Catering a Great Brunch Within Any Budget

Cater a Fabulous Brunch to Impress Your Clients and Their Guests

Catering a Fabulous Brunch – An Impossible Task?

For most of us, brunch – that blissful meal that combines breakfast and lunch – has been around forever; so long, that it’s impossible to imagine a world without this important meal. Everyone loves brunch… except, perhaps, chefs and caterers. While there is a plethora of brunch-appropriate dishes to choose from, the fact is that it’s not so simple to get this meal together on a Sunday morning, in time to lay out the spread of your client’s dreams by 11:00 (start later than that and it’s lunch), and have it continue for four or five hours – until mid-afternoon. For a caterer, the very thing that people love about brunch – its flexibility and lack of structure – is what makes it hard. The challenge is finding the right combination of breakfast foods and lunch foods (and miscellaneous intriguing additional dishes) and always keeping it interesting. A daunting task, perhaps, but by no means impossible.

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Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Steak

 tips for grilling the most tender, flavorful steaks.America is a melting pot made up of people with many different tastes and preferences. Have you ever stopped to question what tops the list of favorite foods in this country? Well, you no longer have to wonder.

According to research commissioned by Davidson’s Safest Choice Pasteurized Eggs as reported by the Daily Mail, one food comes out the clear victor in the roundup of all-time favorite American foods: Steak. Let’s take a closer look at this meaty meal, along with highlighting some tips for grilling the most tender, flavorful steaks. (…Read More…)

Six Tips for Picking the Perfect Restaurant Seating

Restaurant seating is one of the first things your diners will notice and it can make or break their dining experience. What keeps diners coming back to your restaurant? Here’s a hint: it’s not just the food. In fact, a variety of factors impact whether your restaurant is appealing or off-putting.

And while seating may be one of the last things you think about when it comes to restaurant planning, it’s not only one of the first things diners notice, but can make or break their dining experiences. (…Read More…)

Eight Restaurant Tips for Outdoor Dining Spaces

Outdoor dining spaces can increase restaurants revenueOutdoor dining spaces can increase revenue by as much as 30 percent or more, according to a report from The Chicago Tribune.

It’s no surprise that so many restaurants are investing in exterior eating areas — particularly when you factor in research from the Simons Advisory Group indicating that a $200,000 investment in outdoor seating boosts overall sales by $500,000. (…Read More…)

Top Four “Must-Have” Kitchen Knives

paring-knifeHow sharp are your knife skills? No, we’re not talking about how you actually wield a knife, but instead about your knife knowledge. If you’re uncertain regarding which knives you need to execute all of your favorite recipes, you’re not alone. With so many options, it can’t be hard to keep up. We’re making it easy for you with this handy cheat sheet of four must-have kitchen knives for every home or professional chef.

1. The Chef’s Knife

Every professional chef’s best friend, the classic chef’s knife is the definition of “versatile.” According to Institute of Culinary Education Chef-Instructor Brendan McDermott, a chef’s knife in the 8- to 10- inch range is ideal for a whopping 90 percent of all day to day kitchen tasks. Slicing fruit? Dicing vegetables? Carving chicken? Trimming steak? A chef’s knife can do all of this and more. Whether you’re a beginning chef in search of a starter knife or a professional chef looking to upgrade your collection, the right chef’s knife can make-or-break your prowess in the kitchen.
One last tip? Reserve the largest portion of your knife-buying budget for a top-quality chef’s knife. When chosen well and with proper care, it can last forever.

2. A Serrated Utility Knife

While cutting bread may be the first thing that come to mind when you think of serrated knives, they’re good for so much more than that — and shine where knives with smooth blades fail. Whether you’re cutting into a juicy peach or tomato or slicing through fatty meat or a sandwich, a serrated utility knife allows you to pierce and penetrate tough or waxy exterior without damaging the more delicate insides. The end results are not only better, but the work is easier: serrated knives require less downward force meaning reduced effort for you, too.
One task for which serrated knives aren’t suited? Chopping. Serrated knives should only be used with a sawing motion. Leave the rest for your chef’s or paring knife.

