Pantry Basics: Dry Goods

In addition to flour, sugar and other baking ingredients, there are a few other dry ingredients we need to have in the pantry.

Rice. This is a staple for most of the world. Only in the more northern climates, like Europe and North America, do people consume more wheat and other grains. You can buy rice in many forms, but I stick with the very affordable five-pound bag of regular long-grain white rice. It is easier to cook and the most adaptable to a wide range of recipes and cuisines. It is true that brown rice, which is exactly the same but with the outer hull still on, does have higher nutritional value. But it also requires longer cooking and can be more difficult to get right. You can buy instant rice if you’re not sure of your ability to cook rice without it coming up mushy or sticky. Instant rice is just rice that has been partially cooked and then dried. An agent to keep it from sticking together or absorbing moisture from the air are about the only things added. The boil-in-the-bag types are okay, too. The microwavable or boxed side dish varieties present a problem since they usually have lots of salt and other stuff in them. However, I will admit they are very convenient.

Cooking rice DOES take some practice. Sushi chefs spend two years just learning how to make the rice. Fortunately, rice is inexpensive. Start out with small amounts until you get the hang of it. Here are the tips:

  • Wash the rice in a strainer. Do it in batches if you have to. Rinse under cold running water and try to make sure every kernel gets doused. Don’t be afraid to get your hands in there and work the water and rice around. You are removing the excess starch on the outside of the rice kernels which can make the rice mushy or clumpy.
  • As a side note, many parts of the world, particularly East Asia, prefer their rice a little mushy and clumpy. They also don’t season the rice, not even with salt. They have rice at almost every meal and use the bland rice to absorb some of any sauce from the usually heavily seasoned entree and side dishes. Also, clumpy rice is easier to eat with chopsticks.
  • Add rice and cold water to a cold saucepan that has a good, tight-fitting lid. The amount of water you use depends on the type of rice and the cooking method. For standard white long-grain rice, you use about two cups liquid with one cup of rice. Brown rice will need about two-and-a-half cups for each cup of rice. See the package directions for the exact information for that kind of grain. However, this ratio changes with quantity. If cooking less than a cup of white rice, the amount of liquid is 1.1:1 rather than 1.25:1.
  • Add 1 teaspoon salt, or 1 chicken bouillon cube or 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules. You can also use 1 cup of chicken stock in place of 1 cup of water. This is if you like rice to have a little flavor. Omit if serving East Asians.
  • Stir once.
  • Put on high heat and bring to a rolling boil. You may stir once if you fear the rice might be sticking, but that’s all. Any more will make the rice mushy.
  • Turn the heat to very low, cover and walk away for 15 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let the pot sit for 10 minutes.
  • Now, carefully use a fork to fluff the rice and break it up.

It may not work the first time. Every stove and pot is different and can affect how the rice turns out. But once you get it, you’ll find it easier each time. I’m not a big fan of most rice cookers because I don’t think they turn out any better. For the beginner, instant rice is easier but may or may not be fool-proof.

Pasta. My problem with pasta, as I think I’ve mentioned, is that we eat too much of it because it’s cheap. As a processed food, dry pasta is not bad as it usually doesn’t have much of the bad stuff in it. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THE BOX! The times they give are usually pretty accurate. Do NOT throw pasta against the wall to see if it sticks. Just pull a bit of it up out of the pot, blow on it to cool and see how it feels in your mouth when you chew it. You’ll know if it’s right.

Previous advice would have said to always use at least 4 quarts of water or more. This is one time a stock pot is really useful. However, for some dishes, like Cacio e Pepe, one uses only enough water to cover. This makes a starchy water used to make the sauce. Personally, I don’t think there’s much difference between one pasta brand and another. Think about using pasta more creatively instead of just a tomato based sauce. Mix with extra virgin olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese and dried basil for a classic Italian side dish. Pine nuts go great with this if you have some, but they are expensive. Mix vegetables, cheese, herbs and a little oil or butter to make a healthy side. Just don’t have a big plate of pasta with sauce and meatballs or meat sauce. That’s like eating half a loaf of bread.

Bread Crumbs. Like chicken stock or broth, I think you should make your own bread crumbs. It’s not hard. If completely dry, they can go in an airtight container (otherwise, stick them in the freezer). You can save up stale bread or crackers for just this purpose. If you must buy bread crumbs in the store, try to find Panko, the Japanese style breadcrumbs. Your last choice should be that sawdust in the container they sell. I don’t care how they dress it up, it’s still sawdust. It’s just too fine to create more than a mush. If you need bread crumbs for a recipe, put some bread in the toaster on the darkest setting without burning or blackening. If you have a food processor, use it. Otherwise, let the bread sit for a bit and try toasting again until you get as much moisture out of it as you can. Watch it carefully! If the oven’s already on, cut the bread into small pieces and arrange on a cookie sheet and bake until golden brown.

