Monday, July 30, 2012

Gluten Free Sugar Free Oatmeal Cookies & Giveaway

Gluten Free Sugar Free Oatmeal CookiesI don't make many sweets or desserts these days since I'm on a no sugar diet and not just the white stuff but fruits too.  I've also been avoiding gluten and eating organic as much as possible.  If you're gluten free, you most certainly know of Bob's Red Mill products. They have tons of gluten free grains and flours and I have a refrigerator shelf full of them.They also have gluten products that are packaged in a separate facility than their gluten free ones. If you have wheat allergies you can trust Bob's Red Mill products.

They sent me four of their gluten free products to try out a couple of weeks ago.  I've been wanting to make a sugar free oatmeal cookie so I spent a long time scouring the internet trying to find a good recipe.  I couldn't believe how difficult it is to find a gf/sf one that actually looked good and didn't look like mini pancakes.  I finally ended up giving up on finding a recipe and decided to just make my own using three of the four products I got from Bob's Red Mill.

I was pretty happy with how they turned out. Mark even seemed to like them. For some reason they kind of have a raisin flavor to them.  I'm not sure if it's from the Stevia or the alcohol free vanilla flavoring or maybe a combination of both.  The size and shape of these cookies does not change during baking so make sure you make them the size and thickness you want your cookies to be. The texture is similar to what you might find in an energy bar.

I've never done a giveaway on my blog before so I'm excited to have this opportunity for Bob's Red Mill to send one of my readers the same four gluten free products they sent me which includes quick cooking oats, almond meal, coconut flour and green pea flour.  You can probably guess which one isn't in the cookies.  I have yet to make anything with the green pea flour but there is a recipe for green pea soup on the back of the package that I may give a try. There are also some tips on the package for using it in baking.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Avocado Soup

Avocado SoupI love avocados they contain a lot of good fat and calories so if you're watching your weight you probably don't want to eat too many of them. 1 avocado weighing 150 grams contains 240 calories and has 22 grams of fat.  I'm no where near over weight so bring on the avocados!

When I saw Brenda (@culinaryfool) tweet about the avocado soup she blogged about I just had to try it.  She used a recipe from Martha Stewart Living Magazine for this and a cantaloupe soup which also sounded interesting but I am unable to eat any fruits high in sugar content for a while so couldn't try that one.  They look so cute in the little shooters she served them in.  The recipe makes quite a bit and I wasn't feeding an army so I served mine in some small bowls and still had some left over.  You might want to half the recipe if you aren't feeding a lot of people because the soup doesn't keep very well.

As you may know, avocados don't stay good for very long once you cut them open and the soup was no exception.  In fact, it seemed to start getting a little brown even while blending it.  A hint of acid like lemon juice might help to keep it greener.  The soup tasted more like basil than avocado, not sure if I may have used too much basil.  It's hard to measure leafy herbs like that. I never know how much to pack them into the measuring cup.

You can find the recipe over on Martha Stewart's site: http://www.marthastewart.com/904184/avocado-radish-and-basil-soup.  If you're interested in the cantaloupe soup head over to Brenda's blog which I linked to above.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Herbivoracious at Emmer & Rye

Last night I met up with a group of fellow Seattle Food Bloggers at Emmer & Rye restaurant in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle.  We were served a variety of small bites made special for us by Chef Seth Caswell.  We were one of if not the first group of people to be able to enjoy the upstairs deck which they just got a permit for. I had never been to Emmer & Rye but I quickly discovered it was my kind of restaurant.  They use all local ingredients and frequent farmer's markets looking for the best and freshest ingredients.  Even their wines and liquors are all made by local wineries and distilleries.  I've been on a pretty strict diet and was happy I was able to try almost all of the appetizers we were served.  The only one I didn't try was one that had strawberries on it.  I really enjoyed the ones I did have, they were all pretty tasty and I look forward to having dinner there some time.

The reason for our meeting was to chat with Michael Natkin about his new vegetarian cookbook, Herbivoracious which is also the name of his blog.  This is no ordinary cookbook.  It's got a hard cover and is filled with amazing photos and 150 recipes.  Not every recipe has a photo to go with it but most do.  In the beginning of the book he talks a bit about some ingredients and useful cooking equipment.  There are 11 categories of recipes including appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches & tacos, pasta & noodles, from the stovetop, from the oven, side dishes, desserts, breakfast and sauces & condiments.  There's quite the variety of dishes and ethnicities.  I did notice a lot of the recipes are Asian influenced.

I've been following Michael on twitter and Facebook for a while. A few years ago when he started working on his book he asked for volunteers to test recipes and I did.  I didn't know what recipe I was going to get until he sent it to me.  I think it was probably one of the more challenging recipes. I made the loaded otsu noodles which I also blogged about.  It was one of his Asian inspired dishes and I had to make a trip to Uwajimaya to get some of the ingredients. I enjoy cooking with new ingredients so it was fun and tasty too.  I'm looking forward to trying more of the recipes in this cookbook.

Special thanks to Keren Brown for organizing and Emmer & Rye for hosting us. I've got additional photos over on Flickr.

