cigar gift

How to buy cigars as a gift: 5 tips to choosing a quality cigar

Graduations, Father’s day and weddings are coming up! Is there a cigar aficionado on your gift list? Wondering how to choose a decent cigar for a friend or loved one?

Even if you know nothing about cigars or choosing a good cigar, just learning a few basics can help you sniff out (sometimes literally) a good cigar to give to a friend.

Fortunately, cigars have now entered the mainstream. Once the symbol of the rich and powerful, it’s easier than ever for just about anyone to purchase a good cigar. Of course, you probably won’t be able to buy your friend a box of top-tier Cuban cigars, but you can definitely buy them a good quality cigar that will put a smile on their face.

First, visit your local tobacconist or specialty smoke shop for the best quality and widest selection. Avoid ‘drugstore’ cigars. Although they may be inexpensive and convenient to purchase, drugstore cigars are usually filled with preservatives and generally of poorer quality. They may contain, at minimum, saltpeter, paper, glycerin, and other preservatives and irritants. You should make sure that the cigars you purchase are made of 100% tobacco. If you have any questions regarding the cigars ingredients, ask the salesperson. An experienced and knowledgeable sales clerk will be able to tell you extensive information about the ingredients.

Your local tobacco shop is a good place to shop because you will generally be allowed to smell and touch the cigars.

  1. Squeeze the cigar gently. A good quality cigar will give a little when squeezed. The cigar should be firm, with no excessively soft or hard spots. Never buy a lumpy cigar.
  2. If you notice any drying or discoloration on the wrapper, do not buy it. Ideally, the wrapper should be tight and smooth.
  3. Inspect the color of the tobacco to make sure it is even. Do this by inspecting the end of the cigar. Some color variation is normal, but if the color changes abruptly, chances are the cigar was not rolled properly. A cigar that is not rolled properly may result in an uneven burning and unpleasant odors.
  4. If you’re not sure how much your friend smokes, choose a longer cigar. Longer cigars tend to have a ‘cooler’ taste-an excellent choice for beginners.
  5. If you know your friend is an experienced and regular smoker, choose a cigar that is greater in diameter. These cigars tend to have a richer flavor that experienced smokers will appreciate.
wine pairing with food

7 Wine tips to increase your palette

Have you ever been to a restaurant with the intention of buying a glass of wine, only to be handed a binder full of selections to choose from? Well, it’s times like these where knowing a bit about wine can go a long way.

  1. Try not to exclusively drink the best (read: expensive) wine that you can find at all times. Sometimes, you will notice that some of the best tasting wines are medium grade and not the creme of the crop. Explore all types of wine and try them with different meals to determine your favorites. Also note that when you ask for a server’s recommendations, a good server will not exclusively recommend the most expensive.
  2. If you are having red meats, stick to red wine. This is the general principle, and should rarely be veered away from. Red wine helps to bring out the flavor in the steak or meat that you choose and vice versa, giving you the best possible experience. While red wine may also be appropriate for fish, white is never a good balance for steak.
  3. wine and food pairing

    Always pair red wine with steak

    When purchasing a wine for dinner, make sure to ask in the merchant if the wine is ready to drink. Some wines need to age in order for their true flavor to come out. This might mean months or even years should go by before the bottle is enjoyed. By asking if the wine is ready to drink, you have a better chance of walking out with a bottle you will enjoy.

  4. Read everything you can get your hands-on with respect to wine. Check out blogs and reviews. New ones are coming out all the time, and they can be very valuable in helping you select wine that you might enjoy. Hint: when you find a wine you like from a certain reviewer, make a note that you have similar tastes and this a reviewer you should heed reviews from. There are even apps for your phone that can help with wine selection.
  5. Choose your food and wine pairings carefully. Typically, white wine is suitable for light dishes, salads or fish. Red wine goes well with heavier dishes and dark meats. The rule of thumb is the heavier or darker the dish, the darker the wine that you choose. If you have having a multi-course dinner, start with white wine and progress to red wine.
  6. Be mindful of wine experts and what they say, yet also take their considerations with a grain of salt. Any expert worth his weight in salt will admit to his own fallibility. Also, their personal tastes will never identically match your own. You should never allow an expert opinion to override your own feelings.
  7. Go to wine tastings. There are plenty of free wine tastings at restaurants to get patrons in on slower evenings. Check these out to taste wines you may not otherwise, feel comfortable purchasing a full bottle. Here you can also network and make friends with other wine newbies.

