Welcome to Fine Craft Living!

Welcome! I’d like to formally welcome each and every one of you who found your way to Fine Craft Living. I am Amber De Grace, site owner and content creator at the time of FCL’s inception. I brought some content over from my previous blog, Tickling My Fancy, and may pull more here and there but all else will be brand spankin’ new.

My reason for getting rid of Tickling My Fancy and moving to Fine Craft Living is two-fold. First, I was getting some ridiculous and disturbing traffic to Tickling My Fancy. Between “tickling” and “food p*rn” (see, I don’t even want to type it in here), I was feeling overwhelmed and troubled by the traffic I was seeing and realized the name didn’t actually fit my content anyway.. which leads me to the second reason: while I wrote about things over there that did, in fact, tickle my fancy, I wanted to create a site that better described my passions.

And that is this. Fine craft living.

I appreciate quality craftsmanship, artisan products, unique services, and fine experiences. This is what I’ll be sharing on Fine Craft Living.

From travel tips, restaurant reviews, products that will make great gifts, craft beer, small-batch coffees and liquors, wine, and a collection of recipes, I hope you find that I’m feeding your eyes with some of the best of what is fine and what is craft.

If you click on a category and find it empty, don’t lose heart! I’ll be adding content all the time to fill up these pages. I’ll also be tweaking the page as needed to make it as user-friendly an experience for you as possible. 

Follow along on this fine craft living adventure! You can subscribe to get all the latest updates, and we’re also on Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. 

I hope you have a fine day.

New kitchen essentials for 2016, and a Spiedies recipe

I’ve had several people recently ask whether I post recipes or links to the foods I make. If you follow my Instagram feed, you’ve known for a long time that I’m one of those chronic-food-photo people. 

I used to joke that taking photographs of my food and drink was part of my job; then it actually came true. You can find all my stories for LNP posted on Lancaster Online.

Here are a few new kitchen essentials that I’m enjoying.

Aroma 8-cup rice cooker

 

I love this thing. It’s tidy and all the components fit nicely together for storage ease. Cleaning is simple, and even though it should be hand-washed and dried, it doesn’t take long at all.

You can make rice in the morning and have it stay warm right in the unit for most of the day. You can also program it to start at a certain time, which is handy if you’ll be out for a few hours and want rice ready for dinner when you get home.

Now here’s a tidbit of information I wish I would have known when I first started using this rice cooker. It comes with a 3/4 cup measuring cup, and the directions state that if it gets lost or broken, a standard 3/4 cup can be substituted.

Then, in the rice-to-water ratio page in the instruction manual, it says to use one, two or three cups of rice to x amount of water. I read this as a literal one cup, not the 3/4 cup included with the set. So, the first few times I made rice it was not quite cooked and still hard in the center.

Even when that happened, though, troubleshooting was simple. I just added some more water (between 1/2 and one cup), pressed the power button once and the cook button again.

I’ve been making rice for years with a standard pot and lid, and every single time I would end up with a gloopy, boiled-over mess on my glass stovetop, and rice that was sticky. The Aroma rice cooker solves the problem of mess and texture with a literal touch of a button.

You can cook any kind of rice in this cooker, and there are specific settings for white and brown rice.

The instruction manual comes with instructions on using the unit for steaming meats and vegetables, and even making stews and soups, neither of which I’ve yet tried.

At just under $30, the Aroma 8-cup rice cooker offers excellent value for every kitchen.

Linen baker’s couche 

If you want to make a great loaf of French or Italian bread, a baker’s couche will give your finished product that customary crusty exterior while leaving the interior perfectly chewy. 

What is it? A baker’s couche is, quite simply, a piece of sturdy cloth that keeps your loaves in shape. I roll one edge under until it’s a tidy tube, shape my baguette and tuck it against the rolled tube, then pinch up a side of couche against the baguette, and repeat one or two more times before layering the remaining cloth over all the loaves. 

What benefit does a couche offer? Besides keeping your loaves in that perfect baguette shape, it also whisks humidity from the dough, enabling it to bake with a crusty exterior finish. 

