Family Dinners: Tips for a Fun and Flawless Outdoor Eating Experience


Family on vacation eating outdoors
There’s nothing better on a summer day than sitting at a table in the backyard, watching the kids play and relaxing with a cold drink — except maybe having a fantastic family dinner at that same table first. All it takes to create these fabulous family memories is a little bit of preparation followed by lots of relaxation.

A Firm Foundation

You’ll need an outdoor dining table with comfortable chairs. Outdoor seat cushions can make just about any outdoor chair comfortable, and will last quite a long time if you store them indoors between uses. Find and use a sturdy umbrella to protect you from the sun and prevent annoying glare as the sun sets. Cantilever umbrellas are ideal, since they don’t break up the table and can easily be adjusted as the sun moves. Wayfair offers a wide variety of umbrellas and bases starting around $160. Available at

Set the Scene

Will you still be sitting outside when the sun goes down? If so, how will you light the area? For some families, flood lights that are already in place will suffice. Others like to use twinkle lights or candles in lanterns or mason jars to give softer light.

Placemats are a great way to both add color and save you work. Rather than aggressively cleaning a table that won’t stay clean (it is outdoors after all), you can just wipe it down and throw the placemats in the wash after the meal. Cloth napkins are also easy to clean and use. Plus they’re heavy enough that they won’t blow away with the first hint of a breeze, sending you chasing them across the yard while your meal goes cold. Cloth napkins are also environmentally friendly and you won’t run out of them when you least expect it.

Set the Table

Choose sturdy, reusable plates like Tupperware’s Fiesta line from, or if you don’t want to do dishes, opt for eco-friendly disposables like those offered by Biome, available at Invest in a large, well-made tray with comfortable handles and a lip all the way around to transport dishes, silverware, food, and drink from inside to outside and back again at the end of the night. You’ll also want to cover food either by serving from lidded dishes or covering with a tea towel or dish cover. This will help keep the food fresh at the right temperature, and keep any flying pests away.

Don’t Overdo It

Remember, you’ll be transporting food from the house to your outdoor eating area, so don’t add stress by cooking overly elaborate dishes that require constant attention. Save the souffles and the duck confit for another occasion and choose a meal that won’t drive you crazy. After all, you’re meant to enjoy the experience too. Perfection – at least in this case – isn’t about a perfectly plated meal, it’s about enjoying your surroundings and your loved ones. So don’t worry if the serving plates don’t match. If the food makes it out to the table, onto the plates and into bellies, all is well.

Sit Back and Enjoy

You’ve done it! Food is on the table, music is streaming through a portable bluetooth speaker, and everyone’s having a jolly good time. All that’s left to do is serve dessert… oh, and don’t be afraid to let someone else do the dishes. Enjoy!

7 Gadget Gifts for the High-Tech Chef

gadgetsSince the first wooden spoon allowed a cave man to stir his stew without burning his arm, humans have been on a quest to make shinier, faster and better kitchen gadgets. If you have a high-tech chef on your list this holiday season, take a look at these seven gadgets that are perfectly priced to fit almost any budget.

Salter Stainless Steel Electronic Scale ($100-$150)

Named the number one must-have gadget for home cooks in 2013, by Fox News, this kitchen scale will let you tackle recipes with new accuracy. Because most European recipes are written with weight measurements instead of volume measurements, this gadget is just what your high-tech chef needs to tackle recipes from all parts of the globe. The stainless steel design makes it the perfect addition to any modern kitchen.

Cuisinart SG-10 Spice and Nut Grinder ($60)

The innovation behind a spice grinder is not new, but this essential gadget is often sadly overlooked in favor of more novel items. By freshly grinding and toasting your spices instead of buying them already ground, you add incredible flavor and dimension to your dish. Although you can grind spices with a mortar and pestle, consider buying your high-tech chef a little electronic grinder like the Cuisinart.

Food Network App (Free)

Your high-tech chef is more likely to have an iPad propped up on his countertop than a cookbook, and the Food Network in the Kitchen app is just what he needs on his device. With recipes from all of the stars on the Food Network, this app also lets high-tech chefs store notes about which substitutions they like for each recipe they use. When it’s time to approach a new tactic, the app provides links to countless instruction videos, according to Food

Magic Bullet ($60-$160)

Able to mince, dice and blend anything in a matter of seconds, the Magic Bullet is an express blender that shot to fame through infomercials. Its popularity means that it’s now stocked in stores like Macy’s where shoppers can choose between several different sizes of Magic Bullets at great prices, especially on Black Friday. Perfect for the chef who wants to make anything from icy summer cocktails to healthy green smoothies and flavorful pureed soups, the Magic Bullet is a must-have for the high-tech chef.

