August Lifestyle Newletter

In This Issue:

1) Why Do Make-Ahead Recipes Work So Well To Reduce Your Dinner Party Stress?

2) British Food In The Countryside

3) How Sparkling Wine is Made

4) Haven't Got The Time? : Time Management


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Why Do Make-Ahead Recipes Work So Well To Reduce Your Dinner Party Stress?

One of the “tricks” I find most useful for hosting stress-free dinner parties is to make some of the recipes ahead. I find that too many last minute jobs can overwhelm me, so I plan ahead to eliminate as many as possible.

The more dishes you can prepare a day or some hours before guests ring your doorbell, the more you reduce your stress. Here are some reasons:

  • You avoid a last minute crisis if preparation takes longer than you thought it would.
  • If you like to cook, you’ll have the leisure to enjoy what you’re doing instead of feeling frantic about a deadline
  • You have time to clean up after you cook.
  • If there is a disaster, say you burn something, you have plenty of time to come up with an alternate plan.
  • If you have prepared the dessert ahead, you don’t need to leave the table for a long stretch just when the conversation is getting really interesting.
  • Put your imagination to work for you! Try to imagine your way through the last minute jobs you will have to get dinner on the table, and reduce them to a minimum you feel comfortable with. It helps to think about what all those last minute jobs are: setting out the ice water pitcher, lighting the candles, putting items in serving dishes and getting the guests to the table.

By the way, many of these are jobs that your guests can do.

What is your level of tolerance for last minute jobs?

Now ask yourself what your level of tolerance is for last minute jobs? If it is low, then you should think about finding some recipes that absolutely minimize any last minute work. This is especially true if you are an inexperienced cook.

Some of the recipes I rely on are make-ahead, and some are just items that I can bring home from the store and put out in nice serving dishes.

Some cooks even make everything ahead. If you love stews, lasagna and casseroles, then you could do that too.

But I often prefer serving a delicious roast of lamb or beef or chicken as the special item on the menu. Luckily these dishes are ones you can put in the oven and leave to themselves while you do other things.

If you can add potatoes and vegetables to the roast while it cooks you have almost all of the advantages of make-ahead. Once you pop them in the oven beside the roast you can pretty well ignore them until they are cooked.

So I tend to focus on finding appetizers, salads, side dishes and desserts that I can make ahead, or set out straight from the store, or vegetables I can cook alongside a roast. Then I can concentrate on the last minute items like slicing a roast, making gravy, and getting things on the table.

Probably the most important category for me is appetizers. I find it too stressful to be fussing at cooking something while the doorbell is ringing. If you are hosting by yourself you may find the same.

So I try to have a repertoire of make-ahead or buy-ahead appetizer recipes that work for me. Often I serve more than one, since some of my guests like to stick to very light appetizers, and others enjoy heartier ones.

You can build your repertoire of make ahead recipes for your home dinner parties. I suggest you start with appetizers. If you want to see some of my favorites, just go to my the Make-Ahead Appetizers page on my website.

Enjoy minimizing your hosting stress and watching your guests’ eyes light up at the sight of your tasty, well presented appetizers.

British Food In The Countryside

There is a lot of misunderstanding on the surface about the subject of British cuisine. This is mainly because British cuisine varies widely, depending on what part of the country you're visiting. The cuisine of London, for example, is far different from the cuisine of Yorkshire, or the cuisine of tiny, unfamiliar regions scattered across the country and virtually unknown to Americans. In my opinion, the true cuisine of the British is not what is found in the big cities, but the unknown treasures of the table that are hiding in the farmlands and countrysides and old villages across Great Britain.

If you are ever wandering the British countryside, and you stop at a local pub or restaurant for breakfast, prepare yourself. The classic British breakfast is a large meal, bigger than what we're used to as Americans, and most of it tends to be fried. Fried bacon and eggs, fried bread, and fried tomatoes are standards. The true British country experience involves a breakfast heavier than your knapsack.

Asking for coffee with your breakfast in the UK is just no fun. Give the tea sensation a try. British cuisine leans heavily on tea, served with milk and sugar, the latter of which is usually coarse, brown, and unrefined. Tea is served for any meal and any time in between. It's just as classically British as it sounds.

Any typical British meal, whether it's breakfast, lunch or dinner, tends to consist of some form of potatoes. Especially in the countryside, the British rely heavily on potatoes, and serve them in very traditional manners. A wonderful British treat is something called a pasty. Meat, potatoes, vegetables and warm gravy are wrapped in a flaky bakery crust and sold ready to eat. Pasties are treated like take-out sandwiches or fast food, walking down the street with a paper cone or napkin wrapped around them. They keep your hands warm too!

