BLOG_TITLE

How ya like them apples?

Valentine’s Day. It’s a thing. If you’re not part of a couple, you can either choose to ignore it, wallow in your singlehood, or celebrate not having to feel any obligation to do anything at all about it. If you’re part of a couple, there’s generally a range from, “Oh geez. This again?” to, “Gimme all the romance! All of it! Now!”

The boyfriend and I are somewhere more towards the low energy end of the spectrum, but we usually end up caving and at least getting cards or something. If you’re like us, and you want to acknowledge the day, but would like to keep the Fuss Factor to a minimum, you might enjoy this little treat.

This is what would happen if your typical Rice Crispy treat was us, and decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It takes a little extra effort to dress up, but doesn’t go too far out of its way to make it a whole production. For this version of what is an infamously low maintenance dessert, we’re going to do two things to make it just a little more special– we’re going to brown the butter, and we’re going to make a topping. The brown butter gives it a nutty flavor, and makes it a little crispier. As the boyfriend describes it, “More like a baked good.” The topping, a very simple apple pie type concoction, spices things up just a little, and gives the whole she-bang another layer of flavor.

Equipment
Large sauce pan
Measuring cups and spoons
Mixing spoon
9″ x 11″  baking pan
Fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth
Small bowl
Knife
Cutting board
Saute pan

Ingredients
For the treats:
4 tablespoons butter
10 oz (one package of the large ones) marshmallows
6 cups puffed rice cereal
Pan spray to coat the baking pan

Melt the butter over medium heat in the large sauce pan, swirling occasionally, until the butter becomes a golden brown color. The solids in the butter will brown and sink to the bottom. Strain the butter through the strainer or cheesecloth into the small bowl to remove the solids, then add the butter back to the pan along with the marshmallows. Stir until the marshmallows have melted completely into the butter.

BLOG_MELTY
Then, add the rice cereal and stir to coat. Pour into the baking pan and press to make sure it’s evenly distributed. Set aside.

For the topping:
4-5 small apples (enough to make one cup), peeled and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Melt the butter and the brown sugar together over medium heat until the sugar is melted, stirring constantly. Add the cinnamon and continue to stir until the mixture becomes a loose caramel. It might look a little dry, but don’t worry, once you add the apples it’ll loosen up a little. Add diced apples and stir until the apples are well coated and cooked through.

BLOG_TOPPING
Spread the apple topping over the treats and cut into whatever shape you want.

Alternatively, you could spoon the apple topping over each treat individually when you serve them, if you want to be a little more fancy pants about it all.

BLOG_FINAL

From start to finish, this shouldn’t take you more than half an hour to put together. I recommend ordering pizza or Chinese food, opening a bottle of wine, and making these while you wait for the food to arrive, but if you just don’t give a crap, grab a pile of napkins and a fork and go to town. I’m not judging!

IMG_1084

I left my stomach in San Francisco

Awhile back, I swore to myself that traveling decisions would be made based on one of, or some combination of, three things:

  1. good friends living there
  2. good food living there
  3. good music happening there

So, when I found myself with a $200 and something flight credit from Southwest that had to be used by the end of March, I went looking for someplace I could visit on my days off this week (Sunday through most of Wednesday). I ultimately landed on San Francisco because A) I love that place with all my heart and for the longest time it’s only been the astronomical cost of living that has kept me from moving there, 2) My good friend R lives about 2 hours south of there and he’s always up for an adventure, and c) One of my favorite Indian food restaurants is there and their Groupon meant I could afford to eat there without blowing my entire Minuscule Because I Only Make $11 an Hour food budget for the day.

The Universe gave me its first indication that this trip was going to be pretty great before I even got on the plane.

A LITTLE BACKSTORY: At the beginning of January, we had a big clothing swap at the club where I work. A bunch of the performers, staff, and their friends brought so many clothes, shoes, accessories, and beauty products that it filled the entire theatre. No lies. At said clothing swap, I picked up a backpack that was perfect for overnight trips, days when I’d be doing bloggy stuff outside of my home, etc. I didn’t examine it too closely, other than to make sure there was nothing wrong with it that I couldn’t fix. This is the backpack I brought with me on this trip. I work with burlesque performers. These lovely people are sparkly and glittery because, well, glitter is just as much an every performance (and for a few, every day) accessory as a watch or earrings or a purse might be. It’s everywhere, all the time.

So, I get up to security, pull my phone out from a side pocket on the backpack to get to my electronic boarding pass, and along with it comes this absolute shower of gold glitter. Apparently, the very pocket in which I’d stashed my phone was the phone where the backpack’s previous owner had stashed their sparkles.

