Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Campbell's Summer Grains

Kelsey Brown of the food blog Happy Yolks
Writing a food blog has it's perks. I have to admit, it feels pretty damn cool to get to sit in media lounges with free wifi and swag; mingle with some of Toronto's top chefs; get to try products before they hit the market; have friends and acquaintances tell me I inspired them to cook something; the list goes on! Yes, there are some wonderful perks, but with any perks in life always comes the downside. My friends always tell me how cool it is that I get invited to so many interesting events in Toronto, and yes, "interesting" is the word to use. Sure, there are some events that are wonderful, educating me and allowing me to meet new and insightful people, but unfortunately for the most part most "media" events kind of suck. 
Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad
The problem with media events is the same problem I had in University, they make you feel like "just a number". They really don't give a crap who you are, other than the fact that you offer them free exposure. To many big companies they look to us bloggers and see "tweets," "Facebook posts." "blog posts," FREE! To sum it up, they basically want to use you. They don't really care about progressing their own brand and learning, or having the blogger walk away with something truly valuable, and the most unfortunate part of that is that many bloggers blog with that very goal in mind. My apologies for my candor, but many bloggers really just want free shit. So you can imagine my skepticism each time I am invited to a "blogger" or "media" event. Why do I continue going you ask? You're not the first. It's just apart of the gig, and despite the bad taste in my mouth that I often walk away with, networking is a very important aspect of trying to get into this very small, but growing industry. 

I felt that same uneasy skepticism about a month ago, as I walked to the St. Lawrence Market Kitchens to participate in Campbell's Canada's Summer Grains Series. How can you blame a gal with a big name like Campbell's on the event, and a young American food blogger as the host? The moment I walked up to the large kitchen doors, the PR team received their first point. Without so much as extending my hand, the PR rep already knew my name, knew my blog, and knew that I am currently in culinary school. Someone did their homework. I was impressed. I walked into the spacious kitchens, surprised that I had not been in this beautiful space as of yet, seeing as I am at St. Lawrence Market almost every weekend. I was greeted by more PR reps, Campbell's reps, and servers who offered me a selection of different spa waters while I mingled with arriving guests. The event scored their second point with me when I saw the attendees. I was apart of a small group of strong, independent woman, most of whom are recipe developers as well, and have already found some success in the industry. I couldn't help but smile knowing that I was selected to be apart of this intimate group. 
Just like me, one of Kelsey's favourite tools in the kitchen is her rasp
Point number 3: I met Kelsey from the blog Happy Yolks. Kelsey would be the American food blogger that Campbell's shipped in from Colorado to develop seven super grain recipes featuring Campbell's broths, as well as host the event. It was the mention of Kelsey in the invite that had me feeling like I was walking into another one of those "bad taste in my mouth" events. I pictured just another freebie-grabbing, disingenuous blogger talking at us for an hour. Had I read Kelsey's blog prior to the event, I would have known just how wrong I was. Oh, how thankful I was that I was so very wrong. Kelsey is one of those women that can light up an entire room with her positive energy, and boy did she ever. I think all of us were completely entranced by this successful, young woman (Kelsey's blog Happy Yolks was one of the finalists in the Best Cooking Blog category in the 2013 Saveur: Best Cooking Blog Awards), who was so incredibly down-to-earth, charming, talented, and made us feel as though we were just hanging out in a friends kitchen. Though she was younger than I, I had found a new inspiration in Kelsey. Kelsey's passion for cooking was clear in her delivery, as she demonstrated how to make three of the seven recipes she had developed for Campbell's
"It was SO refreshing to work with talented and inpsiring women who are less interested in the BUY BUY BUY message and focus on the LET'S ALL EAT WELL message." - Kelsey Brown of Happy Yolks, describing why she took part in Campbell's Summer Grains Series
Point number 4: The recipes rocked. With one summer grain side for every day of the week, I could actually see myself making each and every one of the beautifully colourful and flavourful recipes that Kelsey had created, featuring ancient grains and Campbell's. Having been previously out-of-the-loop when it came to ancient grains, other than the oh-so-popular quinoa of course, it was really beneficial for me to learn just how simple it is to prepare these different healthy grains. What really caught my attention was learning how easily digestible and healthy ancient grains are. Although I have had issues with digesting gluten and wheat in the past, that hasn't stopped me from eating all of my favourite carb-heavy foods. So learning about how I could substitute ancient grains for many of the hard-on-the-body grains that I was familiar with, was wonderful for me. 
Farro Caprese Salad
Although I truly enjoyed all of the summer sides that Kelsey had created, you must know by now that I always have my favourites. My first standout summer grain side was the Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad, and was actually the first recipe of the day that I chose to recreate in my own kitchen. I loved how simple this recipe was to make, as well as the contrast of the sweet and juicy apricots with the spicy bites of jalapeno, and the bright and fresh tasting mint. My second standout of the day was Roasted Spring Carrots Over Herbed Kamut with Horseradish Yogurt Sauce. I really liked the almost "al-dente" bite that the kamut gave to the dish, allowing it to standup to the zesty horseradish flavour and the texture of the whole roasted carrots. I also appreciated that Kelsey chose to utilize the slightly-bitter carrot top greens by incorporating that into the dish. My third standout was Shaved Fennel, Orange, Candied Pecans, and Toasted Millet. The slices of orange added a fantastic juicy freshness to the dish, and was a wonderful accompaniment to the crunchy and sweet candied pecans, and balanced by the thinly sliced fennel and red onion. It's also worth noting, that this was also the most beautifully-plated of all the dishes.

I was so glad that my initial skepticism didn't keep me away from this event. It's well-planned and executed events like this that restore my faith in this crazy food blogging scene that I've found myself in. I now have seven easy, go-to recipes that I can make for myself as well as for entertaining, that I know will leave me and my guests satisfied and happy, not to mention I walked away feeling so incredibly inspired by this bright new blogger. I encourage you to find your favourite Campbell's Summer Grain side to recreate in your own home, as well as check out Kelsey's blog Happy Yolks for yourself. I'm not just saying this, but Happy Yolks has actually become one of my new favourite blogs thanks to Kelsey's beautifully written and insightful posts, gorgeous photography, and unique recipes. I'm in the middle of a bit of a soul-searching expedition at the moment, laying awake each night wondering "who am I?", "what do I want?", "where do I want to go?" and Kelsey's blog was just the answer I needed to guide me through this confusing, yet thrilling faze of my life. I hope you find it as inspiring as I did. 
Kelsey's Fresh Apricot, Jalapeno, Mint Quinoa Salad recipe recreated in my own kitchen
  • Check out the seven Summer Grain recipes that Kelsey developed for Campbell's Canada here.
  • Check out Kelsey's gorgeous blog Happy Yolks here.  
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