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August 29, 2023

Shiitake Happens

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by Kaleb Crafts

Co-President and Challenge Accepter

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When I was fourteen, my family took a trip to Japan, a country near and dear to my father’s heart. For a high school-aged boy, it was a life-changing experience… sometimes in unexpected ways.

One afternoon we stopped at a cafeteria-style food hall for lunch. Each tray of food was served with traditional Japanese condiments, including pickled vegetables called tsukemono (pronounced “SKAY-moh-NOH”). These particular tsukemono were thinly sliced radishes, carrots, and cucumbers with generous amounts of Japanese horseradish or wasabi. Feeling adventurous, I took a small sample of the strange-smelling condiment and popped it into my mouth. Instantly, my mouth puckered and my nostrils tried to clamp shut. Noticing the tear that trickled down my cheek, my brother, Ryan, did what older brothers have a sacred duty to do: he dared me, “I'll give you twenty bucks if you can eat that whole bowl in one bite!"

Since younger brothers also have a sacred duty—to never turn down a dare—I scooped up the pile of pickles and stuffed them in my mouth. And then…FIRE! It felt like a mini volcano of acid had erupted in my sinuses. Tears streamed down my face, but I knew that if I could only manage the pain for a few minutes, the money and glory would be mine. I could practically feel that crisp twenty-dollar bill in my hand. Colors began to change as my vision blurred, but I kept chewing. By sheer power of will, I forced my esophagus to open and began to swallow. Unfortunately, my stomach didn't want any part of the hell that my mouth and sinuses had been enduring. With the help of my diaphragm and abdominal muscles, it put a sudden and violent end to the whole affair.

Lesson Learned

But here’s the strange part. Instead of leaving me with a lifelong hatred of horseradish, that experience did the opposite. I love horseradish, wasabi and anything with that unique tangy, acidic heat.

It’s strange how a person’s view of a particular food can be changed, for good or bad, by a single experience. For example, I had always told myself I hated mushrooms. To me, they had a weird texture and tasted like moldy dirt. For decades I refused to eat anything containing mushrooms, but then, one humid day in Vancouver, Canada, my narrative changed. A local mushroom expert prepared a meal for me that featured the 60 varieties of mushrooms he’d found on his hillside farm, and I knew I had to at least sample the dishes. I mustered the courage to try a pickled mushroom, and to my surprise, my love of acid and tang overcame my hatred of mushrooms. From that moment on, I couldn’t get enough of mushrooms!

I guess the moral (morel?) of the story is, don’t be too quick to write a food off or tell yourself you don’t like it. Maybe you just haven’t come across a variation or a way of preparing the food that you like. Stay open to new foods and to new ways of preparing them. Who knows? That food you’re sure you hate may turn out to be something you learn to love.

The other moral is, trust your taste buds, not your brother.

July 18, 2023

Wedding Cake Catastrophes (and How to Avoid Them)

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Let’s talk wedding cakes. Specifically, wedding cake catastrophes.

Over the last 35+ years that we’ve been catering weddings, we’ve seen all kinds of cakes, from small and simple to enormous, elaborate creations that belong in an art gallery. Whatever type you choose, your wedding cake will be an expression of your personality and style, as well as a special way of sharing your love and appreciation with your guests. No one wants to see your day ruined by something going wrong with your cake.

But, once in a while, that’s exactly what happens!

We talked to three experts about the horror stories they’ve seen and their advice for how to avoid wedding cake catastrophes. Ale Wortmann is the owner of cake by Alessandra and one of our very favorite cake vendors in Utah. Ryan Crafts is, of course, our COO and co-owner of Culinary Crafts. Cassidy Harrison is the owner of Flour & Flourish and the genius behind their real-as-life sugar flowers. Honestly, even up close, you’d swear those things are real! Check out these examples of her work:

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Here’s what the experts had to say.

1. The Sun Is Not Your Friend

Cassidy told us about one of her wedding cake nightmares. Once, she delivered a four-tier buttercream cake to the venue and noticed that the cake table had been set up in full sunlight. It was late in the evening, but there were still a couple of hours before sunset. Cassidy warned the planner that the cake table needed to be moved, but the bride was adamant that she wanted it under the gazebo. There was no way to change the bride’s mind, so Cassidy hurried home to dress for the wedding. (The bride was a family friend.)

When she returned 45 minutes later, the whole wedding party was in a panic. People mobbed Cassidy, apologizing over and over, "The cake! I'm so sorry! The cake!" Sure enough, it looked like a melted candle.

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“Ever since then,” Cassidy says, “I've been really stern about moving the cake table.” Her advice is “Listen to your cake artist about not putting the cake in the sun on a 96-degree day. We aren't being annoying for no reason. Nobody wants a melty cake at their wedding.”

2. Be Careful About Taking Your Cake Outside

“Outdoor pictures are amazing,” Ale says, “but don’t leave your cake outside very long. Even the shade is hot during our Utah summer months. These cakes are made with butter . Fondant also has buttercream underneath, and it will melt, bubble, and crack in the heat.” Leaving your cake outside on a hot day is probably going to ruin it, even if you avoid direct sunlight. Your best bet is to set up your cake indoors and keep it away from any heat sources. (Cakes have been known to melt indoors just from being placed too close to a sunny window.) But heat isn’t the only danger your cake can face in the great outdoors. Rain, wind, squirrels, ants, leaves, dust, dogs, and other outdoor factors can all lead to wedding cake catastrophes.

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3. Don’t Move the Cake

“Transport is the hardest part,” Ryan says. “Most mishaps happen when someone is moving the cake.”

One of Culinary Crafts’ most harrowing cake-moving experiences was a few years ago when a groom insisted on having a 17-tier cake. That’s right; 17 tiers, and each one had to be a different flavor! It took four team members just to carry it, and we had to move it in pieces, four tiers at a time. Everything went well, but nerves were definitely wracked that day!

Our experts advised against trying to move the cake yourself, including delivering it to the venue. Many times, Ale has been horrified to see a client show up to take their cake in a car filled with balloons, kids, and dogs. (Yes, dogs!) “Please don’t,” she says. “The cake is structured to travel well; however, once it leaves our hands, we can’t be responsible anymore.”

Just pay the delivery fee; we promise, it’s worth every penny. Not only will your cake be handled by the experts who made it, but they will be there at delivery to set it up properly and to fix any issues that may have arisen during transport.

4. Keep It Level

Ale’s next piece of advice is “Make sure your cake table is leveled. Even a slight tip on the table can create a huge impact on tiered cakes, especially on tall ones.”

“One time we had this gorgeous five-tier cake,” Ale remembers. “We did all we could to make it level, but this one was quite tricky. I kept tabs on it all night long. I knew the chef at this restaurant, so I kept asking about the cake, and like I told the client about two hours in, the cake was a Leaning Tower of Pisa. No kidding…. I am just glad it never tipped!!!”

