Archives for May 2013

Butcher Block Countertops – How to choose the right one for your kitchen.

Butcher Block Countertops – How to choose the right one for your kitchen.

Perhaps this summer you’re considering a kitchen remodel and upgrading your kitchen countertops or island top.  There are a number of different countertop materials to choose from, each with its own unique benefit. Butcher block countertops are timeless, having been around for generations and remaining extremely popular today.  Many people migrate to the natural wood grain of butcher block because it fits any kitchen décor style, be it traditional, contemporary, or eclectic.  Butcher block is often chosen for kitchen island tops because of its durability and versatility, doubling as both a chopping surface and serving table. Choosing  butcher block countertops can be daunting and involves a significant investment.  But here are some considerations to help make the process easy! 

Perfect butcher block countertops fit your kitchen décor, your space, and your budget. 

Think about how light/dark and cool/warm you want your kitchen to look.

  • Hard Rock Maple is very light in color and uniform in appearance.  It can help brighten a kitchen and make it feel light, airy and cool.
  • Red Oak is of medium tone, with a golden, red tint.  It falls in the middle of the wood species selection with regard to light/dark or warm/cool.
  • American Cherry has a warm, red tint and can add both color and warmth to a kitchen.
  • Black Walnut is naturally a chocolate brown color, and can help darken a kitchen or visually warm a kitchen with its rich tone.
You can match, or you can complement other wood grain in your kitchen.
  • Matching the color of an existing wood can be difficult since many woods darken with age.  But matching a species and a grain pattern is much easier.  If you have Maple cabinets now, you can consider Maple countertops as a nice match.
  • Often it is more interesting to mix and match woods.   Differences in textures and colors, in moderation, can work nicely together.  It is easy to complement woods, especially when they are separated, like a wood floor and wood countertop. Or kitchen cabinets and counter tops separated by a tile backsplash.  Just be mindful;  make it look well thought-out, not like an add-on.

Three grain-style choices for butcher block countertops: Blended Grain, Edge Grain and End Grain.

  • Blended Grain will give a wide variety of color and grain pattern.  Rails of varying lengths are finger-jointed together showing much visual texture.  Blended grain  can look “busy” so it is  awesome when paired with a simple kitchen design, regardless of your decorating style.  It is the most affordable grain style.
  • Edge Grain is the end result when full-length rails are bonded side by side giving the appearance of a solid tabletop.  There is some  color and grain variation, therefore it is well suited for matching with other woods or natural stone surfaces in your kitchen.  Edge grain is moderately priced.
  • End Grain countertops provide lots of color and texture variation within the checkerboard pattern.  It has a very upscale appearance and is pricier, but it is the traditional butcher block look that shouts professional gourmet chef!
Your final considerations are a bit easier and they include your DIMENSIONS and FINISHING TOUCHES.  Choose your butcher block countertops now!
Memorial Day BBQ

Memorial Day BBQ

This week we have another guest post from Chef J!  I can tell you from many personal experiences that Chef J is a master at the grill! Here are simple steps for preparing a delicious smoked brisket, just in time for your Memorial Day BBQ!

It’s almost Memorial Day! Hopefully that means an extra long weekend by the pool, surrounded by family and friends. And if that is the case, you will need to do some outdoor cooking! A Memorial Day BBQ is the only reason I stick around through these sweltering Sonoran summers. Phoenix in May and June will leave even the toughest crying for lemonade and air conditioning, but if you plan it right, the smell of slowly roasting meats and a nice cool pool can make this the best place in the world.

One of my favorite things to BBQ is beef brisket; it’s rather inexpensive and most importantly, it’s straightforward to prepare. If you are lucky enough to have a fancy BBQ setup like I do then this will justify  your dedication. My blood type is Spicy Hickory, so I love an excuse to spend an afternoon tending coals! But even if you don’t have the fancy pit you can still create some mouthwateringly tender, delicious treats!

For a perfect Memorial Day BBQ brisket, the right temperature and time are most important!

The recipe for brisket is 225 degrees for 10 hours.  That’s it!