3. A Paring Knife

Paring knives may look like pint-sized versions of chef’s knives, but they’re anything but. While chef’s knives are multipurpose, paring knives are very specific in their use: they’re ideal for all delicate kitchen tasks which require precision. Coring an apple? De-ribbing a jalapeno? A paring knife makes short work of these jobs, as well as other tasks which are simply too small to be handled by a larger blade.
A caveat? Because paring knives are lightweight they aren’t ideal for slicing small hard veggies, like parsnips and carrots. If you can’t pierce without applying pressure, you’re using the wrong tool.

4. A Honing Steel

Your knives are only as good as the condition they’re in, and knives which are not well maintained are useless. Over time and use, blade edges curl, causing knives to become dull. While not technically a “knife,” a honing steel is an essential part of any knife collection because it helps keep the blade in alignment. Contrary to popular misconception, honing — or sharpening steels — do not actually sharpen. However, they do serve a very important role in keeping your knives in good condition between sharpenings.

Whether you’re buying a complete knife set or planning on gradually adding to your collection, it’s also important to keep one last thing in mind. While these four listed above are the usual suspects on roundups of must-have knives, they’re far from the only options out there.
Butcher your own large cuts of meat? Then a cleaver is in order.

Frequently work with fish and other delicate proteins? A filet knife will come in handy.

Host family gatherings and parties? A carving knife will see you through from the slicing meat to cutting melon.

Shuck oysters? Oyster knife.

And the list goes on. The truth is that that every chef’s ideal knife collection varies depending on their own cooking styles and preferences. As you continue to refine your cooking skills, your knife needs will change and evolve. So before asking yourself, “What knife do I need?” you might first consider the question, “What kitchen tasks do I need to accomplish?”

A Guide to Measurement and Measuring Cups

Measuring in grams versus ounces can make cooking and baking slightly more challenging.One gram or one teaspoon here or there can sometimes have a serious impact on a food. Just imagine the sticky mess that can result from adding just a drop too much water to a dough, or the awful taste of pepper spilled into soup while attempting to eyeball the amount added. I’d say most of us have been there, done that, and ended up tossing our hard work. One of my serious considerations for going to culinary school, as opposed to pastry school, was that I don’t have the patience to meticulously measure out every ingredient. And on top of that, there’s the different measurement systems. There’s no escaping the recipes in grams and milliliters, nor pounds and cups. I was drawn to the idea of knowing the ingredients so well that I could eyeball the amounts. Yet there are some things that are just not eyeball-able, but rather require measuring tools to be used.

By Cup and By Weight

Cups come in all different shapes and sizes, yet recipes demand a standard that can be guaranteed only by measuring cups. The customary cup in the United States is under 240 milliliters whereas the metric cup is 250 milliliters, a slight, but sometimes important difference. The United States and Britain have yet to transfer over to the metric system which the rest of the world follows. The disparities in the systems can cause confusion abroad. Admittedly, knowing that the weather is 18 degrees Celsius means nothing to me, despite having lived abroad in a metric-using country for quite some time. And if you ask me my height in centimeters…well, I have no idea. Thankfully, there are scales which measure both British and Metric units. And for that stick of butter needed in grams, or those liters needed in cups, thank the internet. The biggest challenge in playing with unit conversions in recipes is in converting volumes to weights. One cup of flour is not equal to one cup of water when it comes to weight. If the proper measuring cups are not available, a little research will need to be done, which can add preparation time and hassle.

The Solution

The solution to the mix-up and complication with measuring cups, weights, and units is to have the proper measuring equipment on hand. Measuring cups and basic scales are not expensive and will often go a long way in helping create new menus, improve food quality and quality consistency in a venue, and simplify the cooking and baking processes for employees. As an added bonus, measuring equipment such as scales and measuring cups can also be used as food portioners for ensuring uniform dish sizes for each order and allowing exact calculation of profits on each dish. When having the proper equipment is not an option, conversion charts can be used. These can either be printed and then hung somewhere in the commercial kitchen or, if they are rarely needed, employees may take a break to look up the conversions on the internet. Venues can also convert their recipes to match their measuring equipment. If a recipe calls for one stick of butter, but the butter in a venue is purchased in bulk and not wrapped by sticks, the recipe can be reprinted as calling for 4 ounces of butter, rather than one stick.

