Category Archives: How to

They grow up so fast

Recent graduates of Food Blogging with Steven Shaw.

The last 6 weeks flew by.  Check out these noteworthy blogs born during that time:

My Third Child is a Restaurant: manuevering through parenthood and a career
Lickin’ It: a bad-ass ice cream blog
Eating My Way through My Quarter Life Crisis: no job, no boyfriend, no clue = no problem
What Would Cathy Eat: heart healthy recipes that don’t suck
A Fork, Knife and Spoon: adventures of a city mouse/country mouse; she has sheep!
Reubenography: exploring the Jewish deli through its bastard son

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Filed under Events, How to, Lessons

Join in the fun

Another round of Fundamentals of Wine is starting up tomorrow.  Join us on an 8 week journey through the world of wine.

Riesling grapes in Germany

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Filed under How to, Wine

How to open a bottle of wine without a corkscrew shoe hit wall drunk awesome

This time I can’t take credit for the title of the post.  I found it on YouTube and why mess with perfection?


Filed under How to, Videos

Want one of these?

I created this blog because I took a class we offer at FCI called Food Blogging with Steven Shaw.

I was skeptical at first.  I’m not on Facebook and I don’t tweet, and lord knows there were plenty of people who had already beaten me to the punch. 

You might be thinking that most blog platforms are free and easy to use, which is true.   So why would you need to take a class?    

1. It’s fun.  You’ll meet like-minded folks, who are passionate about food and beverage.
2.  We’ll help you hone your concept and your writing skills.
3. There will be great guest speakers and networking opportunities.
4.  Even if you have a blog already, you’ll learn how to promote it and how to potentially make money from it.
5.  How can you resist this face?

The fearless instructor

My class ended in June and seven months later, I’m still enjoying sharing my passion for all things beverage.  Class starts again February 18.  Come join in the fun.


Filed under Events, How to

Sugar showdown


Blue agave plant in Jalisco State, Mexico

Agave (ah-GAH-vay) nectar is the new simple syrup at many bars in NYC.  It’s produced from the same blue agave plant used to make tequila – large, spiky and in the succulent family, like aloe vera.  Species of agave abound, but blue agave has a high carbohydrate content which turns into a high fructose content in the nectar, making it the most desirable variety.  The sap or nectar from the plant is called aguamiel or honey water in Mexico and it’s extracted from the piña or core of the 7-10 year old agave plants.  After extraction, it’s filtered and heated, breaking the carbs down into sugars. 

Light and dark varieties are made – both can be made from the same plants; the differences stem from filtering and heating temperatures.  The lighter ones are compared to honey and represent the style you’ll mostly find at the bars, while the darker ones are compared to maple syrup.  You can find it at health food stores, Whole Foods or online.

In a recent conversation with my boss, Nils about my home bar, I mentioned my bottle of agave nectar.  He asked why I bothered, citing that it’s just a more expensive version of simple syrup.  My response was that I didn’t need to use as much because it was sweeter.  He then said, well, it depends on how you make your simple syrup.  Duh. 

Historically, I’ve used a one-to-one ratio of sugar to water when making simple syrup.  Dissolve 1 cup of sugar in 1 cup water on the stovetop – pretty simple, right?  Nils advocates using 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, making the excellent point that he prefers not to dilute his cocktails. 

I was also a sucker for the packaging of the agave nectar – a clean, little squeeze bottle – as opposed to the unwieldy Tupperware I’ve used to store simple syrup in the past.  Getting the sticky liquid from the tub of plastic often yielded more syrup on the inside of the refrigerator/floor/counter than it did into the cocktail-in-the-making. 

What about the difference in taste between simple syrup and agave nectar?  Which is tastier?  In a recent hydrocolloids class, Nils and Dave did a quick experiment and got mixed results – some preferred the simple, some the agave. 

When my current bottle of agave runs out, I’m going to give Nils’ recipe a shot.  He keeps his in the fridge and says it lasts a few weeks.


Filed under Cocktails, How to

Chill out

Vacu Vin Chiller‘Tis the season for a glass of a crisp white or a refreshing rosé and if you’re impatient like me, you want it now and you want it cold.  I picked up the Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Chiller about a year ago and I haven’t used an ice bucket since.  This little baby fits in the door of your freezer and will chill your bottle in about 5 minutes.  There’s no mess, minimal waiting time, it maintains the cold well and it enjoys walks on the beach (or in the park or over to your couch).  It’s also cheap – the link above is from Amazon, where you can get 2 for $8.99.  I’m jealous because I only have one.  They also offer a Champagne chiller, but I’ve used this one on all of my bottles of bubbly and it does just fine.

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Filed under How to, Wine

Bringing home the stinkin’

Oh, if only any of these vials smelled as good as bacon. 


What could make this show up in your glass?

You may have seen my post about Le Nez du Vin, the wine-smelling practice kit.  Well, I liked the master aroma kit so much that I recently purchased the faults (les défauts) kit.  And boy, does it stink – onions, rotten apples, moldy earth, oh my.  It’s great to be able to recognize the delicious aromas in wine, but it’s also important to recognize faults – no sense in wasting your time on a bad bottle, right?

The faults in the kit are broken into different categories and today I’m going to share with you the ones that are related to harvest and those that come about through exposure to oxygen. Continue reading


Filed under How to, Wine

Good things come to those (nerds) who wait

Aging Champagne

Aging sparkling bottles at Schramsberg in CA

I’m pretty skeptical of the virtue of patience and that’s probably why my wine “cellar” has 7 bottles in it.

