The Exit is This Way!

Have you ever been on an amusement ride as it burst into the light of day after having spent a good deal of time inside of a dark tunnel? As we move from the darkness into the light, it can be somewhat uncomfortable. As our eyes squint and strain to adjust to the bright light, it can cause headaches and a sense of weariness…yet the bright light can be equally invigorating and enlightening (no pun intended). It’s a great feeling for some to know that they survived a rough ride and are almost home.

Truth be told, that’s how I’m feeling right now…

Please don’t misunderstand, though – I’ve absolutely loved my adventures at Fox Valley Technical College, and I wouldn’t trade the past 2 years in for anything! It’s true that I’ve faced some enormous challenges physically, financially, and emotionally during my time in school… but I’ve learned and gathered a lifetime of information, acquired skills and cooking competencies that I never imagined I’d be able to grasp the concepts for, met some amazing people, and formed friendships and networking circles that will lead me to wonderful places in my career. My point is that graduation is finally in sight and I’m finally at a place where I can see it clearly. In just 14 short weeks, I will walk across a stage and receive a certificate to memorialize my great achievements in higher education. What an amazing accomplishment that will be for me! I’m not going to stand here and pat myself on the back until I’ve actually crossed the finish line, but what a great feeling it is to be proud our own efforts!

When times are challenging, it’s hard to believe how much we can achieve when we are firing on all cylinders. So many of us beat ourselves up and fail to stop and take an inventory of our accomplishments. What’s worse is that we never congratulate ourselves for the successful moments. Overcoming obstacles is hard work, so when you jump a hurdle, take a bow and pat yourself on the back…you deserve it!

One of my final classes is Advanced Culinary Development. The class is a comfortable blend of knowledge, fun, and downright terror. The final exam is a pass/fail, which means that no matter how well I do on assignments and quizzes all semester, I MUST pass the final exam to pass the class. If that’s not considered pressure, I’m not sure what would be.

The final exam consists of prepping for and cooking a 5 course meal within a 2.5 hour window of time, without the use of recipes or calculators. Of course, we aren’t being asked to prepare easy things like buffalo chicken dip or macaroni and cheese. Oh no siree! The items that my classmates and I will be required to prepare take a major amount of preparation time…dicing vegetables into uniformly sized pieces, filleting a fish, THEN cooking it, butchering a whole chicken to create an “airline breast”, etc.), very little of which we’ll be allowed to prepare for prior to the exam. To make the exam even more stressful (yes, that’s possible), the dishes will be judged by a selection of industry chefs and instructors. Obviously, the next few weeks of classroom time will be spent learning how to make and perfect the dishes we’ll be required to cook for the exam, but I’m not taking any chances. I’ve already prepared Brian to the fact that by the time Halloween rolls around, he may never again want to see another piece of pan smoked chicken, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, or delight his palate and senses to vanilla crème brulee. No worries… Brian’s nickname will hereinafter be known as “Hoover”…

If you’d like to join the culinary fun, why not hop on the crème brulee train with me?! There are many different variations and flavor profiles that you can prepare this dish with, but in my opinion, nothing quite matches the creamy texture and silky smooth vanilla flavor that is found in a traditional crème brulee. Rather than try to improve upon perfection, I think it’s best to show you a tried and true recipe from a great food blogger that I follow. Just click the link and/or photo below to be transported into a dimension known as the world of delectable treats!

VANILLA CRÈME BRULEE

When the Fork Became a Knife

 

As a teenager, I was more consumed with grieving the death of my father (who passed away when I was 15 years old) than I was in learning the basic life skills that I would need later on in my life. I’m referring to basic home economic skills here, people. The ones that some teen aged girls are overly excited to learn about and dig into: cooking, sewing, general house cleaning….

Whoa! Am I to understand that I wasn’t the only girl who had no interest whatsoever in learning the talented art of removing all bacterial deposits that exist in the bowl of a toilet, or mastering the skills necessary to remove wine stains from the collar of a dress shirt? Maybe that’s why I’m now in my mid 40’s and my apartment looks like a tornado went straight through the living room and up the stairs into my dresser drawers!