The other major staple of typical British food is, of course, fish and chips. Fish and chip shops abound in all cities in England. British fish and chips are amazingly crackly, cooked until the coating is rich brown and salty, and the meat inside tender white and flaky. Chips, or potato wedges, are served hot and crispy on the side, and generally the whole thing is smothered in as much vinegar and salt as the consumer can stand. There is something distinctly British about that malt vinegar- left on the tables at restaurants like American ketchup.

The smells and flavors of traditional British cuisine are well worth experiencing. If you find yourself in England, take time out to explore the sites, the back pathways and rolling fields. And stop at a bakery for a pasty, stop for fish and chips. Order tea instead of your usual coffee. The British experience just isn't the same if you miss out on this marvelous tradition- authentic British food!

How Sparkling Wine is Made

There are three methods that may be used to make sparkling wine. These methods are: the Transfer Method, Charmat Bulk process and Methode Champenoise. Methode Champenoise is the most labor-intensive and costly of these.

Before we get into how sparkling wines are made, we should first make a distinction between sparkling wine and champagne. Champagne is sparkling wine, but sparkling wine is not necessarily champagne. True champagne is produced in the Champagne region of France by using the Methode Champenoise and is produced from a high quality grape. In many circles in the United States, the term "champagne" has become a general term to include any sparkling wine. These are frequently made from inferior grapes through bulk processing and are often sweetened to mask their inferior quality. They are not true Champagnes.

Sparkling wines are made from both white and red grape varieties. The quality of the fruit is critical to the outcome of the finished product. In the Champagne region of France, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier are used. But in other internationally recognized sparkling regions, like Asti, other varieties such as Muscat Blanco may be used. The grapes are harvested earlier than those picked for still (table) wine. There are several reasons for this early harvesting. One reason is to obtain a lower alcohol level in the cuvee (wine made from the initial fermentation, also called "base" wine). During the fermenting process the sugar is converted to alcohol, therefore the lower the sugar content of the grapes, the lower the alcohol content of the finished product. The reason for the lower alcohol content in the base wine is that the wine will go through another fermentation process that will increase the alcohol level. Another reason for harvesting grapes while at a lower sugar level is to produce a higher total acidity and lower pH rating. This adds longevity and crispness to the wine.

Now lets take a look at the three different methods vintners may use to make sparkling wines. Methode Champenoise is a more labor-intensive and expensive method than the other two methods of producing sparkling wine. After harvesting the fruit, the juice is pressed and put into containers for the first fermentation. These containers are either stainless steel vats or oak barrels. When the first fermentation is complete, various lots of wine are blended together to produce an assemblage (the final blend of varieties for the finished wine). Then a mixture of yeast and sugar, called a triage, is added to the base wine. The wine is bottled with a small plastic cup that fits in the neck of the bottle and collects any sediment. This small plastic cup is called a "bidule" The second fermentation takes place in the bottle and due to the sugar and yeast being added, alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. Due to carbon dioxide formation and pressures up to 90 pounds per square inch, bottles for Champagne and sparkling wine must be thicker than regular wine bottles. During the second fermentation, temperature plays an important role. Cooler temperatures produce finer bubbles. Once the second fermentation is complete, dead yeast cells begin to break down and form a sediment in the wine. This process is called autolysis. The winemaker decides how long to allow for the autolysis process and this in turn has an impact on the final taste of the wine. The sediment must then be removed without losing the carbon dioxide and sparkle. The first step in doing this is riddling or remuage. In years past, this was done by inserting the neck of the wine bottle into a rack, called a pupitres, that would hold it at a 45 degree angle so the dead yeast cells would settle into the neck where the bidule was attached. Then every few days, a trained person, called a remuer, would give each of the bottles a quick shake and increase the angle of the bottles until they were eventually positioned completely downward, thereby collecting all the sediment in the neck. Today, the riddling process is automated. Next the sediment is removed by disgorgement. This is where the bottle is placed neck down in an icy brine to freeze the sediment into a solid plug. The cap is then removed and the pressure inside the bottle causes the frozen sediment to be expelled. Then a "dosage" is added. This dosage is a small amount of wine mixed with sugar and sometime brandy and it determines the sweetness or dryness of the sparkling wine. The bottle is then corked and secured with a wire hood.

The Transfer Method of making sparkling wine is similar to the Methode Champenoise except that instead of riddling to remove the sediment, the wine is transferred to a pressurized tank where the sediment is filtered. It is then bottled, corked and secured with a wire hood in preparation for sale to the public.

