A Turning Point

Let’s do a little daydreaming…

Envision, if you will, that you’re taking a walk through the woods, on a gorgeous day in mid-June. Your primary mission is to relax, enjoy yourself, and to find the perfect location to stop for a picnic. To your right, you see a path that leads into a large field filled with fragrant wildflowers of every shape and size, beautiful butterflies, and a wonderful clearing in the middle that would be a perfect place for your afternoon feast. To your left is a shaded path of tall oak trees, with enough shade to keep you cool and protected from the hot afternoon sun. Beyond that is a park with tables to dine at, water to quench your thirst, and a view that overlooks a babbling brook. How do you determine on which of the two beautiful roads you will travel?

For some people, the answer may come swiftly and surely. For example, you could be deathly allergic to fragrant flowers, or perhaps you’ve forgotten to bring along sun screen! For others, like me, the decision could be a difficult one to make. You have two beautiful options, each with a great set of benefits, each uniquely wonderful, and each with opportunities to find and experience great joy. It’s at that point in time when I measure the pros and cons of a situation to determine which road I will travel.

I found this beautiful picture on the blog of amateur photographer, Susanna Tucker. Check out more of her gorgeous photography here: http://susannahtucker.blogspot.com/2011/01/fields-of-wild-flowers.html

So here I stand at an interesting turning point… To my right is a path where I would complete my education in hotel and restaurant management and find a career in the hospitality industry. My employer and position are still unknowns for now, mainly because I still need to determine what position in the industry that I can comfortably hold with the physical limitations I live with every day. However, I do know that if I choose this path, my career will involve serving others, and that is enough to make it sparkle like a glimmering gemstone in my mind.

To my left is a path where I would switch my program of study and pursue a career in accounting. I confess that if someone had told me that I’d be working in a job where I, the girl who despises math, would be dealing with numbers all day, I’d have asked them what sort of wacky pills they had taken that morning! However, now that I hold a job in that industry, I’ve found it to be incredibly rewarding. What’s better is that I can’t say enough great things about my boss. She gives me creative license, great doses of empowerment, we communicate well, and we hold the same vision for where the company is headed.

So here is my quandary…stay tuned for further updates. For now, I must clear my thoughts, and the perfect way for me to do that is by cooking. Off to the kitchen I go! The brisk, windy weather outside mandates soup, and nothing hits my warm-me-up button better than a bowl of my blue-ribbon winning corn chowder. Serve it up in a toasted bread bowl and watch your troubles melt away!

BEC’S KICKIN’ CORN CHOWDER

Yield: 8 servings (8 oz. each)

INGREDIENTS
4 slices thick cut bacon, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
3-4 cups fresh corn (frozen works too, but defrost well)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves

DIRECTIONS
In a soup pot, cook the bacon on medium low heat, until it’s rendered down (crispy). Set on paper towel to drain.
Reserve 2 tsp of the bacon grease and use it along with the butter to sauté the thyme, onions and garlic over medium heat. Cook until the vegetables are soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, then bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).

Cut the corn kernels off the cob (or use frozen corn that’s been well thawed and drained) and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste (add cayenne pepper for a special kick) and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes (3-4 if you’re using previously frozen corn). Stir in the crumbled bacon, reserving some for garnish along with the parsley.

Spring Break…or, Defining the Act of Perceived Rest!

I’d really like to know what “genius” decided that college students should be granted a week off from classes half way through a semester. All I know is that Mr. Genius must have been a nocturnal, beach loving, party animal…a mold that I could not be further from! Furthermore, the Spring break set must not have had the hectic schedule that I have. I barely had time to blink and my break was over! Nevertheless, I made the most of my time away from the classroom.

In typical “Chef Bec” fashion, my time was spent cooking, baking, and eating great food! I also had a great networking opportunity, as the FVTC culinary club spent 2 days in Milwaukee at the Wisconsin Restaurant Association trade show and expo. Visitors to the show were able to experience the great tastes of Wisconsin purveyors. I think I sampled more cheese in 2 days than I ate in my entire first year of life! We also cheered on the FVTC culinary competition team, as they competed against other college culinary teams from within the state of Wisconsin. I was so proud of our team! They worked together in perfect fluid motion, and ended up taking home 2nd place in the overall competition. As individual competitors, FVTC students brought home 1 gold and 4 silver medals. It was awesome to watch them work! Here are a few shots that showcase the incredible talent and skills that the students possess.



