Culinary Team-Building Events Create Engaging And Creative Experiences For Employees

Food is more than mere sustenance. It’s a become a lifestyle, a daily passion … dare we say an obsession for some. Just click through the television landscape and you realize how much food-related programming has exploded, with stand-and-stir cooking shows expanding into other permutations, from reality shows, to competitions, to (at last count) 11 shows about cake and cupcakes alone. And there are thousands of culinary apps to teach us how to make everything from applesauce to zabaione.

So it stands to reason that the hottest corporate team-building trend in America surrounds the culinary arts, including classes, challenges, tours and dining events that brings together employees to learn and work as a team. Gathering together around a meal is a universal custom that connects people from all backgrounds and cultures and dny activity centered on food is going to naturally be a socially engaging experience.

Following are some ideas for some engaging culinary team-building events:

‘Iron Chef’ Challenge

Modeled after the popular TV series, a cooking challenge requires a few culinary skills and a few secret ingredients to keep your group collaborating, communicating and cooking together.

Divide the group into teams and the “chairman” will brief the group on event instructions and guidelines. Teams receive all the supplies needed to ensure culinary success, including herbs, spices, condiments, pantry items and the secret ingredient of the day. The “kitchen stadium” includes cooking equipment. Teams must be able to communicate with one another, delegate tasks and practice their time management to ensure their meals are ready on time. Prepare a judging panel to score the creations.

Dining In The Dark

This idea takes a standard group meal to a whole new level. The concept of dining in the dark originated in Europe and since has traveled the world. It becomes a true exploration in dining as guests discover a whole new feast for their senses. Group members interact with each other and share what they are experiencing and how they feel. It’s an entertaining eating experience as the host engages participants about their theories on what they are tasting. The idea is that, with the dominant sense of sight on hold, the remaining senses heighten, allowing guests to experience smells, tastes and sounds like never before.

Winery Team Challenge

Start this team activity with an informative wine tasting and end it with an entertaining and competitive sangria making and marketing challenge. A local sommelier can lead the way, giving participants a brief, interactive and fun introduction to wine, before leading the group in a white and red wine tasting.

After the tasting, divide into teams and each group starts their own winery. Teams are briefed about the interesting history of sangria, and then take part in creating their own blends. Then teams develop a name, design a winery logo and label, and decorate their team aprons and tables for the final judging. They can also write and perform a jingle or commercial to sell their product to the judges.

Charitable challenge

Group members can cook with a cause during a team-bonding experience that is both fun and meaningful. This challenge includes food prepared and consumed by the participants during the event and a subsequent donation to area food banks.

To help your group better comprehend the issues of hunger and homelessness, the day can begin with a brief quiz on the subject. Participants will work in teams to answer questions that the facilitators will review and then discuss as a group.

Plan a cooking competition that includes appetizers consumed by participants, as well as preparation of hot food that will be donated to a local soup kitchen. Teams will compete to see who prepares the best dish in the eyes of culinary judges. Add a food-bag donation element to the day that involves participants taking a reusable tote bag, decorating it and stuffing it with food. Included in each bag is a personal letter to the family in need.


When It Comes To Wine, Sip Both Red AND White — And Don’t Be Blue

Americans consume the most wine in the world, buying more than 350 million cases of it each year. Wine is an integral part of our culture, but like the political landscape, wine drinkers generally fall into two camps — white or red. While most red wine drinkers also like white wines, those who prefer white wine often cannot stray into the red zone. For them, red wine tastes “bitter” or “astringent” so they keep to whites, reluctant to become more adventurous.

Red wine is an acquired taste — much like learning to drink coffee. There are many good reasons to venture into red wine. It is heart-healthy, it stands up to full-flavored, rich foods, and it represents a wider spectrum in both flavor and body.

The spicy red or purple grape skins are an integral part of the taste and personality of red wines, which can be peppery, spicy, plumy, or jammy. Very few red wines are sweet. Many white wines are technically dry (not sweet) but they have a perception of sweetness (fruity, fresh fruit aromas). A “sweet” beverage doesn’t complement a hearty steak, or pot roast, or barbecued ribs. These full-flavored dishes need a red wine.

