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May 8, 2019

Pork-Topped Pizza Pies

By Piet Jones

Pizza-toppings-1When it comes to pizza toppings, pepperoni is king. Yet, despite there being many options for pepperoni and it being a classic, it sometimes can be viewed as not very inventive. Today’s diners are looking for new adventures to tantalize their taste buds and pique interest in their Instagram snaps. For that, you might consider pork to top your pies.

Sausage

The easy answer would be sausage, especially Italian sausage. It has good moisture content, plays well with other toppings (especially mushrooms and onions), and, like pepperoni, there are tons of options. From crumbles to slices, natural casings or not, hot or mild, there is plenty to choose from to help create the right flavor profile for your menu and price point.

Italian sausage can be a bit generic though. Most places have it, meaning it doesn’t necessarily stand out from the crowd. Making your own or choosing a purveyor that’s locally beloved can elevate it from the mundane, or you can select a sausage that’s out of the ordinary.

Chorizo is a good option—mainly flavored with paprika, it shares many of the same flavor profiles as pepperoni. There are both sweet and spicy chorizos so you can pick the right sausage to complement your pizza sauce.

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April 2, 2019

Lighter Menu Ideas for Spring

By Piet Jones

Spring_menu_saladWinter menus are filled with deeply flavored braises, heart stews and chilis, and rich roasts that are perfect for the cold months. But as winter begins to wind down, they’re beginning to taste a bit too heavy and cloying. Spring is coming and taste buds are crying out for lighter, brighter fare.

The obvious answer is to dust off and freshen up the salad section of your menu, and that’s not a bad place to start.  A beet salad that sold well over the winter can give way to crisp spring greens, say arugula or watercress.  Candied pecans used as a sprinkle might be replaced with the tangy tartness of grapefruit slices—or the more exotic pomelo.

But don’t limit your spring cleaning to just the salad section.  Early spring greens can be incorporated into many other dishes, be it small plate or entree, to complement or contrast the main taste of the dish.  Dandelion greens may add a little welcome bitterness while tender pea shoots bring sweetness to the plate.

While the seasons are transitioning, try serving up those greens lightly tossed in a cold vinaigrette or slightly wilted and warmed to retain the freshness and texture.  This is the perfect opportunity to use exotic oils, like walnut or hazelnut, to add a hint of flavor since wilting will mellow the flavor of the greens.  Create an emulsion with the oil and a little butter to help keep it from feeling too greasy while still adding an appetizing sheen.

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March 7, 2019

You Say Tomatoes. We Say Canned Tomatoes

By Kendra Bailey Morris

Tomato_soupWhy wait until summer for your guests to enjoy fresh-tasting, creative recipes featuring vine-ripened tomatoes when there’s a secret weapon you might already have in your kitchen—canned tomatoes.

When winter is at its peak, fresh picked tomatoes are not only difficult to find, but are often no match to the plump, juicy, acidic fruit harvested during the summer. As a result, many kitchens tend to relegate tomato-focused dishes to the back burner while impatiently waiting for the summer growing season to begin.

But you don’t need to give up on tomatoes just yet. Canned tomatoes can be an excellent substitute in many recipes (and even the star of the show in some cases). With a little imagination and a few tricks of the trade, you can create exciting dishes that showcase the versatility of canned tomatoes and go beyond the standard pasta sauces and chilis.

From hearty seafood stews to piquant tomato-based curries, canned tomatoes can be incorporated into your menu in a variety of ways that are both creative and crowd-pleasing. And the best part? Canned tomatoes are not only an economical option, but they also have a long shelf life so it’s easy to keep plenty of cans on hand.

When it comes to choosing canned tomatoes there are several types to pick from: whole peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes, crushed tomatoes in purée and puréed tomatoes. Whole tomatoes tend to be the most versatile as chefs can dice, crush or purée them in order to achieve a specific desired consistency based on their recipe requirements.

So, now that you’ve got your cans, what to do with all those tomatoes?

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January 28, 2019

Cold Weather Desserts

Winter_dessert1By Piet Jones

Seasonal menus have been the rage for a while now, and for good reason. Not only do they allow you to make the most of seasonally available ingredients, but they also let you match your offerings to how diner’s tastes change over the course of the year. In the warmer months, many opt for lighter, brightly flavored plates while heartier dishes are appealing when it’s cold.

For many, the routine is well ingrained, and the menus roll out seamlessly. But are you overlooking one sweet part of your dining puzzle in the process?

All too often the dessert menu becomes static with the same three or four dishes year-round. While there’s nothing wrong with having a signature dessert or two, some dishes may not excite during the darker cold months the same way they do in warm weather. This might be the perfect time to add a little heat to your sweets.

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January 7, 2019

Soups That Help Your Bottom Line

SoupBy Piet Jones

Look at almost any menu and there’s likely to be at least one or two soups featured. Soup is a well-loved option and, besides being a comfort food, can be an endlessly fun exercise in different flavors and ingredients. With a little planning, soups can delight your diners and benefit your bottom line.

Restaurants produce a staggering amount of waste. Much of that waste is dollars out the door with nothing to show for the expenditure.

Chickens are a prime example. Buying whole chickens and breaking them down in house can produce a huge savings per pound over pre-portioned birds. However, they leave a healthy number of trimmings and parts like necks, backbones or wings that don’t always end up on plates.

The good news is those parts are seriously packed with flavors and can be the base for an amazing stock that can be used in all manner of soups and stews. Other parts sometimes left behind, like legs and thighs, help add meat to those dishes. Try roasting for chunk meat or slow braising for a pulled meat preparation like in a Brunswick Stew.

