Why are there so many types of wine bottles?

bottlesThere are three basic bottle shapes

The tall, skinny German/Alsatian bottle (think Riesling)

The high-shouldered, brawny Bordeaux bottle (think Cabernet/Merlot)

The curvaceous, low-shouldered Burgundy bottle (think Pinot Noir).

So why are they so different?

In a word: tradition. For the better part of three centuries, these basic shapes were developed in their corresponding wine regions as the result of economics. The German/Alsatian bottles are lighter in weight and more compact because early trade routes along the Rhine River were, for the most part, gentle voyages, and the compact bottles were easy to stow.

The two more common shapes, Bordeaux and Burgundy, are strong and heavy, and, unlike German/Alsatian bottles, have a reinforcing punt, or indentation, in their bases, to help withstand more volatile trade routes, whether by land or by sea. As to the matter of “shoulders,” Bordeaux producers will tell you the high-shouldered bottle evolved to capture sediment produced by their highly tannic wines, whereas the softer, less tannic Pinot Noirs produced in Burgundy didn’t need the high shoulders at all.

Surprisingly, they all contain the same amount of wine—750 milliliters, or 25 ounces—and have done so since the European Union enforced standardization of all bottles in the 1970s. Why not round it up to one liter for good measure? Again, tradition sets the standard. According to the Oxford Companion, the “standard” size was perhaps a lungful of air, harking back to when bottles were manually blown by humans. Unfortunately the shape of the bottle can’t tell us anything about the quality of what’s inside.

That neat little graphic is from Wine Folly

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Mother’s Day 2015 Recipes from John Ash

Flourless Chocolate Souffle is a perfect (and easy) dish for Mother's Day. (Shutterstock)

Flourless Chocolate Souffle is a perfect (and easy) dish for Mother’s Day.

Mom shouldn’t have to cook on her day so here is a pretty simple menu that should please her.

Serve her a nice crisp white wine from Sonoma County to go with it! You’ll be in her good graces all year long (just don’t forget to call once in a while, too.)

Serves 4 – 6


An easy chicken dish with delicious flavors of the Mediterranean.


8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

12 garlic cloves, peeled

2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

1 lemon, thinly sliced, seeds discarded

1 teaspoon whole fennel seeds

2 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, plus more for garnish (2 teaspoons dried)

Pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) either agridulce (semi hot) or Picante (hot)

1 small to medium fresh fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 cup green olives*

Juice of 1 large lemon

2/3 cup drained and crumbled fresh feta cheese, optional


Preheat the oven to 375°. Season the chicken well on both sides with salt and pepper.


In a large ovenproof pan or Dutch oven large enough to hold all the thighs in a single layer, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken, skin-side down, and sear until golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic cloves to the pan and flip the thighs over. Cook until the garlic is fragrant and has gotten lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the chicken and garlic from the pan and set aside.

With the pan is still hot, add the onions, lemon slices, fennel seed and oregano and season with smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until the onions have softened and the brown bits on the bottom of the pan have loosened, 6 to 8 minutes.

Off heat, stir in the fresh fennel and then nestle the thighs skin-side up in the onion mixture and add the garlic and the olives. Pour the lemon juice over the chicken and transfer the pan to the oven. Bake uncovered for 35 to 40 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Scatter fresh oregano leaves and feta, if using, over the top and serve.

*Seek out the best green olives you can find such as Volos or Amphissa from Greece, Lucques or Picholine from France, Castelvetrano or Cerignola from Italy.  Remember good olives are never canned or jarred.


 Serves 6


A simple salad embraces all of the basic senses of taste: sweet, sour, bitter salty and umami. My favorite cheese to use for this is one called Camellia from Redwood Hill Farms www.redwoodhill.com.   It’s available in good cheese shops.  You can certainly substitute your favorite soft ripening cheese.


3 cups gently packed frisée leaves, creamy centers only (1 large head)

1 bunch Upland cress*

1 medium Belgian endive, cut lengthwise in thick julienne

Honey lemon vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1 large Texas red grapefruit, peeled and sectioned

1 5-ounce round soft ripening goat cheese, cut into 6 wedges

1/3 cup toasted, slivered almonds

1 large bunch fresh chervil, thick stems removed


Combine the frisée, cress and endive in a large bowl and toss gently with a bit of the vinaigrette to lightly coat.  Arrange artfully on 6 plates along with the grapefruit sections.