After I got home, I was inspired to whip up a few recipes that I had been aching to try, but had not been able to find the time to jump in to.

Here’s a sampling of what I made:

SPINACH AND SAUSAGE SOUP w/ CARAMELIZED ONIONS



NUTELLA FILLED CINNAMON-VANILLA MINI CUPCAKES w/ BANANA BUTTERCREAM

Thanks to my wonderful sister, Kim, who sent me a huge shipment of Meyer lemons from California, I was able to make these:

LEMON-GINGER PANNA COTTA

LEMON SPRITZ COOKIES (picture from Taste of Home)
           

When all was said and done, my favorite treat to bake were these incredible Snickers Cupcakes. The recipe is courtesy of Sweet Peas Kitchen

It took me two tries to get the consistency of the caramel butter cream frosting right, but once I did, I had a winner on my hands! The recipe is a little bit detailed, but if you read the instructions all the way through before beginning, I have no doubt that you’ll do an excellent job of baking them!

FOR THE CUPCAKES

1/2          Cup  Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/2          Cup  hot water
2               Cups  all-purpose flour
3/4       teaspoon  baking soda
3/4       teaspoon  baking powder
3/4       teaspoon  coarse salt
16         Tablespoons  unsalted butter — 2 sticks; 8 oz
1 .5        Cups  granulated sugar
2           large  whole egg — room temperature
1           large  whole egg yolk — room temperature
1.75     teaspoons  vanilla extract
2/3       Cup  sour cream — room temperature

16      Tablespoons  unsalted butter — 2 sticks; 8 oz
1/2    teaspoon  salt
2         Cups  dark brown sugar — packed
1/2    Cup  milk
2          teaspoons  vanilla extract

6                Snickers candy bars — 20 fun sized bars, chopped
3 1/2      Cups  confectioner’s sugar

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350 F.  Line muffin pan with 20
paper liners.

In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot
water until smooth, then set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder,
and salt, then set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter and sugar,
stirring occassionally until the butter is melted and the mixture is
combined.  Remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer
fitted with a paddle attachment.  Beat on medium-low speed until the
mixture is cool, about 4-5 minutes.

Add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated,
scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  Mix in vanilla extract and
cocoa mixture until incorporated.  With the mixer on low speed, add in the
dry ingredients in two batches, alternating with the sour cream, beating
just until combined.

Fill the cupcake papers three-quarters full.  Bake for 18-20 minutes,
roating the pans after 10 minutes.  Cupcakes are done when a toothpick
comes out clean.  Allow the cupcakes to cool for 5-10 minutes before
transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

TO MAKE THE FILLING:  Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over
medium heat.  Stir in the salt and brown sugar and heat the mxture to
boiling, stirring constantly.  Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, until the
sugar is totally dissolved.  Stir in the milk and return to a boil,
stirring constantly.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla
extract.  Cool to lukewarm, about 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the cupcakes have cooled, use a paring knife or apple corer to cut
out a small circle in the center of each cupcake.  In a medium bowl,
combine the chopped Snickers bars and 1/4 cup of the cooled caramel sauce.
Toss to coat the candy bars, then drop a spoonful of the mixture into
each cupcake.  Reserve 3 tablespoons of caramel sauce for drizzling over
each cupcake.

TO MAKE THE FROSTING:  Transfer remaining caramel sauce to the bowl of a
stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Add powdered sugar and
beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
Adjust consistency with a little more milk (if it’s too thick) or
confectioner’s sugar (if it’s too thin), if needed.

Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decoratvie tip.  Pipe
a spiral of icing, beginning at the outer edge and working inward.
Drizzle the frosted cupcakes with caramel sauce and garnish with chopped
Snickers bars.

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