If, despite our experts’ advice, you’re going to have your cake outside for a significant length of time, it’s even more important that you check the table for levelness. Don’t just eyeball the table and assume that it’s “good enough.” Ryan will never forget the anguish of watching the legs of a cake table slowly sink into the soggy ground after a rainstorm. Save yourself a lot of stress and grief by putting your cake on a safe, solid, level surface to begin with.

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5. Work With an Experienced Cake Vendor

The best way to protect against wedding cake catastrophes is to work with an expert. Ryan’s advice is, “Choose a cake vendor/baker who has been around for a while. A newcomer might be able to make a cake that’s just as beautiful and delicious, but will they be familiar with all the issues that can arise? Driving on Utah roads? Adjusting to Utah weather?”

A few years ago, Ryan worked with a bride whose mother insisted that she wanted to make her daughter’s wedding cake. She created a gorgeous four-tier cake covered with amazing sugar roses. On the day of the wedding, she wrapped every rose individually in tissue paper and drove the whole thing from St George up to the State Capitol.

They set up the cake at the top of the granite staircase, and it was stunning! Unfortunately, there were problems with the cake right away. The recipe she’d used for the buttercream was too soft, so even in the air-conditioned room, the cake started to sag. As the ballroom filled with guests, they heard a crash that sounded like a wine goblet being smashed on the staircase, then another and another. They looked up to see that the delicate sugar flowers that the bride’s mother had so carefully crafted were sliding off the cake and crashing to the floor. Then the whole cake buckled and started to lean.

How to Handle Wedding Cake Catastrophes

Ryan raced up the stairs and got to the cake at the same moment as the mom. Together, they caught the cake and held it up with their bare hands. The mom was in tears. She wanted to redo the cake, but Ryan said, “It doesn’t look like this cake is dowelled,” and when she responded, “I don’t know what that means,” he knew the cake was doomed.

“Here’s what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’ll walk this cake down the stairs and behind the curtain to our back of house. My team will take off the top tier, and when you’ve had a chance to redecorate it, we’ll bring that tier back up the stairs for display. My chefs will save the parts that can be salvaged, and we’ll serve those to your guests.”

So that’s what they did, and as heart-breaking as it was to see the mother’s work of love collapse, it didn’t ruin the evening. Would a more experienced cake-maker have known that they needed to reinforce the cake with dowels and dividing supports? Sure. And they probably would have used a different buttercream recipe, and the whole incident might have been avoided. But kudos to that mother for showing her daughter such love by (a) making a magnificent cake and (b) not letting the cake’s demise overshadow the wedding.

And that leads us to our final piece of advice….

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6. Don’t Lose Perspective

You may do everything right—you may work with an experienced vendor who makes a structurally sound cake; you may keep it indoors and away from the heat; you may set it on a level surface and not move it—and something could still go wrong. The A/C could go out. An unattended child can start licking the frosting. A freak draft of wind could knock a decoration into your beautiful cake. Those unexpected things don’t happen very often, but if they do, it’s important to keep your perspective and not let the day be ruined.

Believe us, after nearly four decades of working in Utah’s catering industry, we’ve done a lot of weddings and seen a lot of surprises. We know how important it is to absorb setbacks, adapt on the fly, and make things work. Even if there’s not a problem with your cake, the flowers will arrive late, or the bride’s dress will snag, or Uncle Kenny will show up inebriated. Whatever goes wrong, keep your cool and don’t let your focus be taken from what really matters.

It might help to repeat this mantra to yourself: “The difference between a catastrophe and a great story is just a bit of time and a little perspective.”

Congratulations to all the couples preparing to cut their wedding cakes this summer. Bon chance! And eat well.

April 5, 2023

Easter Colors from Natural Food Dyes

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As people become more aware of the health risks associated with artificial additives and synthetic food coloring, there has been a growing interest in natural food dyes.

Whether you’ll be frosting sugar cookies this Easter, dying eggs, or wowing your guests with colorful spring concoctions, homemade natural food dyes can be a great way to make your Easter more beautiful, healthy, and fun.

Why Dye?

Artificial food coloring is so cheap and easy to use, why would you consider making your own dyes? Well, here are a few reasons:

  1. They're healthy. Natural food dyes are made from organic fruits, vegetables, flowers, and spices, many of which contain healthy vitamins and minerals. Beets, for example, are a good source of vitamin C, iron, fiber, and iron. It never hurts to sneak a little good nutrition into your diet!
  2. They're safe. While the exact dangers of artificial dyes are still under debate, some things are clear. Several artificial food colors used in the U.S. have been proven to cause cancer in animals, and at least four dyes (Blue 1, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40) have been shown to cause hypersensitivity reactions. Using natural food dyes allows you and your family to avoid those harmful chemicals.
  3. They're environmentally green. Artificial food coloring is generally made from non-renewable, petroleum-based chemicals. Using natural food dyes is a small way to do something good for the environment.
  4. They taste good. While you have to be careful not to use natural ingredients that have an overpowering taste, many natural dyes add a pleasant subtle flavor that helps cut the cloying sweetness of frosting and desserts.
  5. They're fun. Making your own food dyes—especially if you rope your family into doing it with you—can be a fun and meaningful seasonal tradition. And Easter is the perfect time to add color and creativity in the kitchen.
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Tips for Making Your Own Natural Food Dyes

  • Keep it clean. These ingredients stain easily, so be careful! Wear gloves. Protect your countertops. (You may want to work on a cookie sheet to catch any spills.) Use cheesecloth or a towel that can be permanently stained. And if your kids are helping, make sure they’re not wearing their Sunday best!
  • Adjust the intensity. Remember that natural dyes tend to be more muted than artificial dyes, so expect the colors to be less intense. With natural dyes, you’ll usually end up with softer pastel colors…perfect for Easter! To kick up the color, you may need to use about twice as much dye in your recipes.
  • Start with primary colors. Find good recipes for red, yellow, and blue dyes. (See below.) Once you have those three colors, you can mix them in the right proportions to make almost any color you want!

RED

Traditional ways to make natural red food coloring include beet juice or dry beet powder, hibiscus tea, strawberries, paprika, cherries, pomegranate, tomatoes, or cranberries. Some of these ingredients have strong tastes and some have little taste at all, so different ingredients work better for different applications.

To frost our Easter sugar cookies this year, we used dry beet powder because it’s easy to use and does not interfere with the taste of the frosting. Just add a little at a time until you reach the color you want. If you don’t have dry beet powder, you can wash and peel one beet, purée or mash it up, and strain out the juice. To deepen the color, boil the mixture down and/or add a little vinegar.

