Sunday, May 6, 2012

substituting vermouth for wine in recipes

cooking with vermouth!

You know all of those cooking shows and recipes (ahem, like ones on this very site — guilty!) that suggest cooking with wine is really fun because once you’ve opened a bottle for cooking, you get to drink the rest? Then there’s a series of “ah-ha-ha!”s and LOLs; it’s all very raucous. And look, people, I love a glass of wine with dinner from time to time but fact is, a lot of the time I open a bottle of wine for cooking, we forget to finish it, and this makes me very, very sad.

Enter dry vermouth. (The other variety of vermouth, usually red or pink, is called “sweet,” I like that, in part, for Manhattans, not that you asked.) Vermouth is a fortified white wine that is mildly aromatized with a variety of “botanicals,” such as herbs, spices, and fruits. Apparently, the word vermouth is derived from the German word for wormwood, wermut, as wormwood was the chief flavoring ingredient for vermouth until the herb was found to be poisonous, which I am sure was tremendously awkward. Nevertheless, the main reason I like to have vermouth around is its shelf life. When stored in the fridge (and you should, because this extends its shelf life), dry vermouth is good for anywhere between three and six months. (Sweet vermouth will keep for a year this way.) This means if you need just a splash here or there for a recipe, you don’t have to uncork a bottle of wine you may not finish before it quickly turns. Vermouth is also a lot less expensive than drinking wines. Gallo, the favorite in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test, costs only $5 for a 750ml bottle. The fancy-pants Dolin brand I picture above, almost considered too nice for everyday cooking, was $16.

A few usage notes: Vermouth’s flavor is of course a little different from a straight white table wine, due to the herbs and spices, so it may not be for everyone, but I find it to be lovely when cooking savory dishes. Due to the fortification, vermouth has a slightly higher percentage of alcohol than white wine (16 to 18 percent versus wine’s 12.5 to 14.5 percent), which means if you’re trying to partly “cook off” the alcohol it may need an extra minute of simmering time. But I find that it can be seamlessly interchanged with wine in just about any recipe, and deliciously so.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

how to use a kitchen scale

measuring stuff

[And ditch your measuring cups forever!] Count me among those who rejoice whenever a recipe is presented in weights. Why? Because nothing is more accurate. A cup of flour, packed different ways, can weigh anything from 4 to 7 ounces! But a 4.5 ounce cup will always be a 4.5 ounce cup. Plus, nothing uses fewer dishes. A one-bowl cake is truly a one-bowl (and one spoon) recipe, messes are minimized and cooking becomes a flow that it is not when you’re rifling around in your drawer-o-kitchen-crap for the bleeping quarter teaspoon measure. A few people have asked me lately how exactly one uses a scale to measure ingredients, and this post is for them:

It all comes down to taring or zeroing out the existing weight of what you’ve got. Place you empty bowl on your scale and “tare” or “zero out” you weight. (On most digital scales, which I think are the easiest for kitchen use, you simply hit the “On/Clear” button again. On a mechanical scale, you can turn a knob back to the zero mark; on a balance scale, you would set the pointer to the center mark, but somehow I doubt you’re using a balance scale in your kitchen, right?) Add your first ingredient, slowly, until the scale reaches the weight you need. Zero it out again. Add the next ingredient. Zero it out again. If the recipe calls for you to whisk, whip, or blow gentle kisses across the surface of your ingredients, go do that too, but when it calls for the next ingredients, re-zero out the weight of the bowl so that you can continue.

You’ll have this method down in no time. You’ll wonder why you hadn’t tried it sooner. And when the rest of the world (coughUSAcough) gets on this weighed ingredients bandwagon, you’ll wonder what you’ll do with all of the extra drawer space you once devoted to a tangle of dash-pinch-teaspoon-cup measuring implements. I’m voting for stashing chocolate.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

not all salts are created equally

salting

Have you ever used Kosher salt in a recipe and found the end result to be like a salt lick and you couldn’t imagine how on earth a recipe tester could have not noticed how horribly, horribly oversalted the dish would end up? Let me guess: you were using Morton Kosher Salt. Guess what the recipe tester was probably using? Diamond Kosher Salt. And I know what you’re thinking: Now you tell me!

Believe it or not, I only learned about this disparity weeks ago but I had suspected something was wonky for a while. I use Diamond Kosher Salt so I hadn’t run into the issue but I’ve often received comments that people found even a lightly-salted dish way over the top. In short, Morton and Diamond are made differently; Morton salt presses salt granules into large flakes with rollers; Diamond, through a patented process, stacks salt pyramids to form a large crystal — one is dense, the other is like a snowflake. One is intensely salty for its volume, the other has an expected level of saltiness.

Continued after the jump »

Sunday, April 4, 2010

make your own crème fraîche

Crème fraîche, the ultra-rich, slightly tangy and impossibly dreamy cream I like to stir into pastas and soups and drizzle over baked fruit desserts is not carried in every grocery store, and even where it is, it’s not exactly the most budget-minded ingredient. Here’s how you can make your own at home: Mix one cup of room temperature heavy or whipping cream with two tablespoons of butter milk in a glass jar and cover. Let it stand at room temperature for 8 to 24 hours, or until it thickens. Stir well and refrigerate for up to two weeks.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

how to make an overly obsessive spice rack

new, improved

Five years ago, I moved into an apartment with a skylight over the kitchen and built-in spice shelves along a wall and decided to overhaul my mess of spice bottles and bags to make them fitting for such a pretty display. I looked for containers that would be uniform, have a wide mouth (to easily dip measuring spoons or fingers for a “pinch” in), were opaque (so that the sunlight wouldn’t damage the spices over time) and wouldn’t cost a fortune to buy in the quantity I needed.

Continued after the jump »