Thursday, January 23, 2014

Five Simple Ways to Cook (More) Like a Chef

Disclaimer: The only way to cook like a chef is to go to culinary school or cook for a long, long time in restaurants.

I’m no chef, but I’ve worked in and around restaurants long enough to pick up some tricks. Here are five easy things will up your game in the kitchen considerably.

1.    Use the best ingredients you can find.

Does this really need much explanation? Fresh, top-notch ingredients need less effort and preparation to shine. And if you’re putting a lot of work into a meal, it makes even more sense to start with the best raw materials.

2.    Get a good, sharp knife and learn some basic skills.

How precisely your ingredients are sliced, chopped, minced or julienned is a sure sign of kitchen talent. A former employer once made this point by taping a too-thick slice of onion to the kitchen wall with a nasty note. Check out this great intro to knife skills.

3.    Keep textures and tastes in balance.

All soft or all crunchy is monotonous. The same goes for sweet or tart flavors. Mix your dishes and ingredients to create a harmonious mix of textures and flavors. Watch how the pros at your local restaurants do it and steal ideas liberally.

4.    Sauces, salsas and condiments are your best friends.

There’s nothing more valuable to improve a meal than the flourish that these three things provide. Why do you think cookbooks have entire sections devoted to them?

5.    Think about how your plate looks.

And I’m not just talking about your dinnerware. Use different colors. Stack something. Drizzle something. Again, watch how restaurants do it and steal ideas.

Bonus tip: Fresh parsley and cilantro should be in your fridge. Always.

I’ll admit I’m not always good at this, but these two herbs are cheap and available year-round in just about any grocery store. Use them for garnish or to add a fresh kick at the end of cooking. You can bet your favorite restaurant does.

Above all - be fearless and have fun. The best chefs never stop learning. 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Wine Review: Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia

If you've written off pinot grigio, this wine might change your mind.

I rarely buy pinot grigio unless it's placed directly in my hand, as this bottle was by my local merchant. The world is awash in thin, generic white wine that gives this very worthy grape a black eye.

Pullus Pinot Grigio is produced by Ptujska Klet, the oldest winery in Slovenia. When was the last time you saw this claim on a bottle of wine?

Yeah, since 1239. If you're interested in learning some more about this fascinating winery, check this out. If you'd rather taste the most interesting and delicious pinot grigio you're likely to have anytime soon, run - don't walk - to go find this wine. It will be worth the search.

The first thing that catches your eye is the beautiful pale salmon color in the glass. The winemaker allowed extended skin contact, which gives it that lovely color.

It's very dry and bursting with fresh flavors. I picked up melon, a hint of red berries and notes of herbs. It's complex, yet refreshing. Served with seared grouper cheeks over gnocchi and greens, it was a perfect match.

Pullus Pinot Grigio 2012 Štajerska-Slovenia - ($13.99 - Vino Garage)