Care for the couche is easy: shake off extra flour, hang to thoroughly dry out, and refold for storage. 

I would avoid using overly sticky dough so it doesn’t cling to the linen. Also: don’t wash it. No sense introducing your bread to unnecessary chemicals.

I like my baker’s couche from Brotform, and it’s under $20.

Knife sharpener

This is the first item on this list that I can’t believe I haven’t owned until now. 

How many times have I had to saw through a beef brisket instead of having my knives slice through butter? How many times have I nearly taken off a finger, not because my knife was oversharp, but because it was so dull that instead of cutting through food, it slipped off a rounded side?

Too many times!

This two-stage knife sharpener is a $5 fix for your basic kitchen needs. First, run your dull knife through the coarse side three or four times, applying even downward pressure. Then apply the same pressure on the fine side about six times. Wash the knife and be amazed at how functional a knife can actually be.

Lodge cast iron skillets and Dutch oven

Yet another “I can’t believe I just started owning this kitchenware item,” I bought these primarily for camping trips last year.

We enjoy camping and hiking as a family, and last year we took a trip to Knoebels Amusement Resort (a yearly tradition) and a two-week road trip through New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and New England

I purchased a four-piece Lodge cast iron cookware set and now use it not just for camping, but in my everyday kitchen.

Care for it (like these other kitchen tools) is easy. I clean mine with a dedicated sponge, because it’ll blacken everything it comes in contact with, and hot, soapy water. There are some people who refuse to use soap, but I find that using a mild dish soap like Method has never left any unpleasant flavors on my cast iron.

Immediately dry your cast iron, to avoid any oxidation that can eat holes in your lovingly seasoned cookware. I wipe the interior with a thin coat of neutral oil, and touch-up any exterior parts that look like the seasoning may need attention.

With proper care (and it really isn’t a delicate cookware), it’ll last for generations.

 

This 5-quart Dutch oven comes with a lid and has been large enough for me to make any soup or stew recipe. I also like using it for deep-frying, because I can put two inches of oil in it and don’t get splattered with hot grease.

You know what else the Lodge Dutch oven works beautifully in making? No-knead bread. Preheat the Dutch oven and lid inside the oven, let your boule rise on a piece of parchment paper and slip it inside the Dutch oven when it’s at temperature. Cover with the lid for the first 2/3 amount of baking and remove the lid for the rest, to allow the top to develop a beautiful golden color.

 

A 12-inch Lodge cast iron skillet is an ideal size for general use in the kitchen. Make two perfect grilled cheese sandwiches in it. It’s just the right size to make your favorite fruit cobbler in the grill on a hot summer day. Crash hot potatoes fit nicely in this size, enough for a small family’s dinner.

Both of these pieces run right around $35, and it’s an investment for a lifetime. In fact, my brother is officially moving out next month after graduating from college, and this is what he’ll be getting as a housewarming gift from our family.

 

Protip: Never ever, never EVER touch cast iron after it’s hot, unless your hands are properly protected. Those handles get hot, and retain heat for a long period of time. Don’t forget to use hot pads or sufficient dish towels to insulate. You can purchase for under $10 silicone holders to slip over skillet handles.

Also, never shock your hot cast iron with cold water.

MEAL IDEAS 

I’ve been cooking a lot from my new “Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook” since receiving it as a Christmas gift in 2015. So far, one of my favorite recipes is that for Spiedies, a recipe for pork tenderloin that gets cubed and marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, white wine vinegar and fresh mint, oregano and parsley. 

Don’t try doing as the original recipe says, and setting it 4-inches under your broiler. That resulted in flames rolling out of my oven after not even four minutes. After I brought my racing heart back under control, I finished the cooking in my Lodge 12-inch cast iron skillet (see above!) and it turned out beautifully. I added a smear of mayonnaise to the inside of a toasted hoagie roll and melted some sharp American cheese on top before finishing with the side sauce and it was delicious.

