Saturday, January 29, 2011

Love You Karla!

Oops... I kind of forgot my "recipe of the week!"

Tonight we had my favorite cousins Kayla and Jodi out for dinner, along with my Uncle Steve, Aunt Debbie, Brady, and Gabby.  We simply had burgers on the grill and a big salad.  Nothing fancy, just a good old fashion get together with some of my favorite people. 

Karla reminded me that I didn't have a recipe of the week, like I had promised for 'Treat Yourself Tuesday.'  So to make up for this, I thought I would include my all time favorite salad recipe.  Tonight we had something close, but it wasn't quite the same.

Kelsi's All Time Favorite Salad Recipe:

1 cup roasted beets, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 cup apples, chopped into 1 inch pieces
1 cup pears, chopped into 1 inch pieces
2-3 cups mixed greens (spinach, arugula, red romaine, ext.)
Feta cheese or goat cheese, crumbled
Candies nuts (macadamia, almonds, anything you have on hand)
Greek Vinaigrette or roasted garlic vin (basil, parsley, garlic, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil blended in a food processor)

Roast the beets in a 375 degree over until tender
Chop the beets, apples, and pears into bite size pieces
Place mixed greens on plate
Top with beets, apples, and pears, cheese, and candies nuts
Finish with vinaigrette

There is nothing better.

Thank you to my favorite cousin for reminding me to take a step back from everyday life and remember to enjoy the simple perfection of the food around us!  Hopefully I continue to have a 'recipe of the week!'

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Shake Those Winter Blues!

This morning I was greeted with a few inches of fresh snow and temperatures well below zero.  I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and stay there until spring.  It's the dead of winter in Northern Michigan and the simplest daily activities seem like tedious chores.  Shoveling the sidewalk, warming up the car, scraping thick layers of ice off my car windows, and at times shoveling my car out of the snow bank, all must be done before I even leave the house.  I also feel like I'm permanetly frozen, no matter how many layers of clothing I pile on.

With the worst month of the year (February) quickly approaching, I decided over my cappuccino this morning to make a list of all the things to look forward to in the coming weeks...

Only 20 days until pitchers and catchers start
Valentines Day - an excuse to eat as much chocolate as my little heart desires!
An excuse to guzzle down as much coffee as I can to keep warm
Top Chef on Wednesday nights
My baby brother starting his first year of college baseball
Everyday the sun sets a tiny bit later
Taster's Guild!!!
My first column will be published this Thursday
Lobdell's, our student restaurant, opening in 2 weeks
Dinner at Blu with my classmates :)
Another month or two of snowboarding

So, even though the weather has the ability to bring my spirits down, I'm not going to let it.  There are too many things to look forward to and be thankful for this winter!  What is on your list of things to get you through the winter months?

My coffee this morning reminded me of a little trivia from class last week...
Which of the following food groups do coffee beans belong to?
a. legumes
b. seeds
c. nuts
d. grains

To be continued....

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Treat Yourself Tuesday

"The qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: an abiding passion for the task; courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance."  Brian Miller.

Passion.  Courage.  Balance.  These three traits not only build an exceptional cook, but they are also the basics for living a fulfilling life.  Find something you are passionate about, have the courage to chase your dreams, and balance everything in-between.  Seems simple enough, right?
Study time.
This balance quickly becomes a little more complicated when these eight things are all crammed into a 24 hour day.  For most of us, it is impossible to include all of these things in our daily lives without completely losing our minds. 

With my final semester of culinary school coming at me full speed, I want to do everything in my power to soak it all in.  My final restaurant class will be the experience of a life time.  I will be surrounded my some of my favorite people and doing the thing I love the most for 24 hours a week.  My first food column will be coming out in a few short weeks.  Looking ahead, I see myself getting a little overwhelmed.

It's time for me to challenge myself to find my own balance in order to keep my sanity and make the most of the next 16 weeks. 

Tonight, instead of worrying about my never ending to-do list, I decided to treat myself to a satisfying and nourishing meal.  Cooking allows me to step away from the nagging voices in my head.  Even if the feeling is only temporary.  Nothing compares to the smell of garlic on the stove or freshly cut basil.  I have also found that being mindful of what you put in your mouth can completely change the entire dining experience.  Allow yourself to feel the texture and temperature of the food and taste the contrast in flavors.  So many of us get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of our daily lives that we forget one of life's greatest pleasures: eating. 

For the next 16 weeks, my goal is to try a new recipe each week using at least one ingredient I am not used to cooking with.  Not only will this enhance my food knowledge, it will provide me with an opportunity to balance my hectic schedule and nourish my soul.  It will be the perfect way to treat myself in the middle of a busy week.