PRO TIP: That left-over beet is great for making a delicious borscht.

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YELLOW

Saffron, turmeric, annatto, lemons, carrots, and yellow onion skins can all be used to make yellow natural food dye. We used saffron because we’re all about keeping it simple. Just crush a pinch of the spice in a mortar and pestle, add a little hot water, and voila!

PRO TIP: Adding a little vinegar may help you extract a more vivid yellow color.

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BLUE

Blueberries, red cabbage, purple potatoes, and cornflowers can all be used to make natural blue food dyes, but we used butterfly pea blossoms.

If you haven’t worked with butterfly pea blossoms before, you’re in for a treat! They’ve been used in Southeast Asia for all kinds of delightful drinks and dishes for centuries.

Butterfly pea blossoms are inexpensive and can be ordered online. Steep a dozen blossoms in a cup of boiling water for about 15 minutes, until the water turns a vivid blue. Then strain out and discard the flowers. You can add the remaining blue dye to any food or drink, but here’s part of what makes these flowers so fun: their color changes according to pH! If you add a few drops of lemon juice or some other acid, you’ll see it transform from blue to beautiful shades of purple, lavender or pink.

PRO TIP: Dye your Easter eggs blue with butterfly pea blossoms, then drizzle them with lemon juice or soda to play with the colors.

While pea blossom extract lends a vivid blue color to drinks, it makes a very pale blue in frosting or other foods. We also tried crushing dried blossoms with a mortar and pestle and adding the powder directly into our frosting. It works, but if you use this method, be sure to remove the sepals (the little green leaves on the blossoms) before you crush your powder.

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Wishing a healthy, safe, and beautiful Easter season to you all!

Eat Well.

March 8, 2023

Kitchen Safety Tips for the Accident-Prone

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by Amanda Mize

Scullery and Prep Chef

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I have always been accident prone.

The first time I rode a scooter to school, I hit a pebble and went down hard, knocking my teeth on the road. I never told my parents about that. In fact, I never told them about a lot of accidents I had over the years, like the longboarding mishap or the road rash I got from slipping on a wet sidewalk at a friend’s swimming party. They have no idea how many accidents I’ve had, and I want to keep it that way.

For someone who has so many scars from so many accidents, working in a kitchen seems like a terrible career choice. But actually, it’s a good thing because I’ve had to train myself to be super careful and follow good safety rules. The truth is that anyone can get hurt in the kitchen. When you get too confident and ignore the rules, that’s when you’re in trouble.

My boyfriend likes to tease me that the reason he does most of the cooking is because I’m not safe in the kitchen. (I let him think that because I’m just glad to have a break from being in the kitchen all day at work!) But once in a while, I get the urge to cook at home. Recently, I made grilled cheese sandwiches. I didn’t cut myself. I didn’t get burned. There was no accident of any kind. I have to admit, I was feeling a little proud of myself as I carried my sandwiches up the stairs to show him what I’d done.

And that’s when I slipped on the stairs and dropped the plate.

Life is hard for us accident-prone people, but I swear, we’re the safest people around if we follow good safety guidelines. Here are a few kitchen safety tips I’ve had to learn along the way:

Kitchen Safety Tips for the Accident Prone

  • Make your workspace safe.

    Before you turn on any heat or pull out anything sharp, make sure you’ve cleared out any pets, children, or amorous partners. Don’t leave anything where it can fall, be bumped, or overheat. Have a fire extinguisher nearby as well as a cookie sheet or other flat surface to smother a fire. Also, no slick surfaces.
  • Don’t wear anything loose.

    Tie up your hair and avoid loose-hanging clothes or jewelry.
  • Never reach into something you can’t see.

    This includes murky water and drawers that are out of your vision. If you have a bin full of dirty utensils, pour it out rather than trying to sort through it by hand.
  • Don’t dump broken glass into the trash.

    It will cut through the plastic and hurt someone carrying it. Place broken glass in a used cardboard box, an opened tin can, or some other waste container that won’t easily be cut open when it’s in the trash.
  • Make sure your cutting board is secure.

    You don’t want it to slide around! If it’s on a slick surface, lay a damp cloth flat underneath your board.
  • Keep your knives clean.

    For health safety, you should always keep your tools clean, but be extra careful not to use a knife that has oil or grease on the handle.
  • Make a flat surface on anything you cut.

    The first cut a chef makes is often one that creates a stable, flat surface so that the object will rest firmly in place.
  • Don’t use anything wet to shield you from heat.

    A wet towel will burn you just as badly as a pan if you try to use it as a hot pad.
  • Don’t wear plastic gloves under grilling gloves.

    Trust me. Just don’t.
  • Don't get complacent.

    This is the hardest rule to follow, but it's the most important. When you stop paying attention and start thinking, "I got this!" that's when you spill your beautiful grilled cheese sandwich on the stairs.

July 11, 2022

How to Cook Sous Vide and Why You Should Start Now

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With Amazon Prime Day approaching, this may be the perfect time to take the leap and learn how to cook sous vide at home.

If you’re not familiar with the term, “sous vide” (pronounced soo-veed) is a method of vacuum-packing food in a plastic bag and then cooking it submerged in a hot water bath. When sous vide cooking was introduced to the American public in 2006 on the TV show Iron Chef America, people didn’t know what to make of the funny-looking tools. The show’s commentators called them “nice toys.” Little did they know that sous vide would prove to be a game-changing advancement in the culinary world.

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At Culinary Crafts, we’ve been cooking sous vide for a decade, but it’s only recently that the method has started making its way into people’s homes. For a long time, the equipment needed to cook sous vide was bulky, overly complex, and prohibitively expensive. A single sous vide machine cost upwards of a thousand dollars, so sous vide cooking was pretty much restricted to top-end restaurants and caterers. But now that affordable, quality sous vide devices have entered the market, home cooks can start enjoying easy, precision cooking with perfect results every time.

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How Sous Vide Works

It’s simple. Put water in a pot, plastic bin, or any other container that can hold hot water. Insert an immersion circulator, a thin device that heats the water to an exact desired temperature and circulates it throughout the container. Place the food you want to cook in a plastic bag and squeeze out the air before sealing the bag. Then submerge the vacuum-packed food in the water and leave it alone to cook. What could be easier?

Why Cook Sous Vide?

At first glance, sous vide might seem like a fancy variation on boiling or poaching, but sous vide offers major advantages over any other cooking method.