SPARKLE

The big, burly TSA agent who was about to inspect my ID and whatnot had his head turned to talk to someone and didn’t notice that his left shoulder and part of his back were now… umm… much more fabulous than before. I didn’t tell him. He handed my stuff back, said, “Have a good trip,” and I walked away with absolutely no remorse. He was in for a magical afternoon, and there’s no shame involved with that.

The flight was fine, and I landed in San Jose where my friend picked me up and immediately took me to a pizza joint in nearby Campbell to have lunch and watch the Broncos game. The sweet potato fries were excellent. The pizza was… edible. It was a fun place to watch the game. But, this was a side trip and not part of any sort of planned food adventure, so let’s move on.

Day 2… We went to lunch at a place I love that is not accessible in Denver, and that’s a very good thing– InNOut. I eat at this place maybe once every five years, so I went full throttle. Double-double cheeseburger and fries, Animal Styled to within an inch of ridiculousness. I could not finish, but boy, oh, boy was that delicious!

BURGER

We hit up a little used book store called Yesterday’s Books, where I picked up a book about the history of caviar. I am constantly surprised by exactly how big of a food nerd I can be. I’m totally sucked in… it’s got political intrigue, environmental crime, smuggling… I’ll do a little review/book report for you when I’m done reading it, but I seriously had no idea the world of caviar production was so dark and twisty!

Next door to the bookstore was a pub called P. Wexfords, so we stopped for a pint. I had a pilsner from Dust Bowl (a local brewery) called Hobo. Good stuff! It was a little maltier than most pilsners, but I like malty beers so I could dig it. I really didn’t expect to find a place like this, with a legit beer list and a solid food menu, in the middle of the Central Valley ‘burbs, but it’s now one of my “must visit” places when I go see my buddy again.

PWEXFORD

Plus, they play this awesome Pandora radio station called 80’s Throwback-90’s Comeback that is absolutely brilliant.

Dinner was at a cool little pho joint near downtown Modesto called Phoenix Noodle House. I had the #1 bowl with ALLLL the animals in it. It had shaved ribeye, shaved flank steak, tripe, and tendon, perfectly cooked noodles and the most beautiful broth.

PHO

Day 3, we hopped on the train into San Francisco. To build up a good appetite for lunch, we hiked up Powell Street from Union Square and through Chinatown. There are lots of great areas of San Francisco, but Chinatown will always have a special place in my heart. The food, from the fresh veg/fruit/fish stalls to the restaurants; the culture; and the just overall vibe makes me happy every time I wander through there. There’s just so much life! It’s definitely one of those places where you don’t ask what it is, you just eat it and let it be delicious. As we were headed down the hill toward Columbus Street, I caught the scent of something kinda funky and delicious… and discovered that someone in one of the apartments above was drying meat on a coat hanger in their window. It took everything I had not to go knock on their door and ask questions.

HANGIN

When we finally got to lunch, it did not disappoint. I had a Groupon, $10 for $25 worth of food, from Kennedy’s Irish Pub and Curry House. We’d been there a couple of years ago, with almost the same Groupon, and loved the curry so much there was no question we had to go back. This place is such a trip! It’s an Irish pub if you walk in the front door, but if you come in through the patio in the back, it’s an Indian curry house. They have some $10.95 lunch specials that include an entree (I had the goat), lentil soup, a vegetable side, a generous stack of naan plus a huge piece of papadam, and a little cup of sweet rice pudding with cashews for dessert.

KENNEDYS

I honestly believe it’s one of the best lunch deals in North Beach, especially if you can find their Groupon. Once you get closer to Fisherman’s Wharf, it gets pretty seafood heavy and expensive. Don’t get me wrong, seafood there is delicious, but if it’s not in the budget, Kennedy’s is a great place to get a filling lunch to fuel you up for all that hill climbing.

Our next stop was at the Boudin Bakery flagship location at Fisherman’s Wharf. We just sipped our coffee and smelled all those amazing baking smells. I’m actually kinda bummed we were still too full from lunch to have some bread or one of their perfect croissants, but the smells were enough.

BOUDIN1

The Superbowl is being played near San Francisco, and Boudin was clearly gearing up for some epic viewing parties. Master Baker Fernando Padilla and his team were working on these giant football shaped sourdough loaves, along with jalapeno cheese bread, baguettes, and round loaves.