 

Spiedies
Serves 4
A fresh, herb-marinated cubed pork tenderloin recipe that's equally as tasty when grilled on skewers or cooked on the stovetop.
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Print
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
15 min
Prep Time
30 min
Cook Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
For the marinade
  1. 1/4 cup olive oil
  2. 1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
  3. 2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
  4. 2 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  5. 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
  6. 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  7. 1 bay leaf, crushed well
  8. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  9. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce
  1. 1/2 cup olive oil
  2. 3 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped
  3. 3 tablespoons fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  4. 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
To complete sandwiches
  1. 2 (10-inch) hoagie rolls, split and toasted in 375-degree oven until crisp
  2. Mayonnaise, to taste
  3. 4 slices sharp American cheese
For the marinade
  1. In a large bowl, combine the cubed pork and all marinade ingredients. Massage well together, then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
To cook on stovetop
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add meat to it. Allow to sear on one side before turning the pieces and allowing to brown on all sides. Cook to 145-degrees and remove to plate to rest for five minutes
To complete sandwich
  1. Spread both sides of toasted hoagie roll with mayonnaise, stuff with cooked pork, top with cheese slices and place under broiler until cheese has melted. Spoon sauce mixture on top and serve.
Notes
  1. If you'd like to grill this, click through to the adapted-from recipe and you'll find instructions there. I do not advise using the broiler as suggested on the Saveur recipe, unless you enjoy fire pouring from your oven.
Adapted from Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook
Fine Craft Living http://www.finecraftliving.com/

Have you gotten any must-have kitchen tools or gadgets recently?

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you want to purchase one of my kitchen essentials, and do so through the links above or my Amazon store, I’ll receive a small amount of money in return. 

Amber DeGrace’s food and craft beer stories on LNP

I write part-time at LNP, the local newspaper in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Following, find a list of all the stories I have published there. Click through to read them – all of them are food and booze related, making it a perfect fit for readers of Fine Craft Living. 

New stories will be added to the top of this list as time passes, making it easy for you to get the very latest without having to scroll through the entire list.

Raw red beet marinara, a recipe

It’s my favorite time of year: summer.

Insects buzz in the afternoon heat, ice cream shops are crowded and every week my CSA haul contains plentiful fruits and vegetables.

I’ve been getting beets every week, and while I love using my Paderno spiralizer and think every kitchen should have this tool (affiliate link) and eating those beets raw, drizzled with olive oil, sea salt, cracked black pepper and goat cheese, I am always excited to try new ways of eating the rainbow.

Raw red beets are beautiful marbled jewels when peeled: smooth and firm, sweet and earthy. Don’t fear the staining properties of the juices – that pigment’s name is betalain, and it contains antioxidant properties.

raw red beet marinara
red beet

This recipe couldn’t be easier, and as long as you at least have fresh red beets, you probably have just about everything else you need right in the pantry. I think fresh tomatoes taste best, but the first time I made this, I used three cans of diced tomatoes (drained) and it was still delicious.

The color wavers between hot pink and ruby red, and tastes just as good right out of the blender as it does after heating it. Raw or not, the choice is yours. 

raw red beet marinara
raw red beet marinara

Some ideas of what to do with this raw red beet marinara:

  • top spiralized zucchini “noodles”
  • use in place of pizza sauce
  • lasagna or spaghetti pie
  • add cooked meat for a non-vegetarian version
spaghetti pie
spaghetti pie

Please for the love of all that’s holy in the kitchen, don’t substitute fake maple syrup for the real stuff in this recipe. If you don’t have real maple syrup in your house, go get yourself some (affiliate link) because it’s a game changer on pancakes, ice cream and raw red beet marinara. 

What will you make with this red beet marinara?

