Opportunities and Options

I was sitting in the FVTC commons this afternoon, munching on freshly baked slice of heart attack on a plate pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. I was also having an awesome chat with one of my favorite classmates, Chelsea. Incidentally, have I mentioned how much I LOVE the fact that, despite my non-traditional student status, very few of the younger students treat me differently? I sometimes feel like I’m being allowed to relive my 20’s…without all of the life mistakes I made the first time around!

So as it were, Chels and I were discussing her plans for the summer. She recently applied for a job as an activities director at a youth camp in northern California. If she’s hired, she’ll have 8 weeks of sunshine, warm weather, river raft trips, swimming, crafts, and bonfires with the kids. Fun in the sun and all room and board expenses taken care of? Sign me up! My heart went pitter pat…until I went to Chef Jeff’s office to discuss my summer internship options with him. He reminded me that within the next 2 weeks, the job board posted in the culinary department corridor should be bursting at the seams with summer job opportunities right here in Wisconsin. Jobs will be offered for seasonal employment at gorgeous resorts in Door County, water parks and restaurants in the Wisconsin Dells, or possibly even positions in the Southeastern part of the state. All beautiful destinations, in places where I can either commute to, or live on site but either way, where Brian will be able to come and visit. Given a choice of temporarily leaving my home, the love of my life, and my fur babies to drive my car 2,000 miles across the country in exchange for warm weather, or staying close to home and having a job opportunity that, if successful, could lead to a full-time year ’round position, I think I’ll choose the latter. It sounds like the more responsible choice for me to make. Sometimes being a grown up can be fun…I’m not sure if this is one of those times or not, but it feels good to know that I’m making choices that will affect me long into the future instead of living for the “here and now”.

(Photo from: http://www.explodingdog.com)

On to another fun topic…COOKING! I’ve been blabbing for the past year about how much I’d love to cook and blog my way through a cookbook. Considering the fact that I own enough cookbooks to justify renaming the guest bedroom a “library/reading room”, I’ve been having a tough time deciding exactly what cookbook would be my favorite to cook through. I wanted to find a book written by an author who inspires and encourages me to improve my skills through his/her writing. When I think of inspiration in the kitchen, I instantly think of two amazing women and one incredible chef. Abagail (Abby) Johnson Dodge, Martha Stewart, and Chef Michael Symon (whose good looks could give me hot flashes in the winter!) all make me want to become a better chef, and they’ve all written their books in ways that make it an absolute joy to read them. The concern with all three, however, is that their books are either limited to one “genre” (Abby only bakes, so there would be no cooking challenge for me), they’ve already been blogged by many other people, or they are a bit too challenging for me to take on while I’m still enrolled in school full time. After all, if I’m going to do this properly, I should attack it like I did my school year. I’ll set a goal to cook a set amount of recipes each week/month and know that I can attain the goal without so much difficulty that I’ll want to throw in the towel after the first month. So my search continued…until I set my fingers on this WONDERFUL cookbook:

This 5 pound bundle of love includes recipes in both the baking and cooking genres, and it includes amazing recipes ranging from acorn squash with brown sugar glaze to zucchini stuffed chicken, and cherry divinity. I also made sure that there were plenty of recipes that include the use of bacon because as you’ve well learned by now, I believe bacon in the food above all other foods. As a matter of fact, I need a bumper sticker for my car that warns, “I brake for bacon”

Speaking of that food of the gods, feast your eyes on this amazing and incredibly simple recipe from The Taste of Home Cookbook. I can’t wait to make and blog about this one…

BACON FRIED RICE


Photo by: Taste of Home

The recipe states that it serves 6. That probably means I should double the recipe for Brian and I, because I’ll likely have 3 servings for every normal person’s single serving. I’ve never been normal when it comes to bacon…

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What’s the Point?

