Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Salad and Food Photography

A few weekends ago, I got together with my food photography friends and we had a great photo shoot. Thanks Deb for hosting!  It always have a nice time with this group and learn a lot from them.  It is really fun to have a set with backgrounds and lighting.  I got light stands for Christmas from D&N and now I just need to take the plunge and order some lights..

We decided to make a salad with beats, almonds, goat cheese and arugula or kale. Perfect colourful winter salad to fight the winter blahs. It has been so cold!  I know salad might not be the first thing that comes to mind on a cold day but this one is hearty and filling and a nice break from stews.

The recipe we used is from Ina Garden, Barefoot Contessa cookbook and can be found here.

Deb roasted the beats in the oven, as per the instructions. They were delicious. I actually still have beets from my fall vegetable share and they are still good. I kept them in the fridge and am amazed at how long they lasted.  If you are short on time, however, you can always pick up some of these ready-to-go cooked "love beets" from Costco or the grocery. They are super convenient to have on hand.

Here are some of my favourite shots from the day

The ingredients






The beets


Naked
Naked 2
With dressing


Valentines heart- I took this shot with Louise's camera and macro lens (I have serious lens envy)
The salad







Monday, February 16, 2015

Pulling Shots at Bridgehead

.. and more than you ever needed to know about espresso!

I was super excited about this barista course at Bridgehead and signed up despite the concerns of  some of my friends and family members.  "I just worry that your skills won't be transferable" they said. I am glad I didn't let that deter me. It is true, I don't have the best, fanciest equipment and can't exactly replicate everything. But I have learned a lot and can apply some of my knew knowledge and skills to my coffee making every day. I have already notice a big improvement in the flavour of my morning latte. My latte art is still a work in progress.

On the morning of the workshop there was a huge blizzard, of course- this has been the norm most days this winter. It seems to either be snowing with bad road conditions, or -40 with windchill. Not sure which is worse? Anyway, I arrived (a bit late) and was welcomed by the 3 instructors and the group.


Right away they asked me what I wanted to drink- yum!!


And there were delicious croissants


Now any day that starts with such a pretty latte and a croissant is bound to be excellent. It did not disappoint.

Our instructors (left to right in the photo below) Ian, Randy and Cliff were extremely nice, and at least one of them was a national champion in latte art. Who even knew that was a thing?


We learned and practiced how to grind, level, tamp, and pull a shot. Finally we did a bit of latte art.

Here are some of my takeaways:

On espresso

  • Coffee is only 1-2% coffee and 98-99% water, whereas espresso is about 10% coffee
  • Espresso beans are just coffee beans that are roasted in a certain way to use with the espresso process
  • Traditionally they are made with darker beans
  • Crema (the foam) on top of the espresso is an indication of how good the espresso is. A lot of crema= lot of gas = lot of oils= lots of texture= delicious coffee! 
  • Crema also indicates how fresh the shot is. It only lasts a couple of minutes after the shot is poured. 
  • The espresso is comprised of 3 parts: foam, dissolved solids (coffee) and the oil phase (lower section)
  • A large concentration of oils is what makes good espresso. It adds to the texture and reduces the perception of bitterness
  • Once coffee is ground, it emits gas at a much faster rate. That is why you should keep the beans  whole and only grind them right before you make the coffee. 
On equipment

  • With a good grinder and a decent/cheaper espresso maker, you can make world class espresso
  • With an amazing espresso maker but a bad grinder, you will never be able to make good espresso (harsh!)
  • If your espresso maker is pressurized, you do not need to tamp the coffee. To upgrade your machine you can -depressurize it, but you need to make sure you have a good grinder. << Mine is pressurized and I am leaving it like that until I get a decent grinder. 
  • a digital scale comes in handy to weigh the coffee 



On the process:
  • When not in use, keep the portafilter in the group-head- this keeps it warm
  • Make sure to wipe out the portafilter with a cloth before using
  • Weigh the ground coffee- it should weigh about 18g
  • Level and then tamp the coffee- rest the portahead on the edge of the counter and hold in one hand, use your other hand to tamp and make sure your other elbow is at 90 degrees. 
  • When holding the tamp, hold it with 2 fingers around the round part. Do not hold it by the handle
  • Make sure the coffee is equally distributed and tamped evenly. If it isn't tamped properly it will cause the water to not go through evenly and will result in coffee that is too bitter or too sour
  • Similarly,  if the coffee is ground too coarsely or too fine, it will go through too quickly or too slowly, and the espresso will be sour of bitter
  • To pull the shot run the espresso maker for about 25-30 seconds (this includes the time the machine is on but no espresso is coming out yet). Set a timer. << I realized I was doing mine for wayy too long! 
  • The pulled shot should weigh about 38g. Anything between 35-40g is pretty good.  

