the cookie chronicles continue: new cookie for christmas 2018!

IMG_1428

So maybe some of you out there have baked with mint chocolate baking chips and my new recipe is not so revolutionary.  But I never have and I think I have come up with a cookie that can be described as if a peppermint pattie had a cousin. And truthfully, if you had the patience you could chop up little peppermint patties I am sure, but hey I have a lot of baking to do, so thanks, but no.

You will notice I am for the most part a drop cookie baker.  Can I roll and decorate with royal icing? Sure, but I am more about the flavor profiles of the humble drop cookie or biscotti.

Here is the recipe:

Double Chocolate Peppermint Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup sweet butter softened

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons peppermint extract

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1 package chocolate mint baking chips (mine was 10 ounces I think Ghiradelli , Hershey, and Nestle Make them seasonally and you can find them at wholesale nut folks like Nuts.com or Edwards Freeman Nut Company in Conshohocken)

1 cup mini white chocolate chips (mine are the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value)

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur and if your flour is more than 2 or 3 months old, spring for fresh.)

1/3 Cup of Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder

Glittery baking sugar – today I used Christmas green from Wiltons

So How Did I Do it? Here are the mixing steps: 

So ……cream butter and BOTH sugars until smooth.  Beat in peppermint and vanilla extract.  (Buy good baking extracts, imitation extracts leave an after taste you will not like in your baking.)

Add eggs, mix until blended. Add cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, and baking powder.  Do this slowly and not all at once or you and your kitchen will be cocoa coated.

Add flour in three or four doses – don’t know how else to describe it.  Again, blend sort of on a lower blender speed or flour will fly.

When your dough is smooth and well blended, blend in your chips, cover your cookie dough and refrigerate an hour or two.

When dough is chilled pull out of refrigerator and pre-heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. And FYI if you chill cookie dough before you bake it will keep cookies from doing the super spread and will also mean you get softer and more firm cookies.  Or at least that has been my experience.

IMG_1426I use jelly roll sheet pans and silicone baking sheets.  I use the aluminum (silver-colored NOT dark coated they make your cookies BURN).  Mine are Chicago Metallic Commercial Baker’s pans and the Nordic Ware Commercial Baker’s Pans are also good.  These are the pans that have a raised edge of about an inch and are rectangular – they are the size of regular cookie sheets more or less. I use Velesco Premium Silicone Baking Mats.  They are 11 5/8” x 16 ½”.  They are best price hands down on Amazon but like the baking pans I mentioned sometimes you will find them at Home Sense or Home Goods.

In any event, silver NON-coated baking pans lined with parchment paper or silicone baking sheets are truly the way to go. Buy good pans. They last longer and the end result is preferable. Some of my friends swear by the insulated baking sheets (“air-bake” or something)

O.k. back to the baking of these cookies.

Break off bits of dough and form 1 ½” round balls.  Dip top in glittery baking sugar, and put on cookie sheets 2” apart.

Bake 8 – 10 minutes depending on your oven .  Tonight I started out at 10 minutes a batch for two batches and then went to 9 minutes for the final two batches.

Cool on baking pans a few minutes and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  I store my cookies in old school metal tins.

This recipe makes a little over 4 dozen cookies.

IMG_1427

chester county instacart anyone?

Ahh yes…free delivery on the first order – that gets me to try something at least once every time!

It’s stinking hot out, and as much as I love Wegmans, every location has insane parking lots.  We have house guests coming, so I thought I would splurge.

Their app and online website for Instacart are easy to use.  I went through my order, and when I got to the payment section I learned about something I did NOT know entering into this – they tack on a service fee for someone to do the shopping (which to my knowledge Giant PeaPod and Fresh Direct do not have this separate fee – just tax and delivery.)  That service fee for me was about $18.00. (Yes, ouch)

BUT then it gets confusing.  Although they have this little disclaimer talking about this pays for the people who take care of your order, it does NOT filter down to a tip for your delivery person.

Also, there is a slight price mark-up on every item.  My friend would call this “Missy Mark-Up”. See:

I will admit that this makes me categorize Instacart whether you use it for ACME or Wegmans as being more in the class of Fresh Direct.  I am still thinking the best dollar value in home delivered groceries is Giant Peapod.

Now I will admit it is super nice to know when I want some extra special items for my kitchen, that Instacart is a viable alternative to Fresh Direct.  Fresh Direct used to be awesome, now sometimes it is a bit hit or miss, and for the money you spend it should NOT be.  I hope when and if we get a Whole Foods in Exton that perhaps Instacart will add on a Whole Foods too in more areas.