Place a wedge of cheese on top, scatter almonds around along with the chervil.  Serve immediately.


Honey Lemon Vinaigrette

Makes 1 generous cup

2 tablespoons finely chopped shallot

6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons fragrant honey

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and season to your taste with salt and pepper.  Store covered and refrigerated up to 3 days.


*Upland cress is sold with its roots and soil attached in many markets.  One producer is Live Gourmet www.livegourmet.com.


Serves 6 – 8

6 tablespoons light cream (half and half)
10 tablespoons sugar, plus additional for dusting soufflé dish
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 egg yolks
6 egg whites
Powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 375°. Place milk and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves, 1 – 2 minutes. Stir in chocolate and cook until melted, another 2 minutes or so. Transfer to a nonreactive bowl (glass or stainless steel), cool for 5 minutes, then beat in egg yolks.


Beat egg whites in a nonreactive bowl until stiff peaks form.

Butter a 10 inch soufflé dish then lightly dust with sugar. Gently mix one quarter of the egg whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it.  Gently but thoroughly fold in remaining whites. Do not over mix. Spoon batter into dish.

Make sure oven rack is low enough to allow soufflé room to rise as much as 2” above the dish. Bake until puffed, about 30 minutes. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately.

John Ash © 2015





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Pineapple and Cola Glazed Ham Recipe

pineapplehamPineapple and Cola Glazed Ham Recipe

Serves 16 or so

This is a riff on a recipe my grandmother used to do for Easter and Christmas. Do seek out a good ham that hasn’t been shot full of chemicals!

10 pound bone-in ham with natural juices
2 1/2 cups good apple cider, divided
2 1/2 cups cola, divided
20-ounce can of sliced pineapple
2 cups brown sugar

Let the ham stand at room temperature for 90 minutes.

Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Set the oven rack at the lowest position. Rinse and pat dry the ham. Using a sharp knife, score the skin of the ham in a criss-cross pattern. Place ham in a roasting pan. Pour 1-1/2 cups apple cider and 1-1/2 cups cola into the pan and add additional water if necessary to bring the liquid level to 1/2 inch. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast in oven for 3 hours (about 15 minutes per pound) or until the internal temperature of the ham reaches 100 degrees.

While the ham is cooking, prepare the glaze. Combine the remaining 1 cup of both the cider and cola, the juice from the pineapple (reserve the pineapple slices for later) and the brown sugar in a small sauce pan and simmer on low for 15 minutes, until it becomes thick and glossy. Let stand at room temperature until ready to use. As the glaze cools, it will thicken up, making it easier to brush on the ham.

Take the ham out of the oven when it reaches the first internal temperature of 100 degrees. Turn the oven to 425 degrees and brush the ham all over with about 1/3 of the glaze. Use toothpicks to stud the ham with the sliced pineapple. Once the oven comes to temperature, return the ham, uncovered to oven. Bake for 15 minutes until the liquid is bubbly and the ham has turned to a deep golden brown. The internal temperature of the ham should be 140 degrees F.
Remove ham to a cutting board and let rest for 15 minutes.

Return the remaining glaze to the stove on medium-low heat to warm the glaze up for serving. Carve and slice the ham, drizzle a bit of the cola glaze on each plate.

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Broccoli Pesto Recipe

pestoBroccoli Pesto?

Here’s an easy to make and really delicious pesto to use with pasta, as a filling for ravioli, to top baked potatoes and a way to sneak in some vegetables for those picky eaters in your family.



Makes a generous 2 cups

1 pound broccoli florets

Kosher salt

2 medium peeled garlic cloves

1 large bunch fresh basil, leaves picked and thick stems discarded

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or slivered almonds

1/3 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Drops of truffle oil (optional)

Cook the broccoli in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp tender, about 4 minutes.  Add garlic about 2 minutes before draining. Stir in basil about 15 seconds before draining.  Drain the broccoli mixture and immediately plunge or run cold water over to stop the cooking and set the color.

Drain well and add broccoli mixture to a food processor along with the olive oil, pine nuts, Parmigiano.  Pulse until finely chopped and season to your taste with salt and pepper. Stir in drops of truffle oil to your taste if using.

