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How to Not Sound Stupid When Ordering Wine

How to Not Sound Stupid When Ordering Wine

Ordering wine can be a little intimidating, but have confidence

Be straightforward about what you like and describe it in words that make sense to you.

If you want to look smart when you order wine in a restaurant, outward confidence is essential. You should always keep in mind, you’re in charge. It’s your money and taste buds, the waiter or sommelier is there to please you and your group.

Be straightforward about what you like and describe it in words that make sense to you.

Feel free to mention specific wines you enjoy and ask for something similar.

Tell the server how much money you’re comfortable spending. It’s their job to point out a wine or wines you’ll enjoy that fit your budget. If you feel like going out of your comfort zone, ask the server what wines in your price range they’re excited about at the moment, this will often lead to tasty wines and very good values.

One thing you generally never want to do is order the second-least expensive wine on the list; this selection is quite often the item that has been marked up the most severely. People often resist ordering the least expensive wine and often jump up one notch and end up getting burned on value.

Most importantly, remember: there’s no disputing taste. If you like it, it’s good.


Denmark’s Best Wine Is Made from… Cherries?

Courtesy of Frederiksdal

“It sounds like the type of drink that should be consumed at a bachelorette party,” laughs Morten Brink Iwersen, co-founder of Frederiksdal. He’s referring to cherry wine, or kirsebaervin, a Danish product that has a terrible reputation in its home country—one he has been trying to rectify for the past decade. Iwersen is right: cherry wine does sound like the kind of cheap, sugary drink that’s fueled many a bachelorette party. But Denmark actually has a long and interesting history with fruit wines.

Production of these fortified wines began in private households during World War II, when grape wine wasn’t available. Using artificial yeast and added spices and enzymes, cherry wine was cheap to make—and easy to drink. Following the war, grape wines gushed back onto the market, and sweet fruit wines slowly trickled out. These days, “the only time Danes really drink cherry wine is at Christmas,” says Iwersen, a journalist who found himself in the cherry wine business by accident.

Cherries are fermented for three to five days and pressed with natural yeast. Courtesy of Frederiksdal

In 2006, Iwersen met his soon-to-be business partner Harald Krabbe, the now-winemaker at Frederiksdal. Krabbe had recently inherited a cherry farm from his father but was unsure what to do with all the cherry trees. “There’s no money in cherry farming!” says Iwersen. As a wine lover and amateur winemaker (he had made grape wine in France), Iwersen decided to try his hand at cherry wine. “After I suggested it, I called up my friend who is a chef in Denmark and said: I’ve just done something really stupid. I promised a farmer I can make cherry wine. Can you help me?” says Iwersen.

Frederiksdal ages some of its wines outside in glass carboys. Courtesy of Frederiksdal

Frederiksdal produced its first 200 bottles of wine in 2008 and has since expanded to 40,000 bottles, ranging from sparkling to dessert wine. Unlike other cherry wines, Frederiksdal employs techniques that are more commonly used to make port: sour cherries—a heritage Danish variety known as Stevnsbær—are fermented for three to five days and pressed with natural yeast. Some of their wines are also barrel-aged or aged outdoors in glass carboys.

“Frederiksdal is interesting because they are producing large amounts of cherry wine,” says Rasmus Holm, the owner of Holm Cider, a cider bar and shop in Copenhagen. “For this type of wine to really take off, it needs to be more mainstream, and Frederiksdal seems to be going in that direction.” While cherry wine might not seem mainstream in comparison to grape wine, as far as fruit wines go, “it’s definitely getting bigger,” says Jens Skovgaard of Cold Hand Winery, a fruit winery in northern Denmark that makes apple wines and cherry liqueur. “Many people just don’t know how to drink it,” explains Skovgaard.

Frederiksdal winemaker Harald Krabbe. Courtesy of Frederiksdal

Luckily, restaurants are helping get the word out: Frederiksdal’s cherry wine has made it onto menus all over Denmark. At the Michelin-starred Marchal in Copenhagen’s stately Hotel D’Angleterre, for instance, it’s typically paired with desserts starring ingredients like dark chocolate and blackberries. The product has also made its way stateside and can be found at top restaurants in New York City, including Danish chef Claus Meyer’s much-lauded Agern.

Ashley Sinon, service manager at Agern, has found that most diners are intrigued by the idea of cherry wine. “The feedback has been that the kirsebaervin is interesting, complex, and tasty. The wine certainly lends itself to our cuisine,” says Sinon. “Our Danish guests are always delighted to see an esteemed creation from their home on the menu.” Of course, if any Danes are ordering it for nostalgia’s sake at Christmastime, they’re in for a big surprise: this is not your grandma’s cherry wine.


