101

What’s in a whisk anyway?

As part of being a Foodbuzz Featured Publisher program I get the opportunity to participate in some really fun stuff. Recently, Foodbuzz started a challenge to post about one of their Daily Specials each week for 6 weeks. I’ll be taking them up on this (because I can’t turn down a challenge).

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Today’s Daily Special is a Silicone Ball Whisk. When I saw this, my thought process went like this…

Wow, that’s fun looking! Look at those pretty colors. But that’s a weird shape, I wonder why they would make a whisk like that. Hmm, maybe it’s easier to clean. There has to be a reason for these different kinds of whisks.

Which obviously led me to doing some research on different cooking situations that might require different type of whisks. I found some great resources, and now I know when to use a Ball Whisk vs. when to use a French Whisk. Maybe not important to most people. But then again, I’m not most people (and if you are still reading this, you probably aren’t most people either).

For me, whisks come down to a few different groups: Round, Flat, and Ball Whisks.

Round Whisks
These are usually made from a bunch of different wire (or sometimes silicone or plastic) rounded parts on a handle. These can include a Balloon whisk (which is what I always think of first when I think of a whisk),  Twirl whisk, French whisk (like a Balloon whisk but narrower), and Piano whisks (to me, these look just like Balloon whisks, haven’t totally figured out the difference just yet). Round whisks are usually used to add air into liquids.

Flat Whisks
These also have multiple rounded parts, but much fewer than Round whisks. Flat whisks also have all the rounded wires on one plane, instead of creating a round shape (like a balloon for instance). Flat whisks are usually used for sauces because they can scrape up pieces on the bottom of pots or pans used to add flavor.

Ball Whisks
This is really one kind of whisk that has multiple straight pieces of wire attached to a handle, with each wire having a silicone or metal ball at the end. These are great for reaching into the corners of pans, while still adding volume when needed.

There are many more than this, but this home cook will likely never need (or even know) to use them. I’m glad I at least know this information now! Check out some of the sites below where I found information on this topic if you are looking for more whisking knowledge.

Reluctant Gourmet

Recipetips.com

Culinate

how2heroes Chicken Pot Pie Shoot

About a month ago I reviewed a wine tasting and dessert pairing that Dane and I went to at Central Bottle in Cambridge. The event was co-hosted by how2heroes, one of my favorite cooking sites. After posting it, I got some really lovely comments from some of the fabulous people over at how2heroes. After talking with Lynne, the founder, she asked if Dane and I would be interested in being featured as home cooks.

Seriously? YES!

I had to read the email twice to make sure I was reading it correctly. I never would have thought we’d get to do something like this, but we were so excited!

We scheduled the shoot for right after we returned from Disney. The morning of the shoot we got to meet some of the people behind all the fun food on how2heroes. They set up in our kitchen with two video cameras, a still camera, mics, lighting, the whole works. It was so cool to see it all happening in our own little apartment!

Since they would be taking pictures of us, I decided to snap some photos of them.

We got set up with all our food. Most of it we prepped the night before and morning of the shoot. Then we got our mics and a rundown of how this whole video shoot thing would go.

We divided up the chicken pot pie prep, so that I demonstrate the pie crust and Dane makes the filling. It was so fun seeing each other being home cooking superstars.

When it was all finished, our pot pie got its very own photo shoot. It really did have a leading role and celebrity status that day.

We are so excited to see the finished product! The video should be up on how2heroes.com soon. There will be an update when it does!

And how2heroes, if you ever need us to cook for you again we’d be more than happy to! The crew was so professional and fun. I sent them home with almost half a chicken pot pie. Pretty great perk if you ask me.

Stay tuned!

Marissa’s Guide to Trader Joe’s Wine

Please join me in welcoming back Marissa, my go to person for all things wine related. You may remember her post about wine tasting 101 from a few months ago. I asked her back to give us her picks for wines from Trader Joe’s, a store that has a special place in my heart for their affordable wine selections. Leave your love for her!

