A little drink goes a long way

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Cooking food is a passion. As with any passion-driven activity, there is always room for creative exploration with cooking. Whether searching out fresh new produce to liven up dishes or a mysterious herb to give a full, robust flavor to foods, cooks all over enjoy finding new and delicious ways to serve up the classics.

One of the most incredible ways to put some new life into food is to add a little alcohol into the cooking process. No matter the level of comfort in the kitchen, any cook can accomplish wonders with a level head and a little guidance.

Adding alcohol into food is like enjoying a favorite drink within the meal. Whether enjoying a nice red wine or a rich stout beer, there are plenty of ways to learn to use these ingredients to make food pop. Bolder flavors can be achieved by using hard liquor to spice up the dish. With greater alcohol content, they are flammable and should be treated responsibly and with great caution.

Beers are great for cooking with. They give a full, rich flavor to foods similar to that of stock or wine. With a wide array of imported and domestic beers, the best to cook with seem to be the darker, stouter beers. Fairly priced around $8-$10 for a six-pack, most dark imported beers are great for the kitchen. Taste them and if you like them, try them out in the kitchen.

A nice bottle of wine is a treat for almost any meal. While wine connoisseurs can spend their entire lives pairing the perfect wine with food, it all comes down to personal taste.

The golden rule is to use a wine that you would drink to cook with. If you wouldn’t consider having a glass of that bottle, don’t let it touch your food. You will not enjoy it and neither will anyone else. Avoid bottles labeled cooking wine, as they are generally loaded with salts for cooking.

A good bottle of wine can be found for anywhere around $10-$20. While there are cheaper bottles, I have found that something that costs around $15 is great for a nice meal. A more fanciful taste can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars and would seem inappropriate for adding to a pan.

When using wine or beer, the best way to incorporate them is by making a sauce or a soup to go with a main dish. Use the alcohols after sautéing vegetables or searing meat by adding them to the hot pan. The alcohol content will reduce the longer the dishes are cooked and will be more potent the stronger the drink chosen.

Try a potato soup or cheese soup by adding in a bottle of stout beer in place of some of the stock or water.

When using hard liquor, it is extremely important to be responsible. Liquors have some of the most distinct flavors, but disaster can strike if you are unprepared. Adding alcohol to a source of heat can lead to a large open flame which may not be a good idea in a small kitchen, especially in an apartment.

Using rum inside desserts is a lovely way to add spice. Flambé is another way to knock out that sweet tooth. Flaming foods with alcohol provides a great amount of flavor without the harshness of drinking it down. Be aware of the audience, however, large amounts of alcoholic-injected foods aren’t good for all ages.

Alcoholic beverages are an extremely versatile ingredient and can be used in both savory and sweet dishes. If you are bored in the kitchen and looking to impress or just challenge yourself, try exploring the whole other side of alcohol: the flavors, without the effects.

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