Don’t Like Veggies? We Can Help.

We spent many years growing up hating vegetables. That’s something a lot of kids go through. There are all kinds of explanations for that. But let’s talk about how to fix that. If you have any ideas to contribute, feel free to add to the piece in the comments.

Start with sweet ones. Peas, carrots, cauliflower, sweet bell peppers and tomatoes are all vegetables high in sugar. These are a little easier to take for those who aren’t big fans of the veggies. They can all be eaten raw, but you can do a light steam or sauté on them at first. Just make sure you leave lots of crunch. That will make the transition to raw a bit easier.

Dip it. We are not in favor of drowning vegetables in sauces and dips, but a little cream-based dip for raw vegetables might get you to like them a little. These are moves to slowly ease you into eating more raw veggies.

Grow ’em. Studies show that if you spend the time and effort to grow your own vegetables, you are more likely to want to eat them. Start with growing things you like and vegetables that will grow well in your climate and situation. Even if you don’t have access to an outside garden, container gardening is very popular and worth looking into.

Try a little butter. I’ve said before that butter, used in moderation, is not bad for you and is better than margarine. Nothing can duplicate that wonderful flavor. And adding a little of that flavor to vegetables can help a lot.

Soup ’em up. The wonderful thing about soup is that you can make it out of almost any food, fresh or leftover. In fact, soup made from leftovers is a great way to use them up. You have a bunch of veggies you don’t know what to do with? Make soup. Add a bit of chicken stock, some spices and herbs and water, let it all simmer for a bit and you can have some great eating, with lots of veggies.

Make a salad. Who says a salad has to be made from lettuce and a few of the usual suspects? You can make a vegetable salad with a nice vinaigrette, some toasted nuts, croutons and Parmesan cheese and you’ve got a tasty lunch. Even if you make a lettuce salad, you can still add some chopped veggies on top.

Roast ’em. We’ve mentioned this before. When you’re grilling those brats or whatever you like, make a little room on the grill for some fresh veggies, Corn in the husk, thickly sliced potatoes, tomato halves, quartered heads of cauliflower and broccoli all are likely candidates to be made golden brown and crispy.

Cheese it. Covering everything in cheese sauce (or even shredded cheese that melts), is not something we recommend. But it’s a good way to ease into eating more vegetables. Just don’t overdo it. The object is the TASTE the vegetables.

Try these with vegetables you’re not familiar with or haven’t tried lately. Summer is a great time to expand your palette of vegetables and see what you’re missing.

Wines: Picking A Red One

Wine grape plants, or vines, are scientifically called Vitis vinifera. Note the genus is Vitis, the same root as the word vital. And that’s what wine was to early civilizations – vital. Water could become polluted, but fermentation killed the bugs that would make people sick.

Wine Varieties.  There are thousands of grape varieties, most of them hybrids. Some are acquired from cross breeding, but most are made by grafting one variety onto another. Grafts are also how most vines are spread around the globe to regions you wouldn’t think of for wine.

Commonly known reds:

Barbera. This is an Italian red known for its ruby color. It is low in tannins and high in acid, an unusual quality for most reds. Barberas are generally from the Piedmont region of Italy. They are heavy in fruit aromas, especially berries. Those aged in oak barrels tend to have a spicier note. A great candidate for cellaring.

Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the better known reds, this is a hybrid of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. It is grown in almost every wine making region of the world because it is a hardy vine and resists frost and rot. As a wine, Cabernet tends to be peppery in taste with aromas of mint and eucalyptus. If aged in oak, the wood adds additional, mellower flavors and scents. Depending on exactly when the grapes are harvested, sugar content can be higher, leaving a jammy flavor or the smell of black currants. It is often found in blends. This wine holds up well with rustic or spicy food. It keeps nicely in a cellar collection.

Durif (Petite Sirah). This is not the same as the wine called Syrah or Shiraz. The grapes are small and the wine is dark crimson. The smell is usually peppery and herbal. The taste is that of dark fruit, like blueberries, black berries and plums. The tannin level is high, so it keeps well, but the taste can be “short,” meaning the finish, or after taste, is nearly nonexistent.

Gamay. This is usually attached to the name Beaujolais which is the region where it grows. It’s a purple grape that produces a wine that’s light and fruity. This is an excellent everyday wine that goes with almost all kinds of food. Like most Beaujolais wine, it is usually not aged for long and is meant to be drunk within a few years of production.

Grenache is a hot weather grape that flourishes in Southern France and Spain. It is usually found in blends like the famous Chateauneuf-du-Pape. In fact, there’s an interesting story behind that wine alone. It can be a difficult grape in wine making, and so is not used as much as some other low-tannin grapes.