  • Control
    Traditional methods like grilling, boiling, baking, or broiling force you to rely on a certain degree of guesswork when it comes to cooking temperatures, but a good sous vide immersion circulator will hold your food precisely at your target temperature. That kind of control means that there are things you can do with sous vide that are otherwise impossible.
  • Taste
    A big reason why Michelin-starred restaurants rely on sous vide is because of the incredible taste it produces. Trapped in an air-tight container, food stays in its own juices, so there’s no chance for it to dry out or lose its beautiful flavors. Even pork and chicken breasts come out juicy, tender, and delicious every time. In fact, sous vide is so good at concentrating flavors that you need to be careful to reduce the herbs or aromatics you would normally add to recipes because those flavors will be intensified during the sous vide cook.
  • Convenience
    For a home chef, the ease of sous vide cooking may be one of its biggest advantages. Much like a slow cooker/crockpot, you can “set it and forget it.” However, even a crockpot will dry out and burn food if you forget it for too long, but with sous vide, it’s virtually impossible to overcook food. As long as you set it to the right temperature in the first place, your food will not overcook, even if you forget about it and go on vacation!
  • Nutrition
    Because it’s protected from contact with water, air, or high temperatures, food cooked sous vide retains more minerals and nutrients than with any other cooking method.
  • Consistency
    Sous vide cooking guarantees that you can get the same results time after time. Not only that, but the food you make will be cooked consistently throughout. For example, with traditional cooking methods, a “medium rare” steak will be medium rare only at its center. The outer edges of the steak will be well done. With sous vide, you can achieve a steak that is medium rare (or any other level of doneness you want) all the way through, from edge to edge.
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    What Are the Downsides of Sous Vide?

    Honestly, now that immersion circulators are affordable, there aren’t many downsides to cooking sous vide. One, arguably, is Time. Because sous vide cooking uses lower temperatures, it takes more time for your food to cook. You cannot “whip up” a meal using sous vide. Just as with a slow cooker, it’s a tradeoff between time and convenience. But all you have to do is plan ahead, get your sous vide cooker started in time, and then wait. There’s no danger of starting your sous vide cook too soon because the method is very forgiving. Your sous vide cooker will continue holding your food warm, safe, and ready until it's time to eat.

    The other possible disadvantage to sous vide is that it does not brown food. For some meals (particularly meats like steak), most people like to have a bit of char on the surface, but sous vide will not do that. However, there’s a simple solution: a reverse sear. Once you’ve brought your steak to the right doneness all the way through, remove it from the sous vide bath. Heat a pan as hot as you can make it, and pat your steak dry. (Surface moisture is the enemy to a good sear.) One by one, place each edge of the steak to the pan just long enough to get a good char.

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    What Kind of Sous Vide Cooker Should I Get?

    There are two general types of sous vide equipment: water ovens and immersion circulators. Water ovens are all-in-one sous vide systems where you pour the water into the machine, set your temperature, and let it heat before dropping in your vacuum-packed food. Besides being more expensive, bulkier, and harder to manage, water baths also have another disadvantage. They don’t circulate the water as they cook, which makes for less consistent results.

    For cooking most kinds of food, we recommend an immersion circulator. There are lots of good circulators available, so even though we really like the Breville Joule and several of Anova’s models, the best bet is to do a little homework and decide which immersion circulator gives you what’s most important to you.

    Here are factors you should consider:
    • Price. Unless there are specific special features that you want to add, you should be able to get a very good immersion circulator in the $100-200 price range.
    • Temperature Consistency. Arguably this is the most important factor to consider since precise temperature control is the main advantage of sous vide cooking.
    • Ease of Use. Some models have controls you can set by pressing a few buttons manually while others are controlled through an app on your smartphone or other device. It’s a matter of personal preference which is better, but read user reviews on how much trouble a particular model is to program before you buy. Also look at the attachment mechanism; some models are difficult to attach to various cooking containers.
    • Heating Time. How long does it take for a model to bring the water up to the target temperature? Remember that the water temperature will drop slightly whenever you add your food, so it makes a difference how long it takes to recover to the target temperature.
    • Pump Capacity. This is a measure of how well the circulator moves heated water through the container. The more water it moves, the more consistent your temperature will be, and the better results you can expect.
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      What Other Tools Do I Need?

      Cooking vessel

      Practically any vessel will do—a deep pan, a ceramic slow cooker pot, even a beer cooler—as long as it can hold enough water. We recommend a clear plastic storage bin because they’re sturdy, they let you see what’s going on inside, and they have plenty of uses when you’re not cooking.

      Plastic bags

      These can be (1) single-use or resealable vacuum bags, (2) reusable silicone bags, or (3) ordinary freezer bags. Vacuum bags give the most reliable seal, but they require you to buy a pump or vacuum sealer. Silicone bags are eco-friendly and can be reused ad infinitum, but their thickness makes it a little harder to get an air-free seal. This problem can be (mostly) solved by using the water displacement method and by adding weights so the food will be completely submerged. Plastic freezer bags are easier to work with, but they tend to break at temperatures around 158°F or higher.

      Ping pong balls?

      You’ll also need a way to prevent your heated water from evaporating away during long sous vide cooks. Some specialized sous vide cooking containers come with lids designed for that purpose. Or you can always just cover your container with plastic wrap. We have found that covering the surface of the water with floating ping pong balls is surprisingly effective at slowing evaporation and cutting down on the energy bill.

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      Binder clips

      If you aren’t sure that the seal on your bag will stay completely water-tight, you can use binder clips to attach your food bag to the side of your cooking vessel. This will leave the food completely submerged while the seal of the bag is safely up above the waterline. If your food floats, you can use the clips to attach a weight to the bag. Submerging the bag completely ensures that the food will cook thoroughly and evenly. (You can accomplish the same thing by adding food-safe metal ball bearings in the bag.)

      Pot lid organizer

      Finally, if you will be sous viding several bags at once, you may want to buy a pot-lid organizer that will fit in your cooking vessel. By holding the bags apart from each other, the organizer will allow each bag to be completely surrounded by the hot water, cooking evenly and completely.

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      What Should I Cook First?

      Once you’ve taken the plunge and bought a sous vide cooker, there’s a whole world of foods to try with your new-found superpower.

      A good way to familiarize yourself with the advantages of sous vide cooking is to try out foods that are often challenging with traditional cooking methods. For example, tough cuts of beef can be difficult to soften up without overcooking and drying out, but with sous vide you’ll find that they pose no challenge at all! Alternatively, certain meats are notoriously easy to overcook, but you can delight your family and amaze your friends with perfect sous vided chicken breasts, pork, or veal.

      Perhaps the best way to flex your sous vide muscles is with a dish that is a touchstone of chefs’ skills: perfectly cooked eggs Benedict with Hollandaise sauce.

      sous vide, eggs Benedict, Hollandaise sauce, ham, English muffin, basil, potatoes, microgreens,  sous vide egg, poached egg, how to cook sous vide

      Keep an eye on our site for ideas of must-try sous vide recipes.