As you now know, there is a lot of information to deal with when it comes to wine. However, when you have the right information and put in a little effort, you can be a wine expert in no time. Just make sure to enjoy your wine education, as it is supposed to be fun!

foods that speed up metabolism

Foods that Speed Up Metabolism

So you’ve pretty much eaten your way through December. Now it’s January and you’ve stepped on the scale and wishing you’s passed on that dessert or ten. Kick up your metabolism to help shed that weight. Here are some foods that speed up metabolism.

You must burn more calories than you eat, bottom line, no matter what kind of a diet you’re on.  Forget fad diets, low carb, no carb, no gluten. Here are some foods, some you may already be eating that help speed up your metabolism. Note that the diet industry makes money off many Americans’ desire to lose weight. But don’t waste time on these fad diets. Start eating these foods to speed up your metabolism and burn more calories in a healthy way.

    • Wine – Like red wine? Great. Start drinking a glass per day to help speed up your metabolism. Studies have shown that just one glass a day helps to burn calories. Make sure to stick to just one glass a day as more than interfere with sleep and can actually have the reverse affect of burning calories.


    • Fish – Sardines, tuna and salmon are high on the list of foods that speed up metabolism. Not only are they great sources of heart-healthy fat and Omega-3, they help lower your levels of a hormone called leptin. It’s easier to lose weight when your leptin levels stay in the lower ranges. Eat more fish, and if you don’t like fish, take fish oil supplements.
    • Peppers – Hot and spicy peppers like cayenne, habanero and jalapeno make the list of foods that speed up metabolism. How does this work? They contain an ingredient called capsaicin which can boost your metabolism for up to 3 hours after you ingest it. Not only are hot peppers are terrific way to speed up your metabolism if you can tolerate them, but they can liven up many bland dishes.
    • Whole grains – When it comes to burning calories, you have to think in terms of foods that are going to keep you full for a long amount of time. So, you’ll want to avoid sugary snacks and pastas. Whole grains are among some of the best foods that speed up metabolism, because they digest slowly and keep your blood sugar levels even. Cinnamon also has blood sugar-regulating properties, so use of this spice can help keep your metabolism chugging at high speed.

foods to speed up metablolism

  • Proteins – Protein-rich foods like nuts, eggs, beans and lean meats give your body the fat to keep everything running smoothly.
  • Water – If you workout at the gym, have you seen those people that go around sipping water from a gallon jug? They know that part of the secret of speeding up metabolism is consuming a ton of water. It keeps your body operating at top efficiency. Add lemon for a burst of citrus flavor!

How to Plan an Easy Rachel Ray Style Holiday Meal

Have a Rachel Ray Style Holiday Meal

A Rachel Ray holiday meal isn’t just a great feast. It’s bound to be something almost anyone can do. Because Rachel Ray holiday meals are easier than many other chefs’ ideas, even inexperienced cooks have great success with her recipes.

Holiday meals by Rachel Ray typically include all the standard things. There’s a potato of some kind, poultry or ham, vegetables, bread and a dessert. They’re not the standard dishes you might be used to on holidays. But if you want the same old thing you probably wouldn’t be looking for recipes in the first place.

One of her holiday meals includes whole Yukon gold potatoes. While mashed potatoes are the standard fare, her potatoes are cooked whole in chicken stock and then just slightly smashed to crack them open. The method of cooking and the spices she adds give the potatoes a unique flavor.

If you’re tired of having the exact same foods every holiday, Rachel Ray’s recipes like those potatoes can add some variety. A holiday variation of hers is also having Rock Cornish game hens instead of the traditional turkey. Cooking these smaller birds is much faster and easier than cooking a large turkey.

Speed and ease are what Rachel Ray recipes are all about, so it only makes sense that her holiday recipes would be simple, too. Her vegetable recipes use fresh veggies and some simple spice to make elegant but easy dishes. Braised carrots and fennel is a simple dish that has a very fall/winter flavor. It only takes a few ingredients, too.