Instacart is zip code driven.  Depending on where you are depends on where you can order from.  Some areas apparently can get Weavers Way Food Co-op  deliveries.

Pro-tip: you can fine Instacart coupons on sites like Retailmenot and Groupon and so on to bring your costs down a little more – I found a $10 coupon on Retailmenot today.

The food was for the most part bagged in item appropriate grocery bags.  I will note that I ordered a couple of Brie family soft rind cheeses to serve my guests when they are here and the cheeses were not packed so well.  Basically, the cheese was cut and wrapped in simple plastic wrap.  I could smell the cheese as soon as I bought the bags inside from the delivery person – and as soon as I smelled my stinky cheese I felt bad for the delivery woman because I bet her car stank to high heaven from the cheese.

With Instacart you can get a better range of deliveries when compared to Fresh Direct and Giant PeaPod.  With Instacart you can get a delivery within a couple of hours if the time slot is available.  However, as opposed to Giant PeaPod and Fresh Direct which uses refrigerated trucks or at least insulated trucks, Instacart does not.  Your delivery person uses their own vehicle.

Instacart however stays in touch with you as your order is being shopped.  So if something is not available and you indicated a substitution was O.K. they will actually text you your options.  Giant PeaPod and Fresh Direct DO NOT do that – with these two services you do not know you are NOT getting something until the order arrives.

Bottom line: Instacart was a great experience, albeit expensive like Fresh Direct.  Will I use them again? Yes. But how often depends on their pricing structure.  Right now they are in the category of occasional splurge.

 

DISCLAIMER: I was not paid or compensated in any way by Instacart, Giant PeaPod, or Fresh Direct. These are my own opinions as a customer/consumer.

 

corporate america and the lost art of customer service

2015/01/img_2761.png

So while breaking news out of Washington the other day was Pat Toomey is now in charge of the candy drawer in the United States Senate, life goes on. My only comment on Senator Toomey is I hope he will be paying for candy out of his own pocket and is not expensing it to United States taxpayers. He was already sending out junk mail news updates about it this morning, and somehow I doubt he paid for that personally, right? Fair is fair, he wants to live his conservative values, he should be paying for the candy.

Meanwhile, let’s focus on what we, as every day people “pay for”. I would like to particularly zoom in on customer service. Now there’s a loaded topic, right?

Customer service. I think it is a lost art form. 2015/01/img_2768.gif

Let’s begin with Pennsylvania based banking giant, PNC Bank. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, they used to offer terrific service. Today, I’ve discovered not so much once you get past a friendly local teller and lots and lots of fees and service charges…..but not customer service one would expect. It seems like they want your money, but they don’t really care about the customer.

In November, I walked into a local PNC branch during their posted business hours to open another account. I was told I couldn’t open it that day, but I would have to make an appointment to come back another day.

HUH?????

Yes it sounds like the opening lines to a very bad standup comedy routine but it was true. A woman walked into a bank to open an account check in hand and was told to come back another time. Yup, it happened.

But no worries, the gentleman I spoke to on the phone from the branch when they told me as an existing customer with check in hand it was not possible to open a new bank account in a bank branch during business hours has been having a swell time checking out my LinkedIn profile. (Yes dear, peek a boo, I can see your profile too!)

I wrote to PNC Bank about this, and basically, they don’t care. They sent me a brief note in response to my feedback and said they would notify the branch and regional managers. Can you hear the crickets chirping?

My better half and a lot of people I know asked me why I still deal with PNC. Having been an account holder there in good standing for so many years (errr decades actually) , it’s probably habit as much as anything else. After my year-end negative experiences with PNC Bank, I’m thinking a New Year’s resolution might be to shop for a new bank. I opened the new account PNC couldn’t be bothered opening that day at Citizens Bank. So far they have been amazing as far as service. But this wasn’t my only customer service issue with PNC before the end of 2014.

2015/01/img_2764.gifAt the end of December, I paid off a credit card balance in full. I don’t like carrying balances, so I chose from their menu the painful option of pay the full balance off. It wasn’t the largest balance on the face of the earth, but I honored my obligation and paid it off. The credit card was with PNC.