June 30, 2022

Ryan’s Grilling Tips: Fuel and Fire

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tomahawk steaks, grilling, fire, summer grilling, steaks on the grill Summer is the time for grilling tips and fantastic food!

In an earlier blog, I suggested several ways you can up your grilling game. We discussed the pros and cons of using a gas grill versus wood or charcoal, and I mentioned that all the grills I personally own are charcoal. Why? Even though there are some advantages to a gas grill (such as ease of start-up and cleanup), it will never match the taste and temperatures you can reach with a charcoal grill. For me, it's worth dealing with the downsides of charcoal in exchange for those deep, smoky flavors!

But how do you get the incredible taste that only a charcoal grill can achieve? It all starts with mastering two things, Fuel and Fire. Oktoberfest, grilling, Culinary Crafts, sausages on grill, lederhosen, smiling chef, German, German hat, tongs, charcoal grill,

FUEL

At Culinary Crafts we always say that great food starts with great ingredients, and when it comes to grilling, charcoal isn’t just a heat source; it’s an ingredient. Unlike cooking in a microwave or oven (or even on a gas grill), the fuel you use in a charcoal grill will flavor your food dramatically, so it’s important to choose your fuel carefully.

Lump charcoal

My favorite fuel—at least for grilling steaks—is lump charcoal.

Lump charcoal is made by burning away all the sap and other volatile impurities in the wood, leaving thick black chunks of carbon. The water and gasses in the wood are also burned off, but not completely, which is why lump charcoal sometimes sparks and pops when you heat it, as little gas pockets expand and explode. It’s not dangerous, but it can get pretty exciting! lump charcoal, grilling, fire, coals, flame, burning fuel The main advantages to lump charcoal are
  • it gets hot quickly (in 10 to 15 minutes).
  • it reaches very high temperatures (up to 1400°F) which allows you to give food a wonderful char.
  • it burns more completely, leaving behind less ash.
  • it gives a clean, flavorful smokiness to your food.
The downsides to lump charcoal are that it’s a bit more expensive and it burns quickly, so you’ll need to keep adding charcoal for longer grills.

Briquettes

The most popular type of charcoal—the kind I use for barbequing or for lower-temp grills—is briquettes. Briquettes are basically crushed charcoal held together with starch. If they have no other additives, they’re called “natural” or “hardwood” briquettes. Briquettes can be made from many kinds of wood, but I mostly use mesquite for its strong, flavorful smoke. Hickory is also great. The bags you buy in the store don’t always list what wood it’s made from, but if the briquettes are dense (i.e. the bag feels heavy for its size), it’s probably good wood. briquettes, coal shovel, grill, grilling with charcoal, grilling demonstration, Culinary Crafts, catering in Utah The main advantages of briquette charcoal are
  • it’s readily available.
  • it’s less expensive than lump charcoal.
  • it’s easy to fit onto your grill and move around to control your fire.
  • it gives a more consistent grilling temperature.
  • it burns longer (100 briquettes ought to let you grill for up to an hour).
The biggest disadvantage to briquettes is that they won’t burn nearly as hot as lump charcoal (briquettes max out around 800°F), but for barbequing and for grilling some foods that’s okay.

Briquettes can also be a little more difficult to light, but using a chimney starter will solve that problem. (See below.) If you want to give your charcoal some help by dousing it with lighter fluid, that’s okay too, so long as you leave plenty of time—at least 30 minutes—for the lighter fluid chemicals to burn away before you start to grill. Don’t ever add lighter fluid after the fuel is hot! Some brands of briquettes are pre-soaked in lighter fluid, but I don’t recommend ever using those types of briquettes. The chemicals will not completely burn away, and they will give your food a nasty flavor.

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Wood

Unless you’re out in the wild and grilling over a campfire, using raw wood for your sole fuel is not ideal. Wood is full of tar and other contaminants that will produce a thick, dirty smoke when burned. Most people don’t like the flavors it adds to food. Scraps of construction lumber make even worse fuel for grilling because they’re treated with chemicals.

That said, there are ways that raw wood can be used in your grill to add great flavor. Pure wood chips, soaked in water, can be dropped directly on top of your charcoal to add aromatic flavors of your choice. I love the strong smoke from mesquite, hickory, or oak wood chips. Woods like cherry, apple, or plum add a nice fruity flavor, but stay away from soft woods like pine, cedar, or fir. Their smoke tastes terrible.

PRO GRILLING TIP: If you’re using a gas grill, you can still add smoky flavor to your food by burning woodchips in a smoker box or in a tinfoil packet with holes punch in it. Just place the foil packet over a heat source where it will slowly smoke and burn. You can also add dried rosemary or basil for another level of flavor. (Leave the stems on.) For a rich, fruity flavor, save and dry your grapevine cuttings and add them to your fuel.

 

FIRE

wood grill, grilling, flames, barbeque, outdoors, grilling in the backyard Once you know what you’re going to be burning, it’s time to talk about how. The first concern, of course, is safety.

Set Up Safety

  • Set up your grill safely far away from potential fire hazards like structures or low- hanging trees. (Anticipate possibilities like things falling or being blown around by wind.)
  • Position your grill where pets, children, or foot traffic won’t accidentally bump into it.
  • Think about the mess. I’m not just talking about the ash; I’m also talking about the mess from the food itself. For example, if you’re grilling meat, you’re always going to have drippings, so don’t set up your grill on any decorative or porous surface. Stay away from concrete, nice flooring, or patio wood if you can. Grass is good.
  • Arrange your tools and space ahead of time. When you’re holding a scorching-hot chimney in one hand and tending to a sudden flare-up with the other, it’s too late to be thinking about where you’re going to safely put things down.

grilling tools, grilling demonstration, cookbooks, tools for grilling, barbeque toolsFire Safety

  • Don’t wear anything loose like a tie or dangling, long hair while you’re grilling.
  • Keep “helpful” neighbors and everyone else at a safe distance from your fire.
  • If you ignore our advice and use self-igniting briquettes, at least don’t use them in a chimney or with an electric coil starter.
  • Once your fire is going, never leave the grill unattended.
  • Be careful when opening the lid of your grill. When you turn or move meat, be especially alert for flareups from melting fat falling onto your coals.
  • Wear proper protective gear and don’t set hot items near flammables, where someone can accidentally touch them, or where they can be knocked over by the wind.
  • Have a functioning fire extinguisher and/or a water hose nearby, just in case.

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Food Safety

When you’re grilling, you also need to be careful about the way you handle your food.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling food, especially raw meat.
  • Keep your plates and platters clean. Don’t put cooked foods onto the same plate with raw foods or where raw meat has been.
  • Keep your tools clean too. If you use a fork or tongs on raw meat, wash it thoroughly before you let it touch any cooked food.
  • Especially for less experienced grillers, it’s a good idea to use a meat thermometer to check your food and make sure it reaches the recommended internal temperature.
  • Don’t leave uncooked, perishable food sitting out (even to thaw) for more than 2 hours. In hot weather, don’t leave it out for 1 hour.
  • Don’t put grilled food into your fridge until it’s had time to cool off. Putting hot food into your fridge can change the temperature enough to make your other food spoil.

