Archive for the 'Mailbag' Category


Mailbag Friday

Question: In wine tasting and judging, what is the difference between aroma and bouquet? Brian, Sacramento

Answer: To many there is no major difference, but for some (me included) the aroma is the broader term for how the wine smells, the bouquet is its fruity aromatic notes. In other words “That Syrah has a wonderful aroma of smoke, licorice, and bacon fat and lovely fruity aromatics that include a beautiful bouquet of violets, blackberries and rich dried plums.”

COMING SOON: Pan seared pork tenderloin with braised onions, mushrooms and dried cherries – paired with Pinot Noir


Mailbag Wednesday – is 9 the new 10?

Question: OK, this is more of an etiquette question rather than a food question.  If a restaurant advertises their dinner hours, say something like 5pm to 10pm, what exactly does the 10pm represent?  Does that mean that they stop making food at 10pm, will happily seat you if you walk in at 10pm, or they will seat you but might do “questionable” things to the food that they serve you because they are ready to go home? Brian, Sacramento

Answer: This is a classic question! Technically if a restaurant posts open hours until 10pm, you should be able to arrive just before 10, be seated, served, and welcomed to stay until your meal experience is complete. That being said… HA HA HA!!! I actually did a google search on this question and came up with multiple hits – Waiters ranting about late comers, owners lamenting controlling costs beyond a normal shift, kitchens needing to close down at some point, etc. My normal practice in late dining moments is to get a read on the restaurant. If it’s still busy and feels active, you’re probably safe to stay. If it’s quiet and the staff seems like they’re closing up shop, probably not such a good idea. If the restaurant has a busy bar, sometimes the bar offers a more limited late night menu – it’s best to engage your better judgment, you can always ask what the kitchen schedule is, and often times the service staff will tell you that the kitchen just closed, or certain items are no longer available, etc. And yes, I’ve heard horror stories about the service and kitchen staff who are handling your food not being completely above board because they’re irritated with you for coming in late. On that note, I’d suggest you never irritate a fast food worker!!!

I’d love it if all ya’ll would weigh in with your experiences with this???


Moors and Christians – strange culinary bedfellows…

Question: Urgent! I am making Cuban black beans and rice and would like to know how to do it myself instead of using a mix. What would the spices be? Should I bake it after I mix up the cooked beans and cooked rice? Jake, Palm Springs

First, no baking required! This is a fun question, not just for the recipe, but the origins of the dish. The name refers to the eighth century wars between the invading Moors (blacks/Muslims) and Spaniards (white/Christians) in Cuba. Black beans are a staple in Cuban cooking and common throughout homes and restaurants all over the country. Generally this dish is served with the black beans served on top of white rice – ergo Black beans and rice = Moors & Christians. It is traditionally served with chopped onions for garnish, and vinegar on the rice, but often includes salsa, sour cream, grated cheese, chopped radishes, cilantro, and other fun goodies. Some recipes call for the rice to be cooked with the beans. I prefer the beans on top of the rice – the following recipe is for this method.


  • 1 1/2 cups dried black beans  (you can substitute with canned black beans to speed-up the process – roughly 3:1 ratio for canned to dried)
  • 8 cups of water (omit the soaking process if using canned beans)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil for sautéing
  • 2 1/2 cups white onion, diced. (reserve ½ cup for garnishing)
  • 2 1/2 cups green peppers, seeded and diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 – 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons salt (to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper  (to taste)
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 cups long-grain white rice
  • White wine vinegar


  1. Thoroughly wash and soak the dry black beans in 4 cups of water in a stock pot overnight. The following day, add the additional 4 cups of water and place pot over medium heat.
  2. While beans are beginning to heat, saute the onions, green peppers, and garlic lightly in the olive oil. Mix together all the ingredients except the white rice, vinegar and diced onions. Cover and cook on low heat 3-5 hours or until the beans are tender and the liquid has thickened.
  3. When beans are done, cook rice according to the package instructions. White rice normally takes about 15/20 minutes to cook once you get the water simmering. Let it sit at least 10 minutes before serving.
  4. Shorten the process a bit, substitute canned rinsed beans to shorten the long cooking time. Simply follow the recipe, but add the rinsed canned beans instead of the soaked beans, reduce the amount of water used to 4 cups and cook until liquid has thickened and the flavors are incorporated – about 40 minutes.
  5. Serve the beans over hot rice with plenty of vinegar on the rice, and raw chopped onions for garnishment. (add salsa, sour cream, cheese etc. according to preference.)

Mailbag Monday – Salted or Unsalted?

