Welcome to Naomi Kooker's blog.

At age 6 my mother let me into the kitchen, alone. By seventh grade I was feigning sick to stay home from school, "miraculously" feeling good enough to make baked-stuffed pork chops for dinner. My passion for cooking led me to a job as a sous chef in a Manhattan restaurant and, later, to stand quietly in the corner of (and eventually do one thing in) Restaurant Guy Savoy's kitchen in Paris. I overcame the ultimate cooking challenge when I made butter cream icing over a Bunsen burner at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. It was for a friend's wedding cake, the centerpiece at the reception the next day. It was midnight. With just hours to go, I managed to whip up the icing, then carefully place the last few candied violets onto the cake before the reception. Oh, how grateful I was for that Bunsen burner and the corner bodega that was open 24 hours.

It all worked out in the end. It always does.

Food, cooking and eating are inextricably linked to life. Life is better when good food is involved, and even better when good company is part of the eating.

Thank you for stopping in and being part of a growing dinner party of readers.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wine 101

Wine doesn’t need to be intimidating. And more sommeliers or beverage directors at restaurants go out of their way to make you feel comfortable with the wine list. Same thing with a reputable wine store; not only should they welcome your business, but it’s their business to introduce you to great wines and offer customer service by being engaging and helpful.

I’ve put together five tips for quick wine knowledge:

One, befriend your local wine merchant. Find a store you like and frequent it, establishing a relationship with the same person there so they get to know your tastes and they can introduce you to some great stuff. Peter at Marty’s Liquors in Newton is that guy for me.

Two, attend a lot of tastings. Visit your liquor store when they hold them. You’ll only know what you like after you try a lot of wine. And you wouldn’t dream of imbibing it all, would you; there’s always spitting as the professionals do.

(Check out the Boston Wine Expo January 21 & 22, 2012; it's a great opportunity to sample dozens of wines.)

Three, once you find a wine you like focus on the producer--the winery that makes the wine. Get to know them as you would anything you’d have a passion for—where are they located? Where do their grapes come from? You’ll gain confidence through knowledge, and enjoy it all the more.

Four, if you are dining out with a group and are nervous about ordering wine, get the wine list ahead of time and discuss what you’re looking for and your budget with the beverage director. It takes the sweat out of being put on the spot.

Five, take a class at the Boston Wine School with Jonathan Alsop—his down-to-earth, irreverent approach along with his deep knowledge will not only put you at ease but you’ll have fun. Imagine: Wine = fun.

Thanks for listening to "Talk with Francesca" Sunday, November 27th AM-1510. For restaurant recommendations and more recipes, please check back with PressureKooker. If you're looking for the chili recipe, please click here. And keep cooking!