10 Classy Drink Orders That Are Sure to Impress on a First Date

If you’re going on a first date, here’s a quick rule of thumb: no fruity, frozen drinks. I’m sorry, but unless you’re on a beach in the Caribbean, you shouldn’t be ordering a strawberry piña colada at a nice restaurant. The only exception is ordering a margarita at a Mexican joint because a night with fresh margaritas and dank tacos actually sounds like the formula for a fun first date.

But the most important rule about ordering a drink is to know what you like. If you know you prefer vodka to whiskey or rum to gin, then it makes the game a helluva lot easier. A person’s “drink of choice” says a lot about them. Make the right first impression with one of these classy drink orders.

Martini

Photo courtesy of liquor.com

There’s a reason James Bond drinks these. A martini is one of the great American inventions that wins time and time again. You don’t need to have it shaken, not stirred. There are many different ways to order your martini based on your preference, such as a dirty martini made with a splash of olive juice and garnished with an olive. However you prefer it, a martini is always a classy and impressive choice.

Old Fashioned

Photo courtesy of mentalfloss.com

Though it may be popular with our generation thanks to Mad Men’s Don Draper, the Old Fashioned dates back to the late 1800s. A typical Old Fashioned is made with a sugar lump, water, an ice cube, bitters, whiskey and garnished with either a lemon-peel or maraschino cherries. Knowing your preferred whiskey only makes ordering this cocktail even sexier.

Moscow Mule

Photo courtesy of @earlsdadeland on Instagram

The Moscow Mule is a perfect choice for a lighter drink that’s still well respected. The Moscow Mule has vodka, ginger beer, lime juice and is often garnished with a slice of lime and mint. Plus, when it comes out in the drink’s classic copper mug, your date will surely be impressed.

Dark & Stormy

Photo courtesy of movitabeaucoup.com

Take the Moscow Mule and swap the vodka for rum and you got yourself and Dark & Stormy (rum=dark, ginger beer=stormy, get it?). This is another easy cocktail that should be available everywhere, but saying the name will make you sound cool and mysterious when you order it.

Bellini

Photo by Katherine Luchette

This is one fruity drink you don’t have to be shy about ordering. The Bellini is a newer official cocktail, originating in the mid-1900s in Venice, Italy at Harry’s Bar. The recipes calls for peach purée and Prosecco, an Italian sparkling wine. If you happen to live in New York City, you can even go to the second Harry’s Bar to try a Bellini from the experts. Or, if you’re first date is a picnic, you can grab a bottle of Bellini by Cipriani at most grocery or liquor stores.

Gin and Tonic

Photo by Katherine Luchette

This drink is probably one of the most simple drinks to make so you know every place will have it. With just gin, tonic water, ice and a lime to garnish, this classic drink will leave your date thinking you’re a laid back, dependable person.

Sidecar

Put down the keys and enjoy a smooth ride from the Sidecar. Said to have originated in Paris, this drink is made up of Cognac (a type of brandy), orange liqueur and lemon juice. It’s a mildly sweet drink with a little punch to it. The Sidecar is a great cocktail to order if you’re newcomer to darker alcohol.

Vieux Carré

photo courtesy commons.wikimedia.org

Originating in one of the coolest American cities, New Orleans, the Vieux Carré gets its name after the French Quarter of this lively city. However, while this cocktail is “big” in flavor, it’s not so “easy” to make. Ingredients include rye whiskey, Cognac, sweet vermouth, Bénédictine liqueur, bitters, ice and either a lemon twit or cherry for garnish. The complexity of this drink will prove your knowledge and sophistication, but if the bartender is unable to make this drink, pick another instead of trying to explain it to prevent sounding like an arrogant show-off.

Photo by Joshua Alan Davis

If your date is at any other restaurant than a pub, wine is always the best option in my opinion. Word to the wise: study up on your favorite varieties as well as food pairings before you look at the wine list because many times they are extensive and confusing. Also, never be afraid to ask the waiter or sommelier (that’s a fancy word for wine expert) for some advice. But also, it’s really easy to look like a pretentious d-bag when ordering wine. So please don’t try to “show off” with the knowledge you learned from your parents or semester abroad in France.

White Russian

Photo courtesy of Stuart Webster on flickr.com

The fun doesn’t have to stop after the main course. A great after-meal cocktail is the White Russian, made with the coffee flavor liquor Kahlua, vodka and cream. This drink is sweet, fairly strong and, most importantly, my personal favorite.


