The Secret to Restaurant-Quality Steaks at Home

Imagine this scenario: a special occasion is nearing. It’s your significant other’s birthday, or perhaps a distant relative is coming in. The point is that you want, and in some cases need, to treat them to something special. What is the first thing that comes to mind when the ole “special” word is tossed out? Why, it’s steak of course! Doesn’t just reading the word “steak” bring you to a happy place? Anyone who is a fan of steak probably already knows his or her favorite place in town to get a quality steak. Unfortunately, having a fancy chef at some restaurant cook this steak will not work for this special occasion. This one must be made from the heart by Chef You. Although grilling a steak properly can be tricky, it is well worth the effort for that special occasion. Here are a few tips to consider. For the sake of brevity, we’ll just focus on two of the most popular steaks to cook: the Tenderloin and the Ribeye.

Tenderloin

Ribeye

Also called a filet, this will be your most expensive piece of meat. However, this steak is most definitely worth the price because it is considered by many, this writer included, as the most delicious steak that can grace your palate. Sometimes with these steaks, less is more. Heat your grill to high heat, add some black pepper and coarse salt to the top of your steak, then throw it on the grill. You want to cook these steaks over high heat until they are brown, which will take about five minutes per side, depending on how “done” you prefer your steak. For a particularly thick piece of meat, you may also want to brown the sides a bit. While some people prefer their steak rare or well done, there is nothing quite like a medium-rare steak. In fact, most chefs agree that medium-rare steaks give you the maximum amount of tenderness and juiciness while ensuring that the center of the steak is actually warm. To test if your steak is medium-rare, press your finger in the middle of the steak. If your steak gives ever so slightly then bounces back, you have yourself a medium-rare steak. A mushy steak will tell you that it is still rare. Keep going until you get that bounce-back. To get that restaurant-quality flavor, before the steak is finished, liberally baste it with garlic-infused butter. Garnish the top of the steak with a sprig of one of your favorite herbs, and proceed to blow the mind of your special guest.

Ribeye

This next steak can be one of the most flavorful and juicy steaks you can find. Where most the flavor comes from is up to you. If you prefer a simple flavor, liberally applying coarse salt and black pepper to your steak, and even some garlic powder if you choose. However, to get the most out of your ribeye, make sure to marinate it in a plastic bag for a couple of hours. Once it is in the bag, pour in plenty of balsamic vinegar or red wine. Another tasty addition to a ribeye marinade is Parmesan cheese. Feel free to marinate your steak with whatever your heart desires, or whatever the person you are cooking for desires. These are only suggestions. Just remember to allow plenty of time to let the flavors sink in. Once done marinating, throw that baby on the grill over low flame for about five minutes. Flip to the other side where you will most likely cook a little longer than the first side. Again, test the doneness by pressing the meat with your finger. Ribeyes are a little harder to judge than filets because they’re not as thick, but with a little practice, you’ll quickly get the knack. Once you think it is ready, pull it off and let it rest for about five minutes. This is very important to do for all steaks! Cut in too quickly, and the juices all run out, leaving the meat a little dry.

Charcoal vs. Gas

Ah, the classic grilling debate. In this writer’s opinion, always go for charcoal over a gas grill. With charcoal, it is a slower process, but it tends to give your steaks a more distinct flavor. Also, do not be afraid to experiment with wood chips. Cherry or pecan are both particularly good choices. But don’t throw the chips directly onto the charcoal, which will cause them to burn off too quickly. Wrap the wood chips in some tin foil and place them next to the fire. This will deepen the flavor profile of your charcoal-grilled steaks.

Happy Grilling!

Permeable Paver Driveways: Beautiful in Form and Function

Pavers: Eco Dublin®

The use of permeable pavers in driveway construction is growing exponentially across the country, particularly in areas with water use restrictions or strict stormwater management guidelines. Not only do permeable pavers boost your curb appeal, they also positively impact the environment by decreasing stormwater runoff and improving the water quality of local waterways.