Question: When a recipe calls for unsalted butter, is it really important to use it, rather than salted butter? Gloria, Colorado

Answer: The short answer is – it depends! First of all, salt is used as a preservative for butter. Unsalted butter can spoil much more quickly. I’ve purchased (very expensive) organic unsalted European butter only to open it and discover mold everywhere. This is generally not a problem with commercial butters, but it can happen. The amount of salt used in butter can vary greatly too, depending on the brand and the area of the country it comes from. In order to control the amount of salt in a recipe, the rule of thumb has always been to use unsalted butter for baking. However, you can use salted butter safely for most recipes as long as you know your brand and how salty it is, just make sure any salt added is adjusted accordingly.


Dredge-Dip-Coat… Adhesion at its finest…


When preparing something crusted in breadcrumbs like a pork chop or fish fillet for pan-frying (or baking), what is the correct order for dredging the meat in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs? I *think* it goes flour-egg-breadcrumbs, but I can never remember. If I understand the rationale for each step, then it’d probably be easier to remember. What does the flour do, exactly? And is it always necessary?


Thanks for the question Kevin! I went straight to my favorite cooking science book – CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher. It is a fantastic book, and I suggest every serious cook have a copy handy.

Anyway, here’s what she has to say:

“Adhesion of batter and breading: Since many foods, such as chicken skin, are very slick, it is often difficult to get batters and breading to stick to them. Adhesion is influenced by these factors:

Dusting – Food can be dusted with flour for a good dry surface before applying the batter. Batter will stick to a dry surface much better than to a wet, slippery surface….”

She goes on to talk about viscosity – thicker sticks better than thinner; temperature – colder is better than warmer, 40 – 60f is the optimum, and then she goes into leavening, etc.

Hope this answers your mailbag question. You also asked about a good seasoned coating akin to your childhood veal cutlets – I shall look into that and see what I can find out, but in the meantime, let’s ask all the other readers for help as well…

For all you blog readers willing to help, here’s the question Kevin asked:

“Did you ever have those pre-packaged “Italian-style veal cutlets” as a kid? They were basically chopped and formed veal in a “cutlet” shape, with an herbed breadcrumb crust. My mom used to pan fry them and serve them with lemon. I LOVED them. They also worked well for a quick & easy veal parmigiana, albeit a white trash-style version. Anyway, I haven’t seen them in any store in years, and frankly, they’re probably filled with lots of scary stuff. But I absolutely crave the flavor of that breading and would love to recreate it for chicken or pork. It might just be Italian-seasoned bread crumbs that impart the flavor, but I have yet to test it out. Any ideas? If you know the flavor I’m talking about, would you be interested in developing a recipe for it?”


Game day done easy…

Question: I’m hosting a small NFL playoff game party Saturday afternoon (GO CARDS!), and do not want to serve the tired old Nachos/boring veggie plate/cardboard pretzel fare that so often pop up at Phoenix parties. (I guess they figure it you swill enough Pabst, you won’t notice how horrid the food is..) Do you have a trio of easy, but delectable recipes with which I can wow my friends. And perhaps a sassy wine recommendation for each?
Love, AJ

Fellow Foodie - Rob Lee

Answer: Let me start by saying that a part of my mission with food, wine and living well, is collaboration. So, in the spirit of collaboration, I sought the help of a foodie friend – Rob Lee. Rob is a college professor in St Louis by day, and a fellow food fancier by night! I thought of him, because he’s a serious football lover, and knows what it takes to please a game-day crowd. He’s also starting a monthly dinner club. He has committed to planning, cooking and serving a dinner party once a month for a group of friends. Each party will be themed, and will focus on his passion for beautiful food done simply, with a focus on what’s fresh and in season. Who knows, maybe some day you’ll see us both working together on the food network… he certainly has the charms and good looks – and the ladies love him!!! So after some back and forth IMing between California and Missouri, we’ve come up with the following menu that should be fun, unique, easy, inexpensive and impressive!!! Hope you consider trying all or parts of it, and make sure to take pictures that I can post on the blog afterwords!

Continue reading ‘Game day done easy…’


French or American… hmmm

Question: While you are on the subject of oak and tannins, what are the specific flavor characteristics of French versus American oak and (other than cost) what would be the reasons a winemaker would choose one over the other? – Brian, Sacramento CA

Answer: Generally, French oak has a tighter, less porous grain. American oak has a looser, more porous grain. The difference is the amount and intensity of oak, and tannin imparted. Obviously, the French stick mostly to their own. Spain likes to use both. We (California) use French, American, and Hungarian. Zinfandel is one of the reds that likes American – this is mostly because Zin has big juicy fruit, and can handle the more open aggressive American oak. Syrah will often be aged in both, but mostly French. Also, a winemaker will choose not only French, or American, but new, or one year, or older depending on how intense they want the tannin to be, and whether or not they want the wine to be age worthy – and let’s not forget how it’s toasted (the amount of burning the cooper does on the inside of the barrel). Oak is a significant recipe element in winemaking, and is way more multi-faceted than many realize. Fun question… thanks for sending it!

Patrick Bartlett

A conversation about food, wine, and the art of living well!


May 2018
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