Jaccard Simply Better Pro 45 Meat Tenderizer ($20-30)

It’s time for your high-tech chef to put down his boring mallet and grab a Jaccard meat tenderizer. Perfect for even the most expensive cuts of meat, this meat tenderizer promises to make cheaper cuts of meat taste tender and flavorful. The 45 stainless steel blades on this tenderizer work with more accuracy than a mallet, and your meat will cook faster and absorb sauces better after a round with this tenderizer.

Omega Nutrition Center Juicer ($300-$430)

In most cases, your high-tech chef will want presents to make cooking and chopping faster, but the Omega juicer does just the opposite. By slowing squeezing fruit instead of quickly grinding it, this juicer preserves necessary nutrients and enzymes. The slow squeezing process also slows the effects of oxidation, which means that you can enjoy your juice for up to 72 hours after it has been made.

Robot Coupe Combination Processors: Bowl Cutter and Vegetable Prep ($400+)

In professional kitchens all over the world, food processors are all referred to as Robot Coupes, and now, the company whose brand is synonymous with the food processor has come out with a combination processor. The Robot Coupe combination processor can grate, slice, dice or julienne whatever your chef needs. Whether your high-tech chef is making a puree, a fruit compote or a batch of mayo, this is the gadget for the job.

Aluminum Cookware: Know the Risks

You may have heard about the risks linked to using aluminum cookware before, or perhaps you are reading about it for the first time. The debate has been open for some time now, with opposing views on either side of the fence. Whether you use aluminum pots and pans or not, it is worth knowing what all the fuss is about.

Health Concerns

Aluminum is widely regarded as a metal that provides no benefit whatsoever for the human body. The body has no use for it, so it will only be removed and excreted if it enters into the body through food or any other source. It can enter the body in many different ways, from certain medications, deodorant aerosols, lipsticks, talcum powder, and all sorts of other products.

High levels of aluminum in the human body are toxic and dangerous. It competes with calcium Cuisinart Multiclad Triply 12 Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Setfor absorption, so high levels of aluminum in the body can result in reduced skeletal mineralization, which can be extremely degenerative for infants. There has also been studies conducted that aluminum can be a contributing factor to Alzheimer’s disease, however the evidence for this is inconclusive.

Some people are allergic to aluminum, and ingesting it could mean they develop a skin rash, also known as contact dermatitis. Other dangers posed by aluminum toxicity include liver disease, stomach and intestinal ulcers, skin problems, and heartburn, among others.

Avoid Acidic and Basic Foods

One of the main concerns of using aluminum cookware comes from the types of foods that they are used to cook or prepare. While trace amounts of aluminum will be found in all food that is cooked in aluminum cookware, there are a couple types of food that pose a significantly bigger risk for increased aluminum consumption. Acidic foods, like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and vinegar, should not be cooked or stored in aluminum cookware because some aluminum will dissolve into the food. In addition, foods that already contain aluminum, basic foods like table salt, self-rising flour, and baking powder, will end up having an even higher aluminum content if cooked in aluminum cookware.

Another problem with aluminum pots and pans is that they can melt if they are left empty and heated up to a high temperature. Aluminum is a soft metal, so heating them up too high means they will become more malleable and the process of aluminum leaching into foods will happen faster.

Alternatives to Aluminum

Go through your kitchen as see how many of your utensils are made from aluminum, and see what you can do without. For those pots and pans that you need to replace, don’t worry. The good news is that if you have decided to sell all your old aluminum cookware for scrap metal, there are some much safer alternatives. Cast iron cookware is a great alternative, and some chefs regard cast iron as the best material for cookware. Sure, it is heavy, it needs to be kept seasoned, and needs more general looking after than something like stainless steel. However, a well-seasoned cast iron pan will perform just as well as any of the fancy non-stick pans out there on the market. Stainless steel cookware is also a better alternative to aluminum, and it is lighter and easy to look after than cast iron. However, aluminum is used to bond the layers of stainless steel together, so it can still enter food cooked in stainless steel cookware.

Other alternatives include copper cookware, but they rely on their tin or steel lining, and once this has gone they must not be used for cooking again. Ceramic cookware is also an option, but make sure it is of good quality and has been made especially for cooking, as the glaze contains lead, and if this migrates into food it can be very dangerous. New anodized aluminum pots do not have to be avoided. They are much better than the older non-anodized ones because the anodizing process stops the aluminum from leaching out of the pan and into the food while it is being cooked.

Whichever You Choose, Look After It!

The most important thing you can do no matter what type of cookware you choose to use is to keep scrupulously clean, and avoid using harsh cleaners or scouring pads. These will degrade the protective layers that most cookware has, and also scratch small grooves into its surface which can become a haven for bacteria to grow. When your cookware starts looking a bit old and used, get replacements as soon as you can.