A few days later, even though I paid off the balance in full, they added on one last finance charge. So instead of pulling up my account and finding a zero balance, what I found was what amounts to a nuisance charge. One would think with computer software being what it was that if you choose the option of paying off your entire balance that they would include all charges right?

It was just a few dollars, but at this point I have decided it is the principle of the thing. So I decided to contact customer service. I could not contact customer service on this topic from my account online and conveniently send a message that way, I had to physically call them. That happened to be New Year’s Eve day. I sat on hold for 40 minutes two different times without getting through. That’s 80 Minutes total of the inanity of hold music and the occasional syrupy voice saying how valued you are as a customer without reaching a real person.

My time is worth something I think, so I gave up and contacted them through their social media customer service. On Monday, as in this most recent Monday, January 5th, I received a form letter dated December 31 from a retail escalation specialist at PNC Bank telling me they were unable to reach me by telephone. The letter wasn’t even on letterhead, and my contact information is always updated. I spent many years working in the financial services industry, I know how important that is.

I called the woman Monday who was listed in the letter and left a message with my phone number. I will admit it wasn’t the most pleasant message because I’m pretty hot about this at this point. But it’s Friday, and no one has been able to return a phone call, and that is even after I contacted them again this morning asking why their escalations specialist hadn’t contacted me yet even though I responded promptly to the form letter not on letterhead. How is that customer service? But they thanked me for following up…..

2015/01/img_2769.jpg

Of course because I contacted back their social media customer service and told them I hadn’t heard from anyone and that I was going to blog about it, I expect now the phone will ring eventually. I have come to the conclusion that as PNC has grown, customers aren’t really valued any longer unless they are giant mega millions depositors. That’s sad.

But moving along let’s talk about another Pennsylvania corporate giant, Comcast. Comcast is based in Philadelphia. If you live in the city of Philadelphia depending on where you live even in Center City you have very little in the way of choice for cable. Where my mother lives it’s Comcast or Comcast.

So my mother is a senior citizen, she wasn’t weaned on computers or fancy cable and digital television equipment. But she’s not an idiot. She’s been calling Comcast for a couple months at this point with problems with her service. Service she continues to pay for even though she isn’t getting all of the service she is paying for which includes basic customer service.

I wish I could switch her to Verizon FiOs but she’s like prisoner of Zenda because they don’t offer it where she lives. She has lost hours and days off for life waiting for Comcast to come and fix the problem. She is incredibly frustrated by the fact that they outsource their customer service offshore to foreign countries at this point. She said she would have no problem speaking with someone from any country if she could simply understand them, and they her.
2015/01/img_2771.jpg
My mother is very clear spoken as well as well spoken, and there’s nothing wrong with her hearing. But when you call Comcast customer service and you go to one of their call centers offshore, the accents are pretty heavy, and they also don’t get apparently a lot of the nuances of every day colloquial American English. And they seem unable to deviate from an inane script for the most part, and frustrate her by not addressing the questions she’s asking.

In the good old days of the not-too-distant past, you used to be able to call Comcast and get call centers in Delaware or Northeast Philadelphia, if not other areas of the United States.

So in addition to the frustration of my mother dealing with Comcast offshore “customer service”, there is the frustration of they are now worse than Time Warner apparently in timeliness of keeping appointments. My mother has been blown off completely for some appointments, and kept waiting hours after the “appointment window” without a phone call on others. And let’s discuss the technicians.

They arrive, and no one seems to know what to do. It’s always someone else’s responsibility to fix it I guess for lack of a better description. Finally they decided that they would have to rerun part of the wiring in her home that they had run in the first place, and not too many years ago. So my mother said okay fine, just have to put the carpet back the way it is supposed to be. Apparently that was a big huge to do and in the end what happened is some technician stapled my mother’s expensive drapes to the floor when they stapled the cabling all around the apartment again. She takes pride in her home, personally I would have been apoplectic when I discovered my curtains stapled to the floor. What kind of slob does that kind of work anyway?

I guess I don’t understand how they could be that sloppy and if the cable was originally run under carpets and such so as not to be obtrusive or a trip hazard or visually ugly why they couldn’t do that again? I get that they don’t want to do extra work, no one does, but if they had installed it in a certain way using their Comcast technicians in the first place, why couldn’t they just put it back that way??

Comcast has a lot of expensive real estate around the greater Philadelphia area, including their monster buildings in the city of Philadelphia. But what they have sacrificed as they have become giants is customer service.