The ability to cook without recipes seems to strike a chord with people here. Those who have the skill realize how much more fun and creative it makes cooking, and those without it would be delighted if someone would just come along and explain how to do it. I’d like to attempt to do just that.

The problem is, most people who can cook without recipes have no idea how they actually learned that skill. “Just cook for a long time and it’ll come to you” they say. But some people do cook for a long time, and the only thing they get better at is following recipes. As one commenter put it recently, “the vegetables just don’t speak to me”.

I realize now that I made a lot of decisions and did a lot of things that, completely by accident, lead me to becoming an intuitive cook. So Iɽ like to try and explain what I did in the hopes that the same strategies might help someone else.

I have two character traits that gave me a significant advantage in learning how to cook, I’m lazy, and I’m stupid. But I mean both of those words in a very particular way: I’m lazy in that I’ll go out of my way to avoid doing things that seem like “work”, and I’m stupid in that I can’t just memorize a bunch of facts and rules. I can read Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking and it will mostly go in one ear and out the other, it’s not until Alton Brown dumbs it down with finger puppets and giant foam cows that I start to understand.

Obviously this meant that following recipes was especially hard for me. Even if I tried to read the whole recipe, my dumb brain just couldn’t understand it, and I’d find myself repeatedly going back and re-reading the same step over and over, while my food sputtered away in the pan. Following recipes to the letter was too much work, so I stopped doing it.

The traditional advice you’ll always get is “You must follow the recipe exactly the first time!” Many cooks fear utter disaster if they attempt to stray from a recipe, recalling that one time last summer when they tried substituting an ingredient, and the ensuing explosion flattened their entire county.

But lazy and stupid me had too much trouble following recipes to the letter. Sure, I could keep on hunting through recipes sites until I found something that seemed doable, but that’s just so much work. Yeah I could get in my car and go to the store for that exotic ingredient I was missing, but again, so much work. So I’d just follow the recipe as best I could, leaving out ingredients I didn’t have or steps I didn’t understand.

By all reason and logic, this strategy should have been disastrous. I didn’t understand any of the ingredients or steps I was ignoring, so why didn’t my meals turn into shoe leather or toxic goop? The reason is that the fear of ruining a recipe by changing an ingredient is way overblown.

I’ll make an analogy to music production. A song has several layers to it, vocals, backing vocals, drums, various instruments and effects. Some of them, if removed, would ruin the song. Take out the vocals or the drums and the song will be seriously lacking. But take out the french horns buried deep in the mix that only appear in the second chorus, and you might not even notice the change. Great songs often have a great many of those little embellishments, each of which may be imperceptible most listeners, but as a whole contributes to a band’s particular sound.

Many ingredients are the same way. The more obscure and exotic ingredients are often just that chef’s way of adding their particular style to a dish. Without it, the meal will still be okay, it just may not be as good as it could be. I find this especially true of Alton Brown and Kenji recipes, which tend to have a crazy amount of ingredients and often taste pretty damn good even without a lot of them.

Yes, you can absolutely ruin a dish by leaving out ingredients, but I learned soon enough what I could and could not mess with. As a general rule of thumb, don’t leave out any ingredient that takes up a significant volume in the recipe, and don’t mess with any ingredient that seems like it might go into a cake like flour, cornstarch, eggs, baking soda or baking powder.

Stripping down recipes to their most basic form had an unintentional benefit: with less going on I had an easier time understanding what I was doing. It’s far easier to develop an intuition about how three ingredients work together than to develop an intuition about how 18 do.

Nobody is born with intuition, it comes with experience. Some people might need more or less experience than others, but you have to actually do things to understand them intuitively. This is where the “just cook for a long time and it will just come to you” argument comes from. But that alone isn’t enough. You can’t just go through the motions, you have to pay attention.

Cooking requires the use of all of your senses. You have to smell ingredients as they cook, listen for how they sound in the pan, feel how the texture changes, see how the colors develop, and taste things as you season them. In other words, you have to pay attention. If you’re paying attention to the words in recipe, you’re not paying attention to the food. If you’re cooking the same meal you've made a hundred times on auto-pilot, you’re not paying attention to the food. And this might hit some people hard, but if you’re just putting something in a crockpot and walking away for six hours, you’re not paying attention to the food.

This is one reason why mise en place is so highly recommended. By doing all your prep first, and only then starting to cook, you ensure that your attention is laser focused on what’s in front of you.

For this reason, I find that quick stovetop meals are the best for sharpening your culinary intuition. They also tend to take much less time than the oven or slow cooker, which is a major plus on a weekday. Many will counter this argument by saying you can prep all your meals on Sunday, and if that makes you happy then all the more power to you, but my lazy self just sees meal prepping as a lot of extra work.