Store covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to two months.

John Ash © 2015

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Steve’s “Uppercrust” Southern Fried Chicken Recipe

Fried chicken inspired by Steve's Kentucky upbringing.

Fried chicken inspired by Steve’s Kentucky upbringing.


Serves 4 – 6

This is a recipe from my long-time friend and radio co-host Steve Garner. We’ve been doing a food talk show on Saturday mornings in Northern California (KSRO Good Food Hour www.ksro.com) for more than 25 years. Raised in Kentucky, he has spent a life-time eating and researching fried chicken.

About the following recipe, Steve says: “Although it seems like frying chicken should be a very simple process to master, finding the perfect balance between a light, crisp, non greasy crust and flavorful, juicy meat has proved elusive for many an accomplished cook. This method is the result of years of practice, refinement and serendipity. I have experimented with scores of marinades, coatings, seasonings, techniques, fats and apparatus in search of the Holy Grail. Friends and fellow fried chicken devotees who have never tasted my chicken preach the latest low fat, skinless, ‘oven fried’ recipes that they swear are “just as or almost as good”. There is also the “partially fried, then finished in the oven” camp as well. I have tried them. I am polite to these well meaning but misguided souls. My recipe is for traditional ‘skillet fried chicken’-the texture and flavor of which is heavenly and can’t be duplicated in an oven.”

4 whole chicken breasts, halved (8 pieces), brined* for at least 30 minutes
1/2 cup kosher salt plus more for seasoning
6 cups buttermilk
Freshly ground black pepper
Canola or other frying oil
3 cups all purpose flour
2 – 6 tablespoons of your favorite hot sauce
Seasoning mix of your choice such as lemon pepper blend, smoked chipotle powder, etc.
2 egg whites, beaten briefly
1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced

2 cast iron skillets
2 wooden spoons
A small strainer
Wire rack with paper towels
Thermometer to measure oil temperature

Rinse chicken and pat dry. Add kosher salt to 4 cups of buttermilk and stir till dissolved. Add chicken and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 4. We’re brining the chicken for flavor and juiciness. Remove chicken from buttermilk and discard buttermilk brine. Place chicken on a wire rack on a rimmed sheet pan, season well with salt and pepper and refrigerate uncovered for at least one hour.

Add oil to each pan to a depth of 3/4 inch for shallow frying and heat to 375 degrees. While oil is heating place flour into a heavy paper bag. Pour remaining 2 cups buttermilk into a bowl and add hot sauce to your taste. Be bold here because coating on chicken will soften a lot of the heat. Add a teaspoon or two of seasoning mixture and the egg whites and whisk until well combined.

Remove chicken from refrigerator and place in the buttermilk mixture, coating well. With tongs to allow chicken to drain briefly, place chicken two pieces at a time into the flour bag, tightly close and shake joyously to coat. Remove each piece and shake gently to shake off excess flour. Place pieces on a wire rack until all are coated.

Carefully place each piece of chicken skin side down into the hot oil, 4 pieces per pan. Turn every 4 or 5 minutes using wooden spoons instead of tongs which lessens the chance of breaking the crust. There are always hot spots in pans so gently move chicken to another part of the pan if some pieces are darkening faster than others. After 10 minutes gently add onions to the pans. Be careful because this will cause the oil to bubble vigorously. Total cooking time will be between 16 and 20 minutes depending on size of breasts. When chicken is beautifully golden brown and crisp, remove and place on a wire rack with paper towels under to drain. Remove crisped onions when they are done and drain on paper towels. Cool for a few minutes than arrange chicken on a platter, scatter onions over and serve.

Recommended beverage: A crisp, refreshing glass of sweet ice tea or lemonade.

Side Bar: Pickled Corn

My grandmother cooked a pretty mean fried chicken too. In the summer time she always served it with pickled corn on the side. Here’s her recipe which makes about a quart:

1 cup white wine vinegar
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1 tablespoons kosher salt
3 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons curry powder
3-1/2 cups corn kernels (from 4 ears of corn)
1 small red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced (1 cup or so)
3/4 cup diced red onion

Add vinegar, water, sugar, fennel, salt, garlic and curry to a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add corn, red pepper and red onion and bring back to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Place mixture into clean glass jars and refrigerate. Will keep for up to 6 weeks refrigerated.

