Even if you don’t drink alcohol you should consider the culinary benefits of cooking with it. There are several entrees that immediately come to mind: Beef Bourguignon, Chicken Marsala, and Coquilles St. Jacques, to name a few classics. Mushrooms, in particular, seem to benefit from poaching in wine.

Do not even think of buying so-called “cooking wine” at the supermarket. Those vile liquids are heavily laden with salt and preservatives. Furthermore, the general rule-of-thumb is to never cook with a wine you wouldn’t be pleased to drink or proud to serve to guests who do.

There are several options for having decent cooking wines on-hand in your pantry. The simplest is to stock a few “fortified” wines which have a high enough alcohol content to be shelf-stable after opening. These include marsalas, sherries, and vermouths. While these can each run the gambit from sweet to dry (not sweet), you need not have both sweet and dry versions of each one. Start with one sweet wine, either a marsala or sweet red vermouth and one dry wine, either a dry sherry or dry white vermouth.

Another fine option is to buy some small bottles of regular table wines. You should have one white wine like chardonnay or pinot grigio and one red wine like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or shiraz. You should be able to find these locally, usually sold in 4-packs, with screw-off caps. They will keep for months unopened in your panty. Once opened, their life can be extended by storing in the refrigerator. They can even be rushed into emergency service if you have unexpected guests and find your wine cellar bare!

You may also want to have a few “spirits” on-hand as well. I recommend brandy (unflavored), rum (100+ proof, for a flambé), and possibly something orange-flavored like Cointreau, Grand Marnier, or triple sec. The same rule-of-thumb applies: choose something worthy of drinking or serving. Straight brandy will be the most useful, primarily as a deglazing liquid for dishes like steak au poivre. Spirits are available in several small size bottles from "nips" to half-pints and pints (or metric equivalents).

Always add spirits “off-heat” and be prepared for the inevitable flare-up. If things seem to be getting out-of-hand you can set the pan on an open oven door or even inside the oven (assuming the oven is off and cold).


Cooking Tips

>Cook with Wine
Use wine and spirits to boost flavor!

>Fresh Herbs
Many home cooks use dry herbs, some old enough to be in small metal tins! It's time to move past the quick and easy and try some fresh herbs.

>Grill Smoke
Use this clever trick to add smoke flavor to grilled food.

>Hang your Pots and Pans
Make every pot and pan easy to get... covers too!

>Home-made Stock
Next time you want chicken, buy the whole bird. Then make chicken stock using my simple recipe. You'll never buy that canned stuff again!

>Lapsang Souchong Tea
In A New Way to Cook, Sally Schneider extolls the virtues of lapsang souchong tea to make smokey tea essence.

>Measure by Hand
Learn what a TSP and TBS look like in your hand to speed up cooking.

They've been said to be like a cross between an onion and garlic, but they're really their own thing. Just get some, and cook with them. You'll never look back!

>Sharp Knives
If you have a sharpener, this tip doesn't even cost you a cent... unless, of course, you cut yourself in the process and end up at the emergency room! If you don't have a sharpener, it's time to invest in one.

>Spice Rack
Maybe it is time to organize your herbs and spices. You can weed out ove-the-hill spices while you're at it.

>Squeeze Bottles
Yea, kind of flashy, almost celebratory, but you can use them like the pros to make things look nice too.

>Steel Cut Oats
What to do with this miserable product if you get caught with a tub.

>True Citrus
Real citrus in crystallized form, available in lemon, lime, and orange. Substitute for zest or extract.

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