Merlot. Another well-known red wine with a medium body and soft flavor and aroma. It is often used to mellow the sterner cabernet sauvignon. Because of its lighter taste, it pairs well with a wide variety of food. If you see White Merlot, pick this if you don’t like wine but do like kiddie soft drinks. It’s the same as White Zinfandel.

Pinot Noir. The United States has become a leading producer of Pinot, a native of the Burgundy region of France. We think some of the best Pinots are from Oregon, with its moderate, moist weather. It’s not easy to pin down its flavor and aroma. It can be strong or light, fruity or spicy, even manure-like in smell. It a medium wine that can go with all but the lightest or spiciest foods.

Sangiovese means “Blood of Jove” and is commonly known as Chianti if it comes from the Chianti region of Tuscany in Northern Italy. It is very dry but can have enormous fruit tastes and aromas. It is usually part of a blend. Non-Italian Sangioveses seem to be a bit weak compared to the Classico Reservas from Tuscany. A variation on Sangiovese is Brunello, one of the better known versions outside of Northern Italy. It goes well with spicy, highly acidic dishes.

Syrah or Shiraz. This is a more widely grown grape around the world than you might think. It is high in both tannins and acidity and has a lot of blackberry and dark chocolate tones in taste. Aromas are usually peppery with hints of licorice or cloves. The name Syrah is used throughout most of the world, but Shiraz is the name found in Australia and it’s wines. These are powerfully flavored wines that easily overpower delicate foods, so should be served with hardier fare and red meat.

Zinfandel. This is never to be confused with White Zinfandel, a sickly sweet wine created to use up the dregs of the barrels. Real zinfandel is a robust, ruby-red wine with a higher alcohol content. It’s a wine that was almost wiped out during Prohibition and the Great Depression, but made a stunning come-back in the 1970s. Zinfandel grapes can be a challenge for wine making because they often ripen at different rates on the same bunch. Originally from Croatia, they are popular in California. Because of the higher alcohol content, Zinfandels have a stronger flavor to go with spicy or acidic foods.

Besides these varietal wines, there are many blends made from them that can have characteristics of all the primary grapes in the wine. Also, most wines have some blending to them with small amounts of other juices to affect the flavor according to the winemaker’s goal. Aging in oak or other kinds of barrels also affect flavor. So does the location of the vines and what’s growing around the vineyard. All these variables are what make wine so interesting.

Picking Summer Vegetables

We should all have at least three meals a week that have no meat. And there are many substitutes and easy ways to do that. I’m not saying we should all give up meat. Just eat less.roastedvegetables

But now you’re in the farmers market or the produce aisle and you don’t know how to pick a vegetable for dinner. If you’re at the farmers market, the vendors are often more than willing to help. Not only might they pick something out for you, but they are likely to tell you how to choose a good one for your needs. I have trouble choosing a good melon, so I just ask the vendor to choose a good one for me, and they usually ask when I want to eat it. That’s how I know they want my business and know theirs.

In the supermarket, just try to find help. You’re on your own. And even though some stores have little information signs about how to choose and store your vegetables, they’re still pretty vague. I’m not sure of exactly what they mean in those recommendations, like “heavy for its size.” What does that mean?

Here are a few tips to help you choose good veggies.

Tomatoes. First, know your varieties. Regular supermarket tomatoes look nice and hold up well, but are lacking in a lot of taste. Cherry and Grape tomatoes are great for salads and snacks. Roma and Plum varieties are good for sauces and other cooked applications. Heirloom tomatoes, usually homegrown, have lots more flavor and are not grown for their looks. Always try to buy tomatoes as close to home as possible. The further they have to come, the less ripe they’ll be. Look for plump, shiny tomatoes that give slightly when pressed; smell the stem end for that distinctive, sweetly acidic aroma.

Corn. Nothing beats good old corn on the cob, whether its boiled, roasted or grilled, as long as it’s slathered in butter. The best way to select corn is by looking at the husk, which protects the kernels from dry air and also tells you how fresh the corn is. Moist green husks are clearly fresher than dry brown ones. The tassel (silky strings at the tip) should be golden brown; a pale tassel is an indication that the corn was picked too early. Feel around through the husk for plump, resilient kernels. Cook it as soon as you can, since the sugars start to break down after it’s been picked.