With my “bare bones” recipe strategy and a preference for quick stovetop meals, I began to notice some things popping up in multiple recipes. The first such thing was the technique of thickening a sauce with a roux. Tons of recipes will outline the steps of mixing butter and flour, cooking it briefly, and slowly adding in some liquid. I realized that it didn’t matter what the liquid was: add ANY kind of flavorful liquid to a roux and you’ll have a sauce. I had discovered my first cooking pattern.

I can’t stress what a big deal this was. I now had a formula that I could use to make all sorts of things. From that point on, every time I looked at a recipe I would try to extract a part of it that seemed like it would be useful in other dishes. For example, one recipe made me realize that I didn’t have to cook the chicken all the way through at once: i could brown it, set it aside (still raw in the middle), and then finish cooking it later. This strategy allows for well browned chicken that’s not overcooked, as the second cooking phase is generally lower and slower.

In another example, I was following a recipe from Alton Brown’s “Everyday Cook”. Or, following it my way of leaving out tons of ingredients and skipping a lot of steps. The recipe was for Turkey Tikka Masala, which I wound up making with chicken instead. The meal came out great despite all my omissions, but one part jumped out at me. This was the first time I heard of marinating chicken in yogurt and then grilling it. I tasted the result, and fell in love. Since then, the technique of marinating chicken in yogurt and spices and then putting it on a hot grill has become one of my favorite summer techniques, and I use it in meals that have not the slightest thing to do with Tikka Masala.

Some ingredients only work in very specific situations. Others you can pretty much use whenever. In other words, solve for X: “X, I put that shit in everything”.

There’s quite a lot of “general purpose” ingredients that you can use in almost anything. This is a godsend to a lazy person like me who really can’t be bothered to remember tons of flavor combinations (though the Flavor Bible does help somewhat). Now these ingredients may not be the most exciting things in the world, but they provide a solid foundation on which to build more exciting flavors.

Here are my go to ingredients that I keep on hand much of the time.

Cooking Fat: Refined (aka not extra virgin) Olive Oil, butter.

Aromatic Vegetable: Onion, garlic.

Flavorful Liquid: Low sodium chicken stock, canned tomatoes, milk or heavy cream

Meat: Chicken, Shrimp, Beef

Umami Booster: Anchovies, fish sauce (use carefully!), tomato paste, parmigiano

Acid: Tomato, Lemon, Vinegar (as valuable as acid is, go easy on it as its one thing that can ruin a dish)

Finishing Fat (added toward the end of cooking): Parmigiano, Sour Cream, Heavy Cream, Avocado

Starch: Pasta, Rice, Tortillas

At first, I simplified recipes by ignoring ingredients and steps. This resulted in meals that were generally okay, but rarely spectacular. However, as I picked up more techniques and learned more patterns of ingredients, I began to see recipes in a new way.

Rather than seeing ingredients or steps, I would see those patterns I had already learned. Instead of reading a long drawn out description of mixing flour and butter to form a roux and using it to thicken a sauce, I would instead see it as “thicken with a roux”. I could then pretty much ignore the particulars, unless they were wildly at odds with what I knew about roux making. The result is the recipe became way simpler. My dumb brain loved this: trying to understand how fifteen steps can turn a bunch of ingredients into a meal was far beyond my abilities, but I could very easily see how two or three major techniques could do the trick.

Let's take a recipe like Beef Bourguignon. Even the name sounds complicated, and true to form it's got a long list of ingredients and a detailed list of instructions. But strip the meal down to its essence, and you realize that its just beef braised in wine with sautéd mushrooms and pearl onions, flavored with pork fat and served over noodles or potatoes. Most of the steps in the full recipe are just explaining how to do classic cooking techniques like browning, deglazing, braising, and sautéing. When you've cooked enough that such skills are second nature, you begin to see recipes in terms of the techniques they use instead of their exact ingredients or steps.

At first you learn how to put ingredients together, and thus you learn techniques. Then, you learn how to put techniques together, and thus you learn templates. Look beyond the particulars of Beef Bourguignon and you'll see a template that can be adapted to countless other recipes. In fact, Coq au Vin is quite literally that - pretty much the same recipe but with slightly different ingredients. The techniques involved in these recipes are not terribly different from the technique of a Cajun stew or an Italian meat sauce. The flavors and particulars may vary, but the spirit is much the same.