I’m in the middle of a pretty wicked and crazy busy term at school. Of course, it’s my own fault. I’m the genius who decided it would be perfectly acceptable to take on a 19 credit course load. Add into the mix a part time job in the FVTC kitchen, an internship position with the research and development office, weekly work study assignments (aka, this blog post), holding down a position as an FVTC student ambassador, and privately tutoring a couple of my fellow classmates with their Culinary Applications class work. Oh, and let’s not forget my duties and responsibilities as a girlfriend, and finding time to practice cooking and baking in my home kitchen.

Hey, I took it all on with the best of intentions, and the hope and dream of graduating this upcoming December. However, unless I can find a business in the hospitality industry that is willing to take me on as an employee and an intern, there’s a good chance that graduation may not happen this year. So yes… this is where you have my blessing to jump up and down, giggle, and say, “I told ya so!”

Regardless of when I graduate, I have dreams about what I’d like to do with my degree once I’ve flown the FVTC coop. There are so many different ways that I’ll be able to utilize my skills and knowledge in the culinary and hospitality industries that I’m having a difficult time narrowing down my course(s) of interest. As of this moment, I believe I’d like to work as a catering/banquet/event manager. I’m a work in progress, though, so don’t be surprised if I change my mind some more before graduation.

Right now, it’s time to focus on the present anyway. With Cultural Cuisine a mere 10 days away, the next few days will be a blur of excitement, running, and completion of last minute to-do lists. The buzz in the northwest corner of the Appleton campus is beyond exciting right now! There are less than 100 Cultural Cuisine tickets left, so I’m sure we’ll have another sold out show this year. If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, be sure to stop over at the First Community Credit Union (directly inside the Appleton FVTC entrance #10) and pick them up, or mail a check (payable to Fox Valley Technical College) to Chef Jeff Igel at the Appleton FVTC campus before Tuesday, February 22nd. The last day tickets will be mailed will be February 23rd. They’re $35 a piece, or $50 at the door on the day of the event. Come and get cultured with me!

In case you think this post was written without food love, think again. I couldn’t possibly leave you lovely readers sans a recipe. I am simply not that cruel. The question is not to share or not to share, it is what to share. Will it be sweet or savory? Salty or spicy? Considering the above average temperatures in Wisconsin this week, I’ve been dreaming of warm weather. When I think warm temps, I think GOLF. When I think golf, I think Bill Murray (the funniest golfer to ever wear plaid pants). When I think of Bill Murray, I think of MEATBALLS. If you’ve never seen the movie Meatballs, (circa 1979) do your funny bone a favor and rent it.

My favorite way to eat meatballs is dipped into a sweet and tangy warm concoction of chili sauce (8 oz bottle) and grape jelly (16 oz jar). Mix the two ingredients into a crock pot, turn it on low, and add 40-50 frozen, appetizer-sized meatballs. Heat through, eat, and make your tummy happy. Hey, don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em! I once took them to a party and the entire batch was devoured within 20 minutes. ENJOY!

At this point, you may be saying to yourself, “Geez, that’s a pretty basic recipe… from a culinary student, none the less. What’s the point?”

The point is, life doesn’t always have to be complicated, and it should always be in good taste!

I hope that your week is filled with all of the things that make your heart sing!

The Power of Here and Now

I wish I had a quarter for every time I’ve thought, or said aloud, “…if only”.

Runner-up would be the statement, “Why didn’t I _____?”

God’s reply to those gems lately has been a blaring trumpet still small voice inside of my head whispering:

Becca…If wishes were kisses, you’d be covered from head to toe in red lipstick

So, it’s time to push myself to live in the here and now a little bit more. I’ve learned that life’s challenges are only there to make me a stronger, better person. I can accept that. In fact, my inner perfectionist loves that philosophy. What I’m struggling with, however, is letting my past stay there.

Acceptance is the belief that everything that did happen in my past was for a GOOD reason. That wouldn’t be so difficult to do if I hadn’t lost healthy, loving relationships because of poor choices that I made. (Here’s the point where I stop writing, take my hand off of the keyboard, and give myself one of these!)