Zucchini often get a bad rap because they’re so plentiful. But for that very same reason, there are lots and lots of recipes for things to do with them, from zucchini bread to ratatouille. Small-to-medium zucchini are most tender — use those for sautéing, grilling or eating raw. The big ones are starchier — save those for stuffing. Look for shiny, dark green zucchini (the freshest ones will have slightly prickly skin) with moist stem ends at least 1 inch in length. They should be firm to the touch and heavy in your hand. Avoid zucchini with breaks, gashes or soft spots. If there’s just too much zucchini for you to use, don’t let it go to waste — you can freeze it for several months. Slice, grate or chop the zucchini, blanch for 2 minutes in boiling water, then chill; pack in a plastic freezer bag or airtight container, leaving an inch of space at the top, and freeze.

Cucumbers. The English or European greenhouse cucumber, often sheathed in plastic wrap to protect its very thin skin, and the American slicing cucumber, which has a slightly thicker skin and more seeds, are the most common. Avoid cucumbers that have any yellow on them or have soft or wrinkled spots at the ends, a sign of improper storage.

These are just a few tips for picking out the best summer vegetables. Do you have any favorite ways to select your produce? Pass them on by clicking on the comments link below the post.

Make Your Own Bread

Many people who have been stuck at home have been trying their hand at baking bread. Anyone who has knows how good homemade bread can be. It is a major part of our human culture.

We understand why the second oldest profession in human civilization is a baker. Making and baking bread is not difficult. After all, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. It is, in one form or another, a staple for at least half the world.

carbohydrates-bread-grains-pastaBut even when it’s not difficult, it IS time consuming. Oh, it’s not like you have to stand over it all day, most of your time is spent waiting. Waiting and watching. The process relies on something you have little control over — little tiny creatures that eat sugar, reproduce like bunnies, burp carbon dioxide and pee alcohol.

The rewards, however, are worth it. Making your own bread just seems to taste better. Also, you know exactly what’s in it. No dough conditioners or other stuff used to make commercial breads. And once you get the hang of it, you open up a whole new world of possibilities. You can use different kinds of flours, add seeds or nuts, spices and even dried fruit. Just remember to set aside most of a day and to start out slow and easy.

There are many different recipes for breads. There are quick breads,pumpkin-bread like banana bread or pumpkin bread, that don’t use yeast. These are usually sweet and dense. And then there are yeast breads that rise up light and fluffy (or they should if you’ve done it right) and beg for fresh butter.

Let us make one note here: If you don’t already have one, invest in a bread knifebreadknife. It makes a big difference in the qualities of the slices you make from your loaf. Even if you just make rolls, this type of knife makes splitting them so much easier.

The only other special equipment you’ll need are a couple of loaf pans. In addition, you’ll need two large mixing bowls, a couple of kitchen towels, a spoon, your food thermometer, your glass measuring cup and dry measuring cups and spoons.

The ingredients are also simple and can vary from one recipe to another. This one makes two large loaves or a  9-x-13″ pan of dinner rolls.

Basic Yeast Bread02-11-12_2009

  • 1 package active dry yeast (the stuff that comes in the little packs in a string of three or four).
  • 2 cups warm water at about 110 F. This is probably the hardest thing because this temperature is critical. Too cool and the yeast won’t wake up, too hot and you kill them.
  • 1 cup sugar. You can’t really replace this with artificial sweetener because this is the yeasts’ food. You can, however, replace it with honey.
  • 1/2 cup butter or oil. I usually just use olive oil, it adds a nice flowery taste and a chewy texture.
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon of salt. Without this the bread doesn’t taste right.
  • 2 eggs, beaten.
  • 7 cups flour. Lots of recipes call for bread flour, but All-Purpose seems to work just fine for me. Also, you can replace up to half the amount with whole wheat flour. If you can get unbleached flour, even better. You can also use other flours like buck wheat, spelt, amaranth or oat flour. But remember, the less regular flour you use, the denser and smaller the bread. That’s why I never replace more than about half.

This is not a recipe for bread machines. If you have one, you’ll have to look up a recipe or buy one of those pre-made mixes.

You might get water warm enough from the tap, and that’s okay. Just use your thermometer to make sure it’s between 110 and 115.

Empty the yeast packet into one of your mixing bowls. I also like to add a tablespoon of the sugar. When these yeasties wake up, they’ll be hungry. Then add in the water and stir to dissolve the sugar and yeast. Let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes. When you come back, there should be a yeasty, beery smell and a bit of froth around the outer edge of the liquid. If it looks like muddy water with no foam or smell, your yeast is dead and you’ll have to start over.

Stir in the rest of the sugar, the oil or butter, salt, eggs and start working in about 4 cups of the flour. Stir until everything’s combined and smooth. You’ll need a little elbow grease at this point, and it just gets worse. That’s why professional chefs and experienced cooks use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. That saves a lot of time, but I don’t have one, so I just get a bit of exercise.

Stir in all but about a cup of the rest of the flour. You can always add more if needed, but you can’t take it back out. Work it until you get a soft, sticky dough.

