Sunday, February 17, 2013

Family Get Together Nearly Foiled!

Last weekend my family and I were in need of a restaurant to eat at.  My sister-in-law and her husband and six kids were in from out of town and we had our family of four, for those of you counting that’s 12 total.  My sister-in-law called Texas Roadhouse and was told it could be anywhere from 2.5-3.5 hours before a table would become available.  When you have hungry kids to feed you don’t want to wait that long.  We knew since it was a Saturday night we would be hard pressed to find anywhere super fast but we didn’t want to wait over 2 hours. They called around to several other restaurants and settled on Logan’s Roadhouse.  My brother-in-law called them at 6pm for “call ahead” seating telling them that we would be there at 7pm and how many were in our party.  The woman who answered the phone told him that it would be no problem, they would be able to accommodate our party of 12 and that our table would be ready when we arrived.  My sister-in-law and her family arrived at 6:45pm and we weren’t far behind.  At around 7:10 we had some hungry, anxious kiddos and some grumpy babies so we inquired at the hostess station about how much longer we might have to wait.  We were told that they were waiting on a large party to clear out and then we would be seated.  Twenty-five to thirty more minutes went by and still we were left waiting.  My brother-in-law, again, went to the hostess station inquiring about our wait time and informed them, again, that we had called ahead and what we were told about our table being ready when we arrived.  The lady and gentleman at the hostess station informed him that they weren’t really sure how much longer we would have to wait and that “call ahead” seating is pretty much pointless with a large party.  (what a lie!) My brother-in-law came over and explained to us what they had said and we all decided that we needed to turn in our pager and find somewhere else to eat.  It was clear that Logan’s was not interested in our business, the inconvenience that they caused us, or our 8 hungry kids.  We turned in our pager, called a local pizza restaurant (who was almost equally as busy), Pizza King, and they were able to seat us within 5 minutes of us arriving where we had a wonderful meal. 

Some may ask why I’m sharing this story.  Why am I “bashing” an obviously busy restaurant, what did I expect, and what do I want out of this.   

To answer your questions I’m sharing my story in hopes that businesses and people alike will see situations like this and learn from them.  I’m not looking for a payday or any compensation, I’m hoping that others will see this as a “what not to do.” 
"Ok, so why didn't you just write an email to the customer service department privately instead of complaining here?"
Well, here's the funny thing, upon navigating through Logan's website intending to do that very thing I stumbled upon a tab labeled, "The Experience." So of course I had to know what their stance was on "The Experience" and clicked on it and found this little gem:
"Logan's Roadhouse revisits the classic roadhouse from days past and brings it to life in a modern way through its welcoming hospitality, attentive service and kickin' upbeat atmosphere."
Sadly even though this is their motto regarding the experience they wish their patrons to have, I experienced none of those! As a small business owner I know the importance of customer satisfaction and will do anything I can to right a wrong.  It was completely understandable that they were busy and that we would have to wait a length of time in order to be seated.  What was not understandable was the complete lack of empathy from the employees we encountered and how uninterested they seemed in providing customer service to their guests.  The point of “call ahead” seating is so that customers can confirm a seat and put themselves on a list so as to avoid waiting in a crowded restaurant for a table.  It’s a form of convenience and in the past I’ve never had an issue using it at various restaurants.  While I do not believe that the lady who answered the phone was lying to us about our wait time or table, I do believe that the she along with the employees at the hostess stand were/are poorly trained and were uninterested in creating a dining experience.  Upon our first visit to the hostess stand, Logan’s employees should’ve explained either the miscommunication in our wait time or offered to make it right.  The employees offered to neither instead they did nothing and lost 12 patrons, lost the revenue, and any further business from any of us.
Here is how the evening should have gone:
                My brother-in-law calls Logan’s, we are placed on the “call ahead” seating list, we arrive when we said we were going to, we were seated in a timely fashion, and our family was able visit after not seeing each other for over a year without any complications.  However, because I realize that we don’t live in a perfect world I understand that most likely that we would would’ve had to wait and here is how Logan’s should’ve handled it:  We should’ve been notified upon arriving that our table was not in fact ready and that we would have to wait “x” amount of time.  Should we have had to inquire about our wait time/table the hostess should’ve then apologized about our wait time, inquired about the details of our party (group size, how many kids, highchairs, etc), and then made it a priority to get us seated as quickly as possible.  If necessary they should’ve gotten the manager involved in order to make sure their guests were completely taken care of. 