Here are some steps to take in your quest to learn how to appreciate — even love — red wine:

  1. Find a ripe and round red wine. These wines are technically dry but have the taste of riper black fruit. Blackberry flavors will be a better balance with a prime rib or a burger than ripe melon flavors. A wine with a jammy characteristic will have a perceived taste of sweetness, even though the wine is not sweet.
  2. Request a medium-bodied wine. Some foods are best with a full-bodied wine, but medium-bodied is a good place to start, and works well with or without food. Pinot Noir is often a medium-bodied “gateway” wine for those who prefer whites.
  3. Gravitate toward wines made from the following grapes: Shiraz, Syrah, Grenache, and Zinfandel. These grapes are inherently a bit fruitier than the noble grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
  4. Be prepared to spend what you perceive as above your normal budget. Red wines normally age in oak barrels and often take years to become truly drinkable. This raises the price, but spending between $12 and $25 you can find a nice red wine. Here’s a tip: Try wines from Australia, the south of France and wines with “Central Coast” or “California” as an appellation.
  5. Drink the wine properly. Pour about 3 ounces of red wine in an 8-ounce glass. Let the wine breathe. With the wine glass on a table, place your fingers on the base of the glass and swirl the wine to aerate it and soften the tannins.
  6. Start with the food and move to the wine. Food is essential to learning to love red wine, but don’t make your first bite of food, say, a salad. The dressing may make the wine taste acidic. Consider holding the wine until the main course arrives.
  7. With the first couple of sips, moisten all the taste buds in your mouth (this makes the wine taste better).
  8. Red wine is often served too warm, so don’t be afraid to chill your red wines a bit. Most experts recommend that red wine be served at or near cellar temperature, which is about 60 degrees.
  9. Finally, be determined. Don’t lose heart if the first couple of wines aren’t appealing. Keep sipping and you’ll find your comfort zone.

Equestrian-Inspired Details Create A Rustic Yet Elegant Wedding For Horse Lovers

For centuries brides-to-be have dreamed of majestic horses, rustic-glamorous ranches and country dining under the stars, with elegant equestrian-themed weddings satisfying that cowgirl fantasy.

There are numerous stylish and elegant ways to incorporate a love of horses into the big day. Whether you choose to add layers of rustic, Western-inspired charm, or go for a classic and preppy look, you can’t go wrong with details inspired by your other tall, dark and handsome companion.

The trend for equestrian chic rears its beautiful head season after season, and a subtle nod toward horse-inspired detailing creates a unique wedding theme.

Horseshoes have long played a role in weddings. An ancient symbol of good luck, a horseshoe is traditionally given to a bride on the morning of her wedding. Modern brides have been known to carry a lucky silver horseshoe with their bouquet, or go one step further by using the symbol as a print throughout the wedding. Invitations, menus, programs and napkins (among other accouterment) can be dressed up (or down) with a horseshoe motif. Horseshoes also make an easy, unique wedding day flavor for your guests.

Here are other fun horse-themed ideas for the big day:

  •  To really win the race, add colorful rosettes, ribbons and cup trophies to the wedding-day decor (the cups make great flower vases), or choose to arrive at the ceremony by horse and carriage.
  •  Forget the country club, get married in a barn or similar outdoor space. For the reception, go the extra mile by using hay bales as extra seating and/or decorative items.
  • Lay down a wooden dance floor, and hire someone to teach impromptu Western-themed dance lessons to liven up the party.
  • Whether the other love of your life joins you for portraits, or down the aisle, dress up your four-legged steed with a stunning floral wreath.
  • For the best couple in the room, horse show ribbon chair signs are a cute way to add a touch of derby-inspired details.
  • Use custom, monogrammed horse show ribbons as escort cards, with each ribbon adorned with a fun superlative that is customized to each person.
  • Incorporate a pretty equestrian touch to your wedding cake, such as a sparkly horseshoe or sculpted models of a pair of horses.
  • For a derby-inspired wedding, use roses as the themed flower, and serve mint juleps as the signature cocktail at the reception. And dress up that drink with personalized drink stirrers.
  • Offer pony rides for kids to keep them busy and active beyond the main venue, or provide a horseshoe pit for some spirited action for both kids and adults.
  • Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley is perfectly suited for a horse-themed wedding. It’s elegant and sophisticated, yet charming and cozy, with a rugged, beautiful landscape. Get married at the ranch, outdoors with a breathtaking 360-degree views of the Santa Lucia Mountains, or perhaps in the Carriage Room with its dramatic lofty ceiling and barn like doors that swing open to help greet Mother Nature.