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Planning Your Fire

Once you’ve set up your space to grill safely, it’s time to think about how you’re going to arrange your fuel and build your fire.

A good fire takes planning. Think about what items you’ll be cooking and what temperatures each of them will need. You may also choose to leave room on your grill for wood chips and/or an aluminum pan to catch meat drippings. Personally, I like to let fat drip right onto the charcoal. I love the added flavor from the smoke of the burning fat, and I don’t mind dealing with the flames of an occasional flare-up by temporarily shifting my meat to a cooler zone.

Good Grub sign, signage, barbeque, grilling outdoors, Culinary Crafts, catering event in Utah, outdoor grilling You also need to plan out your grilling schedule. Charcoal takes time to heat, and after you put your hot coals onto the grill, you’ll need another 10-15 minutes to let the grill itself get hot before you start cooking. Coordinate your schedule so that your meats will be well-rested and your other food will be coming off hot and juicy right when everyone’s ready to eat.

Light It Up!

If you’re using briquettes, the best way to light them is to use a charcoal chimney. Open the air vents of your grill, remove the cooking grate, and set the chimney on the charcoal grate. Fill your chimney with charcoal. (One chimney full of briquettes should be enough to grill four thick steaks.) Use lighter fluid if you want, but as I said, a chimney makes lighter fluid unnecessary. Pile a wad of newspaper under the chimney and light the paper. The bottom briquettes will heat up and light the briquettes above them.

When the top coals in the chimney are lightly glowing or are flickering with flames, they’re ready. Using thick gloves and following the manufacturer’s instructions, carefully turn the chimney over to dump the briquettes onto your charcoal grate. Use a charcoal rake to arrange them according to your plan to create your temperature zones.

Replace your cooking grate and wait for it to heat up. By the time your briquettes finish turning ashy white, you shouldn’t have any more tall, yellow flames. You want your flames to be low and blue or red; that means that your fire is burning hotter and more efficiently. You should be seeing only a small amount of clear-ish colored smoke from your briquettes. The hotter your fire burns, the cleaner the smoke will be. Remember, thick, black smoke is dirty smoke, and no one wants that in their food.

grill flare-up, grilling hamburgers, outdoor grill, outdoor cooking, campfire cooking, summer catered event in Utah, orange flame, smoke, charcoal grill After 10-15 minutes, check the temperature. To do the popular “hand test,” place your hand about four inches above your coals, approximately at the height where your food will be placed. (Don’t touch the grate, obviously.) See how long you can comfortably keep your hand there. If you can hold it there only 1 or 3 seconds, your grill is at a high cooking temp. 4 to 7 second means you’re at a medium heat, and 10 seconds or longer means you have a low temperature.

For grilling steaks, pork chops, burgers, or thin veggies you’ll want a high temperature. Medium heat is great for chicken, fish, or thickly-sliced veggies. For larger or tougher cuts like ribs or brisket, you’ll want to grill them at low heat for longer times.

If you need to decrease your heat, try cutting off some of the oxygen to your fire by partially or fully closing the grill’s air vents.

To turn up the heat, try increasing the airflow by opening the vents. Raking the coals or breaking your charcoal into smaller pieces will increase the surface area that can burn, which will also raise the heat. Just be careful not to knock ash onto your food. If those methods don’t work to increase the heat, you probably just need to add more fuel.

grill, trout, santa maria grill, outdoor event, summer party, catering in Utah, SLC caterers Don’t worry if you encounter some difficulties building your fire, creating your grill zones, and keeping their temperatures constant. Learning to master fuel and fire takes practice. But now that you’ve got the basics, it’s time to turn our attention to the food.

That, my friends, is the subject of our next grilling lesson! Stay tuned.

June 1, 2022

10 Tips for How to Make Any Space a Wedding Venue

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forest kiss, outdoor wedding, bride in the forest, Utah outdoor wedding, unique wedding venues, Culinary Crafts wedding, trees, gorgeous wedding photo, picturesque wedding, ivy covered trees As traditional wedding venues book up, many couples are converting ordinary spaces into exciting, unique places to get married. We’re seeing beautiful weddings staged beside a forest stream, in a rustic horse stable, or on top of a mountain! If you like the idea of doing something original, here are 10 tips for how to make practically any space into a magical, one-of-a-kind wedding venue.

1. Think Big

A museum or art gallery. The beach. An aquarium, aviary, or greenhouse. Any place that has special meaning to you as a couple may be a fantastic stage for a celebration that’s both personal and poignant. A favorite camp site or national park. A nightclub, ski resort, or skating rink. Even the gym where you met. Or maybe what represents you best is a Beatles-like concert on a rooftop or skeet shooting at your favorite hunting club. What we’re saying is, free your imagination. mountain wedding rocky mountain bride, lake, secluded, luxury, picturesque wedding, high end unique, waterfall, photos, pristine, outdoor wedding, unique Utah wedding destinations

2. Be Practical

As you dream big, bear in mind that when you create your own wedding venue, you’ll need to supply everything that a traditional venue would generally provide. That includes water, electricity, restrooms, transportation, parking, accessibility, permits…the list is longer than you think. But if you’re willing to work with your planner and address each aspect of the event thoughtfully, creating your own wedding venue can be pure magic! Salt Flat light, wedding on Utah Salt Flats, microwedding, micro-wedding, Utah outdoor wedding, wedding party on Salt Flats, white lights, night, draped lights, curtain of lights, special catering, catering events in Utah, outstanding events in Utah, picturesque wedding, Utah catered events

3. Prioritize

Assuming that you and your chosen one have agreed on your wedding priorities and budget (you have had that talk, right?), think about how well those priorities line up with the venue you have in mind. Are stunning photos at the top of your list of must-haves? Is your priority to make sure the whole clan can be there? To treat your guests to an amazing sit-down dinner and then party and dance the night away? Whatever your top priorities are, make sure the space you’ve chosen lends itself to those things. You may not be able to afford everything you dream, but you’ll get what’s most important to you if you prioritize. flower swing, the Hallows, wedding venue at Sundance Utah, couple in swing, swing of flowers, wedding in forest, bride on groom's lap, Culinary Crafts wedding, specialty wedding, unique wedding venue, married in the forest, trees, Utah outdoor weddings

4. Size Matters

If the space you’re considering is huge (like, say, a horse pasture, or the Bonneville Salt Flats), there are tricks to make a venue feel smaller and more intimate. However, if a space is too small to handle your guest count, there’s no way to fix that except to trim your list.