Spices, sauces, and smoke are all up to your own taste. If you have ever heard BBQ people talk ,they will  tell you their BBQ is the best. And they are right. It’s all about you. I like to start mine smothered in a spicy rub, uncovered in the smoker, with a pan underneath to catch the drippings. memorial-day-bbq-brisket

My favorite rub:
¼ cup ground coffee
¼ cup cocoa powder
2 TBS chipotle powder
2 TBS salt
1 TBS black pepper
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground mustard powder
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground coriander

Mix everything together and rub that brisket down!  Make sure that your fire is hot enough to keep the temperature around 225 degrees, and that there is a bit of smoke sneaking out.  The meat will only absorb smoke for the first few hours, so after that you are strictly cooking (you could actually move it to the oven at this point).

After the smoking, I mop it down with liquid about once an hour- this could be your favorite BBQ sauce, vinegar, wine, juice, beer, etc. This will help keep the meat moist but also help build a nice “bark” on the surface. After the ten hours, place the brisket in the pan that will now be full of delicious dripping and cover in foil. Let that sit for a few minutes before carving, and it will be tender, juicy and delicious. If that sounds like a lot of work, you can smoke the brisket in your backyard grill (that black, three-legged dome we all know and love) the day before for a few hours, wrap it in foil and put it in the fridge. The next day unwrap, baste in liquid, put it in a pan and cover it, roast in the oven at 225-250 for about 6 hours. If you throw it in first thing in the morning it will be ready for lunch, and you won’t have to think about it until your timer goes off.

So crack open a cold one, skim the pool, and get your Memorial Day BBQ started!

 

End of School Picnic

End of School Picnic

The school year is winding down and the kids are getting excited for summer!  It’s that time of year for end of school picnics, parties, and potlucks. Kids, parents, and teachers alike will appreciate a fun day to celebrate all of the achievements of the school year!  And the teachers really appreciate it if a few parents volunteer to pull a party together for them.  All it takes is organization and communication. With very little effort you can avoid that party where the only food choices are pretzels, potato chips, cookies and more cookies!

Here are a few tips for a successful end of school picnic:

      • Assign specific dishes to your guests. You can break this up by last name:
        • A-F bring a main course
        • G-L bring a dessert
        • M-Q bring salads and fruit
        • R-T bring paper plates and cups
        • U-Z bring plastic silverware and napkins
      • Get volunteers in advance to bring ice, coolers and some extra serving utensils just in case.
        • This is a great option for full-time working parents who may not have the time to prepare a dish, but will feel uncomfortable if they aren’t able to contribute.
        • Serve food immediately or make certain you keep it refrigerated prior to serving.
      • Make a large cooler of Lemonade, with powder or fresh.  Skip water bottles, juice boxes, and soda cans to avoid wasted drinks and excessive trash.
      • Set up a buffet table that can be served from both sides, so you can accommodate a large number of hungry guests.
        • Serve the kids the main meal and drinks. Get a few parents to help out.  Kids will get their food and drink fast, and you will make certain that portions are controlled.
      • Set up games to keep the kids (and adults) entertained. If you are entertaining at the local pool, this is pretty easy – all you have to do is open the gate and the kids are guaranteed a good time!
        • If it is a backyard pool party, hire a lifeguard for the day so adults can enjoy the party too.
        • If you are having it at a park, there are always water balloons, sprinklers, bag toss…you get the idea.
      • Make sure you have plenty of shade and sunscreen available for adults and kids. No need to start vacation off with a sunburn!
      • Before you let the kids leave, gather up all of the abandoned socks, shoes, shirts, towels and have them at the door and ask every kid to look to see if they are missing one of the lost items before they go!

With just a little bit of planning, you can host a spectacular summer kick-off that everyone will enjoy! We would love to hear your plans for an end of school picnic – share in the comments!

Looking for brunch ideas  or entertaining tips, see our earlier posts.

A Mother’s Day Surprise

A Mother’s Day Surprise

Sharing a wonderful Mother’s Day story from a very special  friend, Kathy Shook.