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December 5, 2018

Holiday Vegetarian Dishes

Vegetarian_dishes_inlineBy Piet Jones

With the holidays upon us, it’s time for chefs to dust off their old holiday menus as they begin to tweak and update their recipes for the coming season. Dinner specials, private party and catering menus, or special holiday luncheons, all are vehicles for you to serve up holiday cheer on a plate.

This season is filled with rich and savory foods, but vegetarian diners often get overlooked during the menu creation. All too often, the vegetarian offerings are an afterthought and are something less than a main dish that ends up looking like a square peg not quite fitting in that holiday tree hole. This year give your menu some new options for those vegetarian diners. Seasonal tastes and cooking techniques are easily translated into appealing vegetarian dishes that are exciting not just to vegetarians but also those diners looking for a healthier option among the indulgent dishes.

Roasting

From turkey to quail, a roasted bird with a drizzle of gravy might be the quintessential holiday dish. Try replacing these roasted meats with a mushroom such as the maitake, or hen-of-the-woods, that is prized for its deeply rich flavors and meaty mouthfeel. As the centerpiece on the plate, it’s a winner that can pair well with seasonal sides and not lose its place.

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November 7, 2018

Cheese Trends to Make Your Customers Melt

Cheese_boardBy Piet Jones

Cheese sales have been on the uptick for the last 10 years, and changing palates, especially among the millennials, has shifted tastes away from processed cheeses and toward more natural offerings. This trend is evident on the menus everywhere from fast food giants to your corner dive to the uptown swanky bistro. Fortunately, there’s been a huge increase, 40% by some estimates, in domestic cheese production—driven mainly by small producers churning out both the familiar and the unusual to appeal to this seismic shift in tastes.

This increase in options isn’t just limited to cheese varieties, there’s also been a huge increase in how cheese is delivered. Instead of just blocks, many are now available pre-sliced or shredded, something that used to be limited to the processed cheeses. All that’s left is learning how to take advantage of this surfeit of options.

Burgers and Sandwiches
In the age of Instagram, the last thing you want is a picture of your burger tooling across the internet with a piece of cheese that is visibly releasing its oils. A trademark of being processed and high heat, separation is never pretty.

Natural cheeses not only stand out on the menu but also stand up to higher heats, melting beautifully over the patty or the lunch meats. Switch up your burger with slices of smoked gouda for a deeper, smoky flavor or add a kick to your roast beef sandwich with a caraway Havarti.

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October 3, 2018

Perfect Your Pepperoni

Pepperoni2By Piet Jones

If you have pizza on your menu, then chances are you offer pepperoni as one of your toppings. It’s an American classic, ubiquitous enough for the name to be nearly generic. The problem is that pepperoni is hardly uniform and can vary widely from one brand to another. Choosing the right one is paramount, both for consistency and food cost, to ensure you’re putting the best choice on your pies.

So, how do you make sure you have the right pepperoni? First, you need to know the right questions to ask. Answer those and you’re well on your way to ensuring you have the right piece of cured meat to work with.

Flat vs Cup
First impressions mean a lot. Do you want your pies going out with flat pieces of pepperoni, where the oils have been allowed to form a sheen across the cheese, or curled and cupped where the pepperoni captures its own amber liquid in a gorgeous little pool?

There’s a bit of a debate as to what causes cup-n-char and how to properly achieve it but most agree the major factors are thickness (a medium thickness helps promote cupping) and using a natural or collagen casing. Having a slice that is too thick or too thin or removing the casing will lead to flatter slices.

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August 29, 2018

Host a Wine and Beer Dinner

Wine_dinner_inlineBy Piet Jones

If only every night could be Friday or Saturday filled with reservations, people willing to wait to grab a table, and strong check averages. Sadly, you’ve got Tuesday every week with empty tables and your well-functioning staff stuck in low gear looking for something to do.

In the past, you could save money by trimming a few hours here and there but with such a tight labor market, cutting hours is a sure way to watch your expensive training investments update their resumes and search for a more stable gig. There’s got to be a way to pump up your volume, so to speak, and get enough guests in your seats to make the soft spots in your week less of a drag on the bottom line.

Why not wine and beer dinners?

Maybe you’ve tried them in the past and they didn’t work out for you, but things have changed in the last couple of years, and it may be time to give them another chance. First, people are looking for a little something more from their dining experience. The explosion of local craft breweries, cideries, and wineries has people clamoring for evenings where they don’t just enjoy a meal but also have an immersive experience in the food and drink they’re enjoying. Second, social media sites like Facebook and Instagram have made getting the word out easier and more effective than ever. As a bonus, you can sell tickets in advance through these sites, giving you the opportunity to better plan and prepare for the big night.

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August 3, 2018

Trend Alert: Shakshuka

Shakshuka_redBy Piet Jones

Restaurants have probably never had such a wonderful advertising medium as Instagram. Not only can you put your dishes out for all to see (for free!) but your customers are taking word of mouth buzz to a whole new level by snapping pics and sharing them with their friends and, potentially, tomorrow’s new customers.

Instagram also gives you the opportunity to look at what your competitors are up to and what hot dishes are getting the most buzz. Sometimes, though, the dish you see leaves you just a tad befuddled. What exactly is it you’re seeing? It looks like eggs floating in some kind of sauce. Some sauces are red, some are green. It looks tantalizingly appetizing, but what is it?

In this case, the mystery dish flooding Instagram is shakshuka - an Israeli dish of baked tomatoes, onions and peppers topped with eggs and flavored with earthy cumin. Popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, it’s been introduced here by American chefs who have been scouring the globe for inspiration and adding their own twists to the traditional dish.

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