January 2014

5 Fun Foods to Try With Your Family This Year

5-Fun-FoodsFood brings families together. Often, most of the time you spend with your family involves food so why not make it a little bit more exciting? Here are five fun foods to try with your family this year.

Spaetzle

Have you gotten tired of pasta? Try spaetzle instead. It is a delicious egg noodle dish made in the southern regions of Germany and Austria and in nearby countries. It has a more interesting texture than pasta and tastes delicious. Spaetzle is yummy, but also pretty neutral tasting, so it can be paired with all sorts of foods. If you want to go the traditional route, pair it with meat or gravy.

Seafood Gumbo

We keep hearing that seafood is nutrient dense and very healthy. Seafood Gumbo is a great way to introduce more seafood into your diet. Is your family squeamish about the processing equipment crab is cleaned with or the fishy smell? Take their minds off of their fears by mixing seafood into this classic southern dish. It is tasty and the word “gumbo” is fun to say.

“Octopus Bread”

This yummy stuff isn’t usually called Octopus Bread, but that is the word my kid brother used to describe it, and it kind of stuck with the rest of the family. This braided bread is stuffed with goodies on the inside to make eating it a little more exciting. You can make something savory with chicken inside or use it as dessert and stuff it with apples and cinnamon. If calling it “octopus bread” makes it more fun for you, feel free to steal my brother’s term. Or make up a new one with your kids.

Kebabs

There is something about eating food on a stick that makes it more fun and exciting. Give the corn dogs a rest for something healthier, and make kebabs. The great thing about kebabs, is you can make them with almost anything. Traditionally they are made with meat and vegetables and then grilled or cooked over a fire, but you can also make them with fresh fruit like strawberries and bananas.

Ice Cream Made with Dry Ice

No list of fun food would be complete without dessert. Using dry ice to make homemade ice cream is quite simple and incredibly fun. It tastes delicious, and it is fun to watch the dry ice spread everywhere. Crush the dry ice ahead of time and then use a basic recipe with half and half, vanilla, heavy cream, sugar, and a tiny bit of salt. If you want more flavor, you can add berries or chocolate syrup. Once you have mixed the normal ingredients together in a large bowl, slowly add the dry ice while stirring. Stop adding the dry ice when you reach the consistency you want, and serve up delicious homemade ice cream.

Trying these foods with your family will be fun and bring everyone a little closer together in a way that only good food can. Have fun making and eating each dish together.

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Michael David is a freelance blogger who loves writing about Health and Food related topics. To learn a little more about how seafood is made, check out C & W Industrial Fabrication.

Tips For Interviewing Caterers In Sydney

The very first step towards hiring a caterer in Sydney is to first discuss what your budget is over the phone. If you find that the company is willing to work for you within that specified budget you can short list them. However, your budget has to be realistic and it pays to be flexible in terms of what foods you want. Most caterers will be able to give you an estimated price based on the number of people you need the food cooked for and what dishes you need. They should also give you a ballpark estimate of exactly how much more it will cost you for alcohol, décor, rentals, staffing etc.

Complicated events

If the event you’re arranging seems a bit complicated with multiple vendors i.e. for lighting, entertainment and floral arrangements you should hire a caterer who will manage all these for you. Opting for a one stop solution should help free your time up for other things, plus having a professional do this extra work will certainly help yield better results than you having to do it yourself.

Varying catering prices

Prices for catering services vary quite a bit in Australia. Smaller caterers are generally cheaper than larger more established ones. The reason being that newer or smaller caterers have a lot less overhead to deal with so they can price their service more competitively without hurting profits. That said you should always choose a caterer based on the quality of their food and service as opposed to their low price. You should also obtain references from a business in order to double check their credentials.

Once you have reviewed all the background materials it will make it a lot easier to further shortlist the best caterers based on experience dealing with similar events, budget and their personal compatibility. You also need to have good chemistry with the caterer. However, if everyone on your list gets an “A” then you’ll need to rely a bit on instinct. That said below are a few more things you can do to narrow down your list.

