Archive for the 'How-To' Category


Anti-Snob Wine Appreciation from The 4-Hour Workweek

Four-Hour Workweek author Timothy Ferriss recently wrote a fun blog post called Anti-Snob Wine Appreciation: 7 Tips from Sonoma. This is something I can appreciate, as someone who loves wine but doesn’t like to spend a ton of money on bottles to drink with dinner.  To me, “good wine” is all about the experience, not the price tag.  Did it taste good?  Did it complement the food?  Was it a pleasure to drink on its own?  Was it an interesting varietal I’d never tried before?  Did it teach me something about a region?  These are the things I care about when I pick out a wine.  So without further ado, here’s a quick rundown of Ferris’s “anti-snob” methods of wine appreciation (and be sure to read the full article):

1.  Don’t worry if you can’t pick out the “hints of coriander, cauliflower, and cat fur” in your wine — you don’t have to be a supertaster.

2.  Move from the elbow instead of the wrist to swirl like you were born with a wineglass in your hand.

3.  Remember that tasting is smell-dependent.

4.  Try using a wine aerator.

5.  Try wines at different temperatures and don’t over-chill the whites.

6.  Go for varietals that are out of style.

7.  It’s all about you.

PS — If you haven’t read The 4-Hour Workweek, check it out. It will change your life.


Setting a Beautiful Holiday Table


Food and Wine’s Stylish Holiday Table Slideshow caught my eye, especially with the opening photo above.  It’s a great example of using fresh colors and mixing and matching unexpected pieces to create a festive setting.  The slideshow goes through all the individual elements of this table setting, from the blue runner to the pink and orange glassware to the leaf salt-and-pepper cellars and moorish-inspired trays.  I’m have a weakness for blue and my china pattern is Lomonosov’s Cobalt Net, so I’m always looking for new ways to use it with other colors.  I also like the idea that a holiday table doesn’t necessarily have to use the colors associated with whatever holiday you’re celebrating, as long as it’s festive.  As in Food and Wine’s photo above and the setting below I threw together for this photo, it seems like citrus is a good match for blue.



Serving Sizes for Holiday Crowds

This Food Network article provides a useful guide for figuring out how much food to prepare for your holiday soiree.   As my husband can attest, I am notorious for making way too much food, like 8-10 servings for the two of us.  Oops.  So, this list might come in handy.

Servings Sizes for a Crowd from the Food Network

In summary, the basic consumption profile for one person is three drinks, 4-6 hors d’oeuvres if it’s before a meal and 12 hors d’oeuvres if that’s the only food.  The article also gives some useful guidelines on how many servings you can expect to get out of various dishes and drinks.


Put on Your Thanksgiving Game Face

Raise Your Game: Thanksgiving Edition from the Washington Post provides great tips about how to take typical Thanksgiving foods to the next level. Below are some examples from the article — good practical ideas, I think. Check out the full article for details on how to:

1. Make your mashed potatoes fluffier by keeping the potatoes dry before mashing.

2. Make the taste and color of your cranberry sauce richer by using brown sugar instead of white.

3. Use flavor enhancers such as wine, shallots, garlic, liquor and chile peppers to make your gravy more interesting.

4. Use a streusel topping for sweet potatoes instead of the infamous sticky-sweet marshmallows.


Week-long Recipe Hiatus

Well, we’re off to visit family and friends for the next week, so I won’t be posting any new recipes for a little while.  However, I will be putting up some posts about getting ready for Thanksgiving, setting the table, making the right amount of food for holiday parties, strange vegetables, anti-snob wine appreciation methods and a few other topics.  So, happy Thanksgiving week, everyone!


Lifehack: A More Productive and Rewarding Life through Cooking

This great post on Lifehack called 9 Reasons Cooking Advice Belongs on a Productivity Blog runs through a lot of good reasons to cook instead of eating out or buying packaged foods. Here’s a quick rundown:

1.  Good nutrition is good for your brain.

2.  Cooking is cheaper much of the time.

3.  Cooking can be faster than ordering.

4.  Cooking is a cheap and fulfilling hobby.

5.  Planning meals for the week helps you manage the rest of your schedule more efficiently.

6.  Cooking can be a good way to go green.

7.  Cooking healthy food is better for you than many other options.

8.  Planning meals before shopping and then eating at home can save gas money.

9.  Cooking food for others and eating together are intimate activities that are good for relationships.

So, check out the full list.  If you’re on the fence about whether cooking is worth the time investment out of your busy life, this might just get you into the kitchen!