Yes Virginia, even bad things happen for a reason. If I hadn’t lost relationships with the people I loved the most, I very well would never have hit my proverbial “bottom”. You see, the sinking ship formerly known as my life had fallen deep, down to the bottom of the ocean floor, and as a result, I lost nearly everything. The devastation forced me to re-evaluate the way I was living (or rather, NOT living) my life. As a result, drastic changes were made. With lots of inner determination, faith and belief in myself, loving and supportive friends, and a forgiving God, I started down a road to restore my life.

However, I’m not perfect. Although I seek to learn from my mistakes and then leave them in the past where they belong, there are some days when it’s not so easy to do. Today is one of those days. The great news is that I have a reality check to put me back on track.

Author and blogger, Everett Bogue, summed it up quite well when he wrote, “The reality is that the past is dead. It happened, it shaped who you are, but it’s gone now, and it’s never coming back…and this is okay. The world changes and we evolve into new and better individuals every single day.”

So here it is… my light bulb moment for the day, month, year, and for the rest of my lifetime on this Earth…

I have overcome major physical, emotional, and spiritual hurdles for a reason. I am still standing for a reason. I am a college student at 47 years old because I wasn’t prepared to be one at 19. I am living a life worth living because every morning when I wake up, I make the decision to live my life under God’s agenda and time line and not my own. This time around, I’m making a conscious effort to look out for the welfare of people BESIDES myself, and I choose to make the most out of the day I’ve been blessed with.

“What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy, and strength, if faced with an open mind.” — Henry Miller

Now that I’ve enlightened myself to how wonderful change can be, let’s see if you care to take my lead. I’m making a batch of French onion soup today. How does the thought of caramelized onions, rich beef stock, toasty croutons, and a blanket of melted gruyere cheese sound? Quite yummy, to be sure, but not too overly enthusiastic…until you add a SLOW roasting process to the onions and some crispy bacon to the recipe! NOW we’re talkin’ yumalicious!



THE BEST FRENCH ONION SOUP (with bacon!)

Serves 6

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated recipe

Ingredients:

Soup

  • ½ pound bacon, crisply cooked and crumbled
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 large yellow onions (about 4 pounds), halved and cut pole to pole into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups water, plus extra for deglazing
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry (optional, or use extra beef broth)
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme , tied with kitchen twine, or 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Ground black pepper

Cheese Croutons

  • 1 small baguette , cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 8 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 2 1/2 cups)

Directions:

For the soup:

  1. Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Fry bacon over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed, large (at least 6-quart) Dutch oven until crisp. Remove bacon and drain on paper toweling. Leave the bacon fat in the pot.
  3. Place the butter into the pot with the bacon fat, and add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, covered, for 1 hour (the onions will be moist and slightly reduced in volume). Remove the pot from the oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return the pot to the oven with the lid slightly ajar and continue to cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours longer, stirring the onions and scraping bottom and sides of pot after 1 hour.
  4. Carefully remove pot from oven and place over medium-high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring frequently and scraping bottom and sides of pot, until the liquid evaporates and the onions brown, 15 to 20 minutes, reducing the heat to medium if the onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the pot bottom is coated with a dark crust, roughly 6 to 8 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary. (Scrape any fond that collects on spoon back into onions.)
  5. Stir in 1/4 cup water, scraping the pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until water evaporates and pot bottom has formed another dark crust, 6 to 8 minutes. Repeat process of deglazing 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in the sherry and cook, stirring frequently, until the sherry evaporates, about 5 minutes.
  6. Stir in the broths, 2 cups of water, ¾ of the bacon (reserve the rest for the top garnish) thyme, bay leaf, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot.
  7. Increase heat to high and bring to simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper.

For the croutons:

  1. While the soup simmers, arrange the baguette slices in single layer on baking sheet and bake in a 400-degree oven until the bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

To serve:

  1. Adjust oven rack 6 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Set individual broiler-safe crocks on baking sheet and fill each with about 1 3/4 cups soup. Top each bowl with 1 or 2 baguette slices (do not overlap slices) and sprinkle evenly with Gruyere. Broil until cheese is melted and bubbly around edges, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle the tops with crumbled bacon. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

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