In conclusion my family has decided that in the future dining at Logan’s Steakhouse is not an option for us and I hope that others have a more positive experience.  Have you ever been on the tail end of bad customer service? If so, how did you handle it? Were you satisfied with the results?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Vino Villa-Greenwood, IN

The hubs and I recently treated ourselves over the weekend to a date night, not something we get to enjoy very often but when we do we are always clueless as to what to do or where to go! As broke as we've been lately I was looking for ideas on the cheap but I still came up with nil! I looked for days and when Saturday rolled around I still didn't have a clue where we were going to go or what we were going to do.

Around 6 or so my mom showed up to watch the baby and off we were, destination unknown! We ended up in Greenwood initially thinking of sushi but decided that we were going to try something new.  Thai food.  So we stopped at Thai Spice.  We were hoping to have our heads blown off by spicy cuisine. We ordered our appetizer of Sun Dried Beef.  It was quite yummy.  We ordered our entree and decided to split it between us.  We ordered Nur Padd Namanhoy and asked for it Thai Spicy, the hottest that you could order it.  Our waitress called us brave.  We received our entree pretty quickly and it looked very yummy! It tasted just as good but was not as spicy as we expected or as some of our friends who enjoy Thai have led us to believe.  (After some Facebook discussion apparently we tried the wrong Thai food. We will have to try again somewhere else!) Overall it was extremely tasty! We enjoyed our dinner and then decided to head over to the mall. 

We visited Le Gourmet Chef, one of my favorite stores in hopes of finding something I've been in search of for a few weeks but didn't find what I was looking for.  Instead I found many other things that I promptly added to my wishlist.  A wishlist that is growing by the minute much to my husband's dismay!  Next we decided to hit up Teavana, seriously if you haven't visited this place you, my friend, are missing out! Much unknown to the guests that frequent there, you can order a cup of your favorite tea.  I seriously love this place!!!

After we got done with the mall it was still only 8:45pm!!! So I suggested the wine bar/shop/restaurant that we've been to once before, Vino Villa. We've only been there once, because like I said we don't get out very often, but it is one of our favorite places!  Downstairs on the main level there is a wine shop, with lots of wine and fine cheeses, on the second floor there are a few rooms all with a different decor and comfy chairs, on the third floor there is a wine bar and right now during the summer they have a few tables on the patio.  We've only visited the first and second floors and we've now eaten in two different rooms.  The atmosphere in this place is awesome, I can't describe it any other way, I just love it there.  The waitresses are very friendly and extremely knowledgeable.  My husband already knew what wine he wanted to drink but I had no idea until I flipped the menu over and discovered that they had two sangria's for the summer.  I'm a sucker for a good sangria!!!
I opted for the Raspberry/Peach White Sangria and it was ahhhh-mazing!!! The waitress told us that the peach juice they made the sangria with was from the peach tree out front. The sangria was complete with raspberries and blueberries and peaches. My husband ordered the Cameron Hughes Pinot Noir.  

Raspberry/peach white sangria.
Cameron Hughes Pinot Noir.

Since it had been a couple of hours since dinner we decided to order something to eat.  On our previous trip we had eaten the antipasti platter and enjoyed it thoroughly so we decided to give that another go.  As we were waiting on our waitress to make it back around to us we noticed a small list on a wine bottle silhouette of different meats.  

We read, and re-read that list trying to decided if we wanted to add on of those meats to our platter.  It wasn't until our waitress returned to the table and suggested a few that we made a decision.  I wanted to try the "Stagberry" and my husband wanted to try the "Gin and Juice." Odd names for salame but we were intrigued by the descriptions for them.  The Stagberry is described as, "finely ground elk studded with organic wild blueberries soaked in Indiana honey wine."  The Gin and Juice is described as, "lamb salame spiked with juniper and orange zest."  We also inquired with our waitress about the types of cheeses on our antipasti platter, on our previous trip we enjoyed two of the cheeses but one was Swiss and neither one of us are fond of Swiss.  Boy am I glad we asked because our waitress told us we could tell her the types of cheeses we prefer and they would base what they put on our plate per our preferences.  A few short minutes later she brought us our platter and a loaf of bread.  Our platter included goat cheese, Gouda, and brie (our 3 favorite cheeses!), capicola, salami, and bresaola (different Italian meats), a wonderful medley of mixed olives, and Giardineria (a spicy vegetable mix). Plus our additional meat choices!

A platter fit for a king. And his queen!

Our warm loaf of bread.

We barely had enough room to finish all of our food and our wine but it was so good! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and I would venture to guess that Vino Villa will be our go to place for future date nights! So if you're in the Greenwood area and you're looking for a good wine for dinner/gift/whatever or if you're looking for somewhere to enjoy some fine meats, cheeses and wine, or somewhere to take your date then Vino Villa is the place to go! The staff there is very helpful and will answer all of your wine questions, even if you have a lot and the atmosphere can't be beat. 