  • Ask the company for a proposal. Think about if the caterer listened to your request or demands carefully prior to coming up with the proposal? Are you fine with the menu? Have all your requests been addressed? If you’re really serious about three or two finalists then ask for a proposal from everyone of them.
  • Meet the company representative in person. Meeting personally at his or her kitchen or place of business is important. However, don’t agree to meet when they are catering someone else’s event. You may want to see them in action but this will mean that the event being catered does not get their full attention. Besides if the caterer makes it a habit of meetiing prospects during an event they may do the same with you so you don’t get the attention you deserve.
  • Always meet your day to day contact. Ask the catering company who will be your day to day contact on site for the event. You need to feel comfortable dealing with this particular person. You’ll want to work with an event manager who is both confident and enjoys working. It also will help if the person is client service oriented, is relaxed and inspires confidence. When you meet with this person don’t forget to ask for a list of references of people who have worked with him or her in the past during previous events the company undertook. You should make it a point to first call and speak to the people he or she refers to double check their story and get live feedback. Even though caterers always give the best references you should ask these references what could have been done better. This will help to open up the person you are speaking to and reveal what they otherwise either don’t remember or want to mention.

Hiring the best caterers in Sydney requires a bit of time and research. You can always ask friends and family for references to start off with and then work on narrowing down the list from there.  The idea is to get a feel for the quality of the food and the service they provide prior to hiring them.

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Mark is a certified and experienced chief. When he’s not cooking he is mentoring his team of experienced chefs who prepare over 30 different cuisines for their clients. 

Power Flour: Feeding The Hungry One Bug At A Time

Can you imagine eating an insect? How about an entire pile of them? That is exactly what a group of researchers are proposing as they go forward with a project that could help impoverished populations. Believe it or not, bugs are actually a great source of nutrients and could be one answer to the issue of food scarcity.

Why Insects?

Though it may be shocking to some people, insects are starting to become an increasingly common food source. Many people from all over the world consume insects to provide themselves with the protein they need. This helps them maintain a nutritious diet that actually allows these communities thrive. There are some insect species that are routinely consumed by countries that are looking to add this kind of substance in to their diet. But a new startup company wants to take things a bit farther; they are interested in adding grasshoppers to the mix and making a new type of “flour.” Their work could prove to be an innovative new culinary invention that will help many people achieve better health and nutrition.

How the Project Got Its Start

This project was initiated by a team of MBA students who are in a program at McGill University. They have already drawn some attention from parties throughout the world. The students have even won the 2013 Hult Prize, which awards a considerable amount of funding to startup projects. The team decided to call their product “Power Flour,” since it has the potential to be a very powerful method of feeding the hungry. It is amazing to think that there are those who could actually get more nutrition from this than many other types of foods.

Early Success with the Program

The team has already targeted populations in Mexico that could benefit from the flour. They are attempting to recruit farmers from the area who will be able to help harvest the product itself. If successful, their efforts will go a long way towards helping people who need better nutrition. It has been estimated that 4 million people in Mexico are living in slum like conditions. This project could provide people with much needed support as they try to achieve a healthier diet. There are some farmers that currently hand collect the necessary grasshoppers, but there has not been any mass farming of the species yet. The team from McGill is poised to help change that trend as they move in to the future.

Future Plans For Power Flour

Of course, the team recognizes that grasshoppers are just one possibility for Power Flour. They have looked into harvesting many other types of insects as well. Currently, the research team is interested in figuring out how they can incorporate palm weevils from Ghana and caterpillars from Botswana in their project. Many members of the team are vegan, so they will be ready to test out the formula as they go forward. They know that customizing the product will take some time, but they hope that the results will turn out well soon.

Only time will tell if this product is going to take off for hungry people around the globe. Investors may be interested in learning more about the future of the project as it unfolds. All of the team members are committed to making sure that the project succeeds going forward.

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Morgan is a blogger for Rest Easy Pest Control, an extermination company located in New York. When Morgan isn’t writing, she enjoys reading and traveling with her family.