2015/01/img_2763.jpg

I’m beginning to think in corporate America, customer service is a lost art because so many companies don’t want to really offer actual customer service. It almost seems as if they feel customer service is counterintuitive to their best practices and bottom lines, as some of these giant corporations have so many more people that they should be able to service so many more people. But they don’t. You spent forever on hold losing your mind to that hold music and a syrupy automated voice thanking you for your patience as you mentally throw darts at a dart board trying not to scream. If you do tough it out and get an actual “customer service representative”, you might get someone who will listen to you but in the end will they actually do anything that is “customer service”?

It used to be American-made and American corporate customer service meant something. But today everything is outsourced or automated in addition to the customer service shortfalls. So when you call for the most American of companies, like American Express for example, you don’t know where your call center is, and that is if you can stand going through all of the call menus, the prompts, the autolady computer voices, and so on.

I remember once years ago having to call American Express on behalf of my then boss who was traveling in Europe. I got a call center in India, and I couldn’t understand them and they couldn’t understand me.

A recent call to my health insurance company Aetna, landed me in a call center in the Philippines. The customer service rep I got on the phone was incredibly pleasant, but she totally didn’t understand what I was trying to do. All I was trying to do was find out where my ID cards were and to verify my binding premium on my new policy was correctly credited.

The only thing this girl got out of our conversation (and was somewhat unable to process or think outside of her script) was she kept trying to sign me up for automatic debiting every month. As a matter fact I had to call back and say I want to be transferred to a United States on-shore call center to make sure I wasn’t signed up for things I didn’t request. And I had been signed up for the automatic debiting I did not want. In this case the language barrier was incredibly frustrating, but there was a true attempt at customer service.

2015/01/img_2767.gif

When I get a good customer service person on the phone these days, I am so complementary I’m sure they think I must’ve lost my mind. But, it is so seldom you actually get really good customer service any longer on the phone that I feel compelled to praise those who actually take the time to do their customer service jobs.

And I tire of the outsourcing, it’s all about the corporate dollar bottom line and what does it do besides line the pockets of executives of that company with a little extra jingle? What does it actually do for the customer who is frustrated by language barriers and hold times?

What about the person to person customer service in bank branches or with your cable service guy comes to fix a problem? Where has it gone? Why has it disappeared? Why is it inconsistent? I spent years in the financial services industry and even when a customer was driving me crazy I didn’t want them to get off the phone feeling less than 100% satisfied. So basically, I treated them the way I wish to be treated.

To me, good customer service should be part of the work ethic. I don’t think you can just do the job, I think you need to do it well. And if people are paying for customer service no matter how small or how large a customer they are, how old, how ordinary, how important, it shouldn’t matter. The customer is a customer is a customer.

This is why I like supporting small businesses so much. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule too. A local Chester County exception would be Athena Pizza in West Chester.

When they are “on”, their food and customer service is excellent, but their largest downfall is their inconsistency. And when you have a problem with an order, it all depends which member of the family owned business you get on the phone. There is literally the nice brother and the horrible brother. When you get the horrible brother, you understand how comedian Jerry Seinfeld got inspiration for one of his most famous characters the soup Nazi.

For 2015 it would be really nice if corporate America, or any business actually practiced what they preached as far as customer service goes. It doesn’t take much to be nice and helpful to customer. Not every customer is going to get the precise resolution they seek, but at the end of the day it’s all about how you treat the customer. And sometimes it would be nice if the company actually admit it when the customer is actually right. And yes the flipside of this argument is we is customers should try to be nice to the companies and their employees.

However if you want corporate customer service anywhere to pay attention to you these days you have to take your complaint to social media it seems. It’s like dog shaming for business. Why can’t the simple phone call take care of things anymore?

One final note is a couple of places where customer service is awesome on a local level is the Wegman’s in Malvern and Kimberton Whole Foods in Malvern. Wegmans is a big chain and Kimberton Whole Foods is a small chain, but somehow they managed not to forget the core values of customer service. Also the Verizon Wireless independent non corporate store in Frazer next to the Giant in the Lincoln Court Shopping Center should be mentioned as they are terrific.

Thanks for stopping by today.

2015/01/img_2766.png

one “giant” boo-boo after another…..

Giant as in Giant Food Stores is having one D’oh moment after the other.  I can’t take credit for the new game we are all playing. You see, my friend Ann started us all on the new game of “what did Giant misspell and mass produce and put in its stores today?”

So far this week (and it is only Tuesday) Giant can’t spell Wanamaker and Wegmans.