Herbivoracious Cookbook Signing Cookbook Viewing

Monday, July 09, 2012

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Review

This is the first camera I've ever pre-ordered and I finally got it last month. This camera has been so popular that Olympus had some trouble keeping up with the demand. People who pre-ordered after March from any of the big online companies (B&H, Amazon, Adorama, etc) had better luck getting them from a local camera store.  So why is this camera so popular?  For me, it was the weather sealing and the ISO performance that did it for me.  It was just announced the other day that the sensor was made by Sony which explains why this camera is so good.

You have the choice of an all black model or a black one with silver accents, much like the old OM-1 film cameras. You also have a few choices in kits:  the 12-50mm, 14-42mm or body only. I've got a few 14-42mm lenses already from previous PEN cameras so I decided on the 12-50mm kit. It's the first micro four thirds weather proof lens and it also has a macro mode and a new electromagnetic zoom option that provides a smooth zoom for video. It sells for $499 by itself but if you get it with the camera it's only an extra $300. It's not the fastest lens on the block at only F3.5-6.3 but honestly it doesn't really matter that much because the great ISO performance of the OM-D makes up for it.  Olympus has always put out some great lenses in their kits and this one is no exception, it's sharp!
OMD vs OM1
The EM-5 is only the first of probably many models of OM-D's that Olympus will produce. There are already rumors of an OM-D Pro coming soon. I can't imagine what the Pro version will have that the E-M5 doesn't have. I have tested it in many shooting situations including street, event, product and landscape photography. There's nothing this camera can't do.  I haven't even picked up my DSLR since its arrival.

Menu Settings:
Even though I've used Olympus cameras for years I still sometimes get confused by the menu system when I am customizing it. I can imagine those not coming from other Olympus cameras would be even more confused. Luckily there are some good guides out there to help you figure things out.  The best one I've come across is this user guide on dpreview.com.  It gives some great tips on some settings you should change and I did most of them. I won't repeat them all but I will second that you should activate the Super Control Panel (SCP).  I seem to have trouble figuring out how to do this every time I get a new PEN. The trick is to activate it in all modes (iAUTO, P/A/S/M, ART and SCN).  It should say Live SCP On in each mode.  This will allow you to see a screen full of various settings when you click the ok button, allowing you to change settings more easily and quickly than surfing through the menus.

There is one thing they do not make easy to change and use, the "myset" function.  This lets you customize your camera settings for different shooting situations. You can have up to 4 different settings.  Some people set theirs up for day and night shooting.   I set one up for normal daytime shooting and one for shooting HDR.  When I do HDR I switch to continuous shooting mode and turn on exposure bracketing to 3f 1.0EV.  It's only two settings but it's inconvenient to manually changing those settings between HDR and non HDR shots so having an HDR setting saves some time.  There are only two ways to swap between mysets. One is to go into Shooting Menu 1, select reset/myset, scroll to desired setting, push ok then select yes.  Be careful not to use the right arrow button because that will reset your myset.  The other option is to assign a function key to each myset.  This is a great idea however the implementation was not well thought out.  You have to hold the function key down while you shoot.  I hope that in a future firmware update they change this so you only have to press the function key once to change to the function button's assigned myset.  There is a good Guide to Myset Functions on mu-43.com that has much better instructions on how to set this up than the camera's instruction manual.

Picture Quality:
We are talking DSLR quality, much better than many of the DSLR's on the market today.  I've seen many sites comparing it to various DSLR's, even some top of the line ones and it is hard to tell the difference between them.  ISO performance has always been Olympus' biggest area of weakness with all of their cameras but not anymore.  The ISO performance is what made me pre-order this camera as fast as I could.  I set my max ISO setting on my other Olympus cameras to 1000 but this one has no problem with going 4-5 times that and still get great shots.  I set the max ISO on mine to 3200 but may increase it even more. I have no complaints at all about the picture quality.  I may even sell my E-5 and E-3 and the majority of my four thirds lenses.  Yes I do have an adapter to use four thirds lenses on this camera but the focusing is a little slow on them.  I've heard many people have sold their DSLR's and have moved completely over to this camera system and I think the transition to mirrorless cameras is only going to increase

Kit Lenses:
Kit lenses are one thing Olympus doesn't skimp on and the 12-50mm hasn't changed that.  It's the first splash proof micro four thirds lens, the first Oly lens with electromagnetic zoom and the first to have a macro button and a function button.  This lens introduces lots of firsts that will likely be seen in future micro four thirds lenses.  It took me a while to figure out how the macro mode worked on this lens. Just pushing the button will not do anything.  You have to hold the button down and slide the barrel of the lens out to kick it into macro mode.  It's not a true 1:1 macro lens but it does x0.36 (x0.72 in 35mm equivalent), which will work just fine for most situations.  You can't zoom while in macro mode, the focal length is fixed at 43mm and the aperture starts at F6. I've gotten some great shots with this lens so far and have no regrets getting this kit.I also have the 14-42mm kit lens from the E-PM1 and E-P1.  I haven't honestly used those kit lenses that much. Once I got the 20mm pancake it pretty much stayed on my camera and was the only lens I used until the E-M5 arrived.

Below are a couple of macros taken with the 12-50mm kit lens.
Lens Macro
12-50mm macro - F6 - 1/20 - ISO 1600
Gypsy Dancer Rose
12-50mm macro - F8 - 1/400 - ISO 200

Sharing a Meal
12-50mm macro - F6 - 1/160 - ISO 200