The metric and British systems cause complications when it comes to unit conversions. However, these complications must be dealt with and overcome in the kitchen, in order to produce the best foods. Just a tad too much or too little salt can have a big effect on the diner’s portrayal of the dish and the kitchen staff’s food preparation skills. Though experienced cooks are likely to get it right, some dishes demand exact quantities to turn out great, making it important to have the proper measuring equipment on hand. Very experienced cooks may know that one ounce is about 28 grams, or that to convert Celsius temperatures to Fahrenheit, you must multiply the temperature by 1.8 and then add 32. Some may be able to calculate or estimate such conversions in their head, but for the most part, these switches are a challenge, not only for kitchen staff, but for cooks worldwide and in general. Aside from the solutions suggested above of having conversion charts, purchasing the right measuring equipment, or converting recipes to fit the tools in a specific kitchen, venues may want to have a kitchen calculator handy in order to avoid innocent mistakes and recipe mishaps. Following these tips will help make food preparation simpler and more consistent in a venue.

All About Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is made of a mixture of metals.  Steel provides the base, chromium is added for stain-resistance and toughness, and nickel is sometimes mixed in to add shine.

Stainless steel was discovered, or created, in 1913 when Harry Brearley, an English metallurgist was attempting to find a metal to improve rifle barrels. Instead, he accidentally discovered that upon addition of chromium to low-carbon steel, the alloy (the mix of metals) became stain resistant. Today stainless steel has developed into a more complicated mix of metals, often containing nickel, titanium, and other elements which may enhance the corrosion resistance of the stainless steel. Stainless steel’s properties make it convenient for many uses in commercial and home kitchens, but it must be maintained and cared for in order to last.

Uses

Stainless steel is used for pots, pans, chafers, utensils, and even sinks. The metal is mostly appreciated for its durability and stain-resistance. Stainless steel pots and pans tend to be heavy-bottomed, retaining and transferring heat efficiently. Utensils made with stainless steel go beyond the typical flatware, and include professional chef knives, and provide a clear advantage over alternative materials due to their toughness and stain-resistance. In addition to being stain-resistant and relatively wear-resistant, stainless steel products are typically easy to clean.
When choosing stainless steel products for your purposes, you should take note of the numbers which are used to describe the composition of the metal. The typical numbers include 18/10, 18/8, 18/0. The first number represents the percentage of chromium metal in the metal mixture, while the second number indicates the percentage of nickel in the mixture. Most of the remaining composition, not indicated in the numbers, is steel. Chromium adds toughness and stain resistance to the stainless steel, while nickel, which is not always added to the mixture, presents a non-corrosive and stain resistance element that adds shine to the stainless steel. Chafers, for example, tend to contain some nickel, yielding an aesthetic product fit for buffet presentation. The composition of the stainless steel will determine the purposes which it is best for. However, the many mixtures that exist have led to the use of stainless steel in a wide range of kitchen items.

Maintenance

Why is stainless steel stainless? The chromium which Harry Brearley added to the steel, back in the day, can combine with oxygen at the surface of the stainless steel item to form a thin layer which protects the surface of the metal. Because this layer is what gives the metal its stain resistance, and oxygen is important to the development of this protective layer, in areas with low oxygen or low air circulation, stainless steel products may wear down relatively quickly. High concentrations of salt or acids, as found in some of the heavy duty commercial kitchen cleaning products, can also damage stainless steel, and should therefore be avoided when cleaning and handling stainless steel items. Dirt and deposit on stainless steel can have a similar effect over time.

Cleaning

Almost all stainless steel items can be cleaned with soap and warm water to get rid of any deposits. However, some types of dirt and wear are harder to remove and may require some more complex cleaning strategies:

Hard water deposits can be removed by soaking the stainless steel item in a mixture of one part vinegar, to three parts water.
Organic solvents such as alcohol and acetone can be a fix for grease and oil stains.