From A Peg Board Donut Display To A Cool Milkshake Bar, Unconventionally Sweet Wedding Ideas Abound

As much as you may believe that your wedding guests have waited hours just to get a slice of your towering cake adorned with fresh flowers, they are probably more interested in chowing down on gourmet donuts hanging on a giant peg board.

That’s just the way of the world. In fact, creative dessert ideas are all the rage at modern wedding receptions, not taking the place of the traditional cake, but creating a sweet anticipation where guests eat, point and shoot photos of fun, creative treats.

The donut peg board idea delighted guests at a recent wedding at Carmel Valley’s Holman Ranch. Adorned with the message “Donut Leave Me Hanging,” the board drew a large crowd that appreciated the whimsy in the delicious creation. For this idea, donuts may be sugar-dusted, frosted, glazed, fruit-filled and decorated to match your wedding colors. Warm donuts may be chosen for their seasonal tastes such as apple pie filling, or pair them with a shot of milk or a full-blown milkshake as a dessert duo.

Ideas are endless — just scan through those scrumptious-looking wedding dessert pics on Pinterest and Instagram. But to further help inspire your wedding’s show-stopping dessert hour, here are some other dessert trends for weddings:

  • Pies. What makes pies so popular? They evoke family memories, from those languid days eating slices of grandmother’s specialty. Capitalize on this trend by serving mini pies displayed on tiers as the perfect single serving. Have your baker create an impressive array of flavors, or serve pie pops for a grab-and-go dessert.
  • Throwback desserts. From bananas foster to mud pie, there is a return to classic desserts that recall weddings of the past. If it was big in prior decades, it’s undoubtedly big again now. Your older guests will smile at the memories and your younger guests will think it’s new or hip.
  • Macarons. This dainty French dessert is light, airy and not doused in sugar, and often made in vibrant colors. It’s a top trend because foodies adore French-inspired desserts overall, and colorful macarons can be designed to complement your wedding colors.
  • Milkshakes. Call this a dessert drink, and serve them in mini glasses, freshly-made, with a trendy striped straw in the glass. Milkshakes may be made in classic flavors, as flavor blends, or spiked with a shot of liquor for your adults-only wedding reception.
  • Candied apples. If your wedding vision includes the words “relaxed” and “fun,” then you’ll love this classic idea. Not only are candied apples fun to eat, you can dip them, top them and serve them any way you like.
  • Gelato. A gelato bar has taken the place of ice cream bars, with fresh flavors such as classic vanilla bean or chocolate, or with seasonal flavors such as key lime, pumpkin, pistachio and cherry. The creamy goodness of gelato is one of the top dessert trends that works for every season.

Romance And History Abound At Holman Ranch

Romance and history abound at Holman Ranch, a vintage Carmel Valley property adorned with ancient oaks, hillside vineyards, olive groves, a stone hacienda and spectacular views from every vantage point.

Renowned as a hugely popular and stunningly beautiful wedding venue, Holman Ranch draws couples from far-flung corners of the world. Once married in Holman Ranch’s rustic yet sophisticated setting, couples invariably recite a long list of accolades. And when asked to name the top reasons for getting married at Holman Ranch, these three lead the way:

  1. The view.  Couples can easily spend a small fortune on wedding-day decor, from fabric to flowers, but nothing can top what Mother Nature provides naturally. Rarely do outdoor weddings offer the beauty and splendor provided by Holman Ranch, nestled in the shadows of the Santa Lucia Mountains. Offering breathtaking vistas from every angle, the ranch provides the ultimate backdrop to any wedding ceremony. After exchanging vows al fresco among the rolling hills dotted with oak trees, couples can sip estate-grown wines in the vineyards and indulge in all the historic ranch has to offer.
  2. Exclusivity. On the most important day of their lives, a bride and groom simply do not want to share the spotlight with anyone else, which is why Holman Ranch only hosts one event at a time. All the focus and attention is put where it belongs — on the happy couple and their guests. There will be no wedding “crashers” from other events on property because Holman Ranch belongs to that couple and that couple only. This exclusivity (weekend dates can book up a year in advance) has led to a resurgence in weekday weddings, where couples can save on the budget and easily secure vendors normally booked on weekends.
  3. Flexibility. At Holman Ranch, couples are allowed to bring in all their own licensed and insured vendors. This is very important to those couples who desperately want to create a personalized, a la carte experience — from the flowers, to the food, to the well-stocked bar. And when it comes to wine, Holman charges no corkage with a minimum wine purchase. So Holman Ranch’s award-winning lineup of wines is available to help please a wide variety of palates. Holman Ranch has also developed a reputation as a safe haven for same-sex couples, and specializes in interfaith ceremonies, off-season weddings and ceremonies of any size and scope.