The Importance Of Nutrition When Overcoming An Addiction

healthy_foodsAddiction is both a mental and physical hold over a person that makes them crave something that can be detrimental to their health. This addiction can be anything from caffeine or fried foods to hard drugs and stimulants. While overcoming addiction is a long process that may require help and guidance from a great support of people in your life, one thing that you can do is put the right foods into your body so that you are not depleted of essential vitamins and minerals. Lacking these vital nutrients can make your body crave unhealthy alternatives and cause your addiction to become worse.

Whole foods, or foods that do not have chemicals, coloring, additives, or any alterations, are the healthiest type of food. Your diet should consist of eighty to ninety percent whole foods in order to obtain the recommended amount of nutrients and to decrease toxins found in other food.. The chemicals in altered foods can deplete electrolytes as well as make your body stop collecting nutrients from whole foods. You can harm your liver, kidney, stomach, heart, and other organs. Most addictive substances also harm your body. Alcohol can harm your liver and cigarettes can harm your lungs, so if your foods are also harming these body parts your body is working overtime to try to heal itself and cannot. You cannot heal from addiction and move past it if your body is essentially shutting down.

Some examples of whole foods are:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables with peels. The peels have added vitamins and nutrients so be sure to wash any pesticides or waxes off of the surface and eat these as well. The skins contain fiber that helps to digest other foods and absorb nutrients like carbohydrates.
  • Whole grains like steel cut oatmeal and brown rice contain complex carbohydrates that your body uses for energy.
  • Protein from legumes, seeds nuts, eggs, fish, and organic lean meat like chicken that do not contain hormones, help to get amino acids that you need into your body.
  • Omega-3 from fish and natural oils like coconut oil and olive oil that have not been refined

If you want to make sure that no pesticides, genetically modified DNA, or hormones have been introduced into your food look for local farmers markets and fresh produce stands, or grow your own food in a garden.  The added chemicals from larger chain farms and supermarkets cause your body to not be able to detox or get rid of the harmful toxins that your addiction could be placing in your body. Without the ability to remove the harmful toxins from your body, your body can not get rid of the addictive substance so that you can feel healthier without it.

Make sure that you discuss with a doctor what essential electrolytes, vitamins, and nutrients that you may be lacking so that you can get a variety of these healthy whole foods in your system. You may also want to discuss taking vitamin supplements if necessary so that you can stay healthy and be able to overcome any addictions that you may have. Nutrition is one of many different aspects to overcoming addiction and leading a happy healthy life, but it is an important aspect so make sure that you make this a priority. You can also look for drug rehab clinics that will help you with every aspect here.

Featured images:
  •  License: Royalty Free or iStock source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/57567419@N00/8579498657/in/photolist-e59b3D-8qEtHk-a3MCAg-cdYjQQ-ev4CyB-dtormT-d9rvS1-d9ryqy-d9rAQ1-d9rtm9-bUjVSV-7LZMCy-gh8yah-e8sh8L-e8mBRX-e8mBM2-e8sgUy-e8mBXD-e8sgP7-e8mCkR-e8shky-e8shg7-8dMEcL-cdYjWY-bWAZ4k-cdYjTG-bWAZa4-bWAZgX-cdYjA3-bWAZ2V-bWAZbk-cdYk2C-cdYk1q-96mwRz-7XFCki-7XJTVQ-9wcwSa-atogbF-969qjV-9KHkvG-7Gkgcx-dmnE2Q-9Ryp8y-9WkGC4-a6znf2-a6zsft-bf5crV-8TXtft-9KgmN5-a6Ce9G-a6Cjds

Zoella Hemsworth is a drug counselor that helps family members of addicts deal with addiction. She helps both addicts and their family members deal with this hard subject, and move forward to living a healthy and happy life. She loves nutrition and is an advocate in eating healthy and living healthy lives.