The mother of two wonderful daughters, I have enjoyed 22 delightful Mother’s Days, but one in particular will always stand out in my memory – May 10, 1992.

After years of trying to get pregnant, in 1991 my husband Mark and I turned our attention to adoption. We learned everything we could about how to improve the odds of being chosen by a pregnant young woman as adoptive parents for her baby.

Back then, a good number of private adoptions were arranged by  “adoption attorneys.” Expecting young women sought them out to assist in finding a suitable couple. Adoption attorneys kept on file letters and photos supplied by would-be parents, and expectant girls/women would peruse them in search of top-notch candidates. So my first task was to put together a Dear Birthmom letter that was sure to stand out – well written with a nice photo.

My next challenge was to compile a list of adoption attorneys from across the country. Combing through phone books from major U.S. cities on hand in the public library, I compiled a mailing list. Off went our letters to over a hundred adoption attorneys.

Over the next few months we found ourselves entangled in a number of wild goose chases. The emotional highs and lows took their toll.

Then we cleared the hurdle with Stephanie and her parents, but having been disappointed so many times, we didn’t get our hopes up. We received a call from Stephanie’s attorney on a Thursday advising us that she was in labor. We heard nothing more until we were awoken by a phone call Saturday morning and told to catch the first plane to this far-off city. The next day our beautiful daughter Kristine, two days old, was delivered into my hands in an attorney’s office. It happened to be Mother’s Day.

Mothers-Day-Surprise

Kathy and Kristine Mother’s Day – May 10, 1992

Most moms have time to prepare for Mother’s Day. Not me! Imagine my surprise and delight when I became a mother on the spur of the moment on the very day we honor mothers.

Moms, may your Mother’s Day be as joyous as my first!

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Celebrate Cinco de Mayo

We are so thrilled to introduce you to Chef J Whiting! Chef J has played an integral role in many Arizona restaurants, and travels extensively within the Southwest. Today he enlightens us on the common misconceptions of the Cinco de Mayo holiday, and shares his fantastic recipe for Hibiscus Margaritas.

We all love Cinco de Mayo – happily enjoying our margaritas, fajitas and a day off- but most of us have probably never thought much about it. Maybe like me, you had heard that it is Mexico’s independence day; something akin to the 4th of July here in the U.S. With just a bit of digging, though, I discovered the true meaning of this holiday and now have a real reason to drink margaritas this weekend.

Cinco de Mayo is, in fact, not a Mexican holiday at all. The day is a celebration of the battle of Puebla in 1862 in which the outnumbered Mexican army defeated the French, throwing a wrench into Napoleon’s plans to prop up the Confederate South. Many scholars believe that the Civil War would have had a drastically  different outcome if the French had not been stopped at Puebla.

Hearing the news of the battle, Mexican immigrants in America began to celebrate and used that battle as a symbol to rally around. Cinco de Mayo is a holiday to celebrate Mexican heritage and culture and how it has impacted the destiny of the United States.

So while you are enjoying your tequila and maybe something a little spicy, remember that without a small group of people standing their ground against the greatest military in the world at the time, the U.S. could be an entirely different place.

And like any celebration, it is best with food! Cultures move a meal at a time and the American culture has been deliciously inspired by Mexico. I am lucky enough to live in the Southwest where cuisine has blurred the border. We have amazing food to explore here, and Mexican ingredients can be found all over. Do yourself a favor and make friends with a chile!

 Hibiscus Margaritas – Courtesy of J Whiting Cinco De Mayo Hibiscus Margarita

  • 1 handful of dried hibiscus flowers
  • Juice of 6 limes
  • 6 oz of honey
  • 4 oz of triple sec
  • 12 oz tequila
  • 32 oz water
  • Salt or sugar from rimming glass

Bring 1 cup of water to a simmer and add the hibiscus flowers. Let that steep for about 5 minutes or so. Add honey to hibiscus broth and stir to dissolve. Let cool. Combine honey mixture with remaining ingredients. Test for desired taste. Add more lime juice if too sweet or a bit more honey if too sour. Serve over ice in a salted or sugared glass. Repeat if necessary!