Raw Red Beet Marinara
Raw red beet marinara, full of brilliant pink color, adds a touch of earthiness to the standard marinara sauce.
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Print
Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
15 min
Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
15 min
Ingredients
  1. 3 cups diced tomatoes
  2. 2 medium beets, peeled and diced
  3. 3 tablespoons onion, diced
  4. 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
  5. 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  6. 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  7. 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  8. 1/4 cup fresh basil
  9. 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  10. 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  11. 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
In a blender
  1. Blend tomatoes until smooth, about 30 seconds.
  2. Add all other ingredients and blend until smooth, one to two minutes.
  3. Serve raw, directly from the blender, or heat and cook as desired.
Adapted from Nutrition Stripped
Fine Craft Living http://www.finecraftliving.com/
 This post contains affiliate links. If you choose to purchase anything I linked to, I will receive a small amount of money. I only endorse products that I love.

 

Review of the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour

In my estimation, the Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour was a resounding success. This is what beer festivals should look like. The Mid-Atlantic stop of the tour was held at Penn Treaty Park in Philadelphia, PA, and it was a glorious day.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

The Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour was a roaming beer festival that traveled from West Coast to East Coast with an open invitation to all breweries to come share their brews at each gathering. Read more here.

The park is expansive and located directly on the Delaware River and all day cargo ships glided by, cutting through diamond-strewn water that glittered in the day’s elusive high summer sun. The line gathered at the main entrance was long and intimidating but with all the vetting the workers were doing by validating IDs beforehand, once the gates finally opened it was a breeze to enter.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

It was so easy, in fact, that I was through the line and past security before I even knew what was happening. Suddenly the crowd in front of me opened up and there I was, at the gates! A collection of sampling glasses awaited festival goers under a tent and once past the tent, we were free to wander around and sample all the beer and eat all the food.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

The weather was questionable. Dark clouds threatened to let loose heavy drops onto the event below but as the day wore on, the clouds turned puffier and dissolved in places before piling up again toward the end of the event.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

Because there were so many breweries represented at the festival, the lines were not overly long anywhere except for maybe Russian River. They brought along some Pliny the Elder and news of that magnitude is sure to make locals in the Mid-Atlantic froth at the mouth. I opted to skip that line because while it’s an incredible beer that deserves all the hype, I’ve had it numerous times and was more interested in trying other beers I haven’t had before. 

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

I didn’t keep tasting notes of everything I enjoyed at Beer Camp but I did write down all the samples I tried. Please keep in mind these are all small pours and I wasn’t driving.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

I took the train down to Philly from Lancaster and watched the scenery while listening to entertaining conversations around me (I wasn’t on the quiet train). Small country towns and idyllic farmland blurred by as the train hustled down tracks with power lines guiding the way. A girl behind me was lamenting the fact that her boyfriend just wasn’t the type of guy who wants to go places on her Pinterest board, like fairytale castles in France. “I googled it and saw that if I have to google whether your relationship is over, it probably is.” 

I took the quiet train home.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

This list is in chronological order and I’ve made notes of the samples I found to be exceptional.

Spring House Braaaiins – pumpkin ale

Cigar City Florida Cracker – Belgian-style white ale

North Country Paleo IPA 

Heritage Brewing Kings Mountain – Scotch Ale

Manayunk Brewery Summer Paradise – seasonal ale

Weyerbacher Sunday Morning Stout – stout aged in bourbon barrels with coffee (exceptional)

Earth Bread + Brewery The Summer Day – session IPA (exceptional)

Firestone Walker Sucaba – barley wine (exceptional)

Firestone Walker Opal – farmhouse ale (exceptional)

Allagash Brewing Saison 

PA Brewers’ Guild Guildy Pleasure – imperial pale ale

Twin Lakes Pale Ale

Berwick Brewing Belgian Gold

Climax Brewing ESB

Union Brewing Black Lager

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

The Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour was exactly what I think a beer festival should be: a laid-back atmosphere with food trucks, room to move around, a fresh selection of breweries, and organized well.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

The MarchFourth Marching Band did an outstanding job entertaining the crowd, including one guy who was maybe a wee bit fuddled and was dancing the hula without a hoop. I wish there would have been more performance from them throughout the event because they were wonderful.

