Sunday, December 7, 2014

First Semester Wrap-Up {Culinary School}

Hello everyone!!!

I have some good news………

I have officially completed my first semester in culinary school!  

That's right.  It is 100% complete! And boy has it been a learning experience!  

Ever since I started this journey back in August, I have had numerous questions about the classes I'm taking and what I've been learning.  

I figured since I have completed the classes, this week would be a great week to share what I have learned.  So…let's get started! 
Note:  Please do keep in mind that the culinary program I am attending is located within our local community college, therefore certain other classes (besides culinary) are required in obtaining this degree.  Please also keep in mind that due to financial reasons and other family obligations, I will only be taking two classes per semester (part time) versus four classes (full time).  

First Class:
Intro to Computers

I have to admit, when my academic advisor told me I had to take this class, I was mortified!  I took it 15 years ago when I was going for my bachelors degree and it did not transfer over to this program.  I begged and pleaded with my advisor to see if I was able to 'get out' of taking it, but she told me that it was highly advised that I complete it.  After finishing it, I now understand why.

Computers have changed since the late 90's and taking this class proved this point.  

We learned the ins and outs of Microsoft Office 2013, which included Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Power Point, as well as how to navigate this 'new age' college computer system.  I had 15 quizzes, 2 to 3 classroom activities for each chapter we went over, 3 major tests, and 3 final exams.  

Someone actually asked me why I had to take this class, since I'm in culinary arts.  They were puzzled as they asked me, "I thought you worked with food, not computers?"  I found myself asking this same question throughout the entire 3 months.  

The answer finally dawned on me one day as I worked on an Excel spreadsheet.  They placed this class into the culinary arts curriculum because 'prospective' chefs may want to eventually own their restaurant or cafe'.  Without the basic knowledge of programs such as Microsoft Word or Excel, managing your own restaurant will be difficult.  

Word can be used to draft and create business letters, flyers, business cards, etc…
Excel can be used to figure out the restaurant's budget and payroll.
Power Point can be useful in employee training programs and the like.  

It all made sense.  I passed the class with a 92 and gained the knowledge that I needed to navigate my way through the basics of Microsoft Office.  Don't ask me to take it again though…lol…because this mama is finished with it.  

Second Class:
Food Safety & Sanitation
This class was the best one out of the two of them, but also the hardest one.  I may have thought it was the best one because it was my first official culinary class, so I was very excited to come to it every week.

If you ever wanted to know what goes on behind the scenes (sanitation wise) in every restaurant or cafe', this is the course you need to take.  From the causes and prevention of foodborne illnesses to the flow of food behind the scenes, this course covered it all.  
During the first few weeks, I felt like a medical student because we had to identify and learn the symptoms of all the different types of foodborne illnesses.  Needless to say, after I completed those chapters, I started thinking back to all those times when I thought I had the stomach flu.  I must have asked myself a dozen times, "was it really the stomach flu??"  
We also learned the correct minimal internal temperatures that food items need to reach before serving/eating.
Me…making my "freaking out" face while
sitting in my mini-van before I had to take two exams in a row
We learned how to properly receive and store food when owning a restaurant, as well as what kinds of materials would suffice when constructing your restaurant.

Between learning the illnesses, the temperatures, and everything else in between…my brain was fried every week.  We had 15 chapter quizzes, 3 major tests, 3 major class/culinary projects, 2 class activities, and our final was testing for national certification (if you chose to).  

I passed the class with a 92 and I am still waiting to see how I did with the certification.  

The one thing that amazes me so far about this class is how true to life it really is.  The rules that you follow at home while preparing your own food, are the same rules you learn in this class, except on a broader scale.  This may be one of the reasons why I received an A in the course, because as a home cook, I knew most of the rules already.  

For example: 
Always, always, always wash your hands before preparing any meal; If raw meat or poultry smells foul, then discard it; Canned food that has a bulge in it should be thrown out due to the growth of bacteria and the possibility of botulism.  

There were also new things that I learned as well:
-Be careful when using can openers to open cans.  Opening them may cause little shreds of aluminum to spill into the food, which can cause internal organ complications due to the shreds rubbing against your organs. 
-If you see any type of frozen food in the grocery store that has ice crystals on them, put it back and reject it.  The ice crystals are a sign that the product may have been defrosted prior to placing on the shelves.
-If you see fresh fish that have sunken eyes, do not purchase.  This is a sign of possible parasite infestation or time temperature abuse.

I could go on and on and on, however, I think you get the point ;)

Everything I learned in this class can be implemented into a home cook's everyday repertoire on a smaller scale.  I may actually start a series on that :)  What a concept!  

Over all, I am happy that my first semester started out the way it did.  I did hit some bumps along the way, this post and this post were written during that time.  

However, I came out shining like a new penny in the end!  I am glad I decided to stick with it.  I'm glad I wasn't among the ones who decided to give up (and trust me, there were quite a few people during the semester who ended up dropping out of both classes for one reason or another).

I have a month and a half off until my next semester and I am planning on enjoying my little break.  
The next two classes I signed up for will actually take me into the kitchen labs and into the world of taste testing and dish plating.  I will work alongside fellow classmates in the labs while being instructed by professional chefs.  I really hope I'm ready for this! 

Pray for me!!!

Till then……

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cranberry Fruit Conserve

Thanksgiving is next week everyone!  I seriously cannot believe it!  Have you written up a menu yet for your Thanksgiving dinner?  

We don't usually make a menu for ours (unless family is visiting) because we pretty much know what we're going to cook.  This recipe for cranberry fruit conserve will definitely be on it.

I remember the first time Husband Man and I tried this recipe.  It was on the Thanksgiving before we made our first PCS (PCS means a military move for those who are not familiar with the acronym).
My mom made this for our dinner and after that, there was no turning back to the canned kind.  When I asked my mom where she found the recipe, she just smiled and said, "I was watching Food Network and saw it.  That Barefoot Contessa sure knows her stuff doesn't she?"  My mother is something else y'all, because here I am, thinking she made it up, when all along she found it by watching tv.  

This recipe has been in our family for 14 years!  I'm not a huge fan of cranberry sauce to begin with, however, Husband Man and the kids love it so we always make sure to include it in our meals every year.

This literally is the easiest cranberry sauce you will ever make.  You just place everything in the pot and cook for 20 minutes total.  Plus, I don't know about you, but it's such a fascinating thing for me to watch the cranberries as they go through the cooking process.  It really is an awesome thing to view.  

My advice?  Skip the canned cranberry sauce this year and make this!  I promise you will never revert back to the canned stuff again! ;)  

Cranberry Fruit Conserve
(serves 8)

1 (12 oz.) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
1 and 3/4 cup sugar
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 orange, zest, grated, and juiced
1 lemon, zest, grated, and juiced
3/4 cup raisins (optional)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

1.  Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for around 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open.
2.  Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes, or until most of the cranberries have popped.  Stirring constantly helps them pop faster. 
3.  Remove from heat.
4.  If wanting raisins and nuts in it, add them in.
5.  Let it cool and serve chilled.

**Libby's Notes:  I'm not a big fan of raisins in my dishes and my daughter isn't a big fan of nuts, so we always leave them out of the recipe.  This dish can also be made the night before and chilled in the fridge until ready to serve.**

Recipe Source:  My mama, who in turn, found it from Food Network's Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa).  Original recipe can be found here.  

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