On latte art:
  • Works best with 2% or whole milk
  • Works best with steaming wand with 4 jets not just 1 ( mine just has one)
  • Use a metal pouring pitcher with a triangular spout
  • Steam milk until the pitcher is too hot to touch on the outside
  • Bang out the air bubbles and swirl around to incorporate
  • Star pouring from far so most of the milk settles below the crema and as you are getting to the foamier milk pour closer so the milk stays at the top
  • Small wrist movements
  • At the end pour from far again and pull through
  • Practice, practice practice! 



The instructor helped salvage mine into Finding Nemo..It was harder than it looks! 

I drank so many coffees that day. I was definitely wired by the end of it. 

They sent us home with a big bag of espresso beans so we could continue practicing at home! 


It was an excellent course and I highly recommend it if you are in Ottawa and they put it on again. I liked it so much, I signed up for the croissant course..recap on that one still to come!

If you have any questions or want to know more feel free to ask! I apologize for not always using the technical terms. I am very much a newbie in the espresso world. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Startup Grind at Bridgehead Roastery

This post is long overdo. I attended this Startup Grind event back in December and am only managing to write about it now. The Bridgehead Roastery is quickly becoming one of favourite weekend hangouts, so I will be sharing more about it in the weeks to come. 

If you are unfamiliar with Startup Grind, I highly remember checking it out. It has chapters all around the world...or at least in Canada, the US and Europe.. 

Hey Look, I just noticed it says on their site they are looking for directors in cities including Vienna<< looking at you JB.  

I first heard about Startup Grind on my friend Albert's blog.  I recommend checking out his blog. He writes of all sorts of topics, from spiralizers to business, law, and everything in between. About once a month, Startup Grind holds these fireside chats where they host an interview with a local entrepreneur. Other entrepreneurs (and weirdos like myself who just find these things so interesting) gather to listen, learn and network. Someone actually asked me if I was a reporter last time because I took so many notes. Lots of scribbles on the back of a receipt from my purse.. I would have been a pretty un-professional reporter. I have now attended several fireside chats and enjoyed all of them. Steve Beauchesne of Beau's Brewery was a particularly well spoken and motivating speaker.  Startup Grind also posts videos afterwards online, but, although there is a small fee,  I find it more fun to be there in person.

This particular fireside chat was an interview with Tracey Clark, Owner of Bridgehead. I really like Bridgehead so I was really excited for this one. It did not disappoint. I bought my ticket in advance and went alone, when nobody wanted to join me. Hey, it is hard to compete with hockey in this city.  Especially when it's a home game. But, to my delight and surprise, my friend Ray was there, so we got  a chance to catch up. It also forced me to network more and meet some new people.   

Tracey was passionate, candid and funny. I loved hearing about how she overcame challenges with minimal drama and fuss. I also had the privilege of meeting her and chatted with her at the event. I was a bit star struck but she is very personable and I even got a chance to tell her about this little blog and give her my card. 

Being Bridgehead and all, they served delicious food and coffee. This is not the case for most of the Startup Grind events.  Here are some photos I took from the event. 

The Bridgehead Roastery
Wood burning oven

Some roasting equipment

The most delicious flat bread pizzas

Sesame seeds were delicious


Hey look it's my dear friend Ray- with a mustache no-less!  

Sweets

Tracey Clark, President and CEO Bridgehead
and Francko Varriano, Ottawa Director, Startup Grind

I hope to attend more of these fire-side chats as they start back up in February after a mini hiatus.  

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Israeli Couscous Salad




I love making salads like this that I can take in my lunch for a few days during the week. It saves me a lot of time getting ready in the morning! And then I have a lunch I actually look forward to eating!

I would suggesting whipping up a big batch and putting it right into Tupperware! Or serve it to your dinner guests!  Feel free to modify the ingredients, depending what you have on hand.

I got the idea for this salad a few weeks ago when I ate something similar from the amazing salad bar at Whole Foods. It was so good. I couldn't wait to have it again. Unfortunately, the next time I went to WF they didn't have that same salad.  In the end it's probably for the best, as those salads can be an expensive habit. So I bought some Israeli couscous and got to work. I bought it at Trader Joe's in Boston, because well, I love Trader Joe's. But really, you could buy it anywhere.