Excellent day. Superb job, Sierra Nevada, and congratulations on your new location in Mills River, NC!

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

The Sierra Nevada Beer Camp also featured a collection of collaborative beers that were poured at the festivals and available in cases. Here are my tasting notes from those beers.

Sierra Nevada Beer Camp Tour Review

Myron’s Walk (brewed with Allagash Brewing Company) – Belgian-style pale ale brewed with coriander. Warm golden in color with slight haze. Tons of citrus and pine in the nose. Piney hop bitterness carries through the sip with Belgian spice clear at the front. This has a middling malt backbone. I get some peach and pear at the beginning. Overall impression is excellent and drinkable; it’s clearly Belgian. It is fairly hop-forward for a pale ale. A well-done collaboration!

Double Latte (brewed with Ninkasi Brewing Company) – Milk stout with coffee and lactose added. Visually, this is about as close to black as dark chocolate can get. Opaque but no haze. I get roast and coffee in the nose, along with a sweetness from the lactose. The texture is silky smooth and it is super roasty but balances nicely with the coffee bitterness and chewy lactose. I’m not typically a milk stout fan and generally dislike lactose but I’d order this again and again.

Chico King (brewed with Three Floyds Brewing Company) – American pale ale that is golden amber in color and crystal clear. I get floral, citrus and just a hint of pine in the nose. This was softer than I expected and tastes like a higher ABV than 6.5%.

CANfusion (brewed with Oskar Blues Brewery) – Rye bock that is orange in color and super clear. Fruity hops and spicy rye in the nose. Tons of spicy rye bite throughout and a strong malt presence. It’s pretty damn good for a bock, a style that isn’t my favorite. As it warms up, I get honey in the nose.

Maillard’s Odyssey (brewed with Bell’s Brewery) – Imperial dark ale at 8.5% ABV and 40 IBU. Extra dark brown, almost black in color with a light brown head. Tons of roast in the nose. Chocolate and roast in the mouth. 

Alt Route (brewed with Victory Brewing Company) – Altbier that is dark orange-red in color and super clear. It smells of marshmallow, sweet strong malt, and jasmine. Great floral hops.

Electric Ray (brewed with Ballast Point Brewery) – India pale lager coming in at 8.5% ABV and 70 IBUs. Golden orange in color. Musty, resiny hops in the nose. This is a dank beer and it tastes sticky. I get lager in how crisp and clean it is but some of the lager qualities are lost in this hop bomb.

Yvan the Great (brewed with Russian River) – Belgian-style blonde at 6.3% ABV and 50 IBUs. Gorgeous golden yellow with the slightest haze like a late summer sun. Warm spicy scent that carries through the mouth. Dry. Refreshing.

Torpedo (brewed with Firestone Walker) – hoppy pilsner at 5.2% ABV and 45 IBUs. Gold in color, mostly clear. Head was thick and white on first pour before it dissipated. Strong floral aroma, crisp and clean. The beautiful floral notes are in harmony with a medium maltiness. I get tons of jasmine in this.

Tater Ridge (brewed with Asheville Brewers’ Alliance) – Scottish ale brewed with sweet potatoes. 7.0% ABV and 35 IBUs. Chestnut brown in color. Spicy notes like cinnamon and nutmeg in the nose. Very sweet and malty. Full-bodied. Little to no hop presence. Very nice Scottish ale.

There & Back (brewed with New Glarus, who wasn’t at the Mid-Atlantic stop of the beer tour. What the heck, New Glarus!?) – ESB with 5.6% ABV and 40 IBUs. Orange in color and hazy and can see a moderate to high carbonation before even sipping. Creamy white head. Malty and citrusy in the nose, reminiscent of lemon zest. Strong malt backbone that is balanced by the citrus and floral hop aroma but little bitterness. Delicious.

Were you at any of the Beer Camp stops? Have you tried these collaborative beers?

Disclaimer: Sierra Nevada provided me with a complimentary pass to enter the Mid-Atlantic stop of the Beer Camp Tour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Celebrating all that is finely crafted in life.