Tonight's Treat Myself Recipe:

Pan-Roasted Salmon Panzanella

Panzanella -  An Italian salad typically made with stale bread, tomatoes, basil and olive oil
  I have only worked with capers once or twice in the past.  They have a wonderful salty bite that perfectly complimented the richness of the salmon and heat from the red pepper flakes.

Eight 1-inch-thick slices of ciabatta (from a 12-ounce loaf), cut into large chunks
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons salted capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 lemon, halved lengthwise and very thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds center-cut skinless salmon fillet, cut into 2-inch chunks

(I topped it with feta cheese and fresh basil to give it my own twist)

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°. In a large roasting pan, toss the ciabatta chunks with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Roast for about 5 minutes, until the bread is lightly toasted.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the tomato halves with the garlic, capers, lemon, parsley, crushed red pepper and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil; season with salt and pepper. Stir the tomatoes into the toasted bread. Roast for 10 to 12 minutes, until the tomatoes begin to soften and break down.
  3. Meanwhile, in the same bowl, toss the salmon with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Nestle the salmon into the bread and tomatoes, spooning some of the tomatoes on top. Roast for about 6 minutes, until the salmon is just cooked through. Serve right away.
Go ahead, treat youself... and find a little balance in return.  Cheers! 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Let's Take it Back: Best of 2010

With Christmas break quickly coming to an end, I find myself anxiously anticipating the beginning of the end; my final semester of culinary school.  I realize that we are already 11 days into 2011, so I'm about 2 weeks behind with my 'best of' list.  For some reason I find myself trying to silently tip-toe into the new year.  In sixteen short weeks I will be expected to enter the real world, find a job, support myself, and leave my childhood behind.  No wonder my brain is racing at full speed.  So instead of dreading the future, I'm going to take some time to reflect on the past year of my life to help quiet my mind.  Here are my best moments of 2010...

1. Best Day of School -- Taster's Guild Spring 2010

Team Cajun & Creole
Welcome to Louisana-- Team Cajun & Creole. 
Taster Guild is an event put on by the culinary program at NMC every spring.  All of the World Cuisine classes were split up into groups and given a country.  It was our responsibility to come up with a menu that represented our country and design a table to serve our food.  My group drew Cajun & Creole cuisine and decided to go crazy with Mardi Gras decorations.  Looking back, I think we might have gone a little overboard, but we took 3rd place out of all the groups, so we must have done something right!  Congrats again to my best culinary buddies, Steph and Ray, for taking first place! :)

Our Menu - Crabmeat Cheesecake, Fried Green Tomatoes, Frog Legs, Etoufee, and Cajun Pralines

My favorite decoration -  King Cake
2. Best Dessert -- Vanilla Quark Panna Cotta with Star Anise Cranberry Compote and Spiced Pecan Brittle

The first time I ever tasted panna cotta was in New York City in the summer of 2009.  Ever since then I have been head over heels in love.  If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life, it would be definitely be panna cotta.  When I came across this recipe last spring, I decided to make it for my birthday instead of a cake.  The quark cheese gave it a wonderful salty, tangy flavor to contrast with the sweetness of the vanilla and richness of the heavy cream. Yummm, I will keep this recipe with me for many years to come!

3. Best Dinner Out -- Mother's Day at Plato's in Aspen, Colorado

Potato Crusted Mahi Mahi with Pickled Beets, Crispy Chickpeas, and Lemon Vinaigrette

 I did my internship in Aspen, Colorado this past summer.  My mom drove out there with me and then flew back home to Michigan.  While she was there, we went out to dinner at Plato's Restaurant, which was part of the resort where I would be working for Mother's Day.  The dining room has an entire wall of windows, showing of the spectacular view.  The city of Aspen is perfectly placed in the middle of the mountains.  The mahi mahi dish we had for dinner was one of the best things I ate all summer.  It was definitely a day I will never forget.

View from dining room at Plato's

Best part of the meal! :)

4. Best Wine -- Brunello Di Montalcino

I was lucky enough to volunteer at the Food & Wine Classic while I was in Aspen.  This is the best wine I have ever tasted in my life.  I would drink it every single day, breakfast, lunch, and dinner if  I could!  Not joking...

5. Best Co-workers -- Steph and Street John

Cheers!  A celebratory glass of wine after a long day.