In the end, Holman Ranch becomes the venue choice of couples from all walks of life because it provides beauty, exclusivity and flexibility. But there are countless other reasons. Find yours by visiting

Create Goosebumps (The Good Kind) By Choosing A Winter Wedding

The shorter days and the unpredictability of the elements make winter the least-popular season for weddings, with the vast majority of couples opting for summer or fall nuptials.

But more and more couples are finding the idea of tying the knot in the winter season romantic, cozy and unique ­— and also convenient in terms of booking venues.

While winter weddings can magical, they don’t come without their share of problems. It’s vital to think of every weather contingency, and to think of your guests: Will they have to walk along an icy path to get to the ceremony? Does the reception hall get chilly due to all the large windows? Or, conversely, does the room lack ventilation and get too warm and stuffy? Should a valet be stocked with umbrellas so no one gets drizzled on getting in and out of their car?

Following are tips to help create a winter wedding wonderland:


Rich seasonal colors make this a great season for weddings, but overdoing the reds and greens can make the ceremony more holiday-oriented than you intended. Consider a less-is-more approach to your color palette: Silver and white with crystal accents can add some glamour to the proceedings. For the ceremony, try a white velvet aisle runner trimmed with white satin ribbon, or decorate the altar with a crystal curtain backdrop adorned with hanging strands of elegant white orchids.


The first potential pitfall for weddings in most parts of the country is obviously the chilly temperatures. Be sure to dress your wedding party weather-appropriate. You can still choose strapless dresses or bridesmaid dresses with shorter hems, but consider incorporating wraps in an accenting color or even opaque tights if they will be spending a significant amount of time outdoors.

As for the bride, the long-sleeved wedding dress trend is gaining more and more favor, with brides everywhere rocking tons of new styles. From plaid toppers to lacy sleeves and modern minimalist long-sleeved dresses, the diversity in this style makes it a no-brainer for many winter brides.


While you probably won’t want to plan an outdoor winter wedding reception (especially if you live in an area that gets plenty of snow and ice), there are still lots of ways to bring the beauty of the season indoors. Hang garlands of greenery or icicle-like crystals to highlight your dance floor or cake table, and incorporate plenty of candles, pinecones, and glittery details into your centerpieces. Another way to create a cozy reception is by using plenty of lush, soft textures — such as velvet, chenille, or tweed —into your decor. If you want to heighten the drama, bring in the icy outdoors with ice-carved vases on your reception tables.


Serve soup shooters during the cocktail hour, hearty comfort food during the dinner, and pass out shortbread cookies and spiced cider for your late-night snack. When it comes to the cake, have the baker play up the season with a white, vintage-style cake, dusted with edible silver powder. For accents, why not add a white sugar ribbon and crystal drops cascading down one side of the cake.

For later in the evening, a decked-out hot chocolate and churros station will warm everyone up. As far as favors are concerned, send your guests home satisfied with small packages of chocolate-covered cranberries or roasted chestnuts.

A winter cocktail hour calls for warm, comforting drinks. You really can’t go wrong with hot chocolate and warm apple cider, but why not serve up white hot chocolate in small espresso cups as the guests arrive.

Winter Wedding Inspiration Part II


Red roses, calla lilies, and amaryllis are decidedly winter wedding flowers, but if you think outside the flower box, you’ll find a variety of options for winter blooms. Consider fuller flowers, such as white hydrangeas and soft ranunculuses. White boutonnieres can be handsome when they’re accented with greenery, but they also look great with a simple white ribbon.


