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August 10, 2022

Top Tips for How to Involve Pets in Your Wedding

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We love the growing trend—especially among millennials—of making pets part of the wedding celebration. After all, weddings are a time to be with family and loved ones, those who bring you joy and smiles, right? For those of us whose pets are bona fide members of the family, it doesn’t seem fair to leave them out of the big day just because they might drool a little and beg for scritches. At the same time, if you’re going to bring a pet, you need to keep your guests (furry and otherwise) comfortable and safe. Here are our top tips for how to involve pets in your wedding celebration.

Check the Rules

Before you sign with your venue, find out whether they allow animals. If they do, ask about any extra fees or rules for pets, as well as accommodations they can make for your four-legged friend. Can you bring your pet to familiarize her with the venue prior to the event? Is there a small space to the side where she can be taken if she gets tired, thirsty, or overstimulated?

Also, ask your planner or caterer about any state, county, or municipal laws regarding animals at social events. In Utah, for example, pets are banned from public common eating areas, but there are workarounds. With a bit of planning, you can avoid any health or safety concerns.

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Assess Your Pet

As much as we love them, some pets don’t do well in the excitement and bustle of a wedding. A crowd of strangers, a new environment, a lot of noise and heat and waiting around on a leash…for some animals, weddings are a nightmare! Don’t put your pet (or yourself) through anything she can’t handle.

Determine Your Pet’s Participation

If your fur baby isn’t up for a full day of socializing, there may be other meaningful ways she can take part in the fun. Including pets in pictures is a great idea; you’ll always treasure those precious mementos. Depending on your pet’s temperament, you may also want to let her walk down the aisle or make her your ring-bunny, flower kitty, or mutt of honor. If attending the ceremony is too much to ask of your animal companion, consider other ways to make her presence felt. We’ve seen adorable likenesses of a beloved pet represented on save-the-date cards, signage, napkins, Chasing Tail beer cozies, party favors, and even the cake!

Receptions, though, are a different matter. The noise, congestion, and distractions of the reception are too much for any but the best-behaved pets.

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Give a Heads Up

It’s important to give your guests fair warning that there will be a pet on the premises. Some guests may need to plan in advance in order to deal with allergies or fears of animals.

If you’re going to want pictures of your pet at the wedding, make sure you communicate that to your photographer and videographer well in advance. (It’s a good idea to ask whether they’ve worked with animals before and how they plan to get the kinds of shots you’re looking for.) Don’t forget to warn your florist too, since certain flowers, plants, and pesticides are toxic to pets.

Arrange for a Handler

Do not make the mistake of imagining that you can personally take care of your pet at your own wedding. Trust us: you will have way too much going on to be able to give your four-footed friend the attention she will need. Arrange with someone you and your pet trusts to watch her throughout the event. Provide your handler with clear instructions as well as any supplies or treats your pet may need. If your little darling will be there for more than a couple of hours, it might be considerate to trade off the handling duties between more than one guest. Just make sure that there’s never any uncertainty about who is responsible for your furry guest.

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Prep Your Pet

If your venue allows it, take time to visit the site ahead of time with your pet. It’s especially helpful for dogs to get a chance to sniff around and get comfortable in the new place. If your pet will be playing a role in the ceremonies, give her and her handlers a chance to practice. The more you can reduce anxiety and distractions by planning ahead, the better for everyone. This includes introducing your pet to any other animals that are invited to the event. Be sure to let your pet time get accustomed to any special wedding attire (decorative collar, tuxedo, tutu, etc.) you may want her to wear.

And speaking of prepping your pet, make sure you’ve left yourself time for any washing and grooming your little diva will need to be looking and smelling her best.

Anticipate Hazards

Weddings were not designed with pets in mind, so think about any potential threats to your furry and non-furry guests. For example, some wedding foods are unhealthy or even toxic for animals: alcohol, chocolate, fried foods, fatty foods, meat with bones, coffee, grapes, and ice cream, to name a few. Make sure no well-meaning guest has a chance to poison your pet! Before the dining starts, it’s probably best to send her home—the pet, we mean, not the well-meaning guest.

Assess how your pet is likely to handle the attention of rambunctious children and adoring guests. Even animals who love to be petted may have their limits.

We mentioned that some flowers are toxic to animals. Lilies, for example, can be lethal to both cats and dogs. Daffodils and azaleas are also no-nos.

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Be Ready with Plan B

Pets can be unpredictable, especially in new situations. Make sure you and your handler(s) know what to do if your pet suddenly turns sick, gets scared, or refuses to cooperate. Will someone be ready to pull them aside or take them home?

No matter how much you plan and prepare, animals will be animals. But isn’t that why we love them?