Black Star Farms is one of the top wineries in the state of Michigan and I had the amazing opportunity of helping out with big dinners held at the Inn this fall.  My classmate, Steph, was kind and thoughtful enough to think of me for the job.  Steph and my boss, John, are two of the hardest workers I have ever met.  They take turns getting to work at 5 o'clock in the morning and sometimes stay until 11 o'clock at  night.  No matter how many times the dishwasher stopped working, they always found a way to keep smiling.  Their passion for cooking and incredible work ethics inspired me everytime I went to work.  I cannot find the words to express my level of graditude and appreciation to these two people.  There is no doubt in my mind that they both have very bright futures ahead of them!

Peach & Prosciutto Mixed Greens with Basil and Honey Chive Blossom Viniagrette.  Beautiful!

6. Best Cookbook -- Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home

An autographed copy by Thomas Keller himself.  The perfect birthday present.
7.  Best Blackbox and Final -- Garde Manger Fall 2010

This fall in Garde Manger my partner, Ray, and I drew salmon as our protein for our final.  To be perfectly honest, I was quite nervous about Ray going overboard.  Ray started thinking about this project weeks in advance and as the days got closer to our final, the more nervous I became.  Being a vegetarian in garde manger was hard enough, but having to keep up with Ray was a little stressful at times.  But we ended up making better food than I ever dreamed possible.  Thank you Ray for always pushing me to worker harder than I thought possible.  You have taught me so many brilliant tricks along the way.  Dude..... :)

Smoked Salmon "BLT"
Salmon Terrine Platter

8. Best Learning Experience -- HUMC Christmas Dinner

Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a four course plated dinner for 100 people.  I had no idea the amount of work I would have to put into this dinner.  Luckily, I had family members who were willing to help out.  I wouldn't have been able to do it without them.  We somehow managed to pull the dinner off without any major problems.  Trying to decide how much food to buy to serve 100 without having running out, but also not having too many left overs was definitely a challenge. 

Karla, Joe, and Tommy -- My Sous Chefs
9. Best Dinner of the Year -- Del Posto, New York City

I'm not really sure how to begin talking about this dinner; it was that good.  It is very possible that I will never have a dining experience like this again in my life. 

Jake & I all dressed up for a surprise dinner at Del Posto in NYC
Del Posto is one of the top restaurants in New York City.  Joe Bastianich, Lidia Bastianich and Mario Batali came together to create an out of this world menu.  We decided to go all out and order the seven course grand tasting.  We also ordered a bottle of wine; presented to us by a certified sommelier.  I was in heaven.  It was difficult to stop myself from literally licking each plate clean.  Needless to say, I was miserably full afterwards, but it was worth every single bite.  Thank you Jake for the dinner of a lifetime.

10. Best Food Event of the Year (and my entire life) -- Food & Wine Classic 2010

While I was interning in Aspen, I applied to be a volunteer at the world famous Food & Wine Classic.  Locals sign up to volunteer as early as January for this summertime event, so I didn't think I had a very good chance of being chosen.  Two days before the event, I recieved a phone calling from the director of the volunteers explaining to me that there had been a last minute drop out and there was an opening to work the wine semminars.  I had to pinch myself; was this really happening?! 

I immediately called my mom and told her the good news.  I was so pumped that I could hardly breath and started crying with excitement.  I would be pouring (and drinking!) some of the best wines in the world.  I was going to the same event as Giada De Laurentis, Bobby Flay, Thomas Keller, Mario Batalli, I could go on forever... This was a foodie's dream come true.
Thomas Keller and Me :)

Giada!  And yes... she is even more beautiful in person.

 The Food and Wine Classic was an experience that I will never, ever forget.  It changed my life and I can only hope to attend the event again someday!

After reflecting on the past year, it is more clear to me than ever that I am headed in the right direction.  Two years ago, before my culinary journey began, I never imagined this is where I would be.  I have met some fabulous people and been inspired to continue to chase that dream.  My mind has finally stopped racing and I'm done worrying about the future.  Whatever is supposed to happen will work out perfectly.  My goal for 2011 is to simply live in the present moment and take nothing for granted.  Happy 2011!!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Home Sweet Homer

'Home Sweet Homer' -- view of my backyard this morning

Homer Township, Michigan.  Ever heard of it?  Unless your last name is Cronkright, then probably not.  Homer Township is a teeny, tiny little area on the outskirts of Midland.  It's so small that it isn't even considered a city.  This is where I grew up and the day I was finally able to move away couldn't come soon enough.  I wanted heavy traffic, skyscrapers, and nights that never ended.  Little did I know 'Home Sweet Homer' wasn't so bad after all.

