Category Archives: Food

CREMA latte art

How Do I Buy Good Coffee?

CREMA latte art

Photo courtesy of CREMA

A coffee expert and Barista Trainer at the Nashville “brewtique” CREMA, Nathanael Mehrens answers the question we’ve all asked more than once: How do I know I’m buying good coffee and where do I get it?

As a coffee professional, one of the questions I get most often from those new to specialty coffee is “How do I know what to buy and where to buy it?” It can be complicated, and the industry makes it worse with buzzwords and unfamiliar terms. Shade-grown this, Fair Trade that – what does it mean and, more importantly, how good is it?

Sadly, I can’t explain everything in a blog post, but what I can do is give you some pointers to help you cut through the mess and set you on your way to a good cup.

WHAT TO BUY:

1. Buy whole beans – grinding fresh is super important. Trust me.

2. Try something new – There’s no one way that coffee should taste. Coffee is actually more complex than wine (chemically and otherwise), and though that can be intimidating, it can also be endlessly entertaining. Be open to new experiences, and you’ll have a better time of it.

3. Keep it “light” – I’m just gonna go ahead and say it: Dark roasted coffee is burnt coffee. That’s really all there is to it. Once you reach a certain stage in the roasting process, all of the individual characteristics of the bean disappear and are quickly overshadowed by the taste of carbon and/or burning.

What is “dark roasted” coffee? I say anything with surface oils on the beans. This indicates the roast was taken to “second crack,” an exothermic reaction that basically means most of the goodies that used to be on the inside of the bean are now on the outside and are quickly degrading. No bueno.

4. Keep it fresh – Coffee is a perishable food. Its exact lifespan somewhat depends on the coffee, but generally it’s best up to two weeks after being roasted (you can totally get away with a month, though). This means that when you are buying beans you should be looking for a roast date not a use by date. Use by dates are pretty useless.

5. See information as your friend  – Even if you have no idea where Huehuetenango is, how to pronounce that farm name, or how elevation affects what you’re drinking, the very fact that the coffee company in question knows these things means they care about them and will, hopefully, honor them with a roast that compliments the coffee.

WHERE TO BUY:

Wherever it’s freshest. This generally means at a cafe or roastery. In rare instances you can find specialty stores that keep decent tabs on their stock, but this is sadly not usually the case. If you don’t have access to good, fresh coffee in your area, there are several great roasters out there with coffee subscriptions (try Intelligentsia, Counter Culture or Stumptown for starters), and a few coffee of the month clubs (check out citizenbean.com). Soon, you’ll also be able to order CREMA’s coffee online at crema-coffee.com.

Good coffee is an adventure.

Bon Voyage.

DIY For the Average Jane: The Perfect Caramel Apple

DIY For the Average Jane: The Perfect Caramel Apple

The Perfect Caramel AppleIt may seem simple enough to make a caramel apple, but to make a picture perfect caramel apple, well that’s a challenge.

One of my favorite autumn traditions is making caramel apples. Tart apples enveloped in sugary caramel–it just doesn’t get much better than that.

And while the basic concept is to dip the apple into the caramel and let it cool, there are some underlying challenges to making a perfect caramel apple (and let’s face it, appearance does matter with these.)

For example, the caramel can be too runny, the apples can be too soft, the caramel can be too bubbly (see my outtakes at the end of this post), etc. For this tutorial, I used pieces of caramel that I bought from the store, but if you’re feeling especially artistic, you can make your own caramel from scratch with this recipe from the Food Network.

Ingredients:

-4 of your favorite apples (sometimes tart apples like Granny Smith are best)

-1 bag of caramels (unless you make your own)

-Lollipop sticks or popsicle sticks

-1 tbsp water

Step 1: Prepare the apples. Wash your apples, insert the sticks and get ready to dip them!

DIY For the Average Jane: The Perfect Caramel Apple Image 1

Step 2: Prepare the caramel. Unwrap all of your caramels (or follow the Food Network recipe and make your own). Then, place caramels in a small pot and add 1 tbsp water.

The Perfect Caramel Apple: the wrapped caramels

The Perfect Caramel Apples Step Two

Step 3: Melt the caramel. Turn your stove to medium and let the caramel melt, stirring occasionally. Here, you have to be careful not to let your caramel burn or boil. If it boils even the slightest bit, you’ll end up with bubbles on your apples (see my outtake).

The Perfect Caramel Apple: step three

Step 4: Dip the apple. Now we get to the fun part. Grab an apple, dip it in the caramel and spin it around until the excess caramel drips off. Remove excess caramel from the bottom of the apple by scraping it off on the side of the pot. Then, place your apple on a baking sheet covered in buttered wax paper.