The ability of fine wine to improve with age sets it apart from most other beverages.  My last post discussed how long to age certain wine,  if at all.  If you choose to let your wines age, make sure you do it right.

If you can muster the patience, you’ll be rewarded by the increased complexity and monetary value of your wine.  Here are some storage tips: Continue reading

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Filed under How to, Wine

Smelly game

Its official name is Le Nez du Vin or “the nose of wine”, but my staff at L’Ecole has dubbed it the smelly game.

le nez du vin kit

Jean Lenoir, born into a wine-loving family in Burgundy developed Le Nez du Vin over 25 years ago.  Several different kits are available and the one pictured here is the 54 aroma Master Kit.  The vials are presented in families: fruity, floral, vegetal and spicy, animal and roasted notes.  Each vial is accompanied by an information card that tells you a little more about the scent and what wines you can expect to find it in. 

Up close, the vials look like this:

vial close up

Do not ingest them, mix them with water or apply them as perfume – simply unscrew the top and sniff. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post about how to taste, it can be challenging to accurately describe aromas and flavors in wine without developing your tasting vocabulary.  Kits like this are a fun way to practice.  Well, not as fun as actually drinking, but you get the idea.  Continue reading


Filed under How to, Lessons, Wine

Swirl it, sniff it and slurp it down


Here are 8 easy steps that you can use to impress your friends and make them think you know how to taste like a pro.

1.  Look at the wine against a white background.  I’m already making the assumption that you have clean glasses as well as good lighting (and some wine).  You can remember the 3 C’s – clarity, color and carbon dioxide.  Do you see any particles?  Is it white or red or pink?  Pale or dark?  Does it have bubbles?  Feel free to use fancy words like straw yellow, old gold, garnet and brick red.  The white background will help you more accurately gauge the color as well as the opacity of the wine.

What does the color tell you?  Different grape varieties will make deeper or lighter colored wines because the color in the wines comes from the skin of the grapes.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo tend to produce deep red wines.  Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris are two examples that produce deep white wines (their skins are pinkish).  A deep color can also mean youth in a red wine or oxidation or barrel fermentation in a white wine.  Red wines lose color as they age, while white wines gain.

2.  Swirl the wine in your glass.  Yes, there really is a good reason for this.  You’re increasing the surface area of the wine by coating more of your glass as well as releasing some additional aromas that have been trapped in liquid form in the wine.

Tears are not a sign of quality in wine, but rather give clues about the wine’s viscosity and alcohol content.  Fuller bodied, higher alcohol wines often have more pronounced tears.  If you see pink stains on the side of your glass after swirling your red wine, it could be because the wine maker let his or her wine sit with the grape skins a little bit longer to extract more color.

3.  Take a few deep sniffs of the wine.  This is the most important part, so don’t be shy and get your nose right in the glass.  Is it restrained or pungent?  Does it remind you of anything you’ve had before?  Fruits?  Spices?  Vegetables?  Flowers? Wood?

As you practice, you’ll become familiar with common aromas found in certain varietals – i.e. Grüner Veltliner often has arugula and white pepper on the nose.  You can also gather clues about how the wine was treated – i.e. vanilla, baking spices and toast are common aromas found as a result of oak aging.

4.  Taste the wine.  It’s helpful to think of mouthwash here, because you want the wine to hit all parts of your palate.  While the myth of the tongue map is not true, you do want to look for certain things in certain parts of your mouth.  You want to look for sweetness on the tip of your tongue.  You can gauge the acidity in the wine by how the sides of your tongue feel.  Are they tingling?  Do you feel like you might start drooling?  That means high acidity.  You can rate the tannins based on how the inside of your cheeks feel.  Are they dried out like someone stuck cotton balls in there or like when you oversteep your tea and don’t put any milk or sugar in it?  That means a high level of tannins in the wine.

5.  Concentrate on your perceptions.  Once you swallow or spit the wine out, the experience is not over.  The finish of the wine, especially if it’s a good one, will last long after you have it in your mouth.  What you’ll notice, too, are aromas coming up the back of your throat, so you might get some notes now that you missed in the beginning.

6.  Evaluate the wine.  Is the wine’s flavor bold and concentrated or is it subtle and understated?  Is is fruity?  Do you think any oak was used?  Think about the sweetness, the acidity, the tannins and the body.  A good way to think about the body of the wine is to think about milk.  Did the wine drink like skim milk or was it more like half and half when you had it in your mouth?  The body is esentially the weight of the wine.

7.  Think about the wine.  Will it taste better with food?  Is it appropriate for the season?  Is it worth the price?  And the most important question of all – do you like it?  In the end, even if you’re following all of these fancy steps, that’s all that really matters.

8.  Record your impressions.  Hopefully you’ll be trying lots of different wines and by keeping notes you can keep track of what you liked and didn’t like.  This will make you sound smarter the next time you go to your local wine shop or have a conversation with a sommelier at a restaurant because you’ll be able to say things like, “I prefer crisp, refreshing whites with high acidity”.

Even if you think you have a lousy palate, you just need practice.  The biggest obstacle for most people to overcome is the lack of vocabulary to describe what they’re smelling and tasting.  So, practice, practice, practice.  It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.


Filed under How to, Wine