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Old 01-21-2011, 09:27 PM   #1
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Cooking with wine and learning to cook

I'm new to the site and fairly new to cooking, about 6 months in. Graduate school has forced me to start cooking for myself (even though I've had experience cooking some things with my Mom). I would call myself a rather good cook following recipes and such. I already know how to make:
-Chicken Marsala
-Homemade pasta sauce and crab gravy
-Shrimp Scampi
-California Chicken
-Beef Burgundy
-Chicken parm
-Beef stew
-Honey BBQ chicken
-Pasta Asian stir-fry (doesn't count since I buy the prepackaged stir-fry and mix in with pasta and oil)

(geez, that can't be all I know how to make!)

and they turn out to be really good.

However, I would like to be able to learn how to make my own dishes or rather "understand" how to cook instead of just following a recipe.

Is there some sort of 101 guide to cooking that anyone knows of that can help me learn the basics of cooking? Kinda like the key, basic recipes that are good to learn how certain ingredients flavor meat? Sorta like a group of dishes that use a common ingredient so I know that x ingredient will flavor it this way. (ie if you use thyme with several dishes you will understand the thyme taste quite well)

Even though I know how to make several quality dishes, I never really experiment with different spices or veges. The primary spices I've ever used are:

-salt/pepper (although I never actually taste the pepper)
-Nutmeg (only for making spaetzels)
-Bay leaf (not sure what this adds to the dishes)
-Parsley (once again, not sure what this adds to the dishes)
-Paprika (???)
-Bullion cubes

And the only veges are:

-onions (don't know the differences between onions)
-Tomato sauce

I've never made anything with cucumber or tomato for example. A prime example of my cluelessness is when I make California Chicken. It calls for paprika. I use it but have absolutely no idea what kind of flavor it brings and thus how much to use.

Now onto the wine question:
What is the difference between the types of red and white wine? When I'm asked to use white wine, I don't know whether to use Chablis, Marsala or Riesling (that's what I currently have) and for red wine, I only have Burgundy.



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Old 01-21-2011, 10:08 PM   #2
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Welcome. I am new here too, but I bet if you stick around here long enough you will learn tons! I have cooked and baked for years, but every day when I check this forum I learn something new. I am sure some of these folks will help you soon!

No matter where I serve my guests, it seems they like my kitchen best!
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Old 01-22-2011, 12:25 AM   #3
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I know that my user name idicates wine (Merlot), &, I admit that I am "familiar" w/wine(heck - I'm even enjoying a nice Shiraz right now :) )...but, I rarely cook w/the stuff. Usually though, if I do, its going to be a red w/beef though. (NOT the "sweet" stuff either -dessert wines are AWFUL for cooking "main dishes" with)..stick to your burgundy is best when needing a nice, easy red to use (heavier reds like Merlot or Shiraz are nice to pop in there now & again though because they DO add a nice, big "wow" of flavor just in case you are wondering thou...just not AS "substantial" as one might think-IMO)...white wine...I really am not so sure of though. The only kind that I will "touch" is a Reisling, which, works perfectly paired w/chicken or fish recipes. The whites can get to an appalling sense of drys, whereas the reds can go silly w/the sweets. GAH!!