Heavily flour your countertop on whatever clean surface you’re going to use to work the dough. Scrape out the dough onto the floured counter and top it with a good portion of the flour you held back.

You are going to get your hands dirty in the rest of this, so make sure they’re clean. You should at least coat them with flour. Some cooks like to put a little oil on them. Now, the fun begins.

There are different techniques for kneading your bread, but here’s the one I was taught. Grab a hunk of dough on the side and pull it up over the main part of the mass and pat it down into the rest of the dough. Turn it 45-degrees and repeat, pushing it down a little. You’re going to work the flour on top of the dough and on the board into the dough. Just keep doing that until the dough becomes less sticky. Then flatten it out into a thick square and fold it in thirds, like a letter, pushing the folded dough into the rest. Turn 90-degrees and repeat. Feel free to add a bit of flour if it still feels sticky. Keep working it until it feels kind of elastic. You can check this by pulling off a little piece and then stretching out the middle the way you do with bubble gum. If you can get it thin enough to see light through, you’re good. Otherwise, keep working. This process can take up to ten minutes.

Heavily grease your other bowl. Pick up your dough ball and pull the sides down to tuck under the bottom of the ball, creating a smooth surface all around the ball. Then drop the ball into the greased bowl and roll it around coating the whole ball with the grease. Cover with a wet dish towel and set the bowl in a warm place for about an hour, until it has doubled in size. My friend Priscilla, a master baker, says she’s been known the run the dryer for a few minutes and then put the bowl inside (without the dryer running). You can also heat the oven a little with a shallow pan of water on the bottom rack and then put the bowl on the next higher rack, into the steam bath you’ve created. Just make sure it’s not too hot. You’re not ready to bake just yet.

Here’s another little tip I’ve picked up. About 30 minutes into the rise, when the dough is about half again as big as it was, uncover the dough and grab the side of the dough next to the bowl wall, pull it up and over the top. Do that all around the bowl. This gives the yeast new food to eat. Try not to deflate the dough. Recover.

When it’s doubled in size, push the dough down, pushing the air bubbles out. Turn it out onto your floured counter.

Now you’re ready to divide and shape the dough. Use a sharp knife and cut the dough into two or three equal pieces and shape into loaves and put in your greased loaf pans. The dough shouldn’t halfway fill the pans because they will triple in size before they’re done.

Re-wet your towel and cover the loaf pans. Put them in that warm place again for about another hour until the dough has doubled.

See what I mean about a lot of waiting?

Now, heat the oven to 350 and bake your bread, without the towel, of course, for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown. Rapping the loaf on the top should give you a hollow sound.

After letting the pans cool for just a few minutes, NOT MORE THAN 5, the loaves should easily fall out of the pans and can be placed on racks to cool. You want to maximize air flow around the loaves, otherwise it’ll get soggy on the bottom. You might even turn them upside down.

Wait for the bread to cool completely before cutting, otherwise the interior of the bread will ball up as you cut.

I’m not a master baker, so if you know of anything I missed, please let me know. Bread easily freezes, just be sure to wrap it well and not keep it frozen for more than a few weeks. I usually freeze one loaf and eat off the other for a week.

Why would you go through all this when you can buy a loaf of bread at the store? Well, just try it and see. Once you taste that homemade bread, you’ll want to give it a go once in a while.

White wines: Which one?

We think learning about food and wine is fun. Lots of other people think so, too. Summer is a good time to stretch your tastes and try some refreshing white wines of different styles and from different parts of the world. It is wonderful way to quench your thirsts like one of the old gods on Olympus.

Commonly known whites:

Chardonnay. Probably one of the best known and most widely grown white grapes, chardonnay can vary widely depending on where the grapes are grown, what the wine maker does with them and the method used to make the wine. Chardonnay is usually the basis for champagne and most other sparkling wines. Some are flinty and bold, others are buttery and soft. One reason for this is Chardonnay grapes are relatively easy to grow and can adapt to a wide range of growing conditions. It is often the wine making techniques that affect the taste rather than the grapes themselves. Chardonnay is sometimes confused with Pinot Blanc, because the grapes look the same on the vine. But Pinot Blanc is usually sweeter and found most in Alsace wines of France, Germany and Italy. Chardonnay grapes are also used to make Chablis, the region of France where it is believed to have been first cultivated. In California, most wine makers add oak chips to the fermenting wine to add that characteristic flavor. Frankly, I think they go too far with this, which is why I don’t drink much chardonnay. It goes best with chicken and turkey dishes, maybe even pork. But it doesn’t pair so well with fish and other seafoods because of that oakiness.