Recipe For Adventure: Cooking With Lemon And Lilac

Lemon and lilac are a statement-making duo sure to add a bright lift to your wardrobe any day, even in the throes of winter’s white. Both sophisticated and trendy, the exciting color combination isn’t just a fashion statement; cooking with lemon and lilac brings a fresh taste to the palate during cooler months as well.

Here are a few ideas for looking stylish and cooking with flair using tried-and-true lemon and lilac.

Cooking with Lemon and Lilca

Zesty lemons and aromatic lilacs are a sensational combination in the kitchen as well. You can extract a tremendous amount of flavor from lilacs to add a sweet and floral tone to any dish. Once lilacs are in bloom this spring, impress everyone you know by whipping up fun flower recipes that the whole family will enjoy. You can use this edible flower for baking, roasting, canning, decorating and even putting a new twist on favorite beverages.
Before cooking with organic lilacs, gently wash the fragile blossoms. Separate into small clusters and remove the green stem from each flower. One bunch yields a ½ cup to 1 cup, and 1 cup is approximately 40 to 60 blossoms.

Looking Stylish with Lemon and Lilac

Although lilac blossoms won’t pop up in your backyard for a few more months, the calming pastel purple of this sweet spring flower can enliven your winter wardrobe, especially when it is paired with an energetic lemon yellow.

So get adventurous. How much of your closet is already devoted to eye-catching prints and bold colors? These softer shades in casual clothes are very pleasing and create a poetic feel. Choose a lemon or lilac flowy dress, top off a delicate skirt with one or step out in pastel-colored skinny jeans. Start by mixing in some lighter shades of purple, such as this fashion-forward Swing Skirt, graceful Vintage Drape Top or slim-fit Colored Denim Capris.

A Few Great Recipes

Roasted Asparagus with Lemons and Lilacs

After prepping the asparagus by trimming the ends and peeling the lower halves, arrange the stalks in a single layer on a pan lined with parchment paper. Season the spears with a light coating of extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and Herbs de Provence. Roast for 10 minutes at 375° F. Drizzle lemon juice on top of asparagus then garnish with lilac blossoms and lemon slices. Pair with beef tenderloin for a delightful dinner.

Candied Lilacs

These shimmering petals are stunning atop a cupcake or adorning a Sunday morning crêpe. Over medium heat, constantly stir 1 cup sugar and a ½ cup of water until the candy thermometer reaches 220° F. After the mixture cools to room temperature, use tweezers to quickly dip in each blossom. Alternatively, you can brush each flower with beaten egg whites.

Place bottom down on a piece of waxed paper lightly covered in finely granulated sugar. Sprinkle the top of the flower with more sugar. The syrup takes approximately four hours to dry, uncovered. Flip the flowers over occasionally.

Lilac and Lemon Syrup

Using this simple syrup as a base, you can concoct numerous recipes in the kitchen. You can store a batch in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Place 3 cups of plucked lilac blossoms into a bowl and pour in 2 cups of boiling water. After steeping for 2 hours, stir in a ½ cup of sugar and 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Boil mixture on medium-high for 7 minutes or until sugar dissolves. For a twist, add fresh blackberries, raspberries or blueberries. While boiling, squash the berries with a wooden spoon. Strain liquid into a glass container, and discard the solids.

Lilac Lemonade

For a refreshing beverage, add 2 to 4 tablespoons of Lilac and Lemon Syrup to an 8- ounce glass of ice cold or sparkling water. Garnish with sliced lemon and fresh lilac blossoms.

Lilac Martini

To create a grownup version of this sweet treat, fill a martini shaker with ice then add 3 ounces of vodka and 2 ounces of syrup. Shake, pour and garnish with blossoms.

Lilac Jelly

Pour 2 ½ cups boiling water over 2 cups packed lilac blossoms. After steeping for 8 hours, strain out the flowers. Add 4 tablespoons of lemon juice and 1 box of powdered pectin to the lilac infused water, and then bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in 4 cups of sugar. Once it begins to boil again, remove from heat and skim off the top foam. Ladle into canning jars then dip into a water bath for 10 minutes. Do not be alarmed if your mixture drastically changes colors throughout the process. It will likely transition from a greenish-pink to electric pink to a light yellow.