Rust stains can be removed by soaking the stainless steel in 10% nitric acid in water for up about 30 to 60 minutes.

Minor scratches can be fixed with impregnated nylon pads, while deeper scratches can be fixed with iron-free abrasives.

It is very important to use gloves when employing any of the solutions mentioned above, besides the typical soap and water cleaning and the vinegar solution for hard water deposits. The chemicals mentioned above can be abrasive and dangerous to skin. When using any chemical, don’t forget to read the instructions and warnings carefully. Some of the chemicals listed above may require the use of safety goggles as well as gloves. After using the preliminary fixes mentioned above, the stainless steel item should be rinsed thoroughly with water and washed very well with soap and water.

Aside from the environmental conditions and cleanliness required to maintain stainless steel, the metal is very durable. Therefore, stainless steel kitchen tools can last indefinitely, theoretically, giving them a huge advantage over kitchen tools made of most other materials. Though stainless steel products can be relatively expensive, their durability and easy maintenance often make them a smart investment which pays off in the long run.

Wearing which hat?

Chef hats are usually required in the restaurant kitchen by local regulations.  However, choosing the right chef hat for employee comfort and convenience can make all the difference.I was once working in an upscale hotel kitchen, and they required all their kitchen staff to wear tall chef hats while on shift. Though tall chef hats can appear very impressive, they were not very practical. Every time I opened the door to one of the walk-in fridges, my hat would be blown off by the powerful fans. On the other hand, in culinary school we wore baseball caps as cooking hats. The advantage was a more comfortable to work with fit, but the main disadvantage was that the visor would sometimes get in the way of seeing everything that was going on around me in the kitchen.

The decision of which chef hat to require workers to wear should be a balance between utility and aesthetics. On the one hand, it should be comfortable for workers to do their day to day tasks, while not having to worry about their hair getting into the food. On the other hand, customers are likely to glimpse the chefs, making it important to have some kind of uniformity and aesthetic look to the chef hats. Chef hats are usually required according to food business regulations, so choosing the right ones is very important. This guide provides an overview of a few of the options often used.

Toque Hats

Toque hats are the most often used, and most common hats that come to mind when thinking of chef hats. Toque hats are usually made of disposable paper and white, and are tall and stiff. In short, that inconvenient hat I wrote about in the first paragraph of this article: that was a tall toque hat. Toque hats can come in two difference forms, with one type being tall and stiff and the other more floppy. The tall and stiff ones are offered in different heights and sizes, and offering a few different types in a venue can (…Read More…)

Melamine vs. Plastic vs. China

Fine china dinner plates instantly elevate the level of a meal, creating an elegant and upscale vibe and restaurant ambience.The perfect dinnerware is always a struggle to choose when entertaining, at home or in a restaurant. There’s a tension between making an excellent impression with fine china, and preventing the potential loss of a plate or too, by offering plastic or melamine dishes instead. Home cooks often choose to go with fine china when looking to impress, but for businesses, there is more at risk, with a statistically higher chance of financial losses when using fine china dinnerware. For food businesses, it is obviously more attractive to use ceramic or glass dinnerware, such as china. However, when serving kids’ meals, or for very casual venues, it may be worth offering nice plastic or melamine dishes instead, in order to save costs and hassle. But what really is the difference between these different materials?

Melamine

Melamine is a chemical used in many different types of industries. In the food industry, it became a choice material for tableware in the late 1950s. It’s lightness, strength, and resistance to cracking made it an attractive alternative to ceramic dinnerware. It was used to make plates, cups, and serving utensils. However, sales have gone down since their peak in the 1960s, due to the material’s tendency to stain and scratch. Scratches in food preparation and serving equipment are a notorious harvesting ground for bacteria. But the health concerns associated with melamine go beyond the scratches. There has been suspicion that the material may contaminate foods with melamine, which has been found by the Food and Drug Administration to raise the chance of kidney stones, kidney failure, and even death above certain levels. Luckily, only very low levels of melamine were found to leak into acidic foods in extreme heat conditions. What this means for food businesses today is that melamine dinnerware can be an appropriate and cheap option for fast casual venues and for serving kids’ meals, but should be used with caution and switched often in order to address the aesthetic and health concerns appropriately. It should not be used for serving very hot foods or in the microwave.