Vegetable Soup

Vegetable soup makes me think of fall but I found myself making it in the dead of summer. Why? You ask. Because it sounded yummy and can feed us for many meals! There isn't a whole lot to write about this meal, all you need are the following items, a 6 qt crock pot, and some time.

Here's what you need:
1 qt can of tomato juice
2 14.5 oz cans of petite diced tomatoes
1 14 oz can of chicken broth
3 medium sized potatoes, diced
1 12oz bag of frozen mixed vegetables
1 12oz bag of frozen corn
1 12oz bag of carrots
1 12oz bag of green beans

When it comes to the vegetables add a much or as little as you like of each veggie.  Personally, carrots, corn, and green beans are my favorite so that's why I add more of those.  Or you could always just use 4 bags of mixed vegetables if you don't want more of one than the other.  Or you could always add beans or beef to your soup, however you like it. I have heard of people using Bloody Mary mix instead of the tomato juice to give it a little kick! I haven't tried that because of the little ones but if you do let me know how it turns out!
Seasonings to Taste
Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Ground Red Pepper (Cayenne)
Garlic Powder
Hot Sauce
1-2 Bay Leaves (Don't forget to take them out!)

Place all of this in the crock pot, stir, cover with the lid, turn the heat to low for 8 hours or high for 6, and walk away.  It's as simple as that! In the time it takes you to go to work you can come home to a lovely meal. Serve hot with a grilled cheese is my favorite way to enjoy vegetable soup!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Western Taco Salad

This is probably the cheapest, easiest, and yummiest thing I make! Every time I make this I get nostalgic, dreaming of summers living in a crappy trailer with no air conditioning and the only relief you felt was going outside.  On some of the hottest days when there was no way in hell my mom was turning on the oven, she would cook this up and top it with tomatoes fresh out of our garden. No matter how many times I make it, it never quite tastes like it did when my mom made it. You may wonder why anyone would get nostalgic for that but those summers are some of my fondest memories. Sorry for the stroll down memory lane, now back to the taco salad.

This is probably one of the simplest things that I make, here's what you need:
Taco Meat
2 lbs of ground beef, ground turkey, ground chicken, whatever you like!

approximately 1/2 cup shredded frozen onion (remember my ***Chunky Girl Tip***? That's ok if you don't here it is)

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
3 tbls homemade taco seasoning (recipe to follow) or package seasoning of your choice
2/3 cup of water

Taco Salad Fixins
Western Dressing (just trust me on this!)
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Nacho Cheese Doritos

Place your thawed hamburger and your shredded onion in a large skillet.  Sprinkle your pepper, salt, cumin and garlic powder over top and brown your beef.

While your meat is cooking I take this time to cut up tomatoes and tear up lettuce.  After the meat is finished I drain the grease very well in a colander and add the 2/3 cup of water to the pan.  After my meat is thoroughly drained I sprinkle the taco seasoning on top of the meat and stir well and then allow to come to a simmer.  It's really as simple as that.  Top your lettuce with the taco meat, as much Western dressing as you like, cheese, tomatoes, and mix to coat with the dressing.  Top with Doritos and you're ready to eat!!! Personally, I like to crumble my Doritos over the top and my husband likes to scoop. Eat up! Dinner's done!!!

Taco Seasoning
I make this in a big batch but I've reduced it for only one serving (one store bought size pouch)

1 tbls chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (if you don't like spicy food, you could leave this out or sub 1/8 tsp of cayenne pepper)
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Mix in bowl and sprinkle over beef.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Frozen dinners ain't got nothin' on my Salisbury Steaks!

Call me old fashioned, call me boring, but I love Salisbury steak! Give me a plate of Salisbury steak, mashed potatoes, and green beans and call it a meal! Growing up it was one of my favorite meals and not much has changed.  My family eats it at least once a week, it’s cheap, it’s easy, but unfortunately it’s usually in the form of a frozen, processed, brick.  I’ve been buying it this way for years; I know how to make it from scratch (it’s usually the way my mom made it), but the frozen dinners are so much faster and easier.  Lately though I’ve noticed that the On-Cor and Banquet Salisbury steak has gotten less and less flavorful. 

Maybe it has always been that way but I’ve just started noticing it more and I’m not digging it.  In an effort to eat food that’s less processed and cheaper I decided that for our weekly Salisbury steak dinner I would make it from scratch. 

Remember all of that ground beef I scored last week?
A picture just in case you forgot!