Chanin Blanc is found largely in the Loire region of France. It’s also found in South Africa under the name Steen. Chanin Blanc is often a dry wine with lots of apple notes. It’s considered by wine makers to be one of the most versatile wine grapes and is often used to make dessert wines. Grapes allowed to stay on the vine a little longer develop what’s called “noble rot,” which gives the juice a higher sugar content with tastes of honey and peaches. It’s hard to recommend a food pairing because so much depends on the particular style of that winery’s version.

Gewürztraminer is an aromatic wine grape generally found in cooler climates, like the mountains of Germany and Switzerland. The grapes have a reddish color but are not considered a red wine grape, which usually have dark blue, black or burgundy shades. This wine is one of the few that goes well with Asian cuisine. It’s also great with smelly cheeses, smoked fish and game meats. It’s usually a bit sweet without being dessert-like. The best gewurztraminer comes from the Alsace, a region of Southeast France and Southwest Germany that has its own unique character because of that combination.

Muscat is one of our favorite types of wine. The deliciously sweet and peachy Muscato D’Asti is better than champagne for special occasions. The grapes are also grown for raisins and table grapes and to make Muscatel and other fortified wines. And if you ever get the chance, try Pisco, a brandy-like drink in Peru made from muscat grapes. It’s really good.

Pinot Gris or Pinot Gregio. This is a variation on the pinot grape used to make pinot noir. The grapes have a grayish blue color which is how it gets its name. This is another popular grape grown in the Alsace and Northeast Italy. The wine from this grape can be either a little sweet, as the grapes have a high sugar content. But if fermented to a dry wine, you get a higher alcohol content. Most of these wines are light and fruity. They stand up to cooler temperatures and have lots of acid. They go well with spicy appetizers, like calamari with marinara sauce or brochette with tomatoes.

Riesling. This is a sweetish, white wine most associated with Germany. It has a flowery aroma with lots of acid. It is one of the top three white wines produced in the world. It is another colder climate grape. While most rieslings are made to be drunk right away, it does age well because of that high acid content. But you should know that older rieslings tend to get an oily, kerosene taste and smell after a few years that can put some people off. Making wine from these grapes requires special handling so the skins don’t break before crushing. That’s leaks tannins into the juice and gives the wine a funky taste. Riesling goes with a wide variety of food, delicate enough to go with fish but strong enough to stand up to spicy food.

Sauvignon Blanc comes from Bordeaux and it used to make crisp, dry white wine, and dessert wine like Sauterne. This is a wine meant to be drank young and it doesn’t age well. It stands up well to chilling and goes well with fish, cheese or sushi.

This only touches the most well known wines. There are plenty more. As with the reds, there are many blends and brand names that are not listed. Enjoy exploring this wonderful world of wine as food.

Summer Bubbles

Have you noticed more people are buying more wine and liquor during these strange days we are living through right now? Wine is always a popular alcohol drink. We talk about it a lot. We hope it has convinced you to give this marvelous substance a try and to learn more about it.

Among our tips was the idea of finding a good wine shop. We know it may not be very convenient to seek out a special shop just for wine when the corner liquor store or the area supermarket has plenty of wine options and choices. What those places don’t have is a helpful staff that can help you choose good wines that meet your tastes and budget.

Now I am not belittling the liquor managers at the supermarket or the guy who rings up your purchase at the corner store. They might know quite a lot about the items they sell. But learning about wine for yourself means you might not need an expert. But veterans wine lovers will tell you that a good wine merchant is worth the time and effort.

Speaking of budgets, there are plenty of great wine choices that are very affordable. Prices can vary from state to state depending on taxes and regulations. This is another good reason to find a good wine shop and get to know the people who work there.

Summer is a great time to try some new things you might not think of. White wines are often very popular in the warmer weather. They can be served a little cooler than reds and usually have a lighter, fruitier, more refreshing taste and aroma that’s very appealing in the warmer weather.

But what about bubblies? Sparkling wines can be just as much fun in summer as they are on New Year’s Eve or other special occasions. And you don’t need a special occasion to have a bit of the bubblie. Remember, even though we talk a lot about champagne as applying to any sparkling wine, real champagne only comes from that region of France.

So, here are a few ideas you might want to try. Liquor laws and distributions vary widely from state to state, so some of these may not be available in your wine shop, or even in your area. Your wine merchant will be happy to help you choose something similar or may be able to order some.

Prosecco Brut. We haven’t talked about Prosecco as a popular white wine because it’s used almost exclusively for champagne-type wines. Prosecco is a dry wine suitable for all occasions. In Italy, it’s even sold in cans like beer. Straw-lemon in color, Prosecco offers fresh, fragrant aromas of peach, citrus and tropical fruits. Delicately soft and harmonious on the palate, Prosecco is extremely versatile: it can be enjoyed anytime, from important celebrations to last-minutes parties. Zesty and stylish, Prosecco is the quintessential sparkling aperitif and can be served alongside a wide array of foods. The cost will be around $13.

