Posts tagged: Cooking

Just Add Wine

By , April 22, 2010

If you are like me, you pay pretty close attention to the myriad ingredients you purchase in order to cook a meal. I go out of my way to shop at specific markets that I know have better produce, or butchers that offer better cuts of meat. I sift through bins to find the best piece of fruit, or the freshest, crispest vegetables. I buy bread from one or two particular bakeries.

I often cook from recipes; they are usually fairly specific, and I go out of my way to locate each ingredient in the best and freshest form available to me. If a recipe calls for sugar, I use natural raw cane sugar. When it wants oregano, I have fresh, organic oregano that I’ve dried myself. I make my own maraschino cherries and grenadine for cocktails, and I even have homemade bacon in my refrigerator right now.

I put forth all this effort in an attempt to cook something fabulous each time I step into my kitchen, yet when a recipe calls for wine, and many do, I am at a loss. Everyone seems to be– even friends with a firm grasp of what wines to drink with a given dish are puzzled when asked to recommend an appropriate wine for cooking. Recipes *never* tell you what kind of wine to use! So, like most people, after spending an afternoon at farmer’s markets, bakeries, butchers, and grocery stores, almost as an afterthought I grab the cheapest wine I can find. Red or white is about the only decision I make, and often, when recipes don’t specify, I don’t even take that into consideration.

Enter my newest discovery: Académie Wines. This is one of the most clever ideas I’ve heard of in years, and frankly I’m baffled as to why no company has done this before. Académie sells four different wines specifically designed for cooking. I’ve tried all four, and they are uniformly good. The label says it all– each wine is blended for usage in cooking certain dishes. So far I’ve tried the wines with beef, chicken breast, lamb chops, salmon, and scallops, and have yet to be disappointed. The difference in the finished product is sometimes subtle, but always noticeable. Each wine brings out elements in the dish that were otherwise muted when using randomly chosen wines.

The other thing I like about these wines is that they come in bottles half the size of a traditional wine bottle. That leaves me just enough leftover wine for a glass to drink whilst cooking (it’s also tasty drinking wine). No more leftover bottles that gradually go bad.

Chef Cooks with Wine

It’s rare that I extol the virtues of a specific brand or product in this blog, and in fact this may be the first time I have ever done so, but I think this is a very useful and unique product, and most of my readers will be glad to know about it. I should add– I don’t really know if it is available outside Northern California. The Académie Wines web page can probably tell you, and answer any other questions you have. If you buy some and like it, let me know– I am actually really curious to get feedback from people about this stuff.


Bowling for Produce

By , July 7, 2004

My local market has an unusual name: The Berkeley Bowl. It is named such because the storefront it once occupied was previously a bowling alley that sported that moniker. Presumably to save on the cost of a new sign, the market kept the name. I guess the name didn’t deter folks, because it became so popular that a few years ago they moved to a new, larger location; they kept the name.

Today I was chatting with one-time maguffin, and now Real-Life-Speed-Scrabble-Pal, Yale, and she told me that Berkeley Bowl has the largest produce section on the West Coast. That did not surprise me, as I have always thought that their produce section alone is the size of an average Safeway/ Ralph’s/ Piggly Wiggly/ Alpha Beta store. When I find myself away from home, be it in some Podunk town or a major city like New York or Los Angeles, and I am cooking, I feel limited by the lack of freshness and variety in the ingredients available to me. I always ask the people I’m visiting to direct me to the best markets, and am always sorely disappointed.

I seemed to have more of a point to this when I started typing this entry. Oh, I remember– because they have such a vast amount of produce for sale, I, unlike said produce, am spoiled. They have just about every style and variety of fruit and vegetable known to man in there. I have sometimes encountered recipes that call for some very obscure and esoteric ingredients, and when it comes to fruits or vegetables I’ve always been able to find what I need at the Berkeley Bowl. You name it , they have it. Why, during my last visit there I counted nine different kinds of eggplant. Nine!

The best is when I bring some arcane vegetable to the checkout line and the clerk has to stop and look it up in the voluminous registrar of produce codes. I feel warm and fuzzy inside whenever I stump a clerk, especially if it is one of the old-timers that should know them all by now. I am weird.

Today’s Question: Is there a store or shop in your area that you could not live without?