And that's the trick to cooking without recipes - once you learn how to put techniques together in a template, you have the means of making up your own meals. It doesn't even have to be something as complicated as Beef Bourginon. Some of my earliest meal templates were more like "chop up an onion, fry it in butter, make a sauce out of a roux and broth, and serve it over noodles or rice". As you learn more techniques, you'll become able to follow more and more recipes, which in turn will teach you more techniques. Recipes will go from controlling you, to guiding to, to inspiring you.


Fit & Active and Pueblo Lindo Ice Cream Bars

There are some days you just need an ice cream fix, but if you're trying to be healthy, grabbing a tub of Ben & Jerry's just isn't an option. Instead, you should be picking up some super-healthy ice cream options from Aldi.

Their Fit & Active ice cream bars come in flavors like chocolate fudge and orange sorbet, and they're creamy enough to satisfy your ice cream cravings with only around 100 calories and somewhere around a gram of fat. You'll also have to check out their Pueblo Lindo ice cream bars, and if your Aldi carries these products from their line of Hispanic foods, you might find coconut, mango, or strawberry options. They're made with real fruit, they're super-healthy. And seriously, sometimes you just need ice cream.


How to Cook Mussels (The Easiest Choose-Your-Own-Adventure, One-Pot Meal Around) | The Food Lab

I don't know why mussels don't get more love. They're always inexpensive (even at Whole Foods they run under $5 a pound!), they're delicious, they're elegant (heck, you might even call 'em downright fancy!), and best of all, they're ridiculously quick and easy to cook. Got a bag of mussels, a bit of butter, a few aromatics, and a bottle of wine on hand? Great. Dinner's on the table in just about 15 minutes.

But it doesn't have to start and end there. The best thing about mussels is that they're almost infinitely variable. If you have a pot and a reasonable imagination, you've got yourself a blank canvas for any number of meals. All it takes is a bit of know-how.*

Today we're gonna go with the basics and fire up a pot of traditional French-style moules marinières—sailor-style mussels which hail from the coast of Normandy.

*I lied. The best thing about mussels is the pool of flavorful liquid at the bottom of the pot just begging for some nice charred crusty bread to be dipped into it. But we'll get there in time.

Step 1: Clean Your Mussels

Farm-raised black mussels are far and away the most common variety you'll see at the market. Luckily, farm-raised mussels are a good choice from an environmental standpoint (they are one of the few farmed animals that actually improve the environment they are farmed in), from a cost standpoint, and from an ease-of-preparation standpoint. They arrive at the market virtually ready-to-cook. All they require is a bit of rinsing and debearding.

Take a look at our guide to cleaning and debearding mussels for some more details.

Step 2: Sweat Your Aromatics

Mussels are great because they create their own sauce in the pot as they cook, but they can still use a little help. This starts with aromatics. For moules marinières, that typically means shallots. I tested a wide variety of alliums ranging from shallots to red onions to spring onions and found that the best was a combination of shallots for their sweet pungency, leeks for their milder onion flavor, and garlic because how can you not love garlic with mussels?

I also add a couple of bay leaves to the mix.

You like your mussels a little stronger tasting? Go ahead and use a regular onion or perhaps a sliced fennel bulb. Want some herbs in there? A few sprigs of thyme or rosemary would go great. Spices are your game? No problem. Some Thai curry paste or perhaps a dollop of harissa would be tasty. Cubes of salami or chorizo or some diced pancetta or bacon are also a fine choice.

Like I said: choose your own adventure here.

Once you have your aromatics, sweat them down in a good amount of butter or olive oil.

For moules marinières, you want to sweat the aromatics over moderate heat without giving them any color. But even without any browning, you still want those leeks and shallots to be positively melting by the time you're done.

This is by far the slowest part of the cooking process, and it only takes about 10 minutes.

Step 3: Add Your Liquid

Mussels expel plenty of liquid on their own so you don't absolutely have to add a liquid here,* but it's a good opportunity to develop the plot of your little mussel story. A dry white wine is a classic choice and probably the most common, but considering that cider was a more common drink for Norman sailors, there's a good argument for using a dry hard cider to make truly classic moules marinière. I also happen to like the way it tastes.

*One great preparation for mussels is to simply drop them into a dry, screaming hot skillet and slap on a lid. They'll rapidly steam in their own vapors. All it takes is a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a sprinkle of fresh herbs to finish them off.

For other variations, try using some crushed tomatoes or beer or a shot of anise-flavored liquor like pastis. Coconut milk can give it a nice Caribbean or Southeast Asian bent (depending on your other aromatics), or just some chicken stock or bottled clam juice would work.

Step 4: Steam Your Mussels

Now's the part where you should make sure that the designated table-setter has set the table and that everyone is sitting down, glass of cider, beer, or white wine in hand, because from here on out things go fast.

