Sunny Days and Fuzzy Brains

Recalling the events of last week has been, for me, fuzzy at best. I’ve had a nasty head cold, coupled with what appears to be the start of allergy season. Or as I sometimes call it, Itchysneezynosatitis. I’ve gone through so many boxes of tissues, rumor has it that I’m known as “that runny-nosed Kleenex lady” by my much younger FVTC classmates.

If ever there were a time to doubt my popularity with the younger generation, this would be it, but fortunately for me, I can bake…and what do college students love more than SNACKS? I was armed with lots of home baked treats as I headed into class last week…Nutella brownie bites, M&M cookies, banana muffins, and when all else failed, I carried in a great big bag of Tootsie Rolls. After all, who can resist these cuties?

A fellow “Fox” would surely be making the faux pas of his/her young lifetime if/when they chose to make fun of THIS old lady… I’d hold back on the treats…no brain food for them!

Anyway, my point is that allergy season has its benefits. We all know that where itchy, sneezing, fuzzy-brained people are found, beautiful weather and fragrant flowers can’t be too far behind. I am SO ready for spring! The snow in Wisconsin is beautiful…for approximately 2 months. Shortly after Christmas and prior to New Years Eve, I lose all adoration for it. I start aching for sunshine, temperatures above 40 degrees, and GOLF…the green grass variety. So if I have to endure a couple more weeks of Itchysneezynosatitis, so be it. Screaming obscenities at a little white ball is in my foreseeable future!

While I wait for my golf season to begin, I will tend to my physical ailments. Fortunately, spring break begins for me today, so I’ll start off my week of relaxation by making myself a big pot of chicken noodle soup. It’s time to start feeding my cold!

CHICKEN SOUP

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 whole chicken, thoroughly rinsed
  • Salt to rub inside chicken
  • 1 pound chicken parts (or cut & use wings and legs off of the whole chicken)
  • 2 stalks celery, including leafy tops, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • 1 large whole onion, unpeeled
  • 1 large whole carrot, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons each of dried oregano, thyme, and parsley
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

DIRECTIONS

1. Place 12 cups of cold water into a large stockpot, and add the chicken parts and celery. Bring to a boil. While the water is heating, rub the cavity of the whole chicken with salt.

2. Add the chicken to the pot, cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Test whole chicken with a fork to see if it’s tender and fully cooked; then remove it from the pot, and set aside on a large platter. Leave the other chicken parts in the pot. When the chicken cools, remove skin and bones and cut into bite-sized pieces. You can add it to the soup, just before serving, or save it for chicken salad.

3. Add all herbs & spices, carrot and onion. Let soup simmer for 45 minutes.

4. Strain the soup. Discard any bones, skin, and other undesired solids (Some people like to cut up the veggies and put them back into the soup. Others choose to discard them.)

5. Add salt and pepper to taste. Also add the chicken pieces if desired. Other options: Add cooked egg noodles, rice, pasta, or matzo balls.

How to Network Without Even Trying

I secretly want to rename this post, “Bacon at its best”.  Come on…you know me…I’m a bacon addict.  I use any and every opportunity to eat, breathe, and speak bacon.  “But, Becca, what does bacon have to do with networking?”  Well, my friends, the answer is PLENTY!

Every other Friday morning, a group of social media (and bacon) obsessed people from northeastern Wisconsin head to the Blueberry Hill restaurant in Appleton, Wisconsin for some great conversation over breakfast.  Besides the fact that I’m helping to support a great local business, I feel awesome about splurging a few bucks on a good cup of coffee and some crisp, crunchy bacon, because it allows me to network.  At this stage in my education, I can’t do enough networking.  As I’ve learned, it’s quite possible that the next person you speak with could be your future employer. 

I met a couple of people at this morning’s breakfast that I hadn’t met before.  I learned that one of them is engaged to be married next May.  He and his fiance are looking for a caterer to help them with their rehearsal dinner.  Well, what a coincidence…I should be graduating with an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts right around that time, and I would LOVE to pursue a job in catering!  Had it not been for my attending this morning’s breakfast, I may never have met this guy, and I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunity for such great conversation…and a simultaneous bacon experience.  See what I mean about life being all about the bacon? 

You should really work on trusting me just a little bit more.  Baby steps…

Before I let another week slip by me, I thought I’d give you a brief recap of Cultural Cuisine 2011.  To say that it was an epic success would be an understatement.  We pulled off a party to end all parties!  Catering events for 700 people are hard work to plan and execute, but when you have teams of dedicated individuals who don’t care who gets the recognition for a job well done, the task becomes much easier to achieve successfully.  Besides great teamwork, the executive and sous chefs did a phenomenal job preparing the food, and the administrative team helped orchestrate, among other things, happy crowds, staffing (wait staff, bussers, dishwashers, greeters, etc.), equipment set up & tear down, and a silent auction that raised thousands of dollars in culinary scholarship funds.  As with any event, there were a few hiccups here and there, but they’re to be expected.  The key was not letting our guests know that the problems existed, and I think we managed to do that.  It was a phenomenal experience and I can’t wait to do it again next year…although it may take that long for my feet to stop aching from this year’s event!  🙂

There was some beautiful and tasty food served at the event, so I truly wanted to share one of the recipes with you, but I had trouble narrowing my favorites down to one choice.  I also acknowledge that I’ve been posting an inordinate number of dessert recipes with you lately, so instead, I’m going to share my love of seafood and cajun spice with you.  Incidentally, this is tonight’s dinner at my house.  One of the things I love about jambalaya is its versatility.  You can mediate the spice level to suit your taste, and you can play around with the ingredients as well.  For example, if you don’t care for ham, leave it out.  If you adore red bell pepper and want to add a bit more to the recipe, have at it!  I adapted this particular recipe (and borrowed the picture, since I prepared my dish yet) from MattyBaker

His recipe uses some veggies that I prefer not to have in my jambalaya, such as carrots and mushrooms.  As I said, versatility and adaptability are great attributes of jambalaya, so I’m planning to omit them from tonight’s version.  I also plan to use whole grain brown rice instead of white. I hope you have an opportunity to try this recipe.  It looks amazing!  Considering the use of the habeneros, it’s probably quite spicy, too, but you won’t hear me complaining about that.  Bring on the heat…I LOVE it!

JUMPIN’ JAMBALAYA

INGREDIENTS:

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – diced
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup shrimp stock
1-1/2 cups long grain white rice
1/2 pound smoked sausage, sliced
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 orange habanero, finely chopped
1 16oz can of diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 pound of medium (20 ct) shrimp

DIRECTIONS:

1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently until soft. Add the chicken and continue cooking and stirring so that it does not stick. When the chicken is browned, add the celery, bell peppers and sausage and shrimp.
2. Pour in the broth, and bring to a boil. Add the rice, and season with cayenne, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, until rice is tender and broths have been absorbed.

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