So the next time you’re feeling cooped up, break out the springtime shades in casual clothing and cooking ingredients and brighten the mood by bringing the calming sense of lemon and lilac inside your home.

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By Alison Johnston A Denver based writer looking to find her voice in the writing world. She loves getting her hands dirty in the kitchen and taking long walks in the snow.

3 Turmeric Recipes For The Kitchen-Savvy

There is much about turmeric that is worthy of raves – not just for health, but in the kitchen as well. In fact, Marco Polo recorded notes about this spice on his diary while he was in China in 1280 AD, saying “There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well as the smell and the color, and yet it is not really saffron.” For over 700 years now, turmeric has been substituting saffron, the world’s most expensive spice.

Perhaps the most noteworthy component of turmeric is curcumin, a curcuminoid that is responsible for giving the spice its yellow color.

Like other important herbs and spices (such as tulsi), turmeric is a principal herb in Ayurveda, Indian’s ancient holistic health system.

Today you can find turmeric in the spice aisle of most supermarkets, but know that turmeric powder bought from the grocery does not necessarily come from high-quality organic herbs or manufactured through certified organic methods.

However, a pure, organic turmeric source would be very easy to use in the kitchen and household, with a handful of recipes shared around on the Web to celebrate the taste and effects of this ingredient. Here are three of them.

Broken Thermostat Curry

From AllRecipes.com

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 small onion, chopped,
  • 5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 medium yam, peeled and diced
  • 7 small red potatoes, cubed
  • 2 cups cauliflower florets
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Procedure:

  1. Puree the onion and carrots in a food processor or blender until finely ground.
  2. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the garlic until fragrant and lightly browned. Pour in the carrot puree, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 minutes.
  3. Pour in diced tomatoes, water, yam, red potatoes, and cauliflower. Season with turmeric, curry powder, cumin, garam masala, cayenne, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Simmer until potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes.

Authentic Saag Paneer

From AllRecipes.com

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 bunch fenugreek leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • ½ pound paneer, cubed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon, grated fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • Salt to taste

Procedure:

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Cook spinach and fenugreek in the boiling water until wilted, about 3 minutes. Drain well and transfer to a food processor. Puree until finely chopped, about 5 pulses.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry paneer cubes, stirring constantly until browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in the skillet and fry the cumin seeds until lightly toasted and aromatic, about 3 minutes. Add onion, and then cook and stir until onion begins to soften, 4 to 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in ginger, garlic, tomato, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. Cook and stir until tomatoes break down and onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in spinach and fenugreek, cream, paneer cubes, and salt to taste. Cover and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Easy Chicken Korma

From AllRecipes.com

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons mango chutney
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, chopped
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease 1 two-quart baking dish.
  2. Heat oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Cook onions in oil until soft.
  3. Place onion, yogurt, mango chutney, garlic, turmeric, chili powder, and garam masala into the bowl of a food processor. Process into a smooth sauce. Achieve the consistency of thick cream. Add a bit of water or yogurt to thin it if needed.
  4. Spread chicken into prepared baking dish, and pour the onion sauce over the chicken.
  5. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle sliced almonds over the top, and serve.

Sonya Rashad is a food blogger who is also a health and fitness enthusiast. She loves cooking with spices like turmeric not only for their much-celebrated taste, but also their health value.

How To Start A Great Gastropub

Today’s diners seem to be making the switch from frequenting top-notch, expensive five-star restaurants to trying out more low-scale, casual establishments. One result of this shift in restaurant culture is the increase in popularity of the gastropub. You may have heard the phrase a lot recently, but do you even really know what a gastropub is? Most people don’t, so if you have been considering opening one of your own, I would suggest familiarizing yourself with the genre in order to create a successful new business. Modern day gastropubs are a great way to ease yourself into the restaurant world and jump on a trend that seems likely so stay around for a while.