Increase the heat to high and as soon as your liquid has come to a boil (in the case of anything alcoholic, give it a chance to reduce for a minute or two), then add your rinsed mussels all at once.

Immediately cover the pan to trap in the steam and let your mussels cook while gently shaking the pan. Peek in there and give them a stir every 30 seconds or so. After about one minute, they should begin to open, and after around two, they should be pretty much done.

When all of your mussels (or at least, all except for a stubborn few*) are open, it's time to move on. And do it quick.

*For the record, you can go ahead and ignore the conventional wisdom that a mussel that doesn't open after cooking shouldn't be eaten. As Daniel pointed out in his piece on Rhode Island Clam Chowder (and as corroborated by this Australian study), it is totally safe to crack open an unopened mussel to get at the meat inside.

Step 5: Enrich Your Broth

If you wanted to, you could just throw the whole pot on the table at this point and call it a day, but with just a tiny bit more work you can upgrade this meal from awesome to holy-crap-let's-do-this-every-night status.

I like to finish off the broth with some flavoring and enriching agents. We're going to be working with a whisk here, so it's best to remove the mussels to get at the liquid below.

Start by taking those mussels out of the pot with a set of tongs and transferring them to a bowl. If you're extra-fastidious, you can remove them from the pot individually as they open so that each mussel is cooked to the absolute peak of perfection.

Next, we whisk in our enriching agent.

Once again, you've got options. Am I beginning to sound like a broken record here?

The most classic would be a knob of cold butter whisked in vigorously so that it emulsifies the briny broth into a rich, smooth sauce. A good high-fat cultured butter like the stuff from Vermont Creamery would be my top choice for those times that I don't have a block of ultra-expensive important cultured butter from Normandy sitting in my fridge.

Crème fraîche or plain old heavy cream are also great fortifiers and can be whisked in just like the butter.

But my personal favorite? A good garlicky aïoli. I know, I know. Hardly traditional for moules marinières and in fact from entirely the wrong region of France, but it just works so damn well.

Of course this requires you to actually make the aïoli before you start cooking the mussels, but with my Two-Minute Mayonnaise technique, you can get your aïoli ready while your aromatics are sweating and still have time left over to take the dogs for a quick walk.

I alter my mayonnaise recipe by adding three cloves of grated garlic and swapping out half of the canola oil for some good extra-virgin olive oil that I whisk in by hand after forming the base emulsion.

Whatever enriching agent you use, blend it in by whisking vigorously until it's smoothly incorporated.

Step 6: Reheat the Mussels, Stir in Herbs and Acid, and Serve

With your sauce enriched and balanced, all you've got to do is dump those mussels back in along with a handful of appropriate herbs and last-minute aromatics (my marinières recipe calls for some parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest). If your sauce needs an extra splash of acid, make sure to add it just before serving to get the freshest flavor and best results.

To serve the mussels, you can either bring the pot directly to the table for folks to fight over share out of, or you can transfer the mussels to a serving bowl which you've thoughtfully warmed in the oven to keep the mussels piping hot while you eat them.

Some folks have expressed concern that removing mussels from the pot and taking the time to finish your broth separately might lead to mussels that overcook as they sit around. But I tested this method with two finely calibrated, precisely tuned instruments: my thermometer and my mouth. My thermometer told me that they do no such thing: mussels are so small and have such a high surface area to volume ratio that they begin cooling pretty much immediately after they're removed from the heat source, with no carryover cooking whatsoever. My mouth confirmed what my thermometer told it. I couldn't taste any difference in a fresh-from-the-pot mussel and one that had been removed and reheated a few moments later.

This is some seriously good eating right here (especially if you serve them with more of that aioli for dipping at the table), but it's only the start of the meal.

Step 7: It's All About Dipping, Stupid!

Because everyone knows the true purpose of mussels: that delicious briny broth to dip your bread into.

I take a good loaf of hearty rustic bread (if you're inclined, our Workhorse Loaf is the perfect bread for the job), slice it into thick, long slices, drizzle them with extra-virgin olive oil, then park them under the broiler for a few moments.

I'm not sure why, but I like the bread I dip into my mussel broth to be broiled until nearly blackened in spots. The smoky, charred bread just seems to mesh perfectly with the briny broth.

Now that you've got the basics, go at it. And if I see any of you making the recipe exactly as written, I'm docking points off of your final score. What adventure are you gonna choose today?


10 All-American Brandies You Shouldn’t Overlook

When you say “American spirit,” most people think “whiskey.” But this month we sampled America’s other brown spirit: brandy.