BOUDIN3

After wandering around for a bit, we made one more stop at the Rogue taphouse for a quick pint before catching the bus back to our train to the ‘burbs. I had the Imperial Smoked Lager. It smelled like campfire, but the smoky flavor kind of mellowed after the first few sips and it ended up very tart and citrusy. It was warm enough to sit outside and do some people watching while had our drinks. It was a great end to a really great day.

IMG_1113

I’m headed back to the Bay area at the end of July for the International Food Blogger Conference in Sacramento. I usually only get out there about once every two years, so twice in one year feels like a gift.

Peace!

IMG_0948

Well, that’s just souper!

First of all, Happy New Year! I hope everyone’s 2016 is starting off well. I know we all have resolutions or intentions or maybe just things we’re NOT going to do this year, and I wish you the best possible outcome for all of that. I’ve got some goals for this year, for sure. One of the biggest, most important ones is to REALLY focus on this blog, and my social media presence, and connecting with all my readers, other bloggers, and other food industry folks. The boyfriend and I are in the process of clearing out some space for me to create a little home office, so I can do this whole thing in some sort of organized, professional manner. Even though I have lots of past content here, I’m looking at it as a brand new project, and that means approaching it in a brand new way.

*Forrest Gump voice* And that’s all I’ve got to say about that. For now.

Let’s get down to business, and my love of soup. I adore soup. It seems like the perfect vehicle for experimentation with (usually) a minimum of fuss. Of course, this time of year in our part of the world it’s pretty cold, so soup also has the added benefit of being warm, hearty, and satisfying without being too heavy. This Latin American inspired Turkey Meatball Soup is no exception. It’s colorful, flavorful, and filling without landing with a thud in your guts. It also comes together pretty quickly, making it great for a weeknight, and, depending on how many you’re feeding, has the potential for leftovers later in the week.

FYI: You can totally leave out the meatballs and replace the chicken stock with veggie stock and this would be vegan and vegetarian.

Equipment

Your favorite large soup pot
A spoon suitable for turning the meatballs and stirring the soup
Knife and cutting board
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Paper towel lined plate for holding the browned meatballs while you assemble the rest of the soup

Ingredients
For the meatballs:
1 lb ground lean turkey
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp chile powder
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil

For the soup:
1 small yellow onion, medium dice
1 Pasilla pepper, seeded, medium dice
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained but NOT rinsed
2 cans diced tomatoes
15 ounce can tomato sauce
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon each ground cumin, garlic powder, chile powder, and Mexican oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix the spices, salt, and pepper into the ground turkey and form it into walnut sized balls. Heat your soup pot over medium high heat, add the canola oil, and brown but do NOT cook through the meatballs. They’ll finish cooking through in the soup. You’ll probably want to do them in two batches to avoid crowding the pot.

Hold the meatballs on the paper towel lined plate while you put together the rest of the soup.

BLOG_MEATBALLS.JPG

Add the diced onion and pepper to whatever fat is left behind in the pot. Saute until the peppers are softened slightly and the onions are translucent. Lower the heat to medium, then add the tomato sauce and stir to combine. Let all that hang out for 2-3 minutes while you open and drain all your cans. Add the diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, and the spices. You can also add black pepper if you want, but don’t add salt until the very end because the soup will reduce a bit and you don’t want it to get too salty.

Give all that another big stir, and let it simmer together for about 5 minutes. Then, add the stock and the browned meatballs, knock the heat down to low, cover and let it simmer away for about 30 minutes.

BLOG_SIMMER.JPG

Remove the lid, and let it continue to simmer for another 10-15 minutes, then give it a little taste to see how much salt, if any, you want to add. There’s so much flavor in there already, I only added maybe an 1/8th of a teaspoon.

You can garnish this with pretty much anything you think works. We used diced avocado and a lime wedge, because a little squeeze of lime juice at the end brings another layer of flavor to the party. You could also use tortilla chips or strips, shredded cheese, sour cream or Mexican crema, sliced olives, or some rough chopped cilantro. Of course, a bottle of hot sauce might come in handy, too, if some of you want to kick up the heat in there.

BLOG_FINAL

I hope you’ll give this one a try. If you do, let me know how it works out for ya. Enjoy!

IMG_0190

I graduated!

So, after taking a week to just chill out and get caught up on some sleep, I thought it’d be good to get down some thoughts about this whole graduation thing.

This might be a little long and image heavy. I’ll try not to let it turn into a novel, though.

As one of our final assignments for my Capstone class, we had to do a personal reflection… Kind of a where did we start and where do we want to end up sort of thing. I talked about watching Julia Child, and about how I was obsessed with reading cookbooks, and cooking breakfast for my dad, and strawberry milk. The good news is, I didn’t cry. But, it really got me thinking about what comes next.  I’ll get to that in a minute, though.