Well, I set aside a pound specifically to make this very meal.  After I finished I realized I probably should’ve set back more, maybe 1.5 lbs or 1.75 lbs.  One pound was just barely enough for me, my husband, and my stepdaughter.  I bought some Kroger Brown Gravy mixes to top these with, I prefer Heinz Beef gravy but it was out of my budget this week.   

We will get to the gravy in a minute, first I want to start with the beef.

First, I put the thawed hamburger in a bowl and added finely shredded carrot, my grated onion (ya know the one from the freezer!), pepper, seasoned salt, and garlic powder.  I don’t have exact measurements and I apologize for that, I will get better at measuring things for y’all.  I just eyeball things and do what looks right.  I mix all of this by hand in the bowl and then I divide it into balls that I then form into patties.  Before I placed these in the frying pan I wanted to get my gravy and my green beans going.  I put my canned green beans in the pot with a little salt, pepper, some of my grated onion, and bacon, heat over low heat and let them go.

For the gravy, since I was using a mix, I wanted to get it up to temp so it could thicken and marry with the seasonings I added while the Salisbury steaks were cooking.  You could absolutely make your own gravy from the grease from the cooked hamburger if you so choose, I was just feeling particularly lazy this evening and decided to take the easy route. Shh, you can do the same, I won’t tell! With the gravy I followed the package directions and added a few seasonings of my own because packaged gravy is about the most boring, bland thing you can buy. I added just a little salt, pepper, and some onion powder till it tasted how I wanted it to.  
Follow the directions and most of all pay attention, go low and slow! Gravy can get away from you very quickly and turn lumpy, no one likes lumpy gravy.  

In between stirring my gravy I put my patties in the frying pan and get them started.  I cooked them until the juices ran clear.  When the patties were done I removed them from the pan and placed them on a paper towel to soak up any extra grease and then I drained the pan. 

Now, as I mentioned before you can make your own gravy from the grease and hamburger bits left in the pan, if you choose to do this don't drain the grease! But I'm lazy remember! 
Don't drain this off if you are making your own gravy!!!
I drained the grease but I didn't wipe it out, I wanted to save the little bits to add more flavor to the gravy.  If you're feeling health conscious, wipe the rest of the grease and the bits out of the pan. It looked like this.
I added a few spoonfuls of the gravy to the pan over low heat and gently scraped the bottom of the pan until the gravy came to a low simmer.  

After it reached a simmer I returned the patties to the pan and then poured the rest of the gravy over the patties and heated over low to medium heat until it came to a simmer.
After it reached a simmer I shut if off and dinner was ready! 

Looks pretty yummy, ehh? Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On top of spaghetti, all covered with...vegetables?

Spaghetti with vegetables? Yep! Seriously, there is a lot of vegetables in my spaghetti! I was recently perusing Pinterest looking for cheap meal ideas and I came across a lady who blogs about her cheap freezer meals that feed her family of four.  If you have time please go check her out, she has a lot of ideas and not just about food either! While I was reading her post I discovered how she sneaks so many vegetables into her family's meals without them knowing it!

*Gasp* What? She feeds her family veggies and they don't know it? 

Oh please, tell me more! Don't worry! I will!

The lady over at A Turtles Life adds grated carrot to a lot of recipes, she claims it bulks up her meal, it doesn't really change the taste, and it's cheap and healthy. She does this with ground beef and uses that beef for sloppy joes, spaghetti, whatever you would use ground beef in. So, I decided to put her idea to good use as we have recently been looking for ways to reduce our food costs while not reducing our portions, (we really don't have that much to begin with) or quality, while still trying to keep it nutritious.

My beef! And my ice.
On my last trip to Kroger (my favorite store EVER) I scored 6lbs of ground beef for $11.18 on manger's special! I love manager's specials, and seek them out like it's my job. Well, I guess it sort of is in the job description of the family grocery shopper. Every time I find a manager's special I get all giddy and a huge smile on my face like I just won the lottery, people look at me like I'm crazy but I love finding a good deal. Who doesn't? The beef was in those logs, which I usually don't buy because for some reason they seem to have less flavor than the beef that has been wrapped in the Styrofoam.  But for the price I couldn't pass it up and if I'm just putting it in something such as spaghetti or tacos the flavor, or lack there of, really doesn't matter that much.  As soon as I got home, I immediately separated the beef into 1lb portions, wrapped what I wasn't going to use right away, and froze it. 