According to most accounts, brandy was America’s first distilled spirit, made from the abundant apples, peaches and pears that grew among the colonies wheat-based whiskeys came much later. But over the centuries, France’s brandies—Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados—have taken center stage in the premium brandy arena.

Can America’s brandy compete? In a word: maybe. They are certainly not lacking on the innovation front. Louisville’s Copper & Kings is pushing boundaries by playing bass-thumping David Bowie tracks to the barrels in their cellar in a bid to speed up aging Baltimore Whiskey Company is experimenting with unaged apple brandy distilled “in the style of traditional mezcal.”

Amid those bells and whistles, another producer quietly came through again and again with stellar scores: California’s Germain-Robin. To be fair, many of the bottles reviewed are limited editions, made from what the producer calls “one-time blends” or single barrel/single varietal bottlings from their “old and rare” collection. It’s almost unfair to put them in the same line-up as more conventional bottlings. But it also goes to show that American brandies are capable of excellence, just like their French cousins.

Despite some rave reviews, American brandies are still not on people’s radar.

“People don’t know enough about brandy to understand how good it can be, to really believe in it,” said Ansley Coale, co-founder and principal of Germain-Robin.

If you’re among those who have never tried American brandy, here are several bottles worth a pour right now, from a California take on pisco to a luscious, long-aged apple brandy from Arkansas.

Germain-Robin Alembic Brandy One-Time Blend No. 25 (USA Germain-Robin, Ukiah, CA) $75, 98 points. Snap up this limited edition bottling: Given a few minutes to open in the glass, this brandy entices with fresh fig, golden raisin and baked pear aromas. The soft palate intertwines crème brûlée, fruit and baking spice, finishing long with subtle dark chocolate, leather and dried orange peel accents. Some will say it’s reminiscent of excellent Armagnac, but really it’s the gold standard of what American-made brandy can be. A blend of 1993 Pinot Noir, 1997 old vine Sémillon and a younger Colombard married in French oak. abv: 42.7%

Arkansas Black 21 Year Old Straight Applejack (USA Timberlane Distillery, Novato, CA) $125, 95 points. This limited-edition apple brandy offers big, rounded stone fruit and fresh apple integrated with palate-coating vanilla, almond and honey, finishing long with zingy ginger, cinnamon and clove. Overall, a good balance of fruit and oak, suited for sipping or mixing. Aged in French ex-Chardonnay barrels, the producer bills this as the “longest-aged domestic apple brandy available anywhere.” 20 barrels made. abv: 46%

Millard Fillmore Brandy (USA Germain-Robin, Ukiah, CA) $35, 93 points. A budget-minded option from a maker of some of the finest American brandies around. Look for a honey hue and mild vanilla aroma. The palate feels light, as fleetingly sweet vanilla and almond winds into a cinnamon and nutmeg finish. Sip or mix this versatile California grape brandy. Best Buy. abv: 40%

Angela & Gene A&G Reserve Michigan Brandy (USA St. Julian Wine Company, Paw Paw, MI) $46, 92 points. While made with Michigan grapes, this brandy is reminiscent of Calvados, Normandy’s apple brandy. The aroma suggests orchard fruit and oak, while the drying palate offers dark honey and baked apple, finishing crisp with hints of vanilla, tea, oak and clove. Made from a base of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay grapes. abv: 40%

Frísco Brandy (USA North Channel Spirits, San Francisco, CA) $35, 92 points. This pisco-inspired immature brandy is made from California grapes. It’s clear in the glass, with a sweet, distinctly fruity scent. The palate echoes that sweetness, warming all the way down and finishing with an echo of tropical fruit. Mix into cocktails and you just might fool your favorite pisco lover. Best Buy. abv: 45%

Blue Sky Mining Brandy (USA Copper & Kings, Louisville, KY) $40/375 ml, 90 points. Honey hued in the glass, look for jazzy, bright orchard fruit on the nose and palate, plus an herbaceous chamomile note and a hoppy effervescence on the tongue reminiscent of beer. The long finish hints at pear. Made from seven-year-old Muscat brandy finished for 30 days in a Kentucky hogshead. At 100 proof, be sure to add dilution to taste. abv: 50%

Dogfish Head Esprit Malade (USA Dogfish Head Distilling, Milton, DE) $34/375 ml, 89 points. Think of this as a spirit-cider hybrid, made with a blend of barrel-aged apple brandy, hard apple cider and sweet, non-alcoholic cider. It’s juicy and relatively light on the alcohol content, though it still packs plenty of punch. Look for an amber hue, bright apricot and vanilla scents and a distinctly sweet palate enlivened by citrusy tang and mouthwatering acidity. It’s similar to French beverages like Pommeau or Pineau de Charentes, which also combine juice and brandy. abv: 34%