A classical pianist playing during dinner is a sure way to create an elegant ambience, but consider a more unexpected accompaniment. For a musical twist, hire an a capella quartet to sing background music at the reception. If you’re into a more classical sound, hire a cellist and ask that Vivaldi’s “Winter” be included in the repertoire.

  In the end, don’t sleep on winter. It holds its own magic and can help create goosebumps (and not just from the chill in the air).

Aroma Wheel Helps Us Find The Descriptive Words To Describe Wine

Famed author Ernest Hemingway once said: “A person with increasing knowledge and sensory education may derive infinite enjoyment from wine.”

In wine tasting, wine is always smelled before being drunk in order to identify some components of the wine that may be present.

It is through the aromas of wine that wine is tasted. The human tongue is limited to the primary tastes — acidity, bitterness, saltiness and savoriness — perceived by taste receptors on the tongue

Conversely, the human olfactory bulb in the brain interprets a wide array of flavors, and in wine that includes fruity, earthy, floral, herbal, mineral and woodsy.

Hemingway, of course, was a man of many words. For others, though, it’s difficult to accurately describe the wine aromas swirling around our nasal receptors. We just can’t find the words.

That’s why Ann C. Noble, now a retired professor from the University of California at Davis, invented the Wine Aroma Wheel — a tool to enhance one’s ability to describe the complexity of flavor in red and white wines.

Initially, most people can’t recognize or describe aromas, so the purpose of the wheel is to provide terms to describe them. The wheel has very general terms located in the center (such as fruity or spicy), going to the most specific terms in the outer tier (such as strawberry or clove). These are not the only words that can be used to describe wine, but represent ones that are most often encountered.

Noble designed the wheel to enhance the whole wine experience.

Fortunately, we can all easily train our noses and brains to associate descriptive terms with specific aroma notes in wine. Using the wheel during wine tasting will facilitate the description of the flavors we perceive. More importantly, users can begin to easily recognize and remember specific details about wines.

After earning her Ph.D. in Food science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Noble arrived at UC Davis in 1974 to work in its sensory research program. After studying the techniques and application of wine tasting, Noble discovered that there was no objective framework or widely agreed upon terminology that a wine taster could use to describe things such as “earthy” aromas or the different smells of various fruits that can show up in a wine. In 1984, her research led her to develop the Aroma Wheel. It provides a visual graphic of the different categories and aroma components that one can encounter in wine. It uses standardized terminology for use by both professionals and amateur wine tasters.

The wheel breaks down wine aromas into 12 basic categories and then further sub-divides them into different aromas that can fall into those main categories.

  • Chemical: Includes aromas like sulfur and petroleum
  • Pungent: Aromas like alcohol
  • Oxidized: Aromas like acetaldehyde
  • Microbiological: Aromas like yeast and lactic acid
  • Floral: Aromas like geraniums and linalool
  • Spicy: Aromas like licorice and anise
  • Fruity: Aromas like blackcurrant and apricot
  • Vegetative: Aromas like eucalyptus and artichoke
  • Nutty: Aromas like walnut and hazelnut
  • Caramelized: Aromas like butterscotch and molasses
  • Woody: Aromas often imparted by oak like vanilla and coffee
  • Earthy: Aromas such as mushroom and mildew

Noble retired from Davis in 2002 and in 2003 was named Emeritus Professor of Enology. Since retirement she has participated as a judge in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Her famed Aroma Wheel can be purchased from the website

Having A Common Interest Creates That Needed Connection For Couples To Create A Spark

When it comes to relationships, having different interests is not always a bad thing. Happy couples require very little common ground. All they really need is a shared desire to make the relationship work and a willingness to accept one another’s differences. However, sharing one deep passion can create an immediate connection, and draw two likeminded people together.

Tom McIntyre and Talia Ibargüen never would have fallen in love and gotten married if not for their rare shared interest in wildlife.

The two met in college at Northeastern University in Boston. “We were both in the same major (wildlife biology),” she said. “We went on an accidental first date.”

That accident happened because the wildlife biology department received free tickets to attend an early screening of a nature documentary.

“No one was interested in going except Tom and me,” she said. “I baked a lot of cookies thinking there would be more people.”

Tom ate all of the cookies … and the couple fell in love.

When it came to the proposal, wildlife again entered into the picture.

“Tom and I had been discussing marriage for a bit,” Talia said. “We took a trip back to my home in Alaska, and while sitting on the beach across the bay from my parents’ house, Tom proposed.”