As I’ve explained before, in order to graduate, students are required to develop a restaurant concept.  There are three classes we took to lead up to Capstone, where, ideally, we’d be wrapping up what we’ve already been working on all along. We took purchasing, menu management, and food & beverage operations classes to help us hone in on and refine each piece of the puzzle. In Capstone, we take all that work we’ve done and get it organized in a presentable format– something we could, theoretically, show investors or a bank (along with a lot of other stuff) to help get financing to actually open a restaurant.

There’s the fun stuff, like coming up with menu items, picking silverware and dishes, and designing the layout. Then, there’s the tedious, time consuming, real life stuff that actually takes up most of the project– the demographics…

demographics

Labor costs and schedules…

Labor

Employee policies…

policy

And standardized, fully costed recipes…

menu costing

It’s a LOT of work… a lot of late nights and anxiety attacks and deadlines. I was incredibly fortunate to have the same instructor for menu management and F&B Ops, because she got to know my concept really well. The basics were nailed down and looking good by the end of the menu class, which made the rest of it much easier. Not easy, just easier. I ultimately ended up with a project that took up two full 9×12, 24 page binders. I ran out of pages and had to stick entire sections into one pocket.

I also pushed myself a little harder in the menu department, and created two different versions of lunch, dinner, dessert, and beverages– one for Spring/Summer and another for Fall/Winter, so I could create some seasonal dishes.

I’m not going to post all of them here, but I’ll give you a peek at some screenshots of the Fall/Winter stuff…

mains-fw

 

 

dessert-fw

 

cocktails_fw

 

And then, on top of that, we also put together a professional portfolio. It contains, among other things, pictures of our food, examples from our restaurant concept to show menu design and recipe development, and costed menu items to show that we know how to cost out recipes. It’s something we can take with us on job interviews. It’s kind of hard to pick just 10 or 15 pictures that show what we can do, and our progression through culinary school. I honestly didn’t even remember cooking some of this stuff until I started going through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken over the past two years.

IMG_0110

Amidst all that… we also have to go to several different departments on campus to get each of them to sign off on a sheet that basically says we understand we have to pay back our loans, we can’t take any equipment with us when we go, we don’t have any overdue library books, and we’ve submitted a final version of our resume to Career Services so they can help us find a job if we need them to. After all that, our Capstone instructor signs off, and then it goes to the Culinary School director to sign off… and THEN, after all that… we get our chef’s coat for graduation.

IMG_0179

I won’t lie. That part is pretty cool. The coats we wear in class are likely, at this point, stained and haven’t actually been white for several quarters. They don’t have our names on them, just the school logo, and none of them really ever seem to fit right. The graduation coat is lots nicer, fits better, and it’s just so white and new and pretty! I was torn between leaving it in the plastic forever and ever, or wearing it everywhere all the time.

We’re also required to pass an exit practical. It’s our cooking final that measures not just our ability to cook, but manage our time, demonstrate basic knife skills, work clean and organized, and our plate presentation skills. We have four hours to break down a chicken, complete seven different knife cuts, and then make Coq au Vin, broccoli with hollandaise sauce, glazed carrots, chateau potatoes, chardonnay chicken, rice pilaf, salad, cream of mushroom soup, and chocolate mousse. It’s a crazy morning, everyone is stressed, very few people actually do as well as they wanted, and nothing ever goes like you plan it. But, when you pass, it feels like FINALLY, the hard part is over.

Of course, it’s not, because after we get all of that done, we present at Portfolio Review. All graduates in every department, from culinary to graphic design, are given a 6′ x 3′ table to display their concept project, portfolio, examples of their work, resumes and business cards. By the time we’ve gotten to the actual venue, we were all just kinda giddy and sleep deprived. Most of us had been up all night cooking and fine tuning our table layouts and measuring to make sure it would all fit.

IMG_0189

I think I rearranged this whole thing at least three times before I finally got it how I wanted it. We had to turn in a table design in Capstone, but the reality of it vs. the picture we have in our head isn’t always the same thing.

My incredible, generous, patient, long suffering boyfriend came and picked me up at school so I could get my food home. (The school gives us $50 to spend with the store room so we don’t have to foot the whole bill ourselves.) We also had to swing by a friend’s house to borrow a cake plate, hit three different stores to find the rest of my display pieces, and go to two grocery stores for the rest of the food supplies. Then, I got home, inventoried everything, and started cooking. I cooked until around 1230am, slept until 4am, and then got up and did all the baking. Adam woke up to a crazy eyed lady, but he took it all in stride.