3 Marlenas Apple Brandy (USA Copper & Kings, Louisville, KY) $40/375 ml, 88 points. This unusual apple brandy is aged five years, with two of those in used tequila barrels. It has a bright golden hue and light aromas of vanilla, oak and fresh apple. The zingy palate starts soft but accelerates into cayenne, oak and vanilla on the midpalate, and edges into a long, spicy fade. Adding water coaxes out tropical fruit notes, but the flavor doesn’t hold up with too much dilution, so go easy. abv: 50%

Christian Brothers Sacred Bond Bottled-in-Bond Brandy (USA Heaven Hill Distillery, Bardstown, KY) $26, 88 points. This California grape brandy is aged four years in former bourbon barrels, then bottled at 100 proof. Expect a dark amber hue and Bourbon-like nose and palate suggesting vanilla, cocoa, oak and a hint of dried fig. Adding water tames the fire a bit and brings more vanilla forward. Recommended for mixing into sidecars. abv: 50%

Spirit of St. Supery (USA St. Supery Estate Vineyards, Rutherford, CA) $100, 88 points. Distilled from a base of Moscato made from estate, this straw-hued brandy is light and reminiscent of honey and white flowers on the nose and palate, finishing rounded and floral with a faint ginger flicker. abv: 36.6%


So belly up to the bar and tell the Cocktail Spy what you're in the mood for.

Want to know what you're actually drinking?

If you want to know about what you’re actually drinking, start here. You'll find out the various types of some of the most popular spirits, plus some background info. (Did you know that gin used to be sold over the counter as medication.?)

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You don’t need a full bar to make a mean mixed drink at home. Here's what to stock in your liquor cabinet, from the basics to more specialty ingredients.

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My Whinge

I can eat a moderate amount of unsweetened coconut flesh in its fresh or desiccated form and not have a reaction. I haven’t tested a large amount of the flesh before, mostly because I haven’t come across a situation in which I would want/need to gorge myself on coconut. My situation with coconut flesh seems to fit with Monash University’s research (link above) that lists a moderate amount of coconut flesh as low FODMAP. As for coconut water, as long as it’s not mixed with anything I can’t have, then I can drink 200 ml without issue, though I don’t do it often, as it’s expensive!

Coconut milk/cream is low FODMAP in serving sizes up to 1/2 cup, at which point sorbitol becomes an issue, for those that malabsorb it – I do not. Coconut cream is made by processing the flesh in a blender – the more water you add, the thinner it will become and you will eventually reach “milk.”

Here is my problem with coconut milk: I get stomach aches within an hour of consuming it but the low fat version doesn’t affect me. I have no idea why. I am not sensitive to sorbitol (blackberries, cherries) but full cream coconut milk makes me double over. The Finish Food Composition Database also lists coconut milk as having 1:1 glucose and fructose, so it shouldn’t set off fructose malabsorbers unless you have enough to overwhelm the co-transport system, which at lot. Maybe there are fructans present? Who knows. I would like to.

If anyone out there has a theory about coconut milk, I’d love to hear it. I’m currently about to test freshly made coconut cream, to see if it is potentially the canning process, or perhaps the can lining, that is causing my symptoms. Or maybe it’s the higher fat content rather than the saccharides present.

UPDATE: A bout of gastritis last year led me to see a nutritionist, who diagnosed me with low stomach acid. After being put on a vitamin, mineral and probiotic regimen for 6 months, my stomach acid levels have increased and my ability to digest fatty and high protein foods has improved dramatically, so I can now tolerate 1/2 cup of full fat coconut cream I haven’t eaten any more, as it’s so calorie dense and filling I haven’t needed or wanted to. Thanks, Sharon! I promise to write more about this at some point!

I’m not a dietitian and I didn’t participate in any of the research, so I’m not in a place to judge whether coconut is or isn’t low FODMAP – however, Monash University is a reputable source, who’s reports fit with the Finish Food Composition Database’s list of carbohydrates that are present in coconut.

What have your experiences with coconut flesh and cream/milk been?

Title image credit to: http://pixabay.com/en/users/Lebensmittelfotos-13/

Hello and welcome! I started Not From A Packet Mix to help inspire those of you out there, who, like me, suffer from digestive issues to keep eating delicious, healthy, low FODMAP and gluten free foods. I have also written and compiled a LOT of science-based resources to help you learn about this medical diet. Much love, Natty. Xo


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