101 Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less

Mark Bittman of the New York Times is one of my favorite food writers.  I stumbled upon one of his articles, Summer Express: 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less, from a while back and thought it was worth sharing.  In this article, Bittman offers tons of meal ideas that take no time at all.  I’ve always thought that cooking simply with fresh ingredients usually produces the best results.  In this case, it’s quick, too.  A lot of the recipes are geared towards summer, but many can be done at any time, and many of these ideas would make great appetizers or small-plate dishes for a party.


Fun with Setting the Table

Our dining table is not too big – six people will fit without much room to spare – so I’m always looking for ways to keep table settings simple but fun, without too much “stuff” in the way.  I typically use placemats, so this time decided to depart from that habit and go with simple white linen napkins and silverware directly on the table.  The people at Room and Board told us that it would be ok to put glasses directly on the table, etc.  I was a little worried, but went for it and the table was fine.  It was nice being able to see the wood.


I set out stemmed wine glasses for the wine and then my husband had the brilliant idea of using our stemless wine glasses for water glasses, instead of our big clunky drinking glasses. He’s not too happy that I’ve started calling him “Martha.”  When dinner rolled around I just put open bottles of cold Pellegrino on each end of the table for pouring into the water glasses.


As far as flowers, my goal is usually to add some color to the table without obstructing people’s view.  These little golden-orange spray roses caught my eye at the grocery store — they were a nice fall color.  Spray roses can be unruly.  To deal with this, I cut them off the large stems so the slender stems of the individual blooms were about the same length and then bunched them into bouquets.  I tied the bunches together with a thin piece of silver ribbon, trimmed the ends of the stems a little more and put them in more stemless wine glasses with water.


Using tall candlesticks helped add some visual interest since most of the rest of the items on the table were short.  These old candlesticks are slender and didn’t take up too much room.  I found them at an antique store in Alexandria, VA.  It’s nice to add something old to the mix so everything is not sparkling new.  This whole set-up worked out pretty well.  There was room for bread and butter on the table and people seemed to have enough breathing room without table clutter getting in their way.


Homemade Spinach Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and Asiago

Homemade gnocchi is really more of a production than I thought.  I would say this took 1.5 hours from prep time to plate time.  Maybe it took longer because I was finishing making bagels at the same time.  I used Mario Batali’s Green Gnocchi with Asiago recipe from the Food Network.

I was concerned about too much strong gorgonzola flavor, but mashing it with butter and simmering it really mellowed it out.  I want to try this as a base for other recipes.  I made a few changes to the recipe based on what I had on hand:

1) I did not have any grappa, so just used a little of the red wine I had open.  It turned out fine – the sauce was great, but it did have a funky grey/mauve color, unfortunately.

2) I didn’t have a ricer, so chopped up the potatoes in the food processor.  May have gone a little too far with this – had to add lots of flour to keep the gnocchi from being chewy.

3) Used dried chives and added them to the butter/gorgonzola mixture towards the beginning so they’d have a chance to soften.  Also added about ¼ tsp. dried sage.

Once the gnocchi were done and I added them back into the sauce, I noticed that it was taking a while for them to heat through.  I think I made them a little too large.  I then chopped most of them in half with the spatula.  This helped – gnocchi can be a bit doughy if you get a huge bite and it’s nice to have smaller pieces fully coated with sauce.


Grilled Romaine with Spicy Caesar Dressing

This recipe for Grilled Romaine with Spicy Caesar Dressing comes from the Food Network.  I wasn’t sure if this would be great or a disaster.  It turned out really well and we had seconds – I was more tempted to keep eating this than the Grilled Pizza!

I made several changes to the dressing recipe:

-Substituted two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar for the red wine vinegar

-Added the juice of half a medium lime (the dressing needed more tanginess and something to thin it out a little)

-Used four dashes of hot sauce instead of two

-Used 1/3 of a chipotle pepper in adobo (a little goes a long way)-

-Omitted anchovies

-Used pita chips as croutons

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