What is a Gastropub?

Gastropubs have long been popular in the United Kingdom, with many people stopping by to grab a pint, as well as a bite of home-style cooking on their ways home from work. The phrase “pub” comes from “public house,” which is what these original neighborhood stops were first called. Not really a bar and not really a restaurant, a gastropub combines high quality brews with traditional comfort foods that patrons can enjoy at the same time. Today’s modern gastropubs follow in that same vein, offering a variety of brews as well as high-quality pub food in a more casual atmosphere.

What Makes a Great Gastropub?

When it comes to good gastropubs, there are a few things that the best of the best do well:

  • Location
  • Style
  • Food
  • Drinks
  • Service

If you want to start up your own establishment, aiming for quality in those five factors can help to secure your success and authenticity as a real modern day gastropub, rather than just another wanna-be restaurant that looks and feels just like the rest.

Location

Choosing the right location for a gastropub is essential. Any old spot in a strip mall just isn’t going to cut it. The authentic pubs across the pond are typically located in the bottom level of old buildings that were probably once hotels. In order to get that same atmosphere, you’re going to want to look for a place that has some history and looks interesting from the outside. Consider the architecture and try to aim for something that has a European feel to it. If you can’t pinpoint any locations that provide you with the look that you are going for, you may want to consider setting aside some funds to be used for creating an exterior that will work for you.

Style

If you think about the interior style of the pubs in Great Britain, you will probably imagine dark woods, dim lighting, and antique-looking furniture. While you certainly don’t have to recreate a full pub in your new establishment, it’s a good idea to take inspiration from those places and incorporate some of that style into your own interior décor. Rustic wood tables combined with bare-bulb lighting are reminiscent of an old-timey pub and will lend to the ambiance that you are trying to create. To make your gastropub up to date, consider mixing rustic with modern for a new and interesting look.

Drinks

If you are going to call your new restaurant a gastropub, then you have to have good-quality drinks on tap. The basic name-brand brews just aren’t going to cut it for your customers. There are plenty of local breweries popping up everywhere these days, so try getting in touch with a few to see if you can sell some of their best brews. You can also try going global and importing beers from around the world.

Food

The best way to ensure that you’ll have returning diners at your gastropub is to offer really good food. Traditional pub foods, such as shepherd’s pie, liver and onions, or even fish and chips, can be updated and offered as homage to old-school pubs. Instead of trying to come up with really elaborate dishes, try to stick with some basics, amped up. Burgers with interesting ingredients or high-quality meats are usually really popular and can give you some flexibility to get creative without having to go gourmet.

Service

The best gastropubs that I have visited have a good focus on service. The bartenders are knowledgeable and friendly and the wait staff doesn’t mess around trying to get you to order things you don’t really want. Most diners want to get in quickly, eat slowly, and out fast, so try to train your staff to meet their tables’ needs without being pushy or annoying.

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Lauren Hill is a freelance writer who enjoys stretching her knowlege of the business world to new and fascinating heights.  Being a traveler, she has found gastropubs to be some of her favorite places to dine.  Lauren is a contributing author for MenuShoppe.

Prepping Your Backyard For A Barbecue

Kill Unwanted Pests

A bug bite or two won’t ruin an entire barbecue, but it can really spoil someone’s day and keep them from enjoying the party to the fullest. So, invest in a pesticide regimen to keep the harmful creepy-crawlies out of your yard.There are numerous pest control products on the market for killing unwanted pests, so be sure to ask at your local home and garden store for recommendations depending on pest type, application type, or yard size. Apply pest control according to directions. If you live in a part of the country where mosquitoes are common, pick up some citronella candles or a zapper lantern to fend off mosquitoes in the evening.

Pull Weeds

Weeds are pests too, just the botanical kind. Not only are they ugly to look at, they can be harmful to your lawn because they compete for sunlight, nutrients, space, and water. They can also produce burrs or thorns and even be harmful to household pets if they ingest them. Plus, you want your yard looking good for your guests! If you only have a few weeds, pull them up by hand. If you have quite a few, try this green tip: layer newspapers over the affected area and soak with water frequently. The shade from the papers will kill the weeds while the moisture from the newspaper will speed up the decomposition.