A few nights ago I pulled one of those frozen pound puppies, thawed it out, and let the experiment begin. I grated a large carrot (I will grate it a little finer in the future, it was a tad large for my liking), finely diced half of a large green bell pepper, and grated approximately 1/3 cup of onion. These measurements are rough estimates and you could certainly add more or less depending on your personal tastes and preferences.

***Chunky Girl Tip*** Cut an onion in half and freeze in a tightly sealed zipper bag.  Pull the onion out immediately before using it, grate as much as you need, and toss it back in the freezer. It will look very similar to shaved ice. The frozen onion will melt into whatever it is that your cooking so you have the onion flavor without chunks of onion.  This is very beneficial when making sauces such as barbeque, gravy, etc.

This Italian herb seasoning is my favorite, it has such a wonderful aroma! I added the seasonings to the meat and the vegetables in a large skillet and cooked it over medium to high heat to until the beef was browned evenly. 
 I wish you could have smelled the yumminess that was exuding from this while it browned up!

While my meat is browning I have my water for my spaghetti heating up, my oven preheating for my garlic bread, and my spaghetti sauce warming as well so all I have to do is add my drained beef and it's pretty much done!  For the spaghetti sauce I use a Kroger spaghetti sauce. I could make my own, but honestly in this case, it is cheaper, easier, and faster to use store bought. My favorite is their Homestyle 6 Cheese.

When my beef is done I drain it on a paper towel in a colander over a bowl lined with aluminum foil, then I quickly add it to my hot spaghetti sauce.

***Chunky Girl Tip*** Put a paper towel in your colander to soak up excess grease from your meat.  Line the bowl you are draining your meat into with aluminum foil and allow to sit over night to harden.  In the morning simply slide the aluminum foil out of the bowl into the trash.  You don't have to wash the bowl and you aren't putting any grease down your drain! 

Your spaghetti water should be at a boil now, this is when I add about a tablespoon of kosher salt to the water before I add my spaghetti noodles.  This flavors the water and the spaghetti.  

My arsenal! 
From left to right: spaghetti, angel hair pasta, penne pasta, kosher salt, fresh finely ground black pepper.

Place your garlic bread in the oven, and cook the spaghetti until al dente.  While I'm waiting on the noodles and the bread I typically make a salad for everyone.  I used the other half of the green pepper for everyone's salad, waste not, want not! When the spaghetti noodles are done I drain them and then return them to the hot saucepan and add a little olive oil or a little butter, this keeps the noodles from sticking to each other or the pan.

When you're all done it should look a little something like this!

Do you see any vegetables in there? I don't! Did I taste any? None that I could distinguish! Did my family eat it up like it was the best spaghetti they ever had? Absolutely!!! 

My verdict on the grated carrot? It did absolutely everything she said it would, we have a winner here!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Kraft Fresh Taste

So if you are anything like me chicken is a huge part of your family's diet, and if you're anything like me you get sick of it.  Let's face it, chicken is cheap, abundant, and versatile but it gets old after awhile.  I'm constantly looking for new chicken recipes and it appears so are other people.  Chicken recipes held the number one spot in Google searches for 2011 and it is the most searched topic on Food Networks website.  Wow...we eat a lot of chicken! Whether you get your chicken from a farm or from the store (I won't judge and I will save that for another blog post entirely) you're always looking for new ideas! Well, here is where I come in, or should I say Kraft Fresh Take comes in! Kraft Fresh Take is a simple breadcrumb and cheese mixture that comes in 6 different flavors, Southwest Three Cheese, Italian Parmesan, Roasted Garlic & Rosemary, Cheddar Jack & Bacon, Chili Lime & Panko, and Savory Four Cheese and it has many uses.

So far my family has tried the Southwest Three Cheese and Cheddar Jack and Bacon.  Kraft has made these packets so simple, honestly a kid could do it! Simply follow the package directions, bake at 375 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, you can use chicken, fish, or pork, make a few side dishes and you're done! There is enough mixture in these packages for approximately 4 good sized chicken breasts. I even put mine on aluminum foil on a sheet pan so cleanup is virtually nonexistent! The chicken comes out with a nice crisp exterior, moist interior, and great flavor.

The Southwest Three Cheese has a slight spice to it so I might not recommend this to people who don't like spice or people with children who don't like spicy food.  Personally, I would've added a touch more cayenne pepper for my husband and I, but I'm glad I didn't serve it to my stepdaughter! The Cheddar Jack and Bacon is simply amazing and my stepdaughter said that it was the best chicken I've served to date, not sure if that makes me happy or sad, hmmm. The other great thing about these mixtures is that you can use them for different dishes other than meat, use them on potatoes, vegetables, the sky's the limit! I hope you take a chance on these great flavors, you won't be disappointed!