By , March 15, 2004

I’m still building up to the recipe for a Jack Rose, and my next cocktail blog will be a recipe for exactly that, but today I need to cover another ingredient necessary for the creation of that drink. Before one can pour a Jack Rose cocktail, one needs grenadine. It is readily available in stores, but be judicious about what brand you choose if you decide to buy some. Most popular version don’t include any pomegranate juice, which is the primary ingredient in true grenadine, nor do they contain sugar, replacing it instead with high-fructose corn syrup. Truthfully, most store-bought grenadine is nothing more than sweet syrup and red dye.

Real grenadine is simple mixture of pomegranate juice and sugar, and is an integral ingredient to certain cocktails for a couple reasons. In addition to imparting a subtle tartness, grenadine imparts a striking blush to the cocktails it graces– the latter can be accomplished by any imitation product, but only true grenadine can offer the proper taste. Grenadine shouldn’t merely sweeten a drink, it should enhance its flavor.

You can find proper grenadine in stores, but why bother? You can make some at home quite easily. Here is a simple method I’ve come up with after much trial-and-error:


1 cups sugar
2 cups pomegranate juice (about 4 pomegranates)

The first step is to juice the pomegranates. I’ve tried many methods, including strainers, juicers, and food mills, but none work as well as simply getting your hands dirty. I halve the pomegranate, and twist and break it up over a chinois (a strainer will work, too) and then squeeze and smash the seeds in my hands. Gradually, all the juice will escape and filter into the bowl beneath the chinois.

Pour the pomegranate juice into a pan, and stir the sugar in slowly until it has completely dissolved. Place the pan over a medium flame, and stir often for about fifteen minutes, or until the juice has thickened into a syrup. Remove from heat and let stand. Once cooled, transfer to a glass jar. Simple syrup will keep for about two to three weeks if tightly sealed and refrigerated.

You can make any quantity you wish to make; just be sure to keep the proportion of juice to sugar the same (2:1) and you’ll be fine.

In addition to being used in cocktails, grenadine is tasty when drizzled over vanilla ice cream, among other things. I imagine it would be yummy atop a pancake.


Simple Syrup

By , February 25, 2004

Last year I promised to share recipes for all six of the “basic drinks” that every bartender should know, according to The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I’ve covered five of the six, with only the Jack Rose standing between me and completion, but before I go any further, I need to cover some basic ingredients one often encounters in cocktail recipes. One of these, simple syrup, which I will cover today, has already surfaced in a recipe, the Old Fashioned, so it is with some chagrin that I belatedly present to you the recipe for said ingredient.

Simple Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup filtered water

Boil the water. Stir sugar in slowly until it has completely dissolved. As soon as the sugar has fully dissolved, remove from heat and allow the syrup to cool in the pan. Once cooled, transfer to a glass jar. Simple syrup will keep for a month or longer if tightly sealed and refrigerated. You can add a teaspoon of vodka to the syrup to prolong its shelf life.

You can make any quantity you wish to make; just be sure to keep the proportion of sugar to water the same (2:1) and you’ll be fine.

That’s all there is to it. It truly is a simple syrup to make, although that is not why it is called simple syrup. Use it in lieu of sugar when making most cocktails.


Typical Day, For Reals This Time

By , October 2, 2003

I never care much to read blog entries that chronicle someone’s day in a blow-by-blow fashion. I do enjoy amusing anecdotes from a day, to be sure, but the “I did this, then I did this, then I did this” entries don’t hold my interest. Nonetheless, today’s entry is going to be in that vein, but in a more general way, as more then a few people have asked me of late: “Peasprout, what is your typical day like?”

Well, since you asked, it goes a little something like this…

I wake up at about 10:30 am or so. I make my morning commute to work, which is really just walking from the bedroom into the office. Sometimes there may be some traffic– perhaps I left some clothing on the floor– but I usually make it to work in a timely manner.

For the next three or four hours I make and answer phone calls, either touching base about pending events or convincing potential clients to hire me, and respond to e-mails. Every now and then I fax something, and sometimes even prepare letters to send by post.

At around 2:00 I shower, dress, and head out into the world. I head down Telegraph or Shattuck and eat lunch someplace while reading the day’s newspaper. The highlight of lunch is working the New York Times crossword puzzle. Sometimes I eat gelato after lunch.

