only to deter excessive drinking.

(8) For the budget conscious host, offer an open bar for cocktail hour and move to a cash bar thereafter. Guests will appreciate any freebies you throw their way.

(9) Present a glass of sparkling wine, champagne or Bellini as guests enter the room. This makes for an excellent kick off to the festivities and keeps the bar from being overwhelmed right off the bat.

(10) Be kind to your guests with allergies, sensitivities, and dietary preferences. Allergies and dietary preferences are more prevalent than ever, particularly gluten intolerances and gluten-free diets. Consider these guests when choosing your food options. Limit shellfish, nuts, and bread options and infuse color with fresh vegetables and fruits.

This is a great spread,
unless you're gluten-free.

Happy party planning!

Photographer + Photo Booth = ???

Can I tell you we’re exhausted?
We are.

In the last 4 days, we served hundreds of people during our Bistro Grand Opening. It was fun; it was also (at times) a little crazy. Thanks for your enthusiasm and patience.

Photos below are from the preview on Thursday night. And we love them. But if you’re in a photo and you’re horrified (or in the witness protection program), send a quick email to info@restaurantecho.com and we’ll take it down.

Many thanks to the man behind the lens, Jeff Kowal, and the photo booth operator, Jason from FairyTale Photo Booth. Turns out there are a few constants in photo booths – kissin’ and givin’ raspberries.

Patio Popsicles: Watermelon-Mint

Watermelon-Mint Pops

3 c. water
3 c. sugar
6 c. watermelon juice
2 c. half and half
fresh mint, finely chopped

Combine water, sugar and watermelon juice in sauce pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Puree with half and half.

Add fresh mint to taste. Stir.

**For very best consistency, this is best done in an ice cream machine or bowl, then transferred to popsicle molds.**

Freeze. ENJOY!

Patio Popsicles: Lemon Rosemary

Lemon-Rosemary Pops

3 c. water
3 c. sugar
6 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 c. half and half
fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Combine water, sugar and lemon juice in sauce pot and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool completely. Puree with half and half.

Add fresh rosemary to taste. Stir.

**For very best consistency, this is best done in an ice cream machine or bowl, then transferred to popsicle molds.**

Freeze. ENJOY!

Pig Roast 2012

The Chefs

A photo of our team on pig roast day….

(I’m Terri, the office manager, guest blogging. I’m also trying to figure out how to make myself a contributor to the blog – and I thought I had done this successfully – but apparently I messed up something. Ah well, will try again later.)

We’re big believers in having a postmortem following any new event we do. We’ve found it helps us discover our hits and not repeat our misses. We haven’t had the pig roast postmortem yet, but our folks are taking notes. Here are ours…. any from you? We’d love to know if you attended (or didn’t) any thoughts you might have.

(1) When it’s 97 degrees, have the water available. Immediately and continuously. Good heavens, how did this slip by us?
(2) Grill takes about 50 lbs. of charcoal. Pigs take about 6 hours at 30-40 lbs./pig. Both good to remember.
(3) Get grill and rotisserie from here again: http://www.absoluteequip.com/
(4) Doing some pigs inside = good.
(5) “Enter here” signs would have been helpful.
(6) Keg of beer was a good beverage choice.
(7) Polo shirts for staff were good, but t-shirts would be even better.
(8) Consider doing this earlier in June OR later this year, maybe September.
(9) Recipes would have been nice to hand out.
(10) When your aunt and uncle from Boardman come to the pig roast with friends, get them a shaded table. Sorry Aunt Joey and Uncle David. 😦

For more photos, check out our Facebook album: http://tinyurl.com/79ac93c

Top 10

Top 10 Reasons We Have a Bistro

10. Cranberry likes casual.
9. All guests not (apparently) turned on by marrow bones.
8. Burgers go better with TV than osso buco does.
7. Hosts can stop fielding calls that begin, “Is it okay if I wear shorts?” (It’s okay.)
6. We love making flatware roll-ups.
5. Great for last-minute planners.
4. TVs can distract your companion when you start checking Twitter on your phone.
3. Happy Hour!
2. Needed appropriate venue for Radiohead.
1. We had to call it what it was: a bistro

Everything’s coming up green.

Last year at Restaurant Echo, we planted some herbs along the back of the building, about four varieties along a 40 x 2 foot strip of dirt adjoining the parking lot.  Thankfully, a lot of those herbs came back up in full force this spring. Oregano, thyme, mountain mint, catnip, and lavender that are storming the lot this year.

The inspiration of watching that growth in this early spring year, coupled with an abundance of space to the west of the restaurant, pushed us to take our growing program  a few steps forward.  Chef Chris O’Brien was the chief engineer of Echo Farm, a project that will be ongoing for years I’m sure. First we sent Pauly Walnuts (Paul Lesczynski), the greatest steward known to man and jack of all trades at Echo, across the creek with the lawnmower to mow half of the woods down (just scrub, brush, and thornbushes).

Phase two involved installing our bees.  Mandy Morales, our young Garde Manger chef, had put us in touch with her parents, who are very enthusiastic beekeepers.  Stephanie and Israel Morales, proprietors of Izzy’s Busy Bees, brought us a young queen, who we have named Elise (after one of our cherished servers) and ten thousand of her friends and progeny.

Part 2, Echo Farm, to follow…