The Perfect Caramel Apple: dipping the apple

The Perfect Caramel Apple: Dipping the apple two

The Perfect Caramel Apple: set on baking sheet

Step 5: Be creative. If you want to add sprinkles or nuts or chocolate to your apple, be creative and add whatever you want. If you want your sprinkles to stick to the apple, be sure to add them right away before the apple cools.

The Perfect Caramel Apple: Step 5

The Perfect Caramel Apple

Outtake: While it’s tempting to make it look like I got this right on the first shot, I have to be honest that I had one apple turn out a little bit funky since my caramel began to boil before I removed it from the heat. But, hey, if you’re looking for a warty, monstery Halloween idea, here’s the perfect project for you!

The Perfect Caramel Apple Outtake

DIY For the Average Jane: Caramel Apple Tutorial

Here's a tutorial photo you can pin to Pinterest!

DIY for the Average Jane: The Pumpkin Spice Latte

DIY For the Average Jane: The Pumpkin Spice Latte

In this new series, blogger Brittany Cooper (an average Jane) tackles weekly DIY projects, giving you tips from her successes–and mistakes!

Finished Pumpkin Spice LatteWelcome to the new series, “DIY For the Average Jane.” True, my name isn’t Jane, but it’s the best way to describe myself when it comes to the DIY realm. I do a little of this and a little of that, and I love DIY blogs, but you won’t find me sewing outfits for my entire family or hand-painting designs on my walls to give them the appearance of vintage wallpaper.

This series is dedicated to simple, quick and doable DIY projects that you can actually do yourself. So, if you love the touch of handmade but don’t have hours and hours to spend, I invite you to join me each week as I tackle these fun, bite-sized projects.

This week’s challenge: Crafting a deliciously homemade pumpkin spice latte (à la latte to the upper right). I love this seasonal drink with just the right amount of sweet pumpkin, milk, espresso and spice. To me, it signifies that fall has arrived. And while I celebrate the drink, I don’t get so skippingly happy about the price tag that accompanies it at certain mega-chain coffee shops. Solution? Learn how to make the lovely little latte myself.* Here’s how you can do the same:

Ingredients: (Makes enough for at least 2 lattes)

-2 cups of milk (skim is healthier; whole is more delicious)

-1 to 2 shots of espresso (or 1 cup of strong coffee)

-2 tbsp canned pumpkin

-2 tbsp vanilla extract

-2 tbsp sugar (I used turbinado sugar)

-1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice, plus more for sprinkling

-Whipped cream

Step 1: Boil the milk and pumpkin pie filling over medium heat until it starts to steam. You can also do this in the microwave, but I thought the stove was simpler.

Making a Pumpkin Spice Latte Step 1-2

Step 2: Once the milk starts steaming, remove from heat, add the pumpkin spice and whisk it, whisk it good …

Making a Pumpkin Spice Latte Step 2

Step 3: Pour about a cup of the milk into a mug, and then pour 1/2 cup of coffee or 1 shot of espresso over the top.

Step 4: Top with whipped cream and pumpkin spice and enjoy!

*I originally found a recipe for a pumpkin spice latte here.

Pumpkin Spice Tutorial

Food and Wine magazine

Why You Should Be Reading Food & Wine Magazine

Food and Wine magazine October 2012If you’re not a Food & Wine magazine subscriber yet, here’s why you should be. And if you act fast, you can get 12 issues for just $6.

With plenty of magazines available about food or wine or both, why choose Food & Wine over the rest? Sure, it may be perceived as a luxury title reserved for the well-to-do, but you may be surprised at just how accessible it is.

Even still, there’s something about Food & Wine that immediately adds a touch of sophistication to your coffee table or kitchen. Maybe it’s the understated elegance with which it approaches its content or maybe it’s the wealth of wine knowledge that makes it seem a cut above.

In any case, these are a few reasons why you should be reading it.

Recipes: Food & Wine’s mix of recipes ranges from the gourmet to classic favorites, but all are simplified for today’s busy lifestyle. Whatever your skill, you’ll find something you’ll feel comfortable making—or encourage you to the next level.

Travel: Food—and wine—goes hand in hand with travel, and the magazine takes you to the destinations where relaxation and culinary excellence meet. It’s helpful advice whether you’re planning a getaway or just want to daydream about one.

Wine: This is an obvious reason, but it’s an important one even though the subject doesn’t dominate the magazine’s content. If you want to grow your knowledge about wine, it’s explored and presented here in a non-intimidating way.

Wine Pairing: Enhance your developing sense of wine with the extensive pairing guide in every issue that features recommendations for each recipe. Even better, the magazine provides picks that can fit any budget.

6-Hour Only Deal: Until 3 p.m. CDT today only, enjoy a one-year subscription to Food & Wine magazine for only $6. That’s 90 percent off the newsstand price!