Organising a Party

CannapesWe all want our parties to be a hit and to have our friends to be much talked about by our family, colleagues and friends. So if you really want  your party to be a hit, it`s all in the planning. It doesn’t matter whether you are planning to hold a small soirée of four close friends or a corporate event with 200 people, what you serve, how it looks and the entertainment are all integral to the success of the party. For medium to large parties it`s important to follow catering standards for food servings so that you are sure that everyone will have enough to eat.

Budget for Your Party

So the very first thing you need to do before you start any planning is to work out exactly how much money you have to spend on the party. This will dictate how much you can have available to allocate to each aspect and will avoid a situation where you have spent everything on food and have nothing left over for entertainment. Once you have worked out what you have, decide how much you need to allocate to food, how much on drink, entertainment, decorations and so on.

Catering is the most important consideration however many people you have. Obviously, on a small scale it`s fairly easy as you can do the food yourself. If the numbers are over 20-30 it may be worthwhile giving consideration to hiring a caterer. There are a number of things that you need to consider when checking the dietary requirements of your guests, such as how many vegans, vegetarians or pescatarians are attending. Also check whether anyone attending has any food allergies or intolerance’s. For those people who usually find eating out difficult due to a lack of choice, the fact that you have catered for them will certainly make them think of you as a considerate hostess and your party will be deemed to be a success right from the outset.

Calculating the Catering

For medium to large scale catering there is a ‘rule of thumb`when it comes to assessing how much to serve. It will depend on what you are serving and when. For an afternoon through till evening event, you will need pre-dinner appetisers, a main meal and more appetisers for later in the evening. The rule of thumb here is to serve 3-5 pieces per person both before and after dinner.

For an evening shindig which has no dinner you should expect guests to eat around 10-15 pieces person. If you are serving a sit down meal then expect diners to eat around 150 grams of meat or fish per person along with vegetables, potatoes and salad. Add bulk items such as bread to ensure you have enough food.

Buffet Ideas

A sit down meal tends to cost more than a buffet so provided it fits with the event this is a wise choice. Ideas for buffets/finger food are vast and can be easily adapted for the party. A simple buffet composed of British fare; sandwiches, quiche, cake and so on is very popular with a traditional crowd. For younger and more cosmopolitan people why not try something more adventurous generally food with an Asian flavour will go down well Chinese and Indian dishes also work well as finger foods and the options are endless; spring rolls, samosas, spare ribs, schezuan chicken, poppadoms and so on. Other international cuisine ideas include Spanish tapas, Mexican food, Greek mezze or Japanese Sushi. Finger food can also be successfully included in a more elegant party; smoked salmon, hors d`oeuvre and caviar are all well received buffet options.

Try to keep a buffet varied by way of hot and cold options and food colour. Also ensure there is a good mix of carbohydrates, proteins, vegetables and dessert.


Beverages are just as important as food and you need to have all your bases covered. Just because it`s an evening party, doesn’t mean everyone will drink alcohol so have plenty of soft drinks to serve. For daytime events most people would rather have a tea or coffee so be sure to have the equipment you need to serve these on a large scale if necessary. As a rule of thumb for drinks assume that the average coffee drinker will drink a cup every 1.3 hours, and often more in the mornin. If there are many guests then you may need industrial tea and coffee making equipment to keep up with demand. With alcohol the general rule is about one drink per hour per person.

Entertainment is very important if you want attendees to make your party memorable and and stand out from other parties. For small parties a good choice of music will suffice, but for larger, perhaps corporate events, you might want to think outside the box with a magicians, bands, cabaret or maybe even a bit of burlesque, and a good DJ can really get the place jumping in no time at all.

Parties are all about having fun, but if you are the one planning it, it can often feel like anything but. But a successful party is all in the planning and as long as you have everything in hand long before the event then it should all run smoothly. Following industry rules of thumb on catering will help ensure you neither buy too much or too little food. Making sure you have equipment to help you such as a suitable coffee machine or a tested sound system, will help avoid any hiccups on the day. Once you have your perfect event planned, it`s time to get the party started…

Why Eat Brown Rice?


The Many Benefits of Brown Rice


riceSome people can’t go without rice when they eat. Rice can be a good source of carbohydrates and other nutrients but did you know that you could have different options when eating your rice so you can get more health and nutritional benefits?

Rice comes in two types, the processed white rice and the unprocessed brown rice. Most people prefer the white rice because it is more tasty and delicious but if you want to get more nutritional benefits, then you must try the brown rice. So why does brown rice offer the most health benefits? Brown rice is processed in such a way that the outer part called the hull is not removed. This outer layer is rich in proteins, fatty acids and other vitamins and minerals, which can help prevent heart diseases like high blood. Thus, removing this layer from the processed white rice lessened its nutritional benefits by 45%.