That fact causes me no worries, however, because I don’t spend much time in my living room anyway. For all intent and purpose, I’ve spent the past two years splitting my time equally between the FVTC classrooms and standing in my kitchen, learning how to wrestle with a 14 pound turkey on Thanksgiving morning, forcing it to comply with my wishes and sit gracefully in a roasting pan while I dress it up all pretty and send it on its merry way to a nice warm sauna in my oven. I LOVE things like that! It makes my heart smile to know that I’ve mastered preparing eggs so light and fluffy that Brian would rather eat them than have a bowl of cereal in the morning. I love seeing the smiles on the faces of friends and co-workers when I bring a tray of my Snickers cupcakes into a room. By the way, have you ever seen the movie “Swarm”? The visual is similar to that of my friends racing into that room…

It all sounds great in concept. However, the REAL art, as I’ve been learning the hard way lately, involves much more than just learning the prep behind the processes. It also involves mastering time management and organizational skills so that there is enough time in my day to learn, study, practice, care for my family, and work a part time job…or two…or three. Wait, I think I’m now working 5 part time jobs. Don’t yell at me. It’s helping to keep the bills paid. Anyway, I digress.

The time management skill is something that I’ve been failing miserably at lately. In fact, the kitchen fork that has brought me such great pleasure has now become a proverbial knife…and it’s stabbing me in the back. In case you have no life experience in the area and/were never warned of it by an overprotective loved one, a sharp knife flailing into your back hurts a lot!

I have 6 weeks of school left before the semester ends, and if I don’t get my organizational act together VERY quickly, I may lose my standing as an exemplary student on the Dean’s list. I’m falling behind because I can’t seem to prioritize my projects in an efficient manner. My heart tells me that the project I need to complete for sales and promotions class is far less important than practicing my cupcake decorating skills. Meanwhile, my head wakes me up at ungodly hours of the night to remind me that my heart doesn’t know what the heck it’s talking about. My head is really great at screaming at me whispering at 3am. It says wonderful things to me like, “Hey Bec, did you forget that you have a 3 page paper to write before your class tomorrow morning? YOU FORGOT?! You are a DOOFUS! Now get up and write it!”… and so I do, but I secretly wish that I could be writing that paper with a homemade cinnamon roll and a fresh cup of coffee.

Does this mean that my days of baking and cooking are over? No, no, no…HELL NO! It just means that I need to practice the “work before play” rule a bit more….and maybe do a load of laundry more than once every 2 weeks.

This week’s lack of domestic motivation caused me to whip up a batch of Sinful C cupcakes.

If you feel like being very naughty, you might want to throw on your stretchy pants and make a batch, too. After all, chocolate fixes most problems. For those of you who haven’t yet become believers in the “chocolate is life” doctrine, I’ll suggest an alternative recipe. It’s a proven fact that eating a healthy breakfast helps you to have a more productive day, and my breakfast strada is right up the healthy road.  ENJOY!

HEALTHY BREAKFAST STRADA

Yield: 8 servings


INGREDIENTS:

5 large egg whites
3 large eggs (with yolk)
1 cup skim milk
8 slices of french or vienna bread, crust removed, cut into 1″ cubes
1/2 cup shredded mozzerella cheese
1 small can of sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup diced onion
3 tsp minced garlic
1 lb. ground turkey sausage
parsley, salt, pepper, and hot sauce to taste

DIRECTIONS:
Brown the sausage, adding onion and garlic after 2 or 3 minutes, so it doesn’t burn.
Place the bread into the bottom of a 9.5 x 11 casserole dish or a 9″ stoneware dish and then crumble the sausage mixture over the top. Add the mushrooms, then the cheese.
Whisk together the egg whites, eggs, milk, and seasonings. Pour over the top of the other ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, but overnight is better!
Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until eggs are set and cheese is melted.

NUTRIONAL INFO

TOTAL SERVINGS = 8
CALORIES PER SERVING = 286.5

Total Fat = 15.4 g
Saturated Fat = 5.3 g
Trans Fat = 0 g
Cholesterol = 118.1 mg
Sodium = 711.4 mg
Potassium = 142.6 mg
Total Carbohydrates = 19.75 g
Fiber = 1.5 g
Sugar = 1.6 g
Protein = 18.61


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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