Katie learns to cook -Chapter 4, Menus and Recipes

July 22, 2012

Time for another addition of Katie learns to Cook!  If it seems like you only just read the last  installment, its true, it was only on Tuesday!  But i’m back on track and ready to talk about Menus and Recipes.   To be honest, this chapter was just so so for me.  I was hoping for something just…different?  I’m not sure exactly what I thought I was going to get.  The chapter was great about listing some of the different kinds of menus and some of the techniques chefs use to standardize a recipe, so you’re getting the same product each time – which is super important if you’re going to run a restaurant!  It also got into recipe conversions and food costs, mainly, how to calculate them for when you’re buying your stocks.   Obviously, this chapter was a bit more biased towards the food industry and not necessarily the everyday at home kitchen junkie – but lets see what there is to know.

First up, the different kinds of menus,which can be found in different restaurants.  I”ll just go over these briefly:

Static Menu – which is a menu that pretty much stays constant for a restaurant, for instance, most chain restaurants would have a static menu.  You pretty much know you can pop into any Applebees or Taco Bell, etc., and order the same thing throughout the course of a year.

Cycle Menu – This is a menu that reminds me a lot of the lunch plans I used to see in Elementary school.  You have a few things you normally cook and rotate them on a cycle.  So in elementary school we’d have hot dogs or hoagies or chicken patties or salad bar, etc and the menu would cycle through ever couple of weeks or so – make sense?

Market menu – These are probably a lot more popular now than they’ve ever been, especially with some of the more local restaurants that like to focus on fresh produce and meats.  These menus are created based on what’s “in season” or available for a certain time of the year and can change almost daily.

Hybrid Menu  – No rocket science here, a hybrid menu combines two of the menu types to create a hybrid.

Lets move on to some terms you may come across when standardizing or converting a recipe.

Yield:  This is the total amount of a product that you’re going to make and is usually expressed in terms of volume, weight or servings.

Parstock:  when  working in a restaurant, this is the amount of stock you’ll need to get, in order to maintain your kitchen/restaurant until your next shipment comes in.

FIFO: aka – First in, First out.  This is such a great concept and one that can definitely be applied to an at home kitchen.  I’m pretty sure i’ve talked about it before, but FIFO is a way of rotating your stock, so that the older ingredients are used up first before they go bad, and the newer ingredients are put to the back.   Basically using up your ingredients and items in the order you get them in. A great way to prevent waste!


For the “take home lesson”, I thought I’d try my hand at using the tips a restaurant may use for reducing their food costs and seeing how they stand up with an at home equivalent.   The chapter lists the following points at which saving or gaining money can be acheived:





Procedures (portions and waste)

Sales and service.


Ok, here goes!

1.  Menu – For a restaurant, the idea behind a profitable menu means things like knowing what your customers want to eat, what’s in season, current costs and what you can afford or are able to skillfully create.  Some of these things aren’t in the control of the manager or owner, but other things, like hiring skilled professionals and having the right equipment can be kept in mind.    Obviously, when we’re at home  creating a menu can be a good way to control your costs.  Although this may not be quite the same thing, I always found that having a solid menu means that you can create a list of things to buy, instead of just heading in and picking up the things you think look good.  Don’t get me wrong, I love love love doing that, its one of my favorite ways to spend a weekend afternoon (scary, I know), but cost wise, its always best to go with a list in mind.  Some of the concepts, like knowing what’s in season and the current price of things can be really helpful.  Buy produce when its in season and perhaps more relevant to our current weather situation, a lot of the US is in a bit of a drought right now, so corn prices are eventually going to skyrocket, even though its in season.  This means a lot of other prices are going to increase too, like meats, where the animals are corn fed.  Keeping that in mind means you can keep an eye out for things that may not necessarily be as expensive and plan your menu around that.  

2.  Purchasing/Ordering – If you don’t order enough, you’re in trouble.  If you order too much, you can end up wasting money when the food spoils.  To prevent this, most restaurants have specifications for what they order, precise descriptions of what they want.  From these, they can obtain price quotes and decide where they  can get the best bang for their buck.  When we’re at home, the concept of parstock sort’ve applies, but not really.  Because we don’t always make such big orders, not picking up enough of something can be a hassle or a pain, but can be worked around by adapting a recipe or just picking up the rest of what you need before you make something.  If you’re making a big meal for a dinner party or something similar and you have the time, it would probably be in your wallet’s best interest to check out different places for either sales or if you like to frequent the local markets, see who has the best of what you want.  

3.  Receiving – Restaurants try to have someone who’s job is to receive and order, check to make sure it was actually ordered, that it matches the current specifications and check for quality.  When we’re at home, this doesn’t really apply, simply because its rare that we would have food shipments made to our own kitchen.  However, for something similar, if you order something like a cheese, veggie, or meat tray for a party, be sure to look it over before you walk away and make sure its what you wanted.  Not to mention paying attention when you’re at the cashier.  Was something listed as on sale, but rang up at full price, or did you get charged twice accidentally?  Again, not the exact same concept, but a similar set of ideas. 

4.  Storing – Here is where the FIFO idea comes into play.  Being sure to rotate your stock and maintain clean storage conditions are restaurants can also be used at home!  Make sure your pantry is dry and cool, and pest free.  Likewise, be sure to make sure you use up your older fruits and veggies first, before breaking into the new batch!

5.  Issuing – This is how a restaurant or industry keeps track of what they have in their stock.  Larger establishments like to have set people do this, too many hands in the pot can cause confusion!  For an at home equivalent, keep a little tally in the back of your mind of what you have vs don’t have.  Staples that need to be replaced could be written down on a whiteboard or notepad that is easily accessible, so that way anyone in the house can walk past and make a note of something that’s used up.  I also think its helpful for one person to do the shopping or to go together.  That way you don’t end up both stopping to pick something up on the way home from work and suddenly have two of it!

6.  Kitchen procedures – Portions and waste.  Making sure you serve the same size each time and having a standardized way of measurement.  I thought this was pretty interesting, because it mentioned things like having standardized portion scoops, cake and pie cutting aids and machines to slice meats, all so you have the same portion each time.  As for waste, its what we’ve been sort’ve talking about this whole time, finding ways to minimize the amount of food you have to throw away!  When we’re at home, a pre-portioned slice of cake may help us with calorie control, but since we’re not looking to make a profit off of our chocolate cake, this probably isn’t relevant.  But, if you know approximately how much deli meat and cheese you like on your sandwich, or how many veggies you tend to throw in a salad, you can start to figure out how much of each thing you may need to pick up at the grocery store.  If I only eat one pepper in my salads throughout the course of a week, I certainly don’t need to pick up two.   As for waste, FIFO!

7.  Sales and Service – I love this quote “Dropped or spilled foods do not generate revenues” and how many of us have had a bad experience with a waiter and ended up with a free meal, or dessert?  Obviously, these types of happenings are not in the restaurants best interest and usually are addressed by hiring and training the staff properly.  But when we’re at home, we’re not staff and stuff happens.  I’ve been known to swipe a piece of food off the floor, blow it off and serve it (5 second rule, right!? But not to guests, we have standards here…).  And as for service, my husband knows better than to ask for a free meal if I’m not up to fine dining standards for the night 😉


And there you have it!  Chapter 4, on Menus and Recipes, done.  Finding ways to save money is a pretty relevant thing these days and in the kitchen is just one more way to do it.  Have a great rest of your weekend, ya’ll!


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