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 Wayfair.com.au.

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 Tupperware.com.au, or if you don’t want to do dishes, opt for eco-friendly disposables like those offered by Biome, available at Biome.com. 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!

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.

Drinks

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…

Great Non-BBQ Dishes that go Great with Barbecue

Lamb-Kebabs-with-Greek-SaladEveryone likes an all-meat feast from time to time, but a true barbecue experience entails much more. After all, what would a barbecue be without potato salad or a special side dish to balance out the salty flavor? Juicy steaks are great but other non-BBQ dishes are just as essential for creating a comprehensive experience for all of your guests. And since there are more people with dietary concerns or special requirements than ever, non-BBQ dishes provide a perfect opportunity to satisfy vegetarians or picky eaters. They turn a one dimensional barbecue meal into a comprehensive dining experience in the great outdoors. Expanding your routine also allows you to exercise your culinary muscles while showing off exactly what you can do. Here is a selection of delicious non-BBQ foods that you might want to incorporate into your next barbecue party.

Lasagna – it’s no wonder why Garfield loves this dish so much. It goes great on its own, but it also complements barbecue meals perfectly. Loaded with cheese and just the right amount of pasta in between, you get a dish that goes well with anything from steak to chicken. You can go to any Italian restaurant and chances are they have lasagna and BBQ chicken as an option, so why not put it together in your own backyard? It’s also incredibly easy to make and you can prepare it well before you light up your grill.

Fresh Baked Bread – you don’t necessarily have to bake the bread yourself since any local bakery can handle the job nicely. Just make sure that you get it as fresh as possible, and it’s not necessary to settle for one kind either. There are wonderful breads that go well with barbecue meals ranging from cornbread to sourdough. And don’t discount traditional fresh baked bread either because there’s nothing wrong with going back to basics.

Greek Salad – some salads always make an appearance at your barbecue dinner table and these include potato salad, garden salad, or even coleslaw. Why not add a bit of delicious feta cheese into the mix with a traditional Greek salad? This type of salad is extremely easy to prepare and it’s loaded with healthy goodies and abundant flavor. Best of all, you don’t have to be an expert chef to chop up your selection of vegetables and put them into a single bowl. Of course the main attraction is the Feta cheese so make sure you get it nice and fresh.

Rice Pilaf – Rice pilaf helps to balance out salty flavors and cleanse the palate a little bit. You can even make it a bit on the bland side on purpose if you’re serving heavier meats loaded with barbecue sauce. The combination of vegetables and firm rice provides a distinct type of texture that goes well with your barbecue meal.

Curry – if you want to add a bit of multicultural flair to your barbecue meal, then you can always explore the world of curry. It’s extremely easy to prepare and makes use of meat and vegetable in incredible ways. Curry also tastes great over white rice or you can add a whole new dynamic by using traditional Jasmine Rice. You can even go with and all-vegetable curry to offer your vegetarian guests a great dish. Or you can go with a chicken or beef curry which will be just as popular as anything that comes off your grill.

In the end, the possibilities are truly endless and you should always be looking to revitalize your barbecue routine. Never let things get stale because a predictable menu is something you want to avoid. Go ahead and try new things because even if they don’t turn out to be popular favorites, you always have your barbecue food as backup. And when things go well, people will simply marvel at your creativity and imagination while acknowledging you are the perfect barbecue host.

These meal ideas come to us from gasgrillsandbbq.com where barbecue comes before anything else. You can check them out if you need to upgrade your traditional charcoal grill with a wide selection of modern gas grills that will blow you away.

Save Money by Sticking to Kitchen Basics

All Clad Stainless Starter Cookware SetYou have probably seen more than your fair share of kitchen gadgets heralded in print, commercial and in-store display advertisements. They are marketed to save you time and effort, but make no mistake — their main focus is to get you to spend money. While some cooks undoubtedly benefit from the occasional gadget, most kitchens need only a few basic instruments to produce a variety of delicious meals. Some gadgets will save you time in the kitchen while others merely take up counter or cabinet space. Investing in the bare necessities allows you to make a realistic assessment of which extras would benefit your kitchen workspace.

Pots and Pans

You may be surprised at how few pots and pans are necessary. Many manufacturers bundle several sizes into a single package, but Real Simple Magazine suggests that you can get away with just a stockpot, sauté pan, and saucepan. Make sure that your pots and pans each have a lid, so you can use them for various cooking applications. Selecting heavy-duty materials, such as stainless steel and cast iron allow you to start a meal on the stove and finish it in the oven without dirtying another dish. A 9×13 pan is suitable for baked goods, casseroles and more.

Utilitarian Utensils

One good knife is all you really need. While several specialty knives exist, a high-quality chef’s knife or santoku will easily handle all of your chopping, peeling, slicing and dicing. To properly care for your knife, you should have a steel in your kitchen inventory. This video illustrates how honing a blade with a steel improves blade performance. A cutting board is also a necessity, to save countertops from damage.

Other extremely versatile kitchen utensils include tongs, wooden spoons and whisks. Spatula is a word that describes several types of cooking and baking instruments, two of which should be represented in a basic kitchen. A rubber spatula is useful for scraping down the sides of a bowl or jar. A turner is a spatula that literally turns food over in the pan. It is used for pancakes, hamburgers and more.

Great Gadgetry

People use several gadgets much more frequently than other tools. For instance, families that eat plenty of pasta may wish to find a suitable colander for straining boiling water from prepared noodles. If your family prefers to eat Asian food, a rice cooker may be invaluable. Vegetable peelers, box graters, can openers and food processors are among the most popular kitchen gadgets. Though a knife can do each of these jobs, they make the process much quicker. If you plan to use recipes in the kitchen, you will have to use instruments for precise portioning such as measuring spoons and measuring cups. Electric mixers, pastry brushes and rolling pins are very popular among people who bake.

Billeater offers tips and advice to anyone looking to save money on bills, cost of living, and small business expenses.