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SoCal restaurant Gjelina in Venice has a no substitutions policy, which they state on their menu. There are a number of small places that do this, but for the most part nobody talks about them. Except that they refused to make a change to a dish for Victoria Beckham who was dining with Gordon Ramsey.

As Ramsey tells it, the very pregnant Beckham asked for the dressing on the side. The restaurant refused. (You can read more about the account here, as well as Gjelina’s response to the LA Times when asked about it)

In reading the comments, there were a couple of things that genuinely bothered me and made me wonder about how the kitchen at Gjelina is run. There were a couple of commenters who had asked for dressings to be included on the side, or items removed due to food allergies. In each of their cases, Gjelina refused to accommodate them, citing their policy.

I’m not sure if this is an instance where the food is essentially pre-prepared, so that alterations to dishes are impossible (though it seems odd to pre-dress salad), or if it’s an instance where the executive chef is of the breed that believe that food allergies are rubbish and they won’t compromise the taste of their dish for anything and anyone.

If it’s the latter, that is frustrating. While I can understand that substitutions take up time in the kitchen – it’s often difficult for people with varied diets (from vegetarians to those with allergies) to find meals that are satisfying. Time and time again, I’ve gone to lunch with my mom where we discovered that all the salads a restaurant offered had bacon or chicken in them. She even once ordered a vegetable minestrone soup to discover that it was made with a beef broth!

For me, it all comes down to customer service. Yes, it might be a pain to accommodate some requests, but it’s just good business to at least understand that there’s a difference between food allergies and a picky eater. And for chefs to understand that yes, pregnant women do interpret flavors separately. I feel for Victoria Beckham- when I was pregnant with the Little Kidlet, I was extremely sensitive to vinegar. What used to be dressed perfectly, salad-wise, often seemed overwhelming flavor-wise.

So for me, I think that the restaurant is being ridiculous. What do you say? Is their policy over-kill or is it ridiculous for people to think they should be accommodated? And let’s ignore the fact that this story involves celebrities… imagine it was a story told to you about friends. Would that change your opinion?

Originally published at American Whitney. You can comment here or there.

thesilversiren: (food place setting)
I'm not sure how I wound up at this recipe. It might have been a link in a blog, or I might have googled 'cranberry almond' out of desperation, looking for something to bake.

Regardless, I wound up at The Wednesday Chef and her post for Regina Schrambling's Almond-Cranberry Cookies. And I realized, that I had everything I needed to bake these cookies. You see, I've been putting off going to the grocery store. Knowing that I'll be somewhere else next week tends to make me not want to buy food that I'll have to use in one week or else. So, I've been creating out of what we've had.

Eons ago, I'd bought almond slivers and dried cranberries- intending to make scones from them. But inevitably, I was out of some ingredient I needed for the scones.

So I looked at the ingredients, and I had everything! Even the almond extract and the brown sugar! Only, my brown sugar was a hopelessly solid brick, so I used regular sugar.

Even with the substitution (which I thought was hilarious given that she made substitutions when she made the recipe), they were fragrant, crunchy with some give, and exactly what I was looking for. The oldest kidlet proclaimed them to be "scrummy," which I think was supposed to be scrumptious and yummy combined. Regardless, the recipe yielded just a little under 3 dozen, and they were gone in two days flat.

Almond-Cranberry Cookies
Yield: Around 3 dozen cookies

1 3/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar (or regular sugar, in my case)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries

1. Toast the almonds in a skillet on low heat, shaking often to keep almonds from burning. Remove from heat when they become fragrant and cool.

2. Stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and set aside.

3. Cream the butter and brown sugar together with a wooden spoon until smooth. Blend in the egg and vanilla. Gradually blend in the dry ingredients until well mixed. Stir in the nuts and cranberries.

4. Drop the dough by tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each. Bake the cookies in a 375-degree oven until light golden brown (centers should be soft), about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand 2 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Originally published at The Fabulous Whitney Drake.

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July 2011

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