Pick Up Dog Poop

If you have a dog, you probably already know that sinking (and stinky) feeling of accidently stepping in Fido’s mess. Save your guests the agony and clean up your backyard of any unsightly piles beforehand and throw them in the trash bin. You may also want to warn your guests if you aren’t sure if you got them all. Better safe than sorry! Bonus tip: if you have kids, delegate the task to them and give them a quarter for every mess they pick up, but only after they’ve thoroughly washed their hands.

Don’t Plant New Seed or Install Sod

If you want to make sure your lawn is looking good for the first barbecue of the season, you have to get started early. Early meaning at least a few weeks after you’ve installed any sod or planted new grass seed anywhere in your yard. One of the worst things you can do is step all over some grass seed that hasn’t germinated yet, or allow plenty of foot traffic over freshly-installed sod before it’s had a chance to put roots down. To keep your yard looking healthy and fresh, mow it a day or two before the cookout and water.

Grill From Your Garden

The best tip of all is to utilize freshly harvested veggies from your garden. Not only will it be delicious, it can be a great conversation starter. Eggplant and corn are great for grilling and nothing beats a garden-fresh tomato. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, consider starting one. They can be as big or small as you like, and some plants (like fresh herbs or strawberries) can even be grown in pots or on the windowsill.

Emily Kaltman writes for The Grass Outlet in Austin, Texas. She enjoys writing about lawn care and attending summertime cookouts.

Think Outside the Box: Unique Chocolate Gifts for Your Valentine

Looking for a gift that will show your significant other how much you care? You can never go wrong with the gift of chocolate. But when it comes to Valentine’s Day, even the biggest chocolate lovers grow tired of receiving that same old heart-shaped box. Don’t let the special person in your life have to settle for another unimaginative gesture. Put a spin on the traditional sentiment with sweet treats that are as unique as your loved one. Getting creative with your gift doesn’t have to cost a fortune; after all, it is the thought that counts. These budget-friendly, one-of-a-kind treats will impress even the pickiest chocoholics.

Love Bug

Have you been bitten by the love bug? Then let her know with these darling chocolate bees—gourmet creations created by John and Kira’s, which are almost too cute to eat. Artfully handcrafted using yellow and black cocoa butter and filled with delicious liquid caramel, she’ll feel the sting of cupid’s arrow when you present her with this gourmet selection. If she’s not big into caramel (or bees), opt for the equally adorable almond-and-hazelnut-filled lady bugs. You’re guaranteed to make her feel like the luckiest lady in the world.

Sweet and Salty

For the Valentine that’s mostly sweet but a little bit salty, give her something that her taste buds will love. Chocolate dipped pretzels provide the perfect mix for her unique taste. We love the gourmet pretzel tray by The Chocolate Fix. She’ll feel extra special when she sees the different variety of colors and toppings that show you’ve gone above and beyond for her.

Berry Sweet

Chocolate-dipped strawberries are a classic romantic gesture every woman loves. FTD takes this favorite and cranks up the romance with its gourmet collections. The 12-piece assortments provide a beautiful array of strawberries for a sophisticated gift your hopeless romantic will love. Choose from vibrantly colored rainbow sprinkled strawberries or keep it classy with several decadent chocolate options. For the girl that loves extra toppings, choose the ultimate topping, the Belgian chocolate collection, and she’ll melt in your arms.

Good Fortune

Do you see love in your future? With these chocolate covered fortune cookies, you most certainly do. Emily’s Milk Chocolate Love Fortunes give your sweetheart a glimpse at the romance-filled evening that lies ahead. When words simply aren’t enough to express how you feel, let the cookies do the talking for you. Each cookie features individually wrapped love notes your special someone will cherish forever.