They have  posters in all the Giant Food Courts depicting old Philadelphia.  Only they misspelled Wanamaker. As in Wanamaker Building, John Wanamaker department store, etc., etc.  The photo here is from the Giant on Boot Road, and I have confirmation from other people who shop at other Giants that this mistake is in their local Giant stores too.

And then just now, my friend Ann noticed another boo-boo superior D’oh moment.

One would figure if you were going to tout your prices as being better than the competition, you would spell the name of whomever  or whatever correctly, right?

(Sigh, they did not)

So we are thinking someone in the Giant of it all needs spell check?

Giant was tweeted about this, but alas no response.

If you have a Giant boo-boo that you have seen, feel free to let us know!  You can tweet any Giant boo boos @gossipgirl19380 .

And here I thought I was only going to shame Giant for the lazy dairy man. A couple of weeks ago the first four cartons of eggs I opened all contained broken eggs.  So I handed them to the dairy man re-stocking the aisle.  He put one of the four dozen with broken eggs BACK on the shelf.

Giant seems to be headed towards its own Giant-shaming page, eh?  It definitely needs proof readers.

D’oh-ver and out.

becky home ecky release me from my bonds

It’s cooking week apparently…and doctor?  I think I am nesting.  My friend Linda even caught me in an apron. (There will be no film at 11 lest I suddenly spot orthopedic oxfords and a hair net too.)

Today homemade Mexican was just calling my name.

One of the other fun things about Chester County is tucked in here and there are little ethnic grocery stores and organic grocery stores, in addition to regular grocery stores and farm markets.  I have also discovered the regular grocery stores have a better selection than their counterparts I was used to on the Main Line. And I am not even talking Wegmans, which while lovely I find waaaaayyy too expensive.

So today there I was minding my own business and that chicken I roasted the other night practically screamed “enchiladas!” so I thought, why not?

While I was out dodging the Buicks from the Retirement Vatican also known as Hershey’s Mill, I thought I would like fresh salsa too, so I picked up all the ingredients, snipped herbs from garden and dinner smells marvelous and is only a few minutes away from being served.

I would have to kill you if I told you my secret enchilada recipe, but I will tell you today it also contains fresh Queso which I found in my travels today – in the dairy case, not by the side of the road.

 

My salsa recipe – which gets tweaked here and there:

4 round, ripe, preferably organic or local tomatoes (not huge, just average)

3 tomatillos

1 large red onion

1 yellow or orange sweet pepper

1 small bunch of cilantro

fresh basil, oregano minced

1 packet of Goya Sazon

Dash sweet paprika

Dash smoked paprika

salt and pepper

Lime zest of two limes, juice of three limes

1 pleasantly plump Jalapeno pepper, diced and seeded

It’s not rocket science, only salsa, so chop it up, toss it in a blender or food processor and pulse until desired consistency is achieved (we are of a couple different minds in my house – I like it more chunky, the boy and the man prefer it a little more smooth even if to me that is Gazpacho’s kissing cousin.)

It keeps a few days nicely in the fridge.

Domestic Diva over and out.

this woman shouldn’t be allowed in a car this big

Anyone recognize this ginormous SUV?  It’s brand new for now and the woman driving it yesterday was hell bent for leather to get somewhere and almost caused multiple accidents.

We picked her up yesterday in Malvern in front of Wegman’s and unfortunately had to share highway with her for a while .  I was a passenger in a car, not driving and taking photos, incidentally.

Anyway, this woman was ALL over the road, and I mean ALL over.  She lane hopped seemingly every six seconds, and not once did she EVER use her signal to change lanes on a busy highway.  Basically, she careened in and out of traffic lanes, even bouncing off concrete stuff used as highway dividers. And she was speeding, speeding, speeding.  She also was inattentive enough that most of the time even when she was changing lanes you did not know what lane she was in because she kept drifting over lane divider lines too.

Drivers like this are a menace anywhere, and I sure hope she wasn’t doing what she was doing yesterday with children in her SUV.

She was so erratic a driver that I contemplated calling the police. She should get  a vehicle she can handle for starters. I am sure she would be great fun to come up against in an amusement park in bumper cars, but if I never see her on a road again I can’t say I won’t be upset.

I don’t understand when people became so self-absorbed that they stopped being cognizant of their surroundings while driving…or why they have to be in such a hurry that they would take risks with their lives as well as the lives of others.