Witnessing that proposal was a pair of “curious young sandhill cranes who kept creeping up and peaking at us through driftwood.”

Tom and Talia were married in June of 2015 and chose Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley as the venue. The couple took a month-long road trip from Alaska through the West and Southwest, and had “very fond memories of our time in Carmel,” Talia said. “We knew that the weather would be reliable in the summer for an outdoor wedding!”

The wedding was the first among the children’s generation on both sides of Tom’s family, so everything needed to be perfect.

“They are all from the East Coast, and if they were going to make the trip to California, it needed to live up to their California vineyard expectations.”

It did.

“It is a gorgeous location. We loved that everything was included! The landscaping is all so beautiful that we didn’t feel the need to get a bunch of flower arrangements. It was casual and allowed the natural setting to be the focus of the wedding, not just some disposable decorations.”

Because neither family is ultra-religious, the couple knew they did not want to wed in a church, but outside among nature’s beauty. Holman Ranch fit that bill perfectly.

“Tom’s family is Irish Catholic by inheritance,” Talia said. “We weren’t going to get married in a church, but we did have some of the bridesmaids carry Bells of Ireland flowers down the aisle. It was enough to make Tom’s mom cry.”

The one thing the couple will never forget about their wedding day is arriving at Holman Ranch the day before the wedding and seeing the stand of Matilija poppies right behind where they planned to recite their vows.

“We had only seen Holman when they weren’t in bloom so it was a huge surprise,” Talia said. “They are my favorite flower and it complemented our wedding perfectly.”

The couple plans to put off a honeymoon for now. “We have the rest our lives for adventures,” she said.

Thanks to a common interest.

Other Vendors:

Caterer: Five Star Catering

Photographer: Wanderlust Photo Co.

DJ/Band/Musicians: Steve Ezzo & the Monterey Allstars

Bakery: Kara’s Cupcakes


Finding The Right First Horse Means Searching With Your Eyes Open

Buying a horse can be both emotionally and financially draining. It can take months to find the perfect steed — only to have your heart broken when it doesn’t work out for one reason or another. Before you trot down this road, it’s vital to understand that owning a horse is a life-changing event, and you need to proceed with your eyes wide open.

Slide 2

Gather your thoughts

First and foremost, it’s important to determine exactly what you’re looking for in a horse. You may want to go so far as to write down some qualities that you expect in a horse. The basic features of size, height, breed and sex are excellent starting points, but you need to be more specific. For example, do you want a show horse or a horse that you can ride on the weekends? Are there certain characteristics that are deal-breakers, and what imperfections can you accept? Once you’ve organized your thoughts you will have a better description of your horse.

Dreams vs. reality

It’s critical that you don’t let your horse dreams blur reality. Many times horse buyers don’t think through their requirements and jump right away at a flashy horse they see friskily moving through a corral. It’s important to look at your riding ability to make sure the two match up, and realize that the dream of owning Black Beauty was a childhood fantasy.

Horses have personalities

Above all else, temperament may be the most important factor to consider when choosing a horse. You can always educate a young horse or tune up an older horse, but it’s hard to change a horse’s temperament.

Temperament can be evaluated both by asking the seller questions, as well as your own observations. If you are a more experienced rider, a bad attitude may be a factor that can be overlooked. It all comes down to finding qualities that are acceptable to you.

Observe your prospective horse

  It’s also important to observe the horse’s general appearance: Is he relaxed, does he stand square? Look for obvious disfigurements, check for balance and look for overdevelopment on one side. Does sudden movement or sound distract him? Look for a horse that is bright, alert and responsive.

  Observe the horse’s movement and attitude under saddle. Watch the horse for attentiveness: Is he relaxed or tense? Watch for head tossing, which could indicate resistance or mouth problems. At the lope or canter look for smooth rhythm and make certain he/she takes the correct lead in both directions easily.  

Get an expert’s help

Once you have found a horse and are ready to hit the buy button it’s important to get a veterinarian’s opinion about the horse. Although a horse may appear healthy it doesn’t hurt to get a professional’s opinion. A seemingly healthy horse can fail the vet exam in the first five minutes if the vet checks its heart rate and finds out it has a heart murmur. Vet checks can range from well horse exams to comprehensive exams that x-ray all the leg bones and joints.