As a rough rule of thumb, for a seated dinner you’ll need about 12-14 square feet per guest, or 8-9 feet if you’re serving cocktail style with some people sitting and some standing. Add another 4-5 feet per guest if you want dancing. You’ll also need room for your caterer, a head table, cake table, bar, gift table, etc., but the measurements really depend on the particular venue. That’s why the eye of an experienced planner is crucial. Do a walkthrough together and make sure your space can handle everything you have in mind. forest table, wedding in the woods, forest wedding in Utah, table setting in forest, outdoors wedding venue in Utah, Utah County catered wedding, beautiful outdoor wedding, intimate outdoor event, candles, plates, glasses, trees, chairs, canopy, forest canopy

5. Amenities

At a minimum, you’ll need to provide the basics: food, water, electricity, and restrooms. (Nothing can turn a dream wedding into a nightmare faster than a problem with restrooms.) If the space you’ve chosen doesn’t already have restroom access—and enough access to avoid long lines—it’s worth hiring professionals. Electricity can be supplied by a generator, but remember that ordinary generators are way too loud; you’ll need a whisper generator or two. If your site doesn’t have clean water, you’ll have to pack in enough for drinking, washing, and on-site food prep. Consult your caterer about water, food, and beverage issues. grilling outdoors, flames at night, catering event in Utah, Utah outdoor wedding, Culinary Crafts chefs, cooking over open flame, bbq, barbeque cooking, firing a grill, wedding catering in Utah

6. Protect Your Guests from the Elements

If some of the festivities will be outside, you’ll need to protect your guests from too much sun, wind, rain, or other inclement weather—not to mention bugs. A tent, kata, yurt, or marquee are all good options, but make sure you know how they’ll be transported to the site, set up, and taken down.

In hot months, start dinner around 7:30 to avoid the heat of the day. But if you’re going to be in the mountains, move that start time up to around 4:30. Trees will provide enough shade, and the sun sets much sooner in the mountains, so temperatures drop quickly. couches, tent, lounge in the woods, sofas in the forest, comfortable wedding guests, wedding venues, outside wedding, forest wedding, children's tent, play camping, play campfire, relax at wedding, relaxing outdoor weddings, wedding guests relax, Culinary Crafts, catered weddings in Utah

7. View the Space Through Your Guests' Eyes

This is where creating your own wedding venue really starts to get fun!

Think of the celebration as distinct stages that move your guests from one event to the next throughout the night. What do you want them to feel and experience in each stage? Maybe as they arrive and mingle during cocktail hour, you want them to feel welcomed and relaxed. If so, what elements of your venue can contribute to that experience? A lounge vignette with comfortable sofas and a murmuring brook in the background? A fun display of memorabilia that shares your personal connection to the place? Whatever it is that you love about your chosen venue, find ways to weave it into your guests’ experience.

For each stage of the celebration, you want to provide your guests with at least one “WOW!” factor. A breathtaking view of a waterfall. The divine smells of a gorgeous floral setting. Mouthwatering BBQ. The heart-pumping beats of your favorite band. Engage all the senses! fairy lights, event tent, gauze tent, outdoor wedding in Utah, catering event tables, view of Utah mountains, outdoors wedding, unique wedding venue, beautiful outdoor wedding, outdoor catering in Utah

8. Lighting

There’s no better way to add beauty and mood to your venue than with the creative use of lighting. Uplights placed near walls or drapery can create a muted, open feel that makes a space seem larger. On the other hand, a canopy of bistro lights can make a space feel more intimate and enclosed. Candlelight is a sure-fire way to heighten the romantic mood, while fairy lights incorporated into your tablescape add a playful whimsy. Inexpensive and easy to transport, lights are a great way to create the right mood. dancing smile, wedding dancing, antlers chandelier, bride and groom dance, first dance, blue night sky, fairy lights, bistro lights, wedding in Utah, outdoor wedding venue in Utah, Wasatch Front wedding, catered wedding in Utah

9. Permits, Licenses, and Insurance

Before you finalize plans, ask yourself, “Do I need a permit for my wedding venue?” Depending on where you want to create your venue, there may be parking permits, fire permits, fireworks permits, or noise ordinances to deal with. A fire marshal may even need to do a walk-through prior to the event. Some cities require a special use permit for a wedding, and state parks generally do too. (Those park permits take time, so get started early!) If you’re planning to set up a tent or other temporary structure, some municipalities require a temporary building permit. An alcohol license may also be required if you’ll be serving any kind of alcohol.

Contact the city or county where you’re planning to host your event and find out what legal hoops you’ll have to jump through. It may also be worth looking into insurance for your event, especially if you are holding it in a museum or some other setting with a threat of significant property damage. outdoor wedding in Utah, Utah summer wedding, married outdoors, wedding by a river, trees, river, mountains, Utah mountain wedding, white sky, bride and groom walking by a river, hand in hand, love, picturesque, beautiful wedding moment, Utah catered events, bridal gown outdoors, bride in dress in Nature

10. Work with a Planner and Vendors

Creating a wedding venue of your own opens up all kinds of beautiful possibilities, but also lots of challenges. You probably don’t want to deal with every one of those issues on your own, so look at your budget and decide which worries are worth passing off to the pros. Here are a few vendors we recommend in the Wasatch Front area:

Our main advice here is that you work with an experienced wedding planner. A planner’s expertise can save you time, money, and trouble. Plus, your planner may have recommendation of local vendors who can greatly reduce the headaches of converting any space into a wedding venue.