After lunch, I walk about a mile or so to Ver Brugge, a local butcher, where I buy meat to cook for dinner. I then walk what must be another mile and a half to the Berkeley Bowl, my favorite market, where the produce section boggles the mind. Finally, I walk yet another mile home. By now it’s around 5:00, and time to start cooking.

My girlfriend and I dine together most nights. After dinner, who knows what we’ll do. We see a lot of movies, play a lot of Scrabble, and generally do fun things. Sometimes we just kind of do nothing together, but it seems like something just ‘cuz it’s us; even when we’re together doing nothing it beats a trip to Disneyland. Basically, I have the world’s most wonderful girlfriend. She’s also my best friend, and hands down the most remarkable person I’ve ever known. I bet if you met her you’d think the same thing.

Of course, I relish my “me” time, in which I read, write, play basketball, or hang out with friends. A lot of that time comes later in the evening, for Fizzy sleeps earlier than I do. I’m definitely a night person. I do a lot of reading, writing, DVD watching, and work-related tasks after midnight, and don’t go to bed until perhaps 3:00 am.

And that’s pretty much my day. Not much, really. And you can see why I don’t bore you with a daily recounting of said events: I’d have no readers.

Today’s Question: What is your typical day?


A Cookie, Not a Foodie

By , May 26, 2003

The term foodie probably could be as good as any other to describe someone to whom food is important in some capacity or other, but, at least in my mind, it holds a negative connotation. When I think “foodie,” I think of a person who obediently follows the latest trends set forth by the food industry, whether that be worshipping the current superstar chef, dining at the trendiest restaurant, or cooking with the currently vogue ingredients, all the while smugly lording over the rest of us poor slobs who don’t follow suit. A foodie doesn’t go to church, he goes to a restaurant; he proselytizes by blogging in self-aggrandizing fashion about his passion for the trend du jour, all the while blind to the irony of it all.

Me? I prefer eating delicious food to mediocre. That may seem like a silly distinction to make, but I think most people don’t really care. How else do the Applebee’s and McDonald’s of the world stay in business? I’d hazard to say that the majority of people, Americans at least, are not only content with mediocrity, they prefer it. It isn’t simply convenience that prompts them to eat dinner at fast food restaurants night after night, for it would be easier (not to mention healthier) to shop once, procure the ingredients for several meals, and cook them at home. The time it takes to drive to a restaurant, park, order, wait, eat, then drive home is roughly equivalent, if not less, than the time it would take to quickly assemble a better-tasting burger or hot dog at home. Moreover, those same people would cringe at eating anything more unusual than a sandwich; there will be no foie gras, sushi, or kimchi for them. Yes, I am firmly convinced most people truly prefer bland, predictable, mediocrity when it comes to what they eat.

So then, to continue my assertion: I prefer eating delicious food to mediocre, I prefer cooking my own meals to eating out, and I am not only willing to go the extra mile to find fresher, better ingredients, I relish the thrill of the hunt. It pleases me to no end to find a viable new source for fresh and tasty foodstuffs. When I do eat out, I eschew the trendy dining spots, preferring instead to venture into out-of-the-way neighborhoods to try hole-in-the-wall ethnic eateries, random taco trucks, and homely diners, hoping each time to discover heretofore hidden hideaways that have been unnoticed by the media, if not downright ignored for their lack of a wine list or acceptable ambience. To do so, of course, one must be willing to endure the inevitable horrific meals that come with such a cenatory policy, and, I ever the stiff upper lipped stoic, defiantly am.

I don’t feel at all special for doing any of this. I know I’m one of many food-obsessed folks, though from now on, I will refer to myself as a “cookie” rather than a “foodie,” (even though cookie already means something else) as a way to distinguish myself from the sheep-like masses glued to the Food Network, adulating at the altar of Emeril. I’ve offered up a couple song write-ups; I’ll write more. In addition, I’m going to start peppering my blog with some cookie posts. I hope you will find them enjoyable and informative.

As I have no training beyond the cooking skills imparted to me by my mother, and those I’ve taught myself, and hold no claim to being capable of reviewing or rating a restaurant other than to say what I liked or disliked and why, anything I ever write here about cooking, eating, or other topics prandial, are to be taken at face value. Food, like art, is a matter of opinion, and my opinions are of little consequence to anyone other than me. At best, I hope over time I’ll share some interesing information, and hopefully learn from my readers through comments and emails. Bon appetit!


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