We have always known….

Brown rice offers a lot of other health benefits which include:

1.   Brown rice is rich in iron and fatty acids, which helps boost our body’s immune system. It also helps fight the free radicals in our body, which can help prevent cancer and improve cardiovascular health.

2.   It is also rich in fiber, which promotes good digestive system, and helps lower cholesterol and sugar level.

3.   Brown rice also contains antioxidants, which helps flushes out the bad toxins from our body. Antioxidants also helps increase a body’s energy, promotes healthy and glowing skin, improves our body’s disease fighting mechanism and prevents deadly diseases like cancer.

4.   Brown rice is also recommended for those who want to lose weight as it helps balance the fat in your body.

 New research on rice today…

1.  The current guidelines from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in the US describes grains, especially rice as a primary source of carbohydrates. Yet, there is so much more to rice. New scientific evidence on the benefits of rice all around, including brown rice, is proving once again that having a regular diet of rice is really good for us.

2.  Brown rice keeps your blood pressure healthy. Part of the tissue around the grains in the brown rice actually protects you from the protein called Angiotensin II which is contributes to high blood pressure. Brown rice eliminates this bad protein from your blood.

3.  Brown rice keeps your sugars balanced. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have discovered that brown rice lowers type 2 diabetes by 36% and white rice lowers the chances of developing diabetes by 16%

4.  White rice soothes your muscles. The outer husk of the rice grain, suppresses the release of histamine and as a result eliminates inflammation.

5.  Brown rice helps nerves thrive. There is a part of the rice see that becomes active when rice is placed in water, and which reduces any risk to nerves and vascular functioning.

6.  Black rice promotes energy and skin health. Black rice has more antioxidants than you can get from a handful of blueberries, and more fibre and vitamin E as well.

In all, it is nutty, sweet and versatile, always enjoyable in flavor but also nutritious and an important contributor to maintaining your health. Why? It is super rich in complex carbohydrates, that we knew, but now we also know rice is packed with vitamins and minerals; niacin, folate, vitamin E and potassium, antioxidants, dietary fibre and phytonutrients. Best of all, it pairs with just about anything you like, vegetables, fruits, meat or seafood.

Did you know there is more?

1.  Research that studied women who ate a regular diet of brown rice, over 12 years of their live were slimmer, did not gain extra weight and reported feeling healthier than other women.

2.  Rice is the least allergenic of the cereal grains, tolerated by children, and people with digestive difficulties or sensitivities.

3.  The type of B vitamins that are plentiful in brown rice feed and enrich the nervous system.

4.  Brown rice and black rice have been found to relieve depression.

5.  Brown rice is a good natural remedy for nausea, diarrhea and diabetes.

6.  Brown rice does not contain gluten; the absolute best benefit in today’s world of unhealthy diets of overly processed food and gluten rich grains. In fact, gluten has been found to worsen attention and behavior difficulties in children, and to make regulating blood sugar much harder.

7.  Finally, a recent study by researchers at the RIKEN Plant Science Center showed that the giant nutritional impact of rice is directed by the metabolites in the rice. 131 of them, including amino acids, lipids and flavonoids

Because of these many health benefits, brown rice is readily available now in the market. They are very easy to prepare as some can be cooked in just 90 seconds using a microwave oven or the bag of rice can be dropped straight to a boiling pan and will be ready in 10 minutes.

Your weekly meal planning with rice…

Rice can be a perfect complement to any meal and what a better way to enjoy your meal than with your nutritious brown rice. Here are some ways to enjoy very easy dinners that will provide you with all the health benefits of rice.

1. Meatloaf, corn and rice.

2. Chicken, brown rice, peas and sweet potatoes

3. Risotto with brown rice

4. Chili with rice

5. Stir-fry with rice

There is no end of creative options, especially given the newer varieties of rice either. Imagine an aromatic, soft-cooking, long grain rice, a jasmine-style rice, and charleston gold rice. Remarkably these rice products and other varieties are grown in more than 75 percent of the rice acreage in the US. This makes buying rice simple; as easy as it is to cook rice.

Prepare your brown rice perfectly by soaking it before cooking, cooking it in boiling water and letting it simmer for almost an hour. Serve immediately and by eating just two meals with brown or white rice each week, you live healthier. If you add foods with buckwheat, oats, wheat berries, and millet your body will celebrate the high fiber content and little fat. Then there is quinoa, another whole grain but it is also high in protein and fiber; making you feel full and satisfied. Combine any of these with fish or broccoli and sweet potatoes, a couple of times a week, and you will be giving your body the best of the “super foods” on a regular basis. Now, that’s heart smart.