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All About Cheesecake
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The Wonders of Dried Fruit
by Dan Moore, Deli Manager
This month’s deli article is supposed to be all about picnic food. But before we get to that I need to do some explaining about what’s going on in the deli. It seems that our move into the off-site kitchen, meant to relieve our space issues and food production problems, was a little more complicated than we thought. Why? Good question.
The off-site kitchen, while still regulated by city health code rules, is actually under the jurisdiction of the FDA. That means federal guidelines that were written for huge companies with huge payrolls. A lot of experts and a lot of money go into these kitchens to enable them to do things right, or in some cases, do things however they want—but we’ll ignore that one.
What are the big complicated guidelines? Well actually they’re not all that different than how we run things in the first place, with one caveat. We have to have it all written down, filed, and ready for inspection at all times. That doesn’t sound too hard, but it turns out it is. Our cooks went in and were handed what is called a HACCP plan. HACCP (pronounced hass-ip) stands for “hazard analysis of critical control points.” What that means is we now have a written plan for how all our food and equipment is handled. Again, it sounds simple.
But think about it. This plan includes standards for every step of the process. The plan begins by having us contact all our suppliers and making sure we have copies of their license, which in most cases we already have. Then we have to tell them when to arrive, how they can transport the food, the temperatures at which the food must be when it arrives, the condition of the food, and even the size of the food. When the food arrives we take the temperature of all of it, rejecting anything out of range. Remember, we’re using a lot of small, local farms and businesses that don’t have the money Sysco does—and a refrigerated truck is expensive. This doesn’t just include obvious things like eggs or meat, it includes everything down to jars of jam—literally hundreds of ingredients every delivery. These temperatures are logged and filed, and then the food is immediately stored in the appropriate place.
Then we get to cook, right? Wrong. In addition to the receiving restrictions (which are a good thing!) we also had to rewrite all our recipes, around 800 of them. The recipes have to be in a very specific format, with ingredients listed in a certain way and each step rewritten into one or two sentences. Each step has to be labeled as to whether it is a cooking, cooling, prepping, or holding step. Each step also has to have very specific language. For example, when cooling an item the words “cool item to 70ºF within 2 hours and 40ºF within an additional 2 hours for a total cooling time of no more than 6 hours” have to be in there.
We’ve always done this; it’s standard food safety and prevents the formation of bacteria in the food we make. However, a normal cook will use the allotted time as a total. Say you’re making a salad with some sautéed veggies. You cook the pasta, drain it, run it under water to stop the cooking, then refrigerate it (or set it on the counter in your kitchen at home) while you sauté the veggies and make the sauce. Throw the sauce and veggies in the refrigerated pasta, and cool it. In the HACCP plan recipe, you must chill the pasta in the allotted time, logging the temperature after two hours and then again after four more. You do the same for the veggies and once again for the sauce. So instead of finishing the salad in 15 minutes and refrigerating it to meet the time deadlines, you start the individual salad bits, chill the separate ingredients, and then put the salad together. Or so we thought. Turns out the recipes are written that way, but the real issue is the final cooling time. We can make it like normal, in spite of regulation that tells us to write our recipe idiotically. So we finally figured that out. Sorry it took so long.
There are other issues involved in creating a “food processing facility” that complicate things as well. We’ve always cleaned. Now we have a 55-page cleaning manual. It includes how to wash the dishes, how to clean the oven, how to clean the floors, how to clean the walls, and even how to clean ourselves. It tells us what to use, how to use it, and what will happen if we eat the cleaning stuff. It also tells when to clean. It’s a bit daunting. Honestly though, we’ve always done this stuff—we just didn’t have it written down in such excruciating detail. So, imagine you’re at home in your kitchen. You have out a favorite recipe you’ve made a million times. But now, the recipe looks completely different—where it once said 2 eggs it now says .25 cups of eggs, that type of thing. And there’s a list telling you what tools you have to use, where you can put it in the refrigerator, and exactly what the ingredients look like (not to mention where you are allowed to buy them). Same recipe you’ve made a million times, but I’m guessing this time it’s going to take longer than you’re used to. After a few times you get used to it, you fall back into the habit without worrying whether or
not you’re completely screwing up your recipe and kitchen, and you make the food. That’s what we’re working on, and I think we’re there. We’ve been very busy at the deli counter, record-setting busy. So the food’s finally getting here, now we just have to prove we can keep up with all the new folks dropping in—and we will.
Thanks for your patience, and remember: all these regulations help ensure that our food is safe and consistent. They are a very good thing, and to my knowledge only the Willy Street Co-op and one of the local hospitals (the inspector didn’t say which) are following these regulations. (Everyone else got grandfathered in.)
Hmmm... it seems I’ve used up my space and I haven’t gotten to the picnic food. Really quickly, we have a bunch of new sandwiches that make perfect picnic food. Stop by the deli and try them. I recommend all of them. Seriously. My personal favorite is the al Caprese Panini. It’s a really simple combination of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, tomato, and vinaigrette—and it’s amazing. There are also a number of vegan sandwiches as well, but don’t let the word vegan scare you. All that means is that the flavor’s coming from a different spot. Try the marinated tempeh, or my second favorite new sandwich the artichoke cannellini—I never would have guessed beans and artichokes would taste that good. Pick up some potato salad and coleslaw to go with them and hit the parks. We’ve only got 4 months of non-winter here; make the most of it. I’ll be in the kitchen.