Rose. French rose champagnes are among our favorites. They are dry and crisp with a soft flavor that goes down well with or without food. Delicately fresh and lively with fine bubbles, this fruity, strawberry and black currant-infused sparkling wine offers delightful acidity and a creamy texture. Made from a blend of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, it is an appealing, dry, sparkling rose. The cost is about $14.

Brut. This is a dry sparkling wine. It is crisp and elegant with complex pear, spice and other flavors. It’s also fresh and lightly fruity, with great finesse and depth of flavor. Cost ranges from around $8 to about $20.

Blanc de Blancs. If you really want to splurge, this might be a good choice. Chardonnay, the dominant grape variety used in all cuvees, is the foundation of this style.  Blanc de Blancs champagne is rich and ripe with candied citrus, ginger and herb notes. Balanced and bright, it offers a mouthwatering finish. The cost for this one ranges from around $30 to $60 a bottle.

So, there’s a sparkling wine for any occasion or none at all. Explore and see what you like. Do you have any suggestions of your own? Click on the comments link below and share it.

Kitchen Basics: Bakeware

In addition to pots and pans that are used on the cooktop (burners) of the stove, you also need things that can go into the oven. Some pots and pans can go into the oven, but some have plastic handles that may not be oven proof.

There are two basics I think every kitchen needs: a cookie sheet or baking sheet and a baking dish or casserole.

The difference between a cookie sheet and a baking sheet is the presence of a lip all around the edge of the cookie sheet. There are also things called a sheet pan or half-sheet pan, which usually have 1/2 to one-inch sides. I’ve never used any of these for cookies. But I do use them all the time to put under dishes that might bubble over or to provide support to lightweight cake pans or foil cookware. They’re also good for making pizza if you don’t mind that they’re not round. These cost less than $10 usually.

The other baking dish you need is a 9 by 13 inch pan, preferably Pyrex glass. Be wary of non-stick metal pans because the non-stick coating is easily scratched, making is no longer non-stick. Pyrex is a wonderful invention. Just don’t use one of your good knifes to cut what’s in the dish into portions. Use a butter knife or metal spatula. This will cost you about $15.

A casserole, made of Corningware or ceramic works great for many things, but can be a bit pricey. Stick to the oval shape or something similar. Rectangular casseroles can sometimes lead to corners getting overdone.

Additional bakeware will depend on what you like to make, such as bread, biscuits, meatloaf and other dishes.

One additional note here. To us Americans, an oven, even a small one, is pretty much standard in every kitchen. But that’s not true in other parts of the world. Those places just have a cooktop. Baked goods are purchased from a bakery, restaurant or other food shop. So, enjoy your oven and make good use of it.

Six Uncommon Condiments – Pantry Extras

Here’s a look at some condiments you may not know, but maybe should.

In the beginning there was ketchupketchup.

Ketchup has reigned supreme for nearly 200 years. At its peak, it was found in 97% of U.S. households.

But global influences have perked up our palates. There’s a big world of flavor out there. Clear out some space in the pantry and push aside the ketchup bottle in your refrigerator. It’s time to make room in your kitchen and your cooking repertoire for six new condiments.

Sriracha, oh how I love thee. Squeezed on vegetables, drizzled over noodles, mixed into dressings, dips, and sauces; a moderately spicy chili base with a healthy garlic kick, Sriracha is a condiment chameleon. It transcends cuisines and national boundaries meshing equally well with dishes from Asia, Latin America, and the American South. It rivals ketchup as a tabletop catch-all.

Fish sauce requires a leap of faith. Comprised largely from fermented anchovies, on its own it is potent and smelly. Use it judiciously as a dipping sauce or an ingredient in curries, casseroles, and stir-fries. The flavor is pure magic.

Chimichurri sauce can be green or red (with added tomatoes or peppers). It’s primarily a blend of parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and pepper flakes, with different spices added to suit the dish. It’s used as a marinade and as a sauce, mostly with grilled meats. It’s popular throughout South and Central America; especially in Argentina where they know a thing or two about grilling meats.

tahiniTahini has been found on supermarket shelves in the kosher aisle forever. A creamy paste made from sesame seeds, tahini is most closely associated with the Middle East, where it is a familiar ingredient in hummus, falafel, and eggplant dishes. Tahini has the consistency of peanut butter but with a milder taste, and adds nutty richness as a sandwich spread, salad dressing, and dessert ingredient.

