Friday, May 15, 2015

Thank You Teachers!!

For seven years before I entered the culinary world, I was a teacher.  Having lived the life of a teacher for that time, I can say there is no other job out there that is more important, more challenging and more under appreciated than that of a teacher.  Not to say that other jobs aren't difficult, but at least the majority of jobs out there that are difficult are also very well respected.  Overall, teachers are underpaid, over worked and not looked at with the regard in this country that they deserve.  There is constant talk on the news about how teachers "have it made" since they get off at 3 and have the summers off.  After all, all they do is "play with kids" all day.  They may as well be considered "glorified babysitters".  None of these misconceptions are true.  Most teachers I know work at least 10-12 hours a day, making little more than minimum wage when you do the actual math, and spend countless dollars out of their own pockets to make sure their "kids" have everything they need.  What other profession out there is "expected" to work like that?  Ok...stepping off soap box.

Last week was "Teacher Appreciation Week".  While one week is not nearly enough time to show appreciation for the selfless work teachers do on a daily basis, I'm glad to shower my daughter's teacher with lots of goodies!  This time around, I was chosen to provide all the teacher's at my daughter's school with a wonderful lunch in their honor. 

For starters, I made a lovely spinach salad.  Since strawberries are at their peak right now, I added sliced of those along with some brie cheese, candied pecans, celery, red onion and cucumber.  I cheated a little and served it with a slightly warmed Ken's Light Poppy Seed dressing.  If you haven't had this salad dressing before, do yourself the favor!  You could really tip and back and drink least I could...and hey, if it ain't broke right?

The colors were so beautiful, and everything was light and fresh.  Just what I love in a good salad.  Simple, beautiful ingredients.
For the main course, I made a Chicken Penne Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Fresh Tomato Sauce.  People get a little turned off by the thought of making their own tomato sauce, but in this case, it doesn't require any additional time that you wouldn't already be cooking, so why not?

I used one each of the following vegetables: zucchini, green pepper, red pepper, orange pepper, red onion and one large package of button tomatoes.  I diced all the vegetables and threw them in a roasting pan with a few tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, 6 cloves of garlic (sliced), a handful of fresh thyme sprigs, salt and pepper.  On a separate roasting pan I placed 12 roma tomatoes (quartered), 6 cloves of garlic (crushed), a handful of fresh thyme sprigs, a handful of basil leaves, salt and pepper.  I put both roasting pans in the oven at 350 degrees and roasted them for 25 minutes.  Once done, remove the thyme sprigs from both pans and discard.  Add the remaining contents of the tomato pan to a food processor and process until smooth.  If needed, thin with a little bit of chicken stock.  This will be your sauce.

Cook your penne pasta to al dente and saute chicken in a pan with olive oil and a little salt and pepper.  Once the chicken and pasta are done, dice the chicken and throw everything (sauce too) in the roasting pan with the vegetables.  Mix together well and put back in the oven at 350 for 10-15 minutes to make sure everything is nice and warm.  Viola!

For dessert, I made a marble cheesecake.  How did I choose this dessert?  Well, my daughter's teacher said her favorite dessert was chocolate or I mixed the two.  I LOVE the way it came out!  Absolutely gorgeous!
Marble Cheesecake (recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsey)

2 c graham crackers
6 T butter; melted
4 1/2 oz dark chocolate; roughly chopped
1 1/4 c sugar
1 1/2 c sour cream; room temperature
2 pounds cream cheese; room temperature
3 eggs; room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 - Line a 12x8 inch pan with plastic wrap overlapping the plastic wrap so that it is at least halfway down the outside of the pan.  Tuck under so it won't be touching the racks when placed inside the oven.
2 - Crush graham crackers in food process.  Add melted butter and pulse until the mixture holds it shape when you squeeze it in your hand.  Add more butter if too dry or more cracker if too wet.  Pour out mixture into prepared pan and flatten to form the crust.  Bake at 325 degrees for 5-10 minutes, or just until you begin to smell the graham crackers cooking.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
3 - In the bowl of a mixer with paddle, beat together sugar, sour cream and cream cheese until smooth.  Add eggs one at a time, making sure each is incorporated before adding the next.  Beat in vanilla extract.  Pour batter over slightly cooled crust and tap lightly to remove air bubbles.
4 - Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or carefully in the microwave.  Swirl the chocolate over the cheesecake.
5 - Cook the cheesecake in a water bath at 275 degrees for 40-50 minutes until it is just slightly wobbly in the center.  Turn off your oven but keep your cheesecake in the oven (and water bath) for another 2 hours.  Remove cheesecake from oven and out of water bath and allow to cool in the refrigerator overnight.
Along with the lunch, here are some other goodies I did for teacher's last week!
Red Wine Fudge Balls anyone?
Teacher Appreciation basket full of all kinds of goodies!
Beach themed strawberry cupcakes since our teachers are "lifesavers"!
I've said it before and I'll say it again.  One week is defiantly not enough time to show appreciation for our teachers, but it's a start.  So THANK YOU teachers near and far for molding the minds of our young and treating them like one of your own.  Special thanks to Mrs. Laura, my little one's teacher.  You have been a wonderful blessing to her and our family this year. She has learned so much from you, and it has been amazing to watch her grow.  You are kind, caring, patient yet firm, everything our little girl needs.  We love you to pieces and hope you enjoyed your week!!

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