And because Rachel Ray says herself that she’s not a baker, her pumpkin pie recipe involves a ready-made pie. The recipe is actually for the spiced whipped cream to put on top of it. You can buy a pie and dress it up with homemade whipped cream. Or you can add her tasty whipped cream recipe to your home-baked pie.

If you like Rachel’s folksy, friendly style, then there’s no reason not to try her holiday recipes. Especially when they are a bit different and more interesting that the standard, traditional holiday dishes. She has some of her holiday dishes in her cookbooks, and of course there are her television shows. Many of her holiday recipes are readily available online, also.

One good thing about her holiday recipes is that, aside from a pre-baked pie or purchased bread, the ingredients are all fresh. She doesn’t use mixes or boxed items, so you won’t get additives like fat, salt and MSG.

And to make Rachel Ray’s Holiday recipes even healthier, bake your own bread and your own pie, and use her spread and whipped cream recipes on your baked creations. Then your Rachel Ray holiday meal is as fresh and unique as possible.


How to Plan a Tasty Vegetarian Thanksgiving

If you’re hosting Thanksgiving at your house and are expecting vegetarian guests this year, don’t worry about preparing one large meat eating meal, and another separate vegetarian meal. Most vegetarians do not require a ‘meat equivalent’ at Thanksgiving. Yes, traditionally Thanksgiving has largely about the food. But more importantly it’s about family, togetherness, happiness and peace. And if this is your first Thanksgiving after transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle, try some of these ideas to incorporate healthy food preparation into your meal that your vegetarian guests, and you as host, will be thankful for this Thanksgiving:

– Bake some stuffing outside of the turkey for your vegetarian Thanksgiving.

– Make a small portion of vegetarian gravy.

– Keep cooking utensils separate to prevent “cross-contamination” between meat foods and vegetarian foods.

– When recipes are adaptable, use substitutions like vegetarian broth, soy margarine (the formulations without whey are suitable for vegans), soy milk, and kosher marshmallows which are made without gelatin.

– Use vegetable oils instead of animal fats for frying, and vegetable shortening like Crisco for pie crust.

– Read ingredients lists carefully on pre-packaged foods, being aware of terms like gelatin, whey, and “natural flavors” that can be animal-derived.

– Prepare plenty of vegetable and fruit side dishes, but leave them plain.

– Offer plenty of breads, beverages, fresh fruits, and non-gelatin desserts, which are suitable without modification for most vegetarians.

– Invite your vegetarian guest(s) to prepare a “Tofurky” or vegetarian ‘turkey equivalent’ entree to share with you the rest of your guests, or if you’re hosting Thanksgiving, prepare a small one. Your meat-eating guests might just be curious enough to want to try it!

– Ask your vegetarian guest for help, tips, or recipes for your vegetarian Thanksgiving. You may find that your guest offers to help out in the kitchen or bring a dish from home. Please don’t take a dish from home as an insult to your cooking; take it as a desire to share traditions at Thanksgiving. Even meat-eating homes can benefit from a healthy, nutrient-dense vegetarian recipe idea any time of the year!

– Most importantly – make TONS of new, delicious (not overly cooked) vegetables that are perfectly in season like squashes, sweet potatoes, and green beans, etc.


7 Dishes You are Mispronouncing

Sure, we all know how to pronounce “chipotle” now. But if you are a foodie, then there are lots of other items you eat regularly. It’s always good to know the correct pronunciation as you dine with friends and during networking.