Harissa is a chili sauce that appears on every North African table; sometimes in every course at every meal in all kinds of dishes. To my taste, a little goes a long way: a dab added to stews, sandwich spreads, soups, and sauces adds a distinctively tart, fiery finish.

Preserved lemons are lemons that have been essentially pickled in their own juices along with salt and some spices like cloves, coriander, pepper, and cinnamon. Maybe it doesn’t sound like much, but whatever the preserved lemons are added to take on complexity and a kind of exoticness. Beans or vegetables, sauces and salsas, dips and desserts will all have a little Moroccan je ne sais quoi.

No Microwave Popcorn, Ever! Please?

I was planning on writing about this topic a bit later, but someone beat me to it. We’ve heard from Kurt Friese before. He’s a popular author, chef and restauranteur. He agrees, there’s no excuse for chemical-laden microwave popcorn when making REALpopcorn popcorn on the stove is so easy.

Is there anyone, save Professor Hathaway from the 80s cult film Real Genius, who doesn’t love popcorn?

If you are a regular reader of The Bachelor’s Kitchen, you know we’ve talked before about liking popcorn. To us, it’s an ideal snack — low in fat (unless you heap butter on it), nutritious and easy to eat.

Kurt is a bit Iowa-centric in his preferences of popcorn.

I live in Iowa, after all, and if anyone knows anything about corn it would have to be us. One of the most famous companies to produce the prodigious snack is Jolly Time, of Sioux City, which has been selling popcorn for more than ninety years, but it goes back much further than that. It was a staple for the Aztecs and Incas, used as a food, as decoration and jewelry, and as an offering to the Gods.

Popcorn_rawBut unless you’re a real gourmet or popcorn aficionado, you’ll probably have limited choices at your local supermarket. Popcorn is in the Snack Aisle, probably next to the nuts. You will see a dozen brands of microwave popcorn in several styles, flavors and varieties. Don’t be tempted by that demon seed.

Granted, it is true that the microwave stuff only takes three minutes, and many of us have children who stand in front of said microwave screaming “hurry up” as the LED timer ticks past 1:30. It can be said that there is tradition behind microwave popcorn as well, since according to the Popcorn Board (a nonprofit promotional organization) popcorn was the very first use of microwave heat. Nonetheless, for flavor and yes — nutrition — you can’t beat the real thing. And the real thing takes 10 minutes; worth it by anyone’s measure.

Look below all those brands of microwave crap and you’ll see bags and jars of corn kernels. That’s what you want to get. Personally, we think the white corn gives a better taste, but you may not have a lot of choice.popcorn pot

What’s wrong with microwave popcorn? Well, do you know what’s in it? No? Neither does anyone else. If you look at the ingredients, you’ll see in addition to corn and lots and lots of salt, there will by hydroginated oil which contains dangerous trans fats. You’ll also see “artificial and natural flavor,” which could be anything. Why put up with that?

Making real stuff is easy and better for you because you know exactly what’s in it. Here’s the steps:

  1. Get out a heavy bottomed pot, the taller the better, with a tight fitting lid. If using a stockpot, have oven mitts or potholders handy to hold down the lid when the popping gets going.
  2. Pour in three tablespoons of canola, vegetable, corn or soybean oil. Popcorn oil is available, but it’s just butter flavored soybean oil. Soybean oil has the most flavor, but also more fat.
  3. If you have it, add a pinch of popcorn salt, otherwise go on the next step.
  4. Put the pot over high heat and drop one or two popcorn kernels into the oil. Don’t cover yet.
  5. If you plan on using melted butter and have a small saucepan, put that on low heat and begin melting the butter. Don’t let in boil, you just want it to turn liquid.
  6. When the kernels pop, the oil is hot enough. Pour in about 1/3 cup of popcorn and put the lid on.
  7. Give the pot a shake every few seconds after the kernels begin to pop. You may need to hold down the lid. Try to keep the pot moving so all sections of the bottom get heat.
  8. When the popping slows to about one every few seconds, it’s done. Remove the lid and pour into a large bowl or, even better, a grocery store brown paper bag.
  9. If you didn’t use popcorn salt, now’s the time to salt it, while it’s still warm and a little damp. Use regular table or kosher salt. If you didn’t already melt the butter, put it into the now empty but still hot pot.
  10. If using, slowly pour the melted butter over the popcorn. If not using butter this is time to add what ever other dressings or flavorings you like.

popcorn addinsIn addition to butter, you can also use garlic salt or powder or  a sort of caramel made from sugar, water and butter. For spicier popcorn, add a little curry powder or Old Bay seasoning. You can flavor the corn any way you like. Any leftovers can go into a zip top bag in which you have tried to get as much air as possible out. It will keep for a few days, but not long.

When it’s that quick and that easy, there’s no reason to subject you body to all that crap just because it’s fast.