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July 26, 2022

Recipe of the Month: Sous Vide Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce

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Whether you’re already an experienced sous vide chef or you’re ready to try out your brand new sous vide superpowers for the first time, here’s a fantastic recipe for you to try: Sous Vide Eggs Benedict with Hollandaise Sauce.

On one level, eggs Benedict is a super easy dish. Put Canadian bacon on a toasted English muffin, top it with a poached egg, drizzle it with Hollandaise sauce, and you’re golden! But every chef knows that it’s not that easy. With traditional poaching methods, it’s tricky to get eggs with the right combination of smooth, firm whites and creamy yolks. Hollandaise is even trickier; if you use too little heat, the sauce won’t thicken, but if you use too much, it will “break” and leave you with a goopy mess. Making eggs Benedict may be simple, but making it right has always been notoriously difficult.

Until now.

With a sous vide immersion circulator, you’re guaranteed perfect eggs and fantastic Hollandaise sauce every time!

Ingredients for Hollandaise Sauce (makes four generous servings)

  • 85 grams egg yolk (approximately 5 large egg yolks)
  • 40 grams champagne vinegar
  • 25 grams shallots, minced
  • 60 grams water
  • 20 grams lemon juice
  • 3 grams salt
  • 150 grams butter

Instructions for Hollandaise Sauce

  1. Fill a pot or other heat-resistant container with at least four inches of water. Attach your immersion blender and set it to preheat your water bath to 167°F.
  2. Heat vinegar and shallots in a small saucepan until you’ve reduced liquid by half.
  3. Strain to remove shallots. Save the remaining liquid reduction.
  4. Brown the butter.

    Pro Tip: “Brown butter” is butter that has been heated just enough that its milk solids have turned brown. For a demonstration of how to brown butter, see here. With its nutty flavor and fantastic smell, brown butter is a chef's favorite little secret. You can make countless good recipes even better just be substituting it for regular butter! Try it over pancakes, in chocolate chip cookies, or in just about any recipe that calls for a butter-based sauce.

  5. Pour the brown butter, yolk, water, lemon juice, vinegar reduction, and salt into a ziplock bag. (No need to vacuum seal this bad boy!)
  6. When water bath has reached 167°, lower the bag into the water until the ingredients are submerged but the top of the bag is above water. Attach the top of the bag to the side of the container with a binder clip to hold it in place. Don’t let any water get into the bag. Leave the bag in the sous vide water for 30 minutes.
  7. Pour the contents of the bag into a blender and blend until smooth. This step ensures that the sauce will be silky smooth.

Ingredients for Eggs Benedict (makes four servings)

  • 2 English muffins, halved
  • 4 slices Canadian bacon (you can substitute thick-cut ham, steak, prosciutto, crab, or a protein of your choice)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 T chopped chives or parsley
  • Hollandaise sauce (from recipe above)

Instructions for Eggs Benedict

  1. Pour at least four inches of water into a pot or heat-resistant container. Attach your sous vide immersion circulator to the container and set its temperature to 167°F. (Since the eggs and Hollandaise sauce cook at the same temperature, you can prepare them simultaneously in the same water bath.)
  2. When the water bath is at 167°, carefully place four large eggs into the bath. Leave them for 12 minutes, then remove them carefully with a slotted spoon and place them in a dish of ice water.

    Pro Tip: The best method we’ve found for “poaching” eggs is the sous vide method used by America’s Test Kitchen: you can find step-by-step instructions here. It’s not really poaching, of course, because the eggs are cooked inside the shell, but it’s simple, foolproof, and guaranteed to give eggs exactly the texture we want.

    This approach cooks the eggs at 167° for 12 minutes, which is much hotter than most eggs Benedict recipes recommend. Trust us, by cooking at a higher temp for a shorter time you’ll give the whites the perfect firmness without overcooking the yolks. Usually when you cook sous vide you set the temperature to exactly what you want and leave it—it’s practically impossible to overcook. But setting your temp to 167° means that you’ll need to pay attention and take the eggs out at 12 minutes or else they will overcook.

  3. Fry your bacon in a pan over medium low heat. Carefully remove the bacon and set it on a paper towel to absorb excess grease. Scrape the pan clean, but leave a little bacon grease in the pan.
  4. Toast the muffins in the pan, allowing them to soak up some of that blessed bacon goodness!
  5. Assemble by placing your bacon on the muffins, carefully cracking your eggs and placing them on the bacon, and topping the whole glorious thing with your Hollandaise sauce and a sprinkle of chives or parsley.
  6. Serve up your sous vide eggs Benedict and amaze your family and friends with your sous vide ninja skills!

Enjoy, and eat well.

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.

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      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.

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