Pavers: Aqualine™ Series

How, you ask? It’s ingeniously simple, actually. Permeable pavers are installed over a gradient bed of aggregate, with tiny aggregate filling the joints between each paver. As rainwater falls onto the pavers (or drains onto the pavers from another surface), the water percolates through the paver joints and down through the base materials below. There, the water is filtered by the aggregates, removing a number of pollutants before the water makes it’s way into the groundwater supply or returns to local waterways. The rising trend is to incorporate an underground cistern with a pump under the paver system so that the filtered water can be captured and recycled. A number of states and municipalities offer grants or tax incentives for these types of rainwater harvesting systems. The recycled water can be used for irrigation, water features, or other greywater uses.

Subterra Stone® improved the safety of this steep driveway.

Constructing a driveway with permeable pavers can also provide a number of other solutions for homeowners. For example, for steep driveways, permeable paver construction is safer during rainy weather conditions than traditional impervious surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt, because rain can permeate through pavers instead of pooling on the surface, thus improving traction.

Illustration of heated paver installation.

In areas prone to heavy snow, a heating system can also be installed under the sand base of the pavers so that snow or icy rain immediately melts and drains away, eliminating snow shoveling or ice accumulation. The sand acts as a buffer between the pavers and the coils, preventing damage from any shifting caused by automotive traffic.

Tour the 2016 Coastal Living Showhouse in The Hamptons

As the official hardscape supplier of the 2016 Coastal Living Showhouse located in the heart of the quintessential coastal community of The Hamptons, Belgard is proud to offer you this virtual tour of the outdoor living areas of the elegant coastal cottage — including charming cobbled walks, tailored garden walls, a contemporary poolscape, and an inviting outdoor living room with a gourmet grill station.

To begin our virtual tour, take a step back in time to the cobbled streets of yesteryear, with a stroll down the Old World Paver™ driveway and adjoining walkway (color: Sable Blend).

Next, enter the elegant poolscape, constructed with Stones 2.0 Porcelain Pavers to create a contemporary modular design (color: Pierre Blue). Because Belgard Porcelain Pavers can be installed over a variety of bases, the same pavers were able to be used on the pool deck (traditional paver base) and the adjoining stepping stones (grass base) and porches (concrete base), which helped to create a cohesive outdoor living design.

On your way to the cabana, take in the cozy backdrop of the surrounding garden walls, built with the natural stone look of Tandem® Wall in an ashlar pattern (color: Bella).

Tandem Wall also serves to enclose the relaxing outdoor living room with connecting grill station. Fireplace and grill island pieces from the Bordeaux Series of the Belgard Elements Collection serve as focal points for the inviting outdoor living space (color: Midnight). Stones 2.0 Porcelain Pavers provide the patio flooring for the living room and connect with the pool deck via the stepping-stone walkway.

“The coloring and trim of Belgard’s Midnight Bordeaux Elements flowed very nicely with the rest of the outdoor space, as we were going for a comfortable, coastal look,” said Calais Ongania with landscape design firm Mahoney Associates, Inc.. “To soften up the hardscapes, our team used bluegrass, hydrangea, and other flowers of similar color to tie into the grill and fireplace coloring, but give the backyard a warm feel.”

landscape design team: calais Ongania and nasir molla, Mahoney Associates, Inc.

•   •   •

For more on the Coastal Living Showhouse, click here. The home will be open to the public through September 4, 2016.

Belgard Provides Charm, Improved Function and Cost Savings for Playground

Every play element of the new Chastain Park playground is designed for group play, from multi-person swings to “racing” slides and harmony stations. (photo: Chastain Park Conservancy)

What happens when kids get involved in the design of a playground? Amazing things! Just ask the community surrounding Atlanta’s Chastain Park. The only public playground serving the 85,000 school-age children within a 5-mile radius, the park’s playground had not been renovated since 2000 and was in dire need of an upgrade. The existing playground had a lot of deficiencies, primarily in that it really only appealed to a small demographic (ages 5-12). The majority of the play structures were too dangerous for smaller children, yet not challenging enough for older children.

A Mega-Tandem™ retaining wall provides an acoustic backdrop for one of the park's harmony stations. (Photo: Carson Matthews)

A Mega-Tandem™ retaining wall provides an acoustic backdrop for one of the park’s harmony stations. (photo: Carson Matthews)

Enter play specialist consultant Cynthia Gentry, an expert in childhood development who met with school children from the surrounding community to begin the design concepts. Kids were asked to imagine what they’d like to see on the playground and put that imagery into drawings, which became the inspiration for the all of the designs.