March 29, 2019

The Top 15 places to eat lunch in Utah County

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Culinary Crafts headquarters is located in Pleasant Grove, so we are always looking for great places for lunch in Utah County. We polled Ryan, Kaleb, and our chefs to come up with this list of our 15 favorite lunch spots.
  • Pizzeria 712 - 320 State St #185, Orem, UT - This has been a Crafts family favorite since it opened. 712's approach shares many of our own philosophies and values regarding food - simple yet creative, ingredient driven, and house-made. Always delicious!
  • Asahi - 1470 N State St, Orem, UT - Great sushi at a great price. Conveniently located. We go here a lot!Image result for asahi orem
  • Tsunami Restaurant & Sushi Bar - 1616 W Traverse Parkway, Lehi, UT - Not only is the sushi fabulous, there are lots of delicious options to satisfy even the sushi averse, including an impressive sake list.Image result for tsunami sushi
  • Oteo - 139 S State St, Lindon, UT - Tacos, sopes, and empanadas after our own hearts! Innovative and trendy, yet still simple and without fuss. Don't miss the avocado tacos.
  • Black Sheep Cafe - 19 N University Ave, Provo, UT - Southwestern Native American cooking with full bar selections. Upscale and full service, but still casual. Ryan recommends the hog jowl tacos!Image result for black sheep provo
  • Cravings Bistro - 25 W Center St, Pleasant Grove, UT - A modern take on classic comfort dishes (grilled cheese and soup). It's impossible to pick the wrong sandwich, but if you're undecided opt for the ABC (apples, bacon, and cheddar). And it's just a few blocks away from our own office!Image result for cravings bistro
  • The Foundry Grill - 8841 N Alpine Loop Rd, Sundance, UT - Ryan spends a lot of time skiing the slopes at Sundance, and drops in here often for an elegant dinner of modern American cuisine. The Tree Room, and Owl Bar are excellent too!Image result for foundry grill
  • Peace On Earth - 35 N 300 W #200, Provo, UT - Let's be honest, it's not easy to find a great cup of Joe of Utah County. We're so happy to see more places like this coming to town. Great sandwiches and beautiful digs as well!DSC08314.jpeg
  • Taqueria 27 - 1688 W Traverse Pkwy, Lehi, UT - Great food at great prices. Fun for groups. Also featuring an array of specials updated daily.Image result for taqueria 27
  • 180 Tacos - 3368 N University Ave, Provo, UT - Too many taco places you say? There's no such thing! Great to dine in or take. The daily specials are always fun!Image result for 180 tacos
  • Bam Bams BBQ - 1708 State St, Orem, UT - Delicious Texas-style BBQ. And just like in Texas, the best thing is the brisket! Image result for bam bam's restaurant
  • Yamato - 1074 State St, Orem, UT - As much as we like to see new comers in our local restaurant scene, we're also ecstatic that places like Yamato stand the test of time. Excellent sushi as well as other classic Japanese dishes.Related image
  • CHOM Burger - 45 300 N, Provo, UT - Just because you've ditched fast food for good, doesn't mean you can't find a tasty burger out there. We love CHOM. And the milkshakes are killer too (especially the rotating seasonal selection)!
  • Sidecar Cafe - 1715 W 500 S, Springville, UT - In addition to the great breakfast and lunch menus, you can check out the Legend's Motorcycle Museum while you're there.
  • Straptank - 1750 West 596 South, Springville, UT - Across the parking lot from Sidecar, this brewery (yep, you read that right) features pub grub to satisfy all comers.
 

February 13, 2019

Ryan’s Valentine’s Day Menu

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Ryan is at it again, making a special night for his stunning wife. Perhaps this will offer some inspiration for your meal.  Apertif & Appetizer 14 Day Rose & Cherry Infused Valentine 75 Rose & Cherry cupcake Amuse American Ossetra caviar, french toast, creme fraiche, and buttermilk syrup Soup wild mushroom bisque with black garlic crouton and mascarpone Entree tuna, gooseberries, and shaved foie gras Entree chili pepper fried chicken with radish, kumquat and ginger salad Salad winter squash and citrus salad with shaved fennel, local greens, and sorrel rhubarb dressing Intermezzo pomegranate, grapefruit, and herb granita Dessert olive oil cake with poached pear, zabaglione, and warm granola Cheese and Honey local raw unfiltered honey and artisan cheese selections Chocolate flourless chocolate cake with dark chocolate ganache, and chocolate cookie crumble, finished with edible gold flake Wishing you a romantic and delicious Valentine's Day!

December 5, 2018

Badass Boards: Kaleb’s end grain cutting board

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An end grain cutting board is the Cadillac of cutting boards. Both functionally and aesthetically, they are tough to beat. Let's talk a little bit about why an end grain board is so special. Think of your cutting board like a paint brush with the wood grain being the bristles of the brush. Lay that paint brush horizontally, and you have a long grain cutting board. Your knife is going to rest on top of the bristles. Functional, but quite hard on your knife. Additionally, these are not quite as durable as an end grain board as scratches will add up over time and pieces of wood fiber can even eventually be dislodged.Image result for end grain vs edge grain Now take the paint brush and hold it vertically and you have an end grain cutting board. Your knife can slide easily into the bristles. In fact the bristles actually make a cushion for your knife. And after each cut the bristles or wood fibers can spring back into position. Scratches are less likely and less visible and the board itself much more durable.Image result for end grain vs edge grain So, if an end grain board is so much better, why don't we see them everywhere? The biggest reason is simply due to the additional work that is involved in making an end grain cutting board, which then makes them quite a bit more expensive. For a long grain board, you can simply glue strips of wood together and voila! Image result for edge grain However, to expose the end grain, you have to then take the completed board and cut it into strips, flip them on end and glue the whole thing back together before sanding for hours and hours to achieve a flat smooth board. So, if an end grain board is definitely the way to go...are all end grain boards created equal? Certainly not. The biggest thing to look for in selecting your new board is the type of wood. We don't want a soft wood or a wood that has an open or loose grain structure. We also don't want an overly oily wood. We are after a nice hardwood with a dense, closed grain pattern. But some woods have a VERY dense grain structure. So much so that even the end grain is still quite hard on your knives. Imagine our paint brush standing on end but being squeezed so tightly the knife still can't be cushioned because the bristles are so tight. Pine and cedar are cheap and easy to work with, but just too soft and open grained. Teak, ebony, bubinga, acacia, hickory and others will make a stunningly beautiful board, however they are just too densely grained. Cocobolo, goncalo alves, purpleheart and other tropical hardwoods are some of favorite woods for certain projects, but just too oily for a cutting board. My top choice for an end grain board is hard maple, often referred to as rock maple. This is the perfect balance of dense grain, that is hard and durable and actually still quite affordable. Now, some of the most beautiful boards out there combine different lumbers to create spectacular contrasting patterns, so a great choice for secondary woods could be walnut, oak, cherry, or others. I decided to make these for my holiday gifts. They were a lot of work but totally worth it! Check out what I have been up to all year!  
Tips for care of your end grain board
  • Utah air is awfully dry and cause wood boards to split and crack. Conditioning the wood will prevent cracking and keep it looking beautiful. A good rule of thumb for treating a new board is to oil once a day for a week, once a week for a month, once a month for a year, and once a year for life. You should also treat wood after washing with heavy soap or anytime the wood looks dry.
  • There are various conditioning oils, creams, waxes and blends available specifically for wood boards. However, the simplest solution is as good as any: mineral oil. Avoid vegetable oils and any others that aren't perpetually stables since they will eventually go rancid and make your board stink.
  • Keep your cutting board on the counter top where it can breath. Avoid storage in places where airflow is stifled and where moisture can get trapped.
  • Always wash your board by hand with soft materials. Only use soap when necessary. Never wash in the dishwasher, and never leave the board to to soak submerged.
Update: You can now purchase one of these amazing boards here!

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