  1. A common appetizer at Italian restaurants is bruschetta, a tomato mixture almost like a salad or salsa that sits atop toasted or grilled bread. Most of us in the U.S. take the letters “sch” and pronounce them “shh,” but the correct Italian pronunciation is “brew-skeht-uh.”
  2. Charcuterie: Popular at many restaurants, it is a selection of cured meats. These can be salami, chorizo, ham, and other meats. These high-quality meats are cured for long periods of time and have a salty, nutty flavor. They are often served with a selection of cheese too. It is pronounced “shar-koo-tury.”
  3. Even if you’ve never heard the word crudités, you’ve had it. It is basically fresh vegetables, like carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, and others, that are colorful and look good on a platter for parties. They are usually served with a dip, like ranch. The French word is pronounced “cru-dih-tay.”
  4. Foie gras: This controversial food is a rich, decadent, and expensive dish that is served in fine-dining restaurants, often as a starter. The dish has a special kind of buttery taste that is from the liver of a duck or goose. It is often served with bread and jam. It is pronounced “fwah-grah.”
  5. Haricots verts: These are like the French version of green beans. They are often fancied up and served with items such as almonds or bacon. As often with French words, you can pronounce it by dropping the last letter of the word: “ah-ree-koh-vehr.”
  6. Jícama: This Mexican root vegetable, similar to a turnip, is not only full of flavor but also quite healthy too. Full of fiber, it is great for weight loss, with only 35 calories for 100 grams. It is also full of nutrients and helps to regulate blood pressure. It is pronounced “he-caw-ma.”
  7. Sommelier: Like wine? If you are really good at detecting tastes and deciphering smells, then you could have a career as a sommelier. Sommeliers work in restaurants and make recommendations for wine to pair with meals. They also travel and lecture about wine at food conferences. Pronounce it “saw-mall-yay.”

3 Pumpkin Recipes to Fall For

It’s Pumpkin Season! Bring on the Pumpkin Recipes

There are many reasons to love fall: the cooler weather, boot and scarf season, and of course Pumpkin in every form is EVERYWHERE! I can’t get enough of Pumpkin – lattes, bagels, pumpkin beer, it’s everywhere and I love it! I especially love this recipe for Pumpkin Waffles with Bananas & Warm Caramel Sauce. Here is the recipe and photo courtesy of Hot Shot Bakery & Café in St. Augustine, FL.

Pumpkin Waffles with Bananas

Pumpkin waffles

4 eggs, beaten
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp sour cream
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 ½ cups milk
Mix all together till smooth.

3 cups unbleached flour
½ tsp salt
2 cups oatmeal
1 tbsp cinnamon
½ tsp ginger
1 ½ tbsp baking powder
Mix till smooth.

½ cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup water
Pour all ingredients into heavy saucepan and stir. Simmer until sugar is dissolved.

1 can sweetened condensed milk
½ cup corn syrup
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. vanilla
Melt until caramel golden brown.

2 Tbs. chopped pecans
½ sliced banana
¼ cup cold butter

Pour 1 cup batter into waffle iron and top with chopped pecans. Remove from waffle iron and place 2 pats of butter and sliced banana on top of waffle. Pour warm caramel sauce over waffle. (Batter can stay fresh in frig for five days).

Pumpkin Slow Cooker Coconut Curry

I love this recipe because so often Pumpkin recipes are so sweet with coffees and desserts. But this embraces Pumpkin’s savory side. Don’t be fooled by the name, the recipe includes chicken. I found that chicken tenderloins shredded quite nicely as well. Plus you get all kinds of good vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes in this too.

Pumpkin Hummus

Who doesn’t love hummus, right? If you are having guests over, this a great appetizer to whip up. You can even add in a can of chickpeas to give it a more “hummus” taste. Also, a good substitute for the parsley is cilantro.



Lobster Sustainability Matters

If you are a lobster lover, you seize every opportunity you can to have this seafood delicacy. As tasty a treat as lobster is, if you don’t live near a city or town where lobster is caught, you may not be getting the best lobster possible. Sure, it is possible for this to be shipped, but it requires that there is a demand for this specialized lobster.

Here is a behind the scenes look at lobsters from Maine and straight talk from lobstermen who are out there on a daily basis catching these majestic creatures. There’s a lot more to the quality that you may know. Plus, these lobster men care about sustainability and have been practicing these efforts long before it was cool.

Protecting the quality of their product and the marine environment is paramount to Maine lobstermen. Some regulations that help ensure the health of the lobsters include:

Harvest Method: Harvesting in Maine is by trap only. Traps include escape vents for under size lobsters as well as biodegradable escape hatches to free lobsters in lost traps.

Minimum Size Limit: Minimum 3 1/4″ measurements make sure baby lobsters have the opportunity to mature and reproduce before being harvested.

Tail Notching: Female lobsters with visible eggs cannot be harvested. Before releasing her, the harvester notches her tail to identify her as a good breeder, thus protecting her for life from being harvested.

Trap Limits: The total number of traps per harvester is limited by both the state and lobster zones.