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It’s easy to walk into Trader Joe’s and head directly for the $3-buck Chuck. And granted: you won’t likely be disappointed. But, if you’re eager to try something new (bond with mom! impress your date! wow your friends!) and still find wine shopping intimidating, here’s a shopping list that won’t steer you wrong.

In honor of Spring fast approaching, this list focuses on non-vintage-specific zingy, casually-drinkable, bright, white wines, along with a few meals you might want to try them out with.  All this, and their price points keep them well within party wine territory.

Light Whites
King Shag Sauvignon Blanc ($8). Okay, this wine is really what I’d classify as a perfect summer white, but: who can wait for that? This is my absolute go-to wine at Trader Joe’s. It’s tasty, crowd-pleasing, and as I already mentioned: inexpensive. Tart, but smooth.

Best pairings: A shrimp cocktail, or any kind of non-spicy sushi. The acidity in this white will really intensify any spicy dish, so try to stick to fresh, simple flavors. Or, if you’re me, Keebler Club crackers with Cracker Barrel cheddar as I make my real dinner.

Caves des Perrières Pouilly Fumé Sauvignon Blanc ($11). The perfect wine to treat yourself to mid-week after a hard day, this is also the most expensive in the bunch. But this wine’s label makes it look even more expensive than it is, which makes it perfect to bring as a hostess gift to a party you know the wine won’t really be appreciated, but instead drunk after everyone else has had beer #3, or #5, or #12. I first drank this wine while reading Julia Child and Alex Prudhomme’s My Life in France on my couch last summer. The harmony of wine-with-book cemented this wine’s place in my heart, and my dreams of visiting the Loire Valley were at an all-time high.

Best pairing: A chicken or Cornish game hen roasted with sliced lemon and shallots, a tuna or salmon steak, or a homemade pesto over pasta topped with goat cheese and pignoli nuts.

Heavy Whites
Echelon Chardonnay ($9). Categorizing this as a heavy white feels a little dishonest, because it has some  significant acidity to it, making it more refreshing than other headier chardonnays. That quality makes this wine pretty versatile, which is why it shows up on more than a few restaurant wine lists.  With notes of pineapple and pear, the Echelon chardonnay is YUM-MY. That’s a technical term. Learn it. Use it. Love it.

Best pairing: A pasta dish with olives, any cut or preparation of pork with pears. The sweetness and acidity will work with salty-sweet dishes.  I’d also drink this in these last few days of winter with a kale and cannellini bean stew.

Pancake Cellars Big Day White ($6). I love this wine. It’s cheap, and simple, but I love everything about it from the taste to the packaging to the price. 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 27% Chardonnay, 12% Gewürztraminer, 1% Pinot Blanc, this is truly the mutt of white wines. It tastes most like a Chardonnay, despite its second place in the laundry list, and you should buy a few at a time for your personal, at-home happy hours this spring.

Best pairing: Spring mix salads, baked chicken with artichokes and roasted red peppers, any creamy sauced-pastas, hummus and toasted pita points, mushroom risotto, soba noodles in a peanut sauce. I could go on. This wine is cheap enough to try with just about anything and then decide if you like it or not.

If you’re new to wine, you’ll probably notice that I ignored the “rule” of whites with pasta, reds with meat. Why? Because, in short, that’s complete junk and you should try to forget you ever heard it. Try instead to focus on pairing lighter dishes with white wines, and heavier meats and sauces with red wines. Think of it like bringing personalities together: you’ll do well gathering people who like to make jokes with people who like to laugh—not uber-shy wallflowers. You don’t want the wine to overpower the food, or the food to overpower the wine. You want them to come together harmoniously, play nice, and grow to be best friends.

As always, happy drinking!

-Marissa

Food Psychology (a.k.a. how did I not know this field existed?)