Gentry then enlisted the help of another consultant, Robin Moore, who specializes in nature-based play, currently a strong movement in childhood development circles. Together, Gentry and Moore conducted a charrette, or meeting of the minds, with representatives from the private school located inside the park’s grounds, local public schools and pre-schools, civic associations, the Parks Commission, and various members of the community. At the charrette, the group reviewed all of the children’s drawings and synthesized them into rough design concepts. A second charrette was held at NC State to compound all of the concepts into one overall design.

Landscape Architect Bill Caldwell took the ball from there, handling permits and turning the master plan into design documents for drainage, utilities, elevation, landscaping, hardscaping, and construction of the restroom pavilion. Caldwell contracted renown water resources engineer consultant, Bill Jorden, to develop the stormwater management plan to meet all of Atlanta’s ordinances for stormwater runoff quality and quantity.

Urbana Stone® permeable pavers throughout the playground manage stormwater, reducing water runoff and reducing pollution. (photo: Chastain Park Conservancy)

Urbana Stone® permeable pavers throughout the playground manage stormwater, reducing both stormwater runoff and pollution. (photo: Chastain Park Conservancy)

“Our goal was to not create a detention pond on a beautiful site of rolling hills and historic oak trees. I also didn’t want to have to convert the flat spaces currently used for open play. Belgard products helped us to avoid these traditional stormwater management strategies,” Caldwell said.

With the help of Belgard Urbana Stone® permeable pavers and Mega-Tandem™ Mass Segmental Retaining Wall™, the team was able to conserve land, meet the stormwater requirements, and save a significant amount of money in the process.

“Because the playground was being built into a hillside, the project required substantial retaining walls, which initially called for poured concrete. We got two Mega-Tandem Walls for the price of one poured concrete wall. Also, using the Mega-Tandem allowed us to value-engineer the pavilion and reduce the amount of poured concrete needed for the foundation. Overall, we saved over $200,000 on the project, factoring the cost savings on the pavilion and the site walls,” Caldwell said.

In addition, the 9,000 square feet of permeable paver walkways controls the amount off rainwater runoff that rolls downhill, which alleviates erosion problems. “An impervious system would have caused a concentration of water flow to the lower elevations, which would have generated more runoff than the original site,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell also notes that the Belgard permable pavers and retaining walls allowed him to create the playground out of what was formerly unusable space. “I love the fact that we took a hillside with a 12-15 degree slope that was basically non-functional and turned it into a 1-acre parkland that is a highly functional and usable space and has become a high-value component of the park,” he said. “We created something out of nothing.”

And what Caldwell considers the best part…this playgound was designed by kids for kids, regardless of age or abilities. The entire playground is ADA compliant, with multiple handicap accessible play elements. “Even the texture of the permeable paver walkway adds a sensory element for children with sensory disabilities, which is not something they would get with a smooth poured concrete sidewalk. Addressing disabilities of multiple spectrums was always part of the discussion from the beginning,” Caldwell said.

Photos courtesy Carson MattHews and the Chastain Park Conservancy.

Rainwater Harvesting Now the Hottest Outdoor Design Trend

Permeable paver patios and driveways can be designed to collect and recycle rainwater. (Product shown: Eco-Dublin® pavers)

With last year’s annual survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), green practices began to dominate the list of top outdoor design trends like never before, with 8 of the top 10 trends all related to eco-friendly or sustainable practices. With the recently released 2016 survey results, make that number now 9 out of 10, with rainwater harvesting making a giant leap up to the top spot. Take a look at last year’s trends compared to this year’s.

2015 Top 10 2016 Top 10
1 Native plants Rainwater/graywater harvesting
2 Drought-tolerant plants Native plants
3 Edible gardens Drought-tolerant plants
4 Fire pits/fireplaces Low-maintenance landscaping
5 Low-maintenance landscapes Permeable paving
6 Permeable paving Fire pits/fireplaces
7 Water-efficient irrigation Edible gardens
8 Rain gardens Rain gardens
9 Lighting Water-efficient irrigation
10 Rainwater/graywater harvesting Reduced lawn area

These trends reflect consumers’ growing commitment to landscapes that reduce water use and stormwater runoff, says Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA.