Plastic

Whereas melamine plates can be a cheap, hassle-free replacement for china, good quality plastic plates can offer a shatter-safe alternative for glass plates. Most plastic dinnerware is made of a material called polycarbonate, which can come in scratch-free varieties. Hard plastic can be hard to differentiate from glass, providing an attractive plating option. However, plastic plates may get scratched and/or “foggy” over time, and will therefore likely have to be replace on a semi-regular basis. Hard plastic dinnerware is dishwasher safe, providing an extra convenience over fine china. However, in order to prevent chemicals from seeping into food, it is usually recommended to avoid heating the plastic plates. It is also important to make sure to purchase BPA-free options. BPA is a carcinogenic compound found in some plastic products. Overall, plastic can be compared to melamine as an inexpensive and convenient alternative to glass, ceramic, and china dinnerware.

China

Fine china has a reputation for being a lot fancier than your typical plates. However, it is made from ceramics, similarly to the most common restaurant plates that are used. The difference is in the quality, expense, and fineness of the dishes, with fine china often being breakably and beautifully thin, with intricate detailing. Fine dining restaurants tend to offer their meals on china, and accordingly, the dishes will usually be hand-washed and hand-polished before being deemed fit for service. Restaurants offering such plates should budget in the added costs of purchasing and replacing such dinnerware, since accidents are pretty much guaranteed to happen. A single fine china plate can easily cost a few hundred dollars, making it a main cost when starting up the venue and maintaining it. Yet the expense can be worth it for upscale dining locations, with a noticeable impact on the restaurant ambience. For other, more colloquial venues, ceramic plates with beautiful shapes and in a variety of sizes can provide a basis for aesthetic and contrasting food plating, doing the job at a lower price.

It’s fair to say that melamine can be compared to plastic, but it would be relatively unreasonable to compare those two to fine china. Fine china is in a whole other category altogether, but can be compared and contrasted with ceramic dinnerware in order to make purchasing decisions. The right purchase depends on the target customer group, the type of venue, and the business’s budget.

Pick Your Peppercorns

Black, white, pink, and green peppercorns can add color and complexity to a dish

Pepper, together with salt, makes up the most basic of spices, included in almost every type of cuisine. Almost every savory recipe calls for salt and pepper to taste, without specifying exact amounts, because they are so basic and necessary in flavoring, that most home and professional cooks are able to eyeball the necessary amount which will make the dish come out perfect according to their taste preferences. Pepper has some health benefits as well. It has antimicrobial properties, possibly helping prevent infection, and is also thought to help in the digestive process. Pepper contains some key vitamins and minerals, and may have some therapeutic properties against pain, cancer, bronchitis, and malaria. Like most spices, for food it should be used in appropriately small amounts. An overload of pepper can make dishes inedible and may have negative side effects for the diner. If plain old ground black pepper isn’t exciting enough for you, many other types of pepper exist. Below is a guide to some of the common types of peppercorns available.

Black Pepper

Black pepper is the most commonly used type of pepper in the United States. It has a spicy taste, and is often made available in shakers, alongside salt, on restaurant tables. You would be hard-pressed to find a restaurant kitchen without black pepper handy and used in dishes, and for good reason, since its taste can enhance pretty much any dish when used in small amounts (like salt). Black pepper is a dried form of not yet ripened, and therefore green peppercorns, sometimes boiled briefly before the drying process to help the darkening process during the drying. The slow-drying process allows enzymes within the pepper to darken its color. Purchasing it in the form of peppercorns, and grinding it close to the time it will be used, will help it keep its flavor longer compared to the pre-ground form. Peppercorns are also the chosen option for flavoring clear stocks and soups, since it can be strained out after cooking. If a restaurant was to choose only one type of pepper to keep on hand, black pepper would be it.

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