Then I googled some recipes for israeli couscous salad, clicked on the first one that  popped up (it's from the Food Network)  and miraculously had most of the ingredients. That almost never happens! I tweeked it a bit and used this dressing  as I had just made some.
( I added in a dash of paprika to the dressing). I also like eating it served on top of a green salad to make it more substantial.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Dark Chocolate Whole Wheat Muffins

This past weekend I jetted off to Boston.. or more accurately, Somerville, to visit my sis and bro-in-law. The weather felt downright tropical after the -20 we have been having here. Ahh to feel the sun warming your skin- marvelous!

As my sister had an appointment in the morning, I met her by the T station near her place, and had a few minutes to peruse a cafe/bookstore while I waited for her to get there. I have so many cookbooks and yet I found myself in the cookbook aisle of the store and had to restrain myself.  I was drawn to this cookbook called "Seriously Delish" by Jessica Merchant. The recipes looked  seriously delicious but also pretty healthy and have quality, healthy ingredients.  Once Claire got there, we decided to try and make these muffins later in the day.

It was pretty funny, we picked  up some ingredients at the store that  Claire thought we might need: yogurt,dark chocolate and whole wheat flour. It turns out, Claire had all of these at home already. Hmm..Something tells me, E is the one doing most of the cooking. [ note: this was later confirmed by all the delicious meals E cooked for us while I was there... delicious salads, barbecued sausages, pancakes, eggs with mushrooms..mmm he is a great chef and whips meals up like it aint no thing.. Claire is a lucky lady.]

We didn't pick up a muffin tin however, and Claire didn't have one. E quickly went on amazon and ordered a silicon muffin tin. Alas, amazon is quick, but not THAT quick. So we decided to make this in the form of a cake- or, as it would turn out "Chocolate mess".

Well, let me tell you, this  mess definitely brought us to tears from laughing so hard. Sometimes, there is nothing better than baking with your sister!

Get all the ingredients out 
Start mixing
laughing
and crying

The texture wasn't quite what we expected..

what the heck? 

oh well, i'm sure it will still taste good

I recommend making these with moderately dark chocolate or bittersweet. We used a really very dark chocolate and I didn't find it sweet enough. My bro-in law, likes things not too sweet so he loved it. Also, we used whole wheat flour, but it would have been better with a whole wheat pastry flour. We ended up serving it in a bowl, topped with blueberry preserves. It would also be good crumpled in Greek yogurt.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bok Choy



Have you heard that the food guide has apparently been replaced by this extremely simple theory that half your plate should be veggies, one quarter protein and one quarter carbs. Well, that seems easy enough to do. I realized that if I don't eat enough at dinner, I will spend the rest of the night snacking on junk food. Or go to bed and wake up in the night only to find I am eating chocolate.. yes this has happened to me! I sleep-eat. Is it worse than sleep walking? who knows?  To avoid this, I figured it would be a good idea to stock up on some greens- bok choy, spinach, kale, collard greens, swiss chard etc. Well not all of those at once, but a few from that list. I think my collard greens already went bad in the fridge because I didn't cook them soon enough. Grr!!

I recently signed up to the NYTimes Cooking Newsletter with different recipes. It is fun and chatty and links you to different recipes.. It looks like this



I recommend signing up, if you are into that sort of thing.

This week's newsletter included a recipe for stir fried Bok Choy, by Martha Rose Shulman. I love it when the stars align like that. So I brought over my bok choy and made it last night for my parents as a side dish and it was really good. We really liked the flavours.  I modified it a bit to make it simpler and to tailor the flavor to my tastes. Feel free to add more garlic and ginger.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Giveaway - I love Ramen


For our next giveaway, we have "I love Ramen" by Toni Patrick. 

Ahmen, ramen! 75 recipes for turning a dorm-room staple into scrumptious meals

If necessity is the mother of invention, a college student's food budget certainly led to the invention of some delicious ways with one of the least expensive, most convenient packaged foods of all time. Taste-tempting food photos show that the humble block of ramen noodles can be magically transformed into delicious main dishes as well as sides, soups and salads. There are even a couple of desserts based on the ever-popular ramen noodle. On the ramen menu: Beef & Broccoli Stir-fry, Crab Lo Mein, Baked Stuffed Tomatoes, Fiesta Chicken, Cheesy Bacon Noodles, Ramen Rolled Steak, Tangerine Chicken Salad, and even Thin Mint on a Stick. All made with magical, versatile ramen!

Toni Patrick is also the author of 101 Things to Do with Ramen Noodles, 101 Things to Do with Mac & Cheese, and 101 Things to Do with Canned Biscuits. She lives in Colorado.
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