How My Crock-Pot Saved Sundays

How My Crock-Pot Saved Sundays

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker CookbookResolving to make dinner in the Crock-pot every Sunday this fall, blogger Brittany Cooper rekindles her love for the oft-forgotten culinary lifesaver.

Four years ago, I was a newlywed sorting through a mound of thoughtful wedding gifts when I made a discovery that I didn’t think was so thoughtful: two Crock-pots. Yes, one person bought us the slow-cooker on our registry, while another mystery person thought fit to throw in a little surprise – a bonus kitchen gadget the size of a small baby bathtub without a gift receipt or any hint as to where it had originated. All signs pointed to a tragic case of regifting, but I digress.

My husband and I spent several hours of our newly wedded life running from store to store trying to return the thing, but we eventually gave up and returned the one from our registry, assuring ourselves that the other crock was more than adequate for our needs. Happy with our decision, I put it in its thermal carrying case and stuffed it in a low cabinet in the land of misfits just next to the fondue pot and the hot chocolate milk frother.

Four years later, with many hours of cooking now under my apron strings, I have come to realize my terrible mistake. Though it is awkwardly bulky and doesn’t do anything to dress up my countertops, that Crock-pot holds the keys to a hassle-free, deliciously homemade meal.

I recently pulled it out and threw in a little of this and a little of that on a Sunday afternoon. We left the house for a couple hours for a Sunday evening church service, and when we got home it was like someone had been there all along cooking us dinner. And you simply cannot beat the feeling of coming home the smell of something cooking (especially when all you had to do was chop the veggies and throw them in with some frozen chicken).

Plus, Crock-pots are no longer relegated to meals with titles like “roast” and “stew.” With the proliferation of mom bloggers and sites like Pinterest, slow-cookers can make everything from enchiladas to cheesecake to chicken noodle soup and chicken pot pie. So, if you’re looking for a way to whip up a meal that will have you looking over your shoulder to see if Mom’s there, don’t make the same mistake I did. Give the Crock-pot its rightful due.

And don’t hesitate to join me in Crock-pot Sundays. For starters, check out this Cooking Light feature on favorite slow-cooker recipes or the book pictured above, “Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook.” Also, be sure to take a look at my Pinterest board and repin the recipes you want to try!

Give Squash a Chance

Give Squash a Chance: Five Ways to Make it Taste Great (Believe Us!)

Butternut Squash Soup from Real Simple

Real Simple's butternut squash soup is a delicious way to eat squash.

Yes, its name is sadly unappetizing, and often the way squash is prepared makes the name seem perfectly suitable. But here are five delicious ways to work the super nutrient food into your diet.

My husband is the perpetual squash-hater. When we were first married I cooked recipes with acorn squash, butternut squash and yellow squash, and while polite and thankful for the food, he just couldn’t get over the texture.

A few years later, I’ve picked up a few skills for getting the vitamin A-, alpha-carotene- and beta-carotene-rich food into our diet — and even getting my husband to enjoy it. Here are some great recipes that have worked for us:

1. Butternut Squash Soup With Sage and Parmesan Croutons from Real Simple Magazine:

This delicious recipe uses the nutty flavor of butternut squash accented with some onion, celery, sage and parmesan to create a delectable bisque that even the pickiest eater can’t turn down. If you’re working with an especially avid squash-hater, you can also add crumbled bacon to add additional flavor.

2. Roasted Vegetables from Whole Living Magazine:

Infuse winter veggies with the flavors of olive oil and any assortment of herbs you like. Roasting with this recipe crispens up the outside of the veggies while making the insides nice and tender and flavorful. The diversity of this recipe allows you to play around with the herbs and spices you enjoy.

3. Summer Squash Pizza from Cooking Light Magazine:

Who doesn’t love a good pizza? With this recipe from Cooking Light, you can get a little zucchini and yellow squash into your meal by including it on a pizza. For those who don’t like the texture of squash, just cut your pieces a little smaller than called for in this recipe. This hides the texture and lets the squash add flavor and nutrients without adding anything else.

4. Summer Squash and Applesauce Muffins from Vegetarian Times Magazine:

Did you know you can even work squash into something as delicious as a muffin? Try this recipe from Vegetarian Times, and you don’t even have to tell anyone you snuck some squash into their snack. If you think about it, it’s not that different than sneaking carrots into carrot cake.

5. Panang Vegetable Curry from Bon Appetit Magazine:

Go gourmet with your squash and enjoy this recipe from Bon Appetit that incorporates the flavors of homemade curry paste, tons of squash and an assortment of herbs. Who ever said squash had to be boring?

With these and other recipes you can start to make squash a staple in your fall and winter diet. For the freshest squash, take a trip to your local farmers market and select from an assortment of just-picked seasonal produce.

Photo by Jim Franco