Fashionista

Let the queen of your heart feel like royalty with these chocolate shoes inspired by the one and only Duchess of Cambridge. This gift demonstrates your appreciation for her unmatched sense of style while showing her she’s the real princess in your eyes. More than another pretty shoe, The Kate is made from premium white chocolate topped off with a decadent dark chocolate jewel. This limited-time gift arrives packaged in a darling clear tote that your fashion-forward Valentine will eagerly show off to all of her friends.

Food Labelling For All Seasons

For any manufacturing business, one of the key business goals is to increase utilisation of production capacity by increasing sales throughput. Manufacturers of perishable goods, particularly food related products, have an additional twist to the problem. Since the shelf life of the product is necessarily limited, there’s less opportunity to build stock in the warehouse in advance of anticipated seasonal spikes in demand. This means that the product needs to “hit the ground running” in terms of shop floor turnover if the manufacturer is to be able to take advantage of what may be a short, but particularly intense, spike in demand.

The winter festive period is a good illustration of the problem. In the first place, there is a short lived growth in demand for some specific products – confectionery products such as traditional German Stollen or Turkish Delight, for example, are rarely seen on the shelves outside the month of December. There’s also an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate less seasonally specific products to give a short term fillip to seasonal demand. We’re all familiar with the major labels on sweets and chocolate which are often produced in specific formats, such as the familiar “bite sized” tubs of high street favourite brands. Brewers, particularly craft breweries, have been quick to latch on to the possibilities of “Christmas Ales”, although this does seem to have provoked a backlash among some Real Ale drinkers, a fairly cantankerous bunch at the best of times, as this article published recently in the Guardian newspaper illustrates.

Challenges and opportunities

For both larger manufacturers and small “boutique” producers, the short run nature of the seasonally related product implies opportunities and challenges in equal measure. While, in many cases, the product being manufactured can imply little or no variation from the year-round manufacturing process, there’s still a need to adapt the production line to meet even subtle changes to the manufacturing process, as well as cleaning and sanitizing before and after the changes are made. The need for seasonal product labelling will requires small batches of specific product labels to be available in exactly the quantities required on a just-in-time basis. In-house industrial quality label printers from specialist suppliers such as QuickLabel can address this problem without the need for inflexible outsourcing from printing contractors.

The opportunities provided by seasonal events can, however, be significant. It’s not just the Christmas period which gives food companies the chance to sweat the capital assets. Sporting events, such as the Football World Cup or the Olympic Games have recently given food manufacturers and distributors the opportunity for especially themed limited editions of staple product lines, Mars Bars were produced in limited edition packaging for the 2006 and 2010 World Cup Finals, for example.

Scope for imaginative marketing

The opportunity for special edition marketing isn’t necessarily limited to external events, however. Many food companies are quite capable of inventing reasons to print short run limited editions. Heinz, for example, marketed an initial run of 3000 bottles of “yuppie” tomato ketchup with balsamic vinegar exclusively through Facebook. In similar vein, HP printed labels for a “limited edition” of its familiar brown sauce, with labels designed by Paul Smith, which went on sale in Harrods food hall retailing at four times the price of the standard edition of the product. While the packaging may have gone up market, the brown sauce itself, it appears, was quite unchanged.

The prize for limited edition chutzpah, however, must surely go to brewers Diageo, makers of a certain famous Irish brand of stout, who, not content with a simple change of packaging or labelling, invented “Arthur’s Day” (first “celebrated” in 2009) as a vehicle for promoting their product. The fact that they managed to persuade celebrities, sporting personalities and statesmen as well as ordinary drinkers to participate in this paean to Arthur Guinness represents a marketing coup of truly epic proportions.

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Chris Johnson is a management consultant with a particular interest in the food production and packaging industry. He has advised many major international businesses on marketing and production issues in the UK, Australia and North America. Now semi-retired, he continues to write, contributing to a number of journals and internet sources.

He retains a close practical interest in good food of all kinds, but especially the liquid variety, an interest which he balances with frequent long walks in his native Scottish countryside accompanied by his two dogs.