A few months ago a friend sent me this amazing link. He knows my love of food and that I was a psychology major in college, so this could not have been more perfect. I’m so fascinated by this article from the New York Times.

Food psychology? Seriously? Are there college degrees for this? I would go back to school immediately to learn more. I had no idea the use of fonts and colors could potentially stimulate appetite, or that people react positively to foods that are named after people.

What do you think? Does a nice menu make you more likely to get a more expensive dish? If you add bacon to chicken liver, are you going to want it more?

Thoughts?

p.s. Although I’ve looked it up, I have yet to find a college or university that offers a program in food psychology. Looks like you have to find your way into the field using other means (psychology, nutrition, or marketing, to name a few). Interesting.

Wine Tasting 101 with Guest Poster Marissa

Lovely readers, please join me in welcoming a guest poster who I hope will continue to give us her knowledge on this blog, Marissa. As we prepare for another taste testing (coming soon: wines from Trader Joe’s for under $5) I realized that I don’t know the basics of wine tasting. I turned to Marissa for guidance and she definitely came through!

Marissa is an aspiring sommelier living in Jersey City who knows her way around a bottle of wine. As I attempt to learn more about wine and tasting myself, I can certainly appreciate someone who takes the time to explain things in a way that I can understand. Marissa genuiunely loves to talk about all things vino-related and it comes through in a warm and welcoming way.

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When I was buying wine on Christmas eve in the town I grew up in, I happened to overhear a terrible conversation.

Liquor Store Employee #1: Eh, Jack! What’s a bettah white zin? Beringah awr Suttah Home?

Liquor Store Employee #2: Aaaahh…Suttah Home, definitely.

Consulting my MA accent to English translator, this was meant to inquire who made the superior White Zinfandel: Beringer or Sutter Home. The cheap-wine-aficionado that I consider myself to be, I shuddered and  barely managed not to yell out loud: Neither! I wish to help dispel this terrible rumor flooding the brains of the impressionable! You don’t have to drink Beringer or Sutter Home to keep your wine tab cheap! Or Yellowtail, for that matter. And for God’s sake, don’t be afraid of a screw cap!

No matter what your price point, there are a few things you’re looking for in tasting a wine. Wine, like anything else, can be enjoyed with only a basic knowledge, but an advanced knowledge will allow you to dig deeper into the wines, pick out the “notes” you see listed on labels and in store displays, and even bring you a curiosity of viticulture. Just like any foodie will expound upon the importance of knowing where your food comes from and buying local, knowing where your wine comes from and who is making it is all part of what you’re drinking. Wines are made all over the world because each human being and each individual plot of land offers something unique to the grapes that grow from it, and ultimately produces a unique bottle of wine.

Here are the most simple steps to get the most out of your wine.

First:  The part where you swirl the wine around in your glass.

Swirls are typically counter-clockwise, but feel free to be a rebel and follow your heart on this one. Swirling in the glass helps to release the esters in the wine that have been trapped together tightly in the bottle. You’re allowing some air to get in the glass, which will help the wine bloom and really open up. As you swirl and give the wine a few moments to breathe, take a look at the following things:

Legs: Check out how long it takes for the wine to drip down the edges of the glass after you swirl it. A more viscous wine is said to have legs, as it sticks to the edge of the glass and runs down more slowly than a thinner wine would. This isn’t going to tell you anything about the taste of the wine, but generally the thicker the wine and, er, nicer, its legs, the more full-bodied (see exhibits A and B, below). Some people also call these tears, but personally, legs is much more amusing to me, and if I switched, I wouldn’t get ZZ Top’sShe’s got leeeegs…and she knows how to use theeemm,” stuck in my head every time I drink a glass of wine. What would I sing to annoy my husband instead? It couldn’t possibly be as awesome.