The Charmat Bulk Process is the quickest and least expensive method of making sparkling wine. With this process, instead of the wine going through the second fermentation in the bottle, the base wine is placed in a temperature-controlled, pressurized tank to which sugar and yeast is added. The secondary fermentation takes place in this tank without the release of any carbon dioxide. This tank acts like a very large bottle. Once the fermenting is complete, the wine is filtered under counter pressure and bottled using a counter-pressure filler. Because the wine has not spent the same amount of time in contact with the carbon dioxide, the bubbles tend to be larger and dissipate more quickly.

Haven't Got The Time?

Time management is a universal concern and taking the necessary steps to conquer the issue is often avoided. But since the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, begin today to win time back into your service - it's been your enemy long enough!

1. Keep a running To Do list.

This yields immediate results. Use your list to continually reassess your changing priorities, to enable you to remain fluid in the face of a day that seems to morph before your very eyes! The idea is to empty your mind of the daily details and free it for the more valuable creative opportunities.

If you use your computer, create a template with all the elements valuable to you and a format easy to read and update. Load it daily or build continually on the same list, refreshing as you go.

On the go? Print your list and take it along, making notations for transfer later. Keep supporting materials attached, copies letters, estimates, invoices, and phone numbers, everything necessary to dispatch the items on your list. Since you won't need 15 minutes to locate supporting paperwork, you can cross an item from your list, even if you only have a few minutes between appointments.

2. Use an organizer or palm pilot - make it really work for you.

If you use a daily planner, make your entries in pencil and be sure that each date has plenty of room for those unscheduled "squeeze-in" activities you wish to complete. Update names and addresses each time you update your address book in your email program. Consider working with a zippered planner and include copies of supporting paperwork for each upcoming appointment, phone call, etc.

You may find the best of both worlds works for you, and a hand held organizer which syncs with your computer is the perfect tool for you. Whatever you use, make sure it's comfortable for you - after all, it will only work if you'll work it.

3. Handle incoming mail immediately.

Keep a wastebasket near your front door or inbox and sort mail as it arrives - never let it pile up. Be ruthless! If you put it aside to read later, make sure "later" is an actual item on your schedule, "time to review today's mail," and then stick to it. If it's not, remember manana never comes. You may be rushed at the moment, but check your LATER stack and if it's an inch high or more, there is a pattern in the making and chances are you won't get to it until you are doing a major muck-out.

4. Use voicemail and email freely as appropriate.

These two valuable technologies have developed somewhat of a reputation as inferior communication tools. No technology is all bad or all good - all things in moderation. Learn how to use electronic communication wisely and appropriately and value it for the opportunity it affords you to clearly state your issue uninterrupted and with no time wasted. These tools are most effective when used to enhance, not to replace, personal contact.

The same temptation we fight with incoming mail presents itself with both voicemail and email. Deal with incoming messages immediately, only filing emails when you have read them and know you will need to refer to them in future. Transcribe voicemail messages for future use and then delete them. If you haven't time to listen right away, make sure you schedule a time.

5. Use travel time as personal development and study time.

Employing motivational tapes and audio books, make this time a personal enrichment time that you can look forward to each day. If you don't already have a backlog of tapes and CD's you never seem to get to, try your local library for starters. Large bookstore chains devote entire sections to audio books - the hardest part is choosing among them!

If personal development is not a key issue, you might consider a small tape recorder to document squibbets, brilliant thoughts, notes, or additions to your To Do list. Don't try to juggle too much if you're the driver though - save your serious dictation for stop lights, freight trains and gridlock. Business letters and reports are best kept for a time when you can concentrate fully on the project.

6. Schedule appointments early in the day.

This is a great time manager and, allowing for a bit of initial resistance, people will become accustomed to your scheduling idiosyncrasies. Leave your afternoon for follow-up conversations, correspondence, etc. Evenings are free and carryover is minimized. It's worth hitting the ground running each day if you know the rewards are real and there will actually be an end to your day!

7. Make a working file for every project & file everything in it - immediately.

If it's a new project, make a new file the first time it generates paper - it takes seconds to place an item where it belongs and most people work smarter in an uncluttered atmosphere. Keep your current projects handy in a desktop file; you'll be more likely to keep up with the filing when it's close at hand.

Consider an old fashioned tickler file, 31 files labeled with the days of the month. File a copy of a dated action item along with copies of supporting documents in a desktop file or a tub drawer and check it first thing each morning.

Start today! Each tip can be implemented with minimal preparation, but the reward of gaining a sense of control over the day puts you back in the driver's seat, actually spending time (i.e., making conscious decisions regarding its allocation), rather than watching it trickle through your fingers. With the time you'll save - - start planning your vacation. See you on the beach!

Until Next Month,

Best Wishes,

Stephen Scott, Regal Titles

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