Getting past the wine part of your question, -again, this is ALL my OWN opinion...its always fine to experiment w/different seasonings & ingridients...that's in essence, how wonderful recipes are "born"...My BIGGEST issue to point out though, is, NEVER compromise an ENTIRE recipe when trying something "new"..!!! ALWAYS take a small portion aside, add what you decide, then "test" the results. If it tastes like "yuck", scrap the tiny portion, &, you never need to sacrfice the entire yield due to a bad idea. Flip-side...if it tastes like heaven in a pot,...well, since you are on to something, I think that it would be safe to go full-steam-ahead w/the new spices....sounds like a delicious pot of "yummmm" to me!!
What this all boils down to as "fun" in the kitchen, is that somewhere along the way, you WILL find an amazing recipe that suits you just fine, & leaves happy faces on the folks that eat your food.
The journey can be quite bumpy along the way, but,...one day, recipes/combos will become 2nd nature to you through your trials & tribulations, &, when that happens, the angels above hail down from above, & pray for a seat at your pot-luck dinner one night!!
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Old 01-22-2011, 08:21 AM   #4
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Welcome to D.C.
There are a number of resources available to anyone who wishes to learn cooking.
It can take the form of a cooking class, cookbooks, cooking with friends with an aim to learning and of course there is the 'Net.
I, personally, would recommend experience as the best teacher, with a fair amount of reading included.
And you will find that there are more than a few folks here at D.C. that will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have. (in fact, I have never ran across an instance where no one here could offer advice, or answers).
D.C. is a wonderful resource. I am sure there are other suggestions.
Paprika is dried and ground peppers. It can be sweet as with bell peppers or spicy as with chilies, it can have a smoky quality if the peppers are smoked. I prefer the spicy variety and the smoked paprika as they bring so much more flavor to the table.
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Old 01-22-2011, 08:28 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by kupo15 View Post
Now onto the wine question:
What is the difference between the types of red and white wine? When I'm asked to use white wine, I don't know whether to use Chablis, Marsala or Riesling (that's what I currently have) and for red wine, I only have Burgundy.

The main difference between red and white wine is that red wine gets it's color from letting the grape hulls reside in the "must" for a period of time. Doing so, brings color, flavors, acidity and other characteristics that would otherwise be absent.
The only advice I can offer is that you, likely, shouldn't cook with a wine that you don't like to drink.
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:06 AM   #6
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I'm new here as well. I've been cooking professionally for 14 years though. I remember back when I first started. It was all really confusing. Tons of different terms that I had no idea what they ment.
I started simple with things that I was familular with at home, but at work I was thrown into cooking things that I had never seen or tasted, let alone cooked.
I decided to go to culinary school shortly after starting my career. This is not necessary at all!! Only if you think you want to make a career out of it and not even then do you have to but it helps.
Anyway...wines are great for cooking. I use alot of different ones but I stick to the basic few. Chardonay, Burgandy, Cabrinet Survonion, Pinot Noir ect. I find that it best ot taste the wines that you cook with before using them. As the old saying goes if you won't drink it don't cook with it.
Herbs and spices are the same way. Taste a tiny bit of it first to give yourself an idea of what your working with. Note: Some spices don't taste very good by themselves or uncooked. Thats why you taste small amounts first.
Nothing beats plain old salt and pepper! Stick with that everything needs it.
It seems like you have got a good start on things because some of those dishes you are talking about are some of the hardest to perfect. Perfecting the classic dishes is the key to being able to come up with stuff all on your own.
The internet is great for feed back if you have a thought or an idea of something you'd like to cook. I still to this day google my ideas to see who has done something simular. If you think of it chances are someone else has too. I use thier recipe/idea to build my own.
Eventually the whole thing will make since. You'll not what goes with what. What wines compliment certain dishes blah blah blah. Then you are unstoppable.
My kitchen is my favorite play ground. I wish the same where true for everyone. Never be afraid to think outside the box and broaden your horizons. Your pallet is your friend and will never lie to you. It may trick you but not lie to you.
A chef I worked for told me once when I was first starting that if it seems like it's getting easy and you're getting bored, that means you're getting good at it. Time to teach someone what you do so you can move on.
I love to teach and share what I've learned over the years. Feel free to ask me anything about food. If I don't know the answere I'll find it for you.
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:11 AM   #7
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You sound like you are well on your way--I'd come for dinner any night.

A small amount of wine in a dish--say a quarter cup for 4 servings--adds a lot of flavor. Alcohol releases flavor that plain water or stock doesn't. Generally, as Midnight Merlot says, use red for beef and white for chicken and fish.

And don't limit yourself to wine--bourbon chicken is super, and white vermouth adds a bit of 'herby' flavor.

Paprika--if you are buying good quality fresh paprika (I buy from Penzeys) it will add flavor and color. If you are getting old stale stuff from the grocery store, all you are getting is color and maybe some bitterness.

Sharpen your knife and start chopping those veggies for stir fry--fresh is almost always better than prechopped and bagged, or frozen!

Take a Saturday and learn how to make stock. It also adds tons of flavor.

