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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

Buying In Bulk

August 5, 2013

The Italian method of going to the market on a daily basis holds great appeal to me. It’s how they’ve done it for centuries. There are staples in the kitchen, but the perishables are purchased in the morning for consumption that evening.

It is a very romantic practice to visit a bakery in the morning, eat a pastry, sip an espresso, and pick up a rustic loaf of bread for dinner on your way out of the door. Two doors down the butcher is located next to the green grocer. Meat and cheese at the first stop, fruits and vegetables at the next— but only enough to get through that day, and maybe the next morning.

I was thinking about how wonderful that system is as I was walking through Sam’s Club last week. I have a membership to Sam’s Club, but I rarely use it. There is a grocery store just behind my office and I can drop in there on a daily basis and purchase anything I need. Though in my advanced years I have become somewhat of a germaphobe and Sam’s Club is the only place I know where I can find individually wrapped hand-sanitizing wipes by the gross.

My wife loves Sam’s Club. In the late 1980s she and her mother made an out-of-town pilgrimage to their first Sam’s Club. I was the chauffeur. They were like two six-year olds on a trust fund turned loose in the FAO Schwartz on Central Park South— wide-eyed, wild, and running the aisles. My car was so packed on the ride home I couldn’t see my future mother-in-law in the back seat for all of the paper goods stacked to the roof of the small Honda. I believe my family is still using toilet paper purchased on that initial visit.

Though I am against everything that Sam’s Club stands for, after five short minutes I looked down at my cart— actually cart is not a good description of the dump truck sized buggy one uses to push the aisles in Sam’s Club— and it was partially full. Seriously, in a matter of 300 seconds my personal dump truck consisted of eight pair of Hanes underwear, a six pack of dental floss, a three-pound bag of pistachios, two gallons of Listerine, and 300 individually wrapped Germ-X wipes. Somehow it all made sense at the time.

Intrigued that I had gotten sucked in to the mass-product purchasing hysteria so quickly, I decided to peruse the aisles for a minute to see what other bulk purchases Sam’s Club might have in store for my family and me. I didn’t have to go far.

As I rounded the next aisle I saw a massive, six-foot end-cap display of Red Lobster Cheddar Bay Biscuit boxes. I don’t eat at Red Lobster— not because I’m a food snob, I just do my best to support local, independent restaurants, and I can get fresh seafood that was swimming in the Gulf yesterday at our restaurants— and so I don’t know about Cheddar Bay biscuits.

I pass the Red Lobster building and, even from the street, I get the nautical premise. It is obviously a theme that goes all of the way to their bread program. Where is Cheddar bay? I thought to myself. I had never heard of it. I whipped out my phone and did a quick Google Map search for “Cheddar Bay,” to no avail.

I know Oyster Bay and Coconut Grove, but where is this mystical place where the cows meet the sea? Is it some type of magical land that appears every 100 years to fill our chain-restaurant’s breadbaskets— like Brigadoon without all of the sappy singing?

Wherever Cheddar Bay is, I’ll bet it’s in a Southern coastal city. No one on the Atlantic Seaboard would name his or her coastal town after cheese. They use snooty names such as Nantucket and Manchester-by-the-Sea. We use names such as Cooter Beach and Mullet Point. We love cheese, but I know for a fact that the citizens of Mullet Point are eating cornbread.

Maybe there is a breed of cow that swims in the ocean and fifth generation fishermen are teaching their offspring to separate the curd from the plankton when harvesting Cheddar Bay cheese for Red Lobster biscuits.

In the fine tradition of Sam’s Club bulk baking, one box of Red Lobster Cheddar Bay biscuits makes 30, or enough to feed all of Cooter Beach and their curd-separating offspring. The more I thought about it, the more frustrated I became.

As I made my way down the aisle, I passed a two-pound bag of Olive Garden croutons and decided to throw in the towel, buy a few more gross of Germ-X wipes, and call it a day.



Cornmeal Biscuits with Fig Butter

1 1 /2 cups all porpoise flour

1 /2 cup cornmeal

1 1 /2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

1 tsp poultry seasoning

1 /4 cup sugar

1 /4 cup cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 /4 cup solid vegetable shortening, cold

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a large bowl, combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, poultry seasoning and sugar. Add the cold shortening and butter pieces and blend well using your hands until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in milk. The dough will be moist and sticky.

Dust a work surface with flour and cornmeal. Turn dough onto the floured surface. Gently fold each side toward the center. Flour surface again, and repeat process once more.

Using your hands, press the dough out until it is one-inch thick.

Cut 1 1 /2-inch size biscuits and place them on a lightly greased baking sheet. Let biscuits rest 15 minutes before baking.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden brown

Yield: 25-30 biscuits


Fig Butter

1 1 /2 cup drained figs (from fig preserves)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 /8 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of nutmeg

1 /4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Place half of the figs, the spices, vanilla and butter in a food processor. Puree until smooth. Add the remaining figs, and pulse 6-7 times, just enough to slightly break up the whole figs.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: 2 cups


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