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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Puddle Jumping

I’ve had a rough week. The week involved LOTS of fear, controversy, disappointment, personal issues, and FAR too much drama for my liking. Pair those issues with the stresses of my new job at the hotel and keeping up with my normal school work, and you get an idea of why I spent more of my week in tears of sadness than tears of happiness. I have to be honest…There are times when the storms of life just suck gumballs!

When I was a kid, I used to go out after a heavy rain storm and jump into the puddles of water that were left behind. As I splashed, I felt relaxed and free, with any worries of getting struck by lightning or soaked with water far gone from my mind. Maybe if I buy myself a pair of puddle jumpers like these, it would be a little bit easier for me to deal with the storms, though… TOO CUTE!

Back to my fond memories…After the storms had passed, I remember being ready to enjoy the sunshine again. I loved how green the grass had become, and how if I watched very closely, I could almost see the flowers drinking up the droplets of rain water from their petals and leaves. I even loved the smell that lingered in the air after the rainfall had passed. (Of course, when I was older and I learned that “the wonderful scent” was actually pollutants in the air, I felt a little less enthusiastic about the experience!)

There is something very serene about this visualization for me. I’m trying to keep the happy thoughts and memories in my head right now, because I think they’ll help me to push the “stinkin’ thinkin'” out! As a matter of fact, I’d like to have this picture enlarged, framed, and placed above my bed to remind me that there is always beauty in life…even after a storm!

I think Johnny Nash summed it up best, in his hit song, “I Can See Clearly Now”

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me down
It’s gonna be a bright bright bright bright sun shiny day.

Oh yes I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright bright bright bright sun shiny day

Many very intelligent people have said: When life hands you lemons, you can choose to suck on them and pucker your lips in disgust, or you can add some sugar to them and make a batch of something sweet. I’ve received a bushel full of lemons over the past 48 hours, and the sugar I’ve just added to them comes from the knowledge that I am loved and supported by so many wonderful people in my life. I raise my glass and offer a toast of thanks to all of you incredibly special people. In thanks for your support, encouragement, honesty, and love, may God enrich and bless your life in ways that you cannot begin to comprehend. CHEERS!

This week, I’m sharing a recipe that I found on a website called “Optimum Wellness”. I hope that these muffins taste as wonderful as they sound. They’re a healthier option than indulging in chocolate, bacon, or cheese (which are the first, second, and third choices on my “comfort food” list), and the name alone makes me feel better about baking up a batch. Please pass me a plate full of the HAPPY MUFFINS!

Have a fantastically happy week, my friends!

Becca

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