Hang around here, browse recipes and ask questions. I also visit eGullet.com--they have an online 'culinary institute' and you can find detailed instructions on topics like making stock, bread, using spices, even making sushi!!
I just haven't been the same
since that house fell on my sister.
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Old 01-22-2011, 03:12 PM   #8
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I love to cook with wine but I don't since Hubby is diabetic.

Welcome to DC.

Practice Random Acts of Kindness ( RAK ) Makes you feel great too
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Old 01-22-2011, 03:32 PM   #9
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Welcome kupo! Paprika: It's already been said, don't buy the off the shelf in the jar stuff, it has almost no flavor. Once my sister mentioned that it was only for decorative color (how our mother used it). I took her to the cabinet and had her taste my paprika. Oh, dearie me. What a revelation. If you do buy grocery store, look for a square metal can that is usually red in color. The brand on my shelf is Szeged, and as already stated, comes in hot, smoked or sweet.

I used whatever wine I'm drinking to cook with, assuming I'm not drinking expensive wine (and I rarely do). If I'm drinking expensive wine, I find a less expensive wine of the same type, but still something I'd drink.

I like fortified wines for cooking, they are easier. For white I use dry vermouth, for red it depends if I want it to have a sweet edge. But still use the driest of the wines. For example, a dry sherry goes great in cream sauces.
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Old 01-23-2011, 11:29 AM   #10
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Hi Kupo,

I'm new to this site also, but not new to cooking. It seems to me that you are asking 2 questions -- one about learning how to cook, the other about wine in particular.

Let me address the first question first.

I'm not sure whether I read this on this forum or somewhere else, but it was very insightful. Someone wrote that in cooking, there is no reason to re-invent the wheel. Humans have been cooking for about a hundred thousand years, sampling what is good in nature, how to cook it, and so on. And in the last 1000 years, many cultures have raised this to an art -- to make things that are not just good, but delicious.

The best way to learn how to cook, and not just recipes, but anything, is to learn the techniques of the various traditions of cooking. Almost all great cooking cultures have techniques in common, but also their own special techniques. It's sort of like learning a vocabulary and grammar in order to write your own speeches (being a cook), rather than memorizing speeches (knowing recipes).

I feels very fortunate to have been exposed to some amazing traditions. My grandmother was an African American farm woman in the south who I spent my summers with (I'm from the city), and she made quick bread twice a day, along with an amazing variety of extremely traditional foods that you probably wouldn't think of as soul food (more like chef Edna Lewis). My first wife was West Indian and her mother was a domestic worker and cook and cooked traditional Caribbean food, and my current is Puerto Rican and her mother owned a restaurant. I've closely observed all these great cooks and also read a lot. I also at one point was very close to a south Asian couple who taught me "curries" and other Indian techniques.

So the thing is to learn the big picture techniques, not recipes. For example, French, traditional African American and US southern, and New Orleans Cajun and Creole dishes rely on very similar techniques. These include stocks and rues and sauces (or in the upper south, gravy). Learn how to make great stock and a rue and then only your imagination is a limit, not the recipes you know.

Italian and Spanish and Latin American foods rely on "sofrito," a flavorful mixture of pounded or pureed onions, garlic, green peppers and if Latin cilantro and other spices. Cajun/Creoles have something similar of onions, garlic, celery, carrots. This paste is sauteed before other ingredients.

West Indian and South Asians use curries and masalas. For example, many people think that curry is one spice. It's actually a very modern word that describes many Indian spice mixes. But you don't have to learn a gazillion mixes, because the basic mix is corriander, cumin, and tumeric, and then many varieties involving cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, chili powder, and cordamon.

Various cultures have learned over hundreds of years what goes really well together. In the south, it's salt, pepper, sage and thyme. In India, it's corriander, cumin and tumeric. And so on. It's really difficult to improve on that collective human knowledge.

The easiest and most universal I think for American/European cooking is the stock/rue/gravy process. It's fun and once you learn that technique you immediately realize that you have elevated the taste of your food to an entirely new level. There is no comparison, eg, between a basic roast chicken, and a basic roast chicken with a light gravy made from a good stock, pan drippings and rue. Try it. You'll be amazed.

Hope this helps!

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