Color: Tilt your glass to pool the wine in one corner (without pouring it out on yourself), and look closely at where it tapers off at the one side. This is best done with only a tiny bit of wine in the glass, which lets you see through the wine most easily (and not spill). You want to hold this up to the light and really look at the wine. Do you like the color of it? Is it ruby, or rather, more like mahogany? Any muddiness? Or if it’s white, is it pale yellow, or golden yellow?

Second:  This is the part where you shove your nose in the glass.

Smell that wine, and smell it good.

Nose:  You can probably figure this one out. The nose of a wine is the scents picked up upon smelling it, or the bouquet. You know how a sense of smell is vital to any eating or drinking experience, so consider how important really understanding the nose of the wine is to the experience. A great way to really experiment with the nose is to take one sniff right after pouring the glass. Then, swirl it around, get some air in it, and sniff again. (Careful: Not as deep this time, because you’re going to get attacked by NOSE.)

Third:  This is the part where you drink.

The crowd goes wild. Take a sip, and swirl, swirl, swirl.

Mouthfeel: Again, wine-tasting manages to seem unapproachable by making a compound word out of two that I’m sure you’re pretty darn familiar with. Allow me to break this down: How does it feel in your mouth?  What’s the texture like? Is the wine thin or thick? Is it coating your tongue, or easily slipping away? If it’s a dessert wine, is it seriously syrupy or lighter? If it’s a sparkling or slightly carbonated wine, what are the bubbles like on your tongue? Big or little? Think of the difference between a glass of orange juice and a glass of apple juice. That’s what you’re looking for in the mouthfeel.

Taste: Your first sip should be focused. Swirl it around your mouth (I think you’ve gathered at this point there’s a lot of swirling going on in wine tasting), quietly drawing in some air with it, and notice what your taste buds are telling you. Do you think it was aged in an oak barrel, or a steel barrel? (Can you sense a woody flavor, or is it more crisp and clean?) Is it sweet? Or even a little sour? Acidic? Smoky? Mineral-y? Fruity? More specifically, you could detect any number of things the producer used in the process: chocolate, earth, vanilla, spices, pepper, plum, honeysuckle, pear, even green olive (and I swear it’s yummy). The possibilities are truly endless. Try not to limit your expectations to what’s described on the label and trust your gut. Later, you can compare your thoughts to what the producer tells you that you should have noticed. Comparing and learning from this should help you develop your palette, but don’t worry if they don’t match up!

Finish: After you’ve swallowed, the finish is what lingers in your mouth. Does your tongue feel dry? Are your cheeks puckered? Are you left tasting alcohol, or is it only subtle, if at all?  Is it a long finish? Or is it already gone and you have no idea what I’m even talking about except, wait, now you do get what I’m talking about because you understand what a finish is and there wasn’t much of one on that wine!

Fourth:  This is the part where you finish your glass and think about how much more awesome life is with wine in it.

As you drink more wines, you’ll notice more than the differences between varietals (types of grapes), and instead of comparing a Sauvignon Blanc to a Chardonnay, you’ll start comparing multiple Sauvignon Blancs from different producers and regions across the world. There are thousands of ways to treat a grape, and that’s the fun of wine-tasting. Once you start to know what you like, you can knowledgeably pick out good wines for entertaining your friends, or matching a wine to a particular meal. (The true payoff of learning about wine…pairing it with food! But that’s an entirely different blog post. Le sigh!)

But most importantly, don’t forget that the only way to “know” wine is to drink it. And further, the only way to know a “good” wine from a “bad” wine is to answer one, very simple question: Do you like it? No producer, nor wine critic, nor store employee, can tell you a good wine from a bad wine, just like no one can tell you if Pepsi or Coke is better. It’s completely, totally up to you and your personal likes and dislikes. If you don’t like slightly carbonated, tart wines, Riesling probably isn’t for you. Similarly, if you don’t like heady, flavor-packed reds, don’t grab a Petite Sirah or Zinfandel.

So pour yourself a glass or two or three, get an Edith Piaf station started on Pandora (where you thumbs-down all of the music in English), and enjoy!

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