Lobster Seed Fund: Supported by license fees, the Fund purchases females that extrude their eggs after being harvested. This unique buy-back program helps to ensure that the good breeding stock is returned to the ocean to reproduce.

Here’s your guide on how to crack a Lobster:


Photo credit: Lobster of Maine


Affordable Culinary School Pathway to Success

Culinary Program Turns Traditional Culinary School on Its Ear!

Have you had a dream of becoming a chef? What stopped you from attending culinary school? No matter what age you are, now is a terrific time to think about attending a culinary program. Of course, you have to select the right culinary program and school for your education.

Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on a culinary program that will take years, what if I told you there was a culinary program that only cost a fraction of the cost of traditional schools? And the icing on the cake of this culinary program? Students can complete it in less than 9 months.

Sure, we’ve all heard about some of the hardships facing students coming out of culinary programs over the past several years. They are promised a flourishing career after spending a ton of money or worse, come out of culinary school with an amazing amount of student loan debt only to face grim prospects of employment. But this culinary school program gives students the chance at a successful career by doing things differently.

1.) Students apprentice at local restaurants and catering companies. Often times because the culinary school students have gotten many contacts here, they either end up being hired by the establishment or have a good recommendation of where to work elsewhere.

2.) Students of this culinary school program learn many aspects of cooking that prepare them to run their own business. They learn about cost-saving measures that afford them the advance skills to start their own business and run it successfully.

3.) The culinary school brings together a close-knit family of students and instructors. They keep in touch for years after graduating and are willing to help and promote one another’s business, which gives them moral and emotional support.

Listen to the Podcast on the Culinary School Program (click on the button below):

Learn more about the culinary school program:

Culinary Apprenticeship

Make sure to shop for all your classy barware at Culinary Outfitters.


How To Plan a Cheap Wedding Reception

5 Tips for Planning a Cheap Wedding Reception

The wedding reception is an important part of any wedding. The reception is often the easiest way for many to celebrate their marriage with their close family and friends. Unfortunately, wedding receptions can be expensive. Those who are not prepared to pay for a large reception may feel as though they cannot have a fun wedding reception.

Fortunately, you can have a wedding reception without the high cost. You can easily plan a cheap wedding reception. This type of reception does not have to look cheap, and will be sure to keep to your low budget. These five tips will help you to have the cheap reception that you want.

  1. Have Solid Invitation Numbers Available
    If you are planning for a cheap reception, you need to be sure that you avoid waste. You want to be sure that you are planning for the exact amount of people that will be at your reception. You need to have a solid number of invitations. At most, plan for the number of invitations that you have sent out. If possible, require RSVPs to be sure that you know the exact number of people who plan on attending.

wedding-reception-cheap-ideas2. Set a Budget
If you are planning a cheap wedding reception, you need to make sure that you have a solid budget. Plan on the amount of money that you can afford to spend on your wedding reception. Force yourself to stick to that budget. If you want a realistic budget, talk to others who have planned receptions. This will give you a general idea of the cost of a wedding reception that you will be able to base your budget off of.

3. DIY Items for your Wedding Reception
If you or some of your friends and family are craft enlist their help to plan some of the items for your wedding. A crafty person can find lots of items inexpensively online for your wedding reception. These can be put together for a wedding centerpiece that could look elegant and beautiful. Need a program for your wedding? Print out online and glue them to popsicle sticks and place on guests’ seats.

4. Constantly Compare Prices / Slash Costs for you Wedding Reception
Be sure to comparison shop for all of the objects that you need to rent or purchase. Comparing prices will help you to find exactly what you want for your reception, but at the lowest cost possible. Duh! By avoiding inviting children, you can lessen costs for your wedding reception. While it is taboo to many guests, forgoing booze at your wedding reception, can also save you thousands of dollars. But please don’t have a cash bar, that’s just tacky!

5. Buy a Package for your Wedding
Many wedding venues will allow you to buy a package that includes setup, food and the venue all for one price. This always turns out cheaper than when you book a venue and have to choose individual vendors yourself. It also saves you time because you don’t have to choose between a million options for your wedding reception.

You do not need to have a cheap looking reception to have a cheap wedding reception. With carefully selected items and serious planning, you can have the wedding reception that will help your family and friends celebrate your wedding at a price you can afford.

Check out our suggestions for marriage gifts too.