 At this point it may be time to make a decision. Say your new dream horse is showing signs of joint wear and tear: Are you willing to spend money to manage its health and upkeep? Remember maintenance care doesn’t have to be a deal breaker when it comes to buying a horse, you just need to get all the facts and make sure it’s a match made in horse heaven.

Create Fancy Flavors By Infusing Olive Oil With Herbs, Aromatics

We all know that olive oil is great all on its own. After all, it’s a healthful, all-natural product made simply with one ingredient — pressed olives.

Flavored vinegars and oils

But making your own infused olive oils is an equally simple DIY process to put some pizzazz into your kitchen. Look no farther than your pantry or produce drawer for everything you need to create a personalized, inexpensive food product. Olive oil can be infused with dried herbs, spices, aromatics, citrus, even nuts. The end result is fantastic for making special salad dressings, drizzling over a dish of pasta, or simply as an appetizer with chunks of fresh, crusty bread. Making it is easy — and the end result is a great gift to share with friends.

Start with the best ingredients you can find or afford. Using good quality olive oil, fresh herbs, and organic ingredients will give you a cleaner and stronger flavor in your finished olive oil.

Wash all the ingredients going into your oil and let them dry completely — preferably overnight. Bacteria can’t grow in the olive oil itself, but it can grow in the water left on the ingredients going into the oil, and carelessness can lead to potential foodborne illness.

Here are some general tips:

  • Always keep flavored oils refrigerated. Infused oils last about 1 month when stored properly.
  • Allow flavored oils to sit out at room temperature for approximately 20 minutes before each use.
  • Don’t use flavored oils for deep-frying because leftover particles will burn.
  • When gifting flavored oils, include storage instructions as well as serving suggestions.

Choose your flavoring

Use one or two ingredients for a simple blend or a variety for a complex concoction. You will need about 2 tablespoons of flavoring agents (in total) per cup of oil.

When it comes to spices, you can flavor oil with either whole or ground spices. (If you want to use ground, buy the spices whole and grind them at home for the freshest flavors.) Some of the more popular infusion spices include cloves, curry, star anise, cardamom, mustard, cumin, fennel seed and paprika.

There are two ways to infuse spices into oil: on the stovetop or in the oven. Once the oil is infused, strain it using a fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth, then funnel the liquid into a bottle.

On the stovetop, heat the oil in a medium saucepan with the spices for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is lightly bubbling. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool completely before straining.

Or place the oil and spices in a small pot on a baking sheet in a 300-degree oven for about 40 minutes. Remove the mixture from the oven and allow it to cool completely before straining.

Infusing olive oil with herbs

The most important rule for making your own herb-infused cooking oil is always to use fresh herbs: They have a purer flavor than their dried counterparts, and will give your oil a more vibrant color. Thoroughly wash and dry your herbs before getting started.

Soft herbs such as basil and cilantro should be blanched, shocked, drained, and blended with the oil in a food processor before being heated. Blanching the herbs will give your finished product a much more vibrant color than if you just blend them. Woody herbs such as rosemary and thyme can simply be heated directly in the oil to infuse their flavor. Warm the herbs and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the oil is lightly bubbling. Remove from heat and let the oil cool completely.

Flavoring with aromatics

Oil infused with garlic, onion, or other aromatic fruits or vegetables is delicious for both dipping and cooking. It’s important to thoroughly wash and dry your aromatics, even after you’ve peeled them, to remove all traces of dirt and impurities. Help release their flavors and fragrances by roasting aromatics before heating them in oil. Then, in a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the aromatics in the oil for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is lightly bubbling.

Unlike herbs, leaving the aromatics in the oil after bottling will not result in cloudiness. In fact, they will continue infusing the oil, and their flavors will grow stronger over time.

Go nuts with olive oil

To make a nut-infused oil, start with nuts that are raw and unsalted. Save time by buying nuts that have already been skinned or blanched. Cooking the nuts in oil will impart a rich, savory, roasted flavor, but keep in mind that the resulting infused oil will taste different from actual nut oils, which are created by pressing oils out of crushed nuts.

Whatever infusion method you choose, the end result will be a tasty, aromatic alternative to regular olive oil — and perhaps a unique gift for the upcoming holiday season.