We got about 3/4 of the way to the venue before I realized I’d forgotten the deviled eggs for my display. So, we loaded everything out, and he drove all the way back home to get my eggs while I set up the rest of the table. Bless him. Seriously.

IMG_0193

From 10am to 1pm, we stood behind our tables answering questions from judges, potential employers, other students family members, cleaning people from the venue, and pretty much anyone else who came by to see our display. It wasn’t all that bad, except for the achy feet, and there were lots of friendly, familiar faces to help keep us from getting too bored or nervous. At 1pm, we had a little awards ceremony for culinary. They awarded first and second place for baking and pastry and for culinary. I was totally stunned when they called my name for 2nd place. At that point, it’s not really for a grade or anything, but it’s awesome to see that the judges, all instructors I’ve worked with throughout school, thought I’d done a good job.

And then, just like that, it was over. I was done with culinary school. They only do a walking ceremony every other quarter, so I’ll actually walk at the end of December, but I am officially a culinary school graduate now.

What’s next? Well… I have a lot of ideas floating around, some more concrete than others.

First and foremost is this blog. I want to get back to a regular publishing schedule. I have time during the day now to cook and write, so there aren’t any excuses not to. I am hoping to be able to start incorporating some video content at some point next year, not just here, but on social media platforms, as well. I want to have set days to publish here, as well as little quickies that will post to facebook, twitter, or instagram throughout the week. If anyone has suggestions, leave them in the comments below.

I’m hoping I’ll get to start interning in January (maybe sooner) at a local sustainable farming operation. Then, I’d like to do a little traveling to work on other organic/sustainable farm operations around the country. I’m also trying to figure out how to get the ball rolling on a pop up restaurant for the concept I created. I don’t want to commit to a full blown restaurant, ever. But, I thought it would be a great experience to actually get to serve my menu at least once. All the proceeds would go to a food/hunger related charity.

I also have a little project to work on in my hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’m hoping my hometown bestie Nikki and I will get to work on it together, provided I can get my butt down there enough to make it real. I don’t want to get into details now, but it’s food related, and hopefully an opportunity to reconnect with some old friends and bring something back to the town where I spent most of my childhood.

There are so many other things in my brain right now, but that could just be the post graduation excitement so I’m giving myself some time to really focus on what really speaks to me.

For those of you who have hung in there with me, thanks! For those of you who might be brand new to the blog, please stick around. There’s lots more to come!

 

BLOG_cover

Two Ingredients = Magic

Hi!

This one is going to be a quicky, but I just had to share this amazingly quick and easy recipe with you, courtesy of Tasting Table. When it first came across my Facebook news feed I thought, “No way is it that easy. This will never work.” But, it is, and it did. And if you’ve ever felt cornered into bringing something to a bake sale or potluck, or gotten stuck on what to make for dessert, you’re gonna wanna bookmark this because it may just become a go to recipe. The great thing is that you can make it a different flavor every single time without ever changing the number of ingredients. Just pick a different ice cream flavor!

Tasting Table’s Ice Cream Bread

Equipment:
Loaf pan (I just used an aluminum throwaway recycle one from the grocery store)
Large mixing bowl
Mixing Spoon

Ingredients:
2 cups (1 pint) any flavor full fat ice cream – I went with Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia
1.5 C Self rising flour (AP won’t work here)
Pan spray

Instructions:

1. Preheat your oven to 350.

2. Let the ice cream sit out for an hour or so to melt/soften. Then, dump it into a bowl and add the flour. Mix the flour and melty ice cream together until it’s a smooth batter. It will be a fairly thick batter.

BLOG_mix3. Spray your loaf pan with the pan spray, and then pour in the batter. Smooth it out a little on top if you want.

4. Bake for 25-35 minutes. Their recipe says 25-30 minutes, but I’m horrible about letting the oven fully preheat, so mine took a little longer. Just test it with a table knife or a skewer at around the 25 minute mark. If it needs to go longer, no worries.

5. Remove from the oven when it’s done and let it cool slightly, then remove it from the loaf pan to let it finish cooling completely.

BLOG_baked

The Tasting Table recipe/article says this bread will come out sweet enough that you could top it with more ice cream. I also think you could use any sort of sweet sauce and some whipped cream, or some fruit and whipped cream, depending on what flavor ice cream you use, but it’s also not super sweet, so you could just use it as is. The texture is somewhere between cake and bread– dense and sturdy but not heavy.

BLOG_insideI seriously could not believe how easy it was. And since there’s really just some stirring involved, you could even get the kids in on the fun.

Happy Weekend!