“Water issues are hot topics for many communities, and many people are turning to landscape architects for creative green infrastructure solutions,” said Somerville. “Sustainable residential landscape architecture, if part of a broader integrated site design, can dramatically reduce water usage and stormwater runoff over the long term while creating a healthy residential environment.”

With a combined rainwater harvesting permeable pavement system, Belgard offers a way to combine three of these top outdoor design trends with a single design element. With this type of pavement system, rainwater drains through the joints between pavers and percolates down through a bed of gravel into a collection cistern, where a pump can recycle the water for irrigation or water features. Pollutants are removed from the water as it drains through the gravel, which adds additional protection for the environment.

PICPstorage

Many municipalities and states offer grants and tax incentives for installing either permeable pavers or a rainwater harvesting system, which is likely a factor in the growing popularity of using permeable pavers for this purpose. With the variety of attractive Belgard permeable pavers available, homeowners can build stunning outdoor living areas, driveways and walkways that are as ecologically responsible as they are beautiful.

Contractor’s Corner: Working with the Southern Living Idea House

Landscape Contractor

Landscape Contractor John Sauders proudly stands in front of the 2016 Southern Living Idea House, which opened to the public on June 25.

John Saunders

John R. Saunders III of Nature’s Edge, LLC.

Belgard Authorized Contractor John Saunders was the natural choice to install all of the landscaping and outdoor living areas of the prestigious 2016 Southern Living Idea House, which was unveiled last month in the Birgmingham community of Mt Laurel, Alabama. A lifelong resident of Birmingham, John has 23 years of experience in the landscaping industry, 15 years as owner of Nature’s Edge, LLC.

“It was exciting as a company to have our name associated with such a high-profile project,” John said. “It was a great opportunity to work with new builders and landscape architects and showcase Belgard products in this way. It’s been a fun project to be involved with.”

Hardscaped areas include a Mega-Lafitt™ paver patio with a Weston Stone fire pit.

Hardscaped outdoor living areas of the 2016 Southern Living Idea House include a Mega-Lafitt™ paver patio with a Weston Stone® fire pit (pictured above), an adjoining dining area, picturesque walkways and a paver driveway. Stay tuned for additional photos to be released in the coming weeks.

A Belgard Authorized Contractor for nearly a decade, John states that his relationship with the Belgard brand helped make the project possible for him. “Belgard recommended me and was very instrumental in helping me get the job done. My rep, Will Dowlen, was quick to respond to any of my needs and made sure we had what needed quickly. It was a very quick turnaround, and we had to make sure the house was ready for viewing and that everything was done correctly to ICPI standards.”

A full-service landscaping company that handles design, installation and maintenance, Nature’s Edge handled installation of all of the Idea House’s softscapes, hardscapes and irrigation. John says that his favorite part of the hardscape design is the Old York™ paver driveway, which was installed in a herringbone pattern with a Lafitt™ paver border.

“Old York was easy to install and gives the driveway that classic cobblestone look from back in the day,” John said. “The Lafitt pavers created a picture-frame type of border that added a modernesque feel, combining the old with the new.” Photos of the driveway — as well additional photos of all of the hardscaped outdoor living areas — will be release on the Outdoor Living by Belgard blog in the coming weeks.

Overall, John states that he’s never disappointed with a Belgard installation. “I absolutely love the product. I have installed every Belgard paver and like them all. Probably 95% of our installations these days are Belgard. Their customer service is bar none, and others just don’t have the product quality and consistency,” he said.

John adds that he also enjoys the perks of being a Belgard Authroized Contractor, including the added credibility — which he says gives him a leg-up on the competition — and access to the Belgard Design Studio, which offers free 3-D design renderings for authorized contractors.

“The Design Studio is awesome,” John said. “It helps the homeowner feel like they’re standing on their own patio. We can visualize things before they happen, but getting the homeowner to visualize it is another story. 2-D drawings are great, but 3-D is better.”