Italy

Archive | July 27th, 2014

Ask a Foodie: How Do You Use Za’atar Seasoning

Ask a Foodie: How Do You Use Za’atar Seasoning

Q. I’ve encountered the term za’atar seasoning on menus and have also seen it in ethnic food markets. I know it’s a blend of some spices but don’t know how one would use it. Any suggestions?

A. We’ve seen this seasoning blend as well, and usually in a Middle Eastern Market. The blend has sesame seeds in it and also the brick-red sumac also used in cooking from these regions.  The third element to this mixture is what is interesting — it’s an aromatic variety of marjoram (M. syriaca) which is common in Jordon, Lebanon and Israel, says Aliza Green in her thorough “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices.” This marjoram is also called by the name “za’atar.”

Lemb Kebobs from Feast

Lamb Kebabs from Feast

In the countries mentioned above, the flavor is common in grilled lamb and flatbread and is often mixed with sumac, says Green, to spread on pita bread. We’ve also seen za’atar sprinkled on hummus or tossed into a salad of garbanzo beans, slivered green onion and tomato or sprinkled over feta cheese. You can also put it on a plate, pour over some olive oil and use it as a dipping sauce with pita bread.

Recently, we ordered a small plate at Feast Restaurant on Alamo Street in San Antonio’s King William area. Chef Stefan Bowers sprinkles the za’tar mixture on some tasty Ground Lamb Kebabs, then serves with a slightly spicy serrano feta dip, to good effect.

If you want to make your own blend, try Green’s blend, which she also suggests mixing with yogurt and using as a dip for raw vegetables: Combine 2 tablespoons dried crushed za’atar leaves (or crushed thyme, summer savory, oregano, marjoram or a mixture). Add 2 tablespoons roasted sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon ground sumac. Grind to a chunky paste and season wil a little salt, to taste. Store at room temperature. Za’atar’s flavor will begin to face after 2 months. Makes 1/3 cup. (From “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices.”)

 

Posted in Ask A Foodie2 Comments

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Griffin to Go: Are Too Many Diners Expecting the Moon These Days?

Diners, beware. Open season has been declared on those of you who eat out. And the complaints aren’t just coming from wait staff.

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Do you see this person as friend or foe?

Chefs, managers, critics and even some actors are getting into the mix.

Oh, sure, there are still a few people who go out to eat, politely order their food, eat and enjoy themselves, tip their server between 15 and 20 percent, maybe thank the chef and then leave. But if you’re one of those people, you need to realize that you’re part a dying breed.

Today’s diners are far less gracious. Don’t think that I’m merely talking about the hipster crowd or Millennials, because the rampant bad behavior seems to belong to no single age group. There are grumblers, old and young, who are never satisfied with what they’re served and make no bones that anything less than perfection is unacceptable.

Take tables, for example. Anywhere they’re seated is not good enough. Too close to the kitchen. Too far from the bar. Too noisy. Too close to another table. Too lacking in feng shui. After playing Goldilocks with the chairs a half-dozen times, they still haven’t found a place that’s “just right,” and they blame the restaurant for it.

Or maybe the table is filled with diners who spend 20 minutes taking pictures of their food and then complain that the meal is not hot enough. Really, folks? How long does it take to take a picture? I have often joked that food photography has become the 21st century’s way of saying grace, because, in a way, it’s a form of being grateful for the food that has been set before you. But if it takes longer to get your picture than it does to say the common table prayer, then you have no right to complain about the temperature of your food — or much of any else.

And let’s not get started on the issue of tipping.

Sure, service needs to evolve to meet the new standards, demands and eccentricities of today’s entitled diners. But where is the line drawn between reasonable and ridiculous? The gripes and sniping have gained in volume, as if some people think they’ll get a free meal if they scream loud enough; their puerile behavior leaves the rest of us wondering what we did wrong because we were enjoying our meal. Some of the restauranteurs who failed to cave in to these diners’ demands have later discovered online reviews from those same upset people who have lashed out in their outrage. These reports pile grievance on top of grievance until it seems as if their dinner had been served in a prison instead of a neighborhood bistro.

Too often, though, these posts come across as outrageous and unintentionally funny, and they have led to the hysterical Real Actors Read Yelp series on YouTube. There are more than 20 of these short videos, and each one is sadder and more laughable than the one that came before it. For a particularly apt example, click here. At the end, you can choose any of the others until you’ve had your fill.

In recent weeks, various stories have appeared about a supposed report that a New York restaurant has done comparing its service from 10 years ago to its service today. Why are so many more complaints are generated nowadays about the service? Videos from both years show that, of course, the diners are the problem and not the restaurant. That is why I say “supposed,” because the restaurant’s identity has not been revealed, so there have been claims that it’s a hoax.

Whether it’s false or true, you may want to read one account of the story (click here) because it offers a lot to chew on, in San Antonio as well as New York. Pay attention to the comments at the end of the piece, too. The vitriol from the readers, who come from all backgrounds and not just the restaurant business, equals the petulance of some diners.

This standoff is likely to get worse before it gets better. But all you prickly, picky diners who expect support from food critics, think again. Your behavior is turning off those who eat out for a living. In a recent online chat, Tom Sietsema of the Washington Post had this to say after being asked what a restaurant was supposed to do after a person slipped and fell in the dining room: “More than any other business I know, people expect restaurants to be and do everything. Can you imagine asking your hair dresser to give you a free trim because it was your birthday? Or expecting half-off on a root canal if your dentist kept you waiting more than 15 minutes?”

So, the next time you go out, leave your attitude at home. You’ll find yourself enjoying the experience more. So will the people around you. If you can’t do that, then kindly limit yourselves to restaurant drive-thru windows. You may not realize it now, but it never pays to bite the hand that feeds you.

Posted in Griffin to Go, Restaurants3 Comments