Today I stopped by my Grandma Cronkright's and we had shrimp cocktail for lunch.  She is extremely hard of hearing and I was trying to explain to her that I was heading to the church to help our Pastor make lasagnas.  After I was done explaining (more like yelling...), she said "Who's Theresa?!"  Theresa?  I had not once mentioned a Theresa to her.  Maybe lasagna sounds like Theresa; I'm not really sure.  It's kind of like talking to Aunt Bethany... for anyone who is familiar with Christmas Vacation.  

My Grandma and Grandpa Cronkright had 7 boys and somehow my Grandma managed to keep her sanity through the years.  Every night she was expected to have dinner on the table when my Grandpa C got home from work.  Roast beef, homemade bread, and chocolate cake were staples in the Cronkright household.  Leftovers were always packed in Pa's lunch pale for lunch the following day.  She once told me "You should always have dinner planned out by 11:00 in the morning."  Having a home-cooked dinner on the table was extremely important to her.  It didn't have to be anything fancy or gourmet; just simple, old school cooking.

After my lunch with my Grandma C, I got to thinking about plain old comfort foods.  I have been taught to focus on fine dining and perfectly presented dishes.  I have spent the past two years studying food in Traverse City and last summer in Aspen, Colorado.  Everytime I come home and cook for my family, they call me a 'food snob,' because I have introduced them to new ingredients and fancy plate presentation.  My younger brother, Larsen, won't even eat my food because it's "too fancy" for him. 

There must be something about comfort foods and home cooking that continues to bring us back.  If you think about it, is it possible to return home without a home cooked meal from mom?  Fine dining is definitely where I'm headed, but I will be sure to always remember my roots in Homer no matter where this road takes me.  If my Grandma can keep 7 boys satisfied and coming back for more, maybe 'Home Sweet Homer' isn't so bad after all...

Friday, January 7, 2011

When life gives you kiwis... make guacamole?!

When life gives you kiwis... make guacamole!  Guacamole?  Yes, you read that correctly.  I said, when life gives you kiwis, make gaucamole.  If you have even the smallest amount of food knowledge, this statement probably made you scratch your head with confusion.  Let me explain...

I was recently asked what inspired me to dive head first into the culinary world and chase my dreams.  I had a difficult time formulating a single answer.  There have been too many people, places, and things to count that have planted little seeds in my brain.  These little seeds have grown together to bring me to where I am today.  However, there is one person who has pushed me beyond my limits and held my hand through my darkest days. 

Last spring I received an unforgettable phone call from my dad.  I would consider my dad a "foodie."  He has never been afraid to experiment with new flavors and ingredients, even if the end result isn't quite what he had planned.  With a hankering for guacamole, he called my mom and asked if she would pick up the ingredients on her way home from work.  My dad helped my mom bring the grocery bags in from the car and started unpacking the food.  He noticed she had bought kiwis and thought it was a little odd, but didn't say anything and put them away in the refrigerator. 

After all the groceries were put away, my dad noticed that he hadn't seen the avocados.  He asked my mom if she had put them away already and she reached in the fridge and pulled out the bag of kiwis.  "Here they are!" said my mom with a puzzled look on her face.  My mom bought kiwis and honest to goodness thought they were avocados.  Bless her heart.

Growing up, boxed mac n' cheese and spaghetti were staples in our household.  My dad had not yet developed his culinary curiosity, which left my mom stuck trying to find something to fix the family for dinner.  After one too many dinners gone wrong, I decided it was time to start fending for myself in the kitchen.  While most kids my age were watching Spongebob or Rugrats on Nickelodeon, I remember staying up late to watch Emeril Lagassee on the Food Network.  I immediately developed an abnormal interest in food; there was a whole new world of food out there to be discovered and nothing was going to get in my way.

As the years went on, I began reading cookbooks like novels and begging my mom to let me do the grocery shopping.  I loved getting lost in the what seemed like endless isles of foods I had never heard of.  The smell of fresh herbs, the vibrant color of fresh fruits and vegetables, the sound of sizzling bacon in a heated pan, the warm, fuzzy feeling you get drinking a cup of hot cocoa on a cold day.  All of my senses were stimulated in a way I had never experienced and I simply could not get enough of it. 

If it wasn't for my mom's lack of culinary knowledge, I would not be where I am today.  Sure, she has taught me what bad food is (sorry mom), but more importantly she has been my biggest fan since day one.  My mom has put the light back in my fire when I had lost the flame.  She pushes me to do my very best no matter what and keeps a smile on my face.  Every time I see a kiwi, I'm reminded that even if life doesn't provide you with all the proper ingredients, with a little imagination, it is still possible to make something delicious.

So remember, when life gives you kiwis don't be afraid to give guacamole a try!