John Ash © 2011

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Thanksgiving Roast Turkey Recipe

shutterstock_224254705This is my absolute favorite recipe for a moist, delicious roast turkey. The key is brining and roasting. I think you’ll love it too.

Roast Turkey
From Chef John Ash



2 cups packed brown sugar

1 cup pure maple syrup

¾ cup coarse salt

3 whole heads garlic, cloves separated and bruised

6 large bay leaves

1 ½ cups coarsely chopped unpeeled fresh ginger

2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes

1 ½ cups soy sauce

3 quarts water



12 to 14 pound dressed fresh turkey

3 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

5 celery stalks, roughly chopped

2 potatoes, roughly chopped

2 oranges, quartered

4 lemons, quartered

3 cups canned or homemade turkey or chicken stock



3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

White wine or brandy

2 cups canned or homemade turkey or chicken stock

Fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, basil, oregano, and sage

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper




Combine all brine ingredients in a large enamel or stainless steel stockpot that is large enough to hold the brine and the turkey. Bring to a simmer, then remove from the heat and allow to cool thoroughly. Rinse the turkey well; remove the neck and giblets and save for stock or discard.

Submerge the turkey in the cooled brine. Be sure there is enough brine to cover the bird. In not, add water to cover. Refrigerate for at least 2 days and up to 4. Turn the bird in the brine twice a day.

Remove the bird from the brine and pay dry. Lightly brush the bird with olive oil and set aside for at least an hour before roasting. Preheat the oven to 450-degrees. Set the turkey in a roasting pan fitted with a V-shaped rack. Throw the chopped vegetables and citrus in the cavity. Add the chicken or turkey stock to the pan. Slip a flavored butter up under the skin of the turkey if you want.

Cook the turkey for 20 minutes and then reduce the heat to 350-degrees. Roast for 21/2 to 3 hours. It’s done when juice from the thigh runs clear and an instant-read thermometer reads 165-degrees in the thickest part of the thigh, not touching the bone.

Remove from the oven. Lift the turkey out of the pan and loosely tent with foil to keep warm. Don’t wrap tightly or the skin will lose its crispness. Let the turkey rest at least 25 minutes before carving.

To make the gravy: Pour off all fat from the roasting pan, leaving the delicious browned bits in the bottom. Make a roux by whisking the butter in the roasting pan over moderate heat with the flour. Continue to whisk for a couple of minutes. Add a splash of white wine or brandy and scrape up the browned bits. Add the stock and any herbs you like and continue to whisk and simmer for a few more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the gravy along side the carved meat.

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My Favorite Tailgate Burger: Pimento Cheeseburgers

Pimento cheese on a burger? It's surprisingly great.

Pimento cheese on a burger? It’s surprisingly great.

With the return of football, fall is tail gating time. With a portable grill there are all kinds of possibilites. Here is one of my favorites based upon the “Pate of the South”, Pimento Cheese.

We think of pimento cheese as classically Southern but actually it probably has its roots in the north. One of my favorite food websites, Serious Eats, has a lively discussion of the history of pimento cheese here. So for your next tailgate (or any time) try one of my favorite burgers: Pimento Cheeseburgers.
Makes 6

You’ll have some pimento cheese left over unless you really pile it on your burger. Not a bad thing . It keeps nicely refrigerate for up to a week. Though its definitely not traditional, I often put a little sweet pickle relish in my pimento cheese.

1 pound grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup good-quality mayonnaise
One 7-ounce jar pimentos, drained and finely chopped
Big pinch of cayenne and drops of hot sauce to taste
2-1/2 pounds 80% lean ground chuck
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 hamburger buns, preferably onion flavored
Slices of tomato and iceberg lettuce leaves

In a medium bowl mix together the cheese, mayonnaise, and pimientos. If you need additional mayonnaise to make it creamy, add a little bit at a time. Season to taste with the cayenne and hot sauce.

Divide the ground beef into 6 equal portions and shape into patties about 3/4 inch thick. Remember to put a slight indentation into the center of each patty. Season both sides of the burgers liberally with salt and pepper.

Lightly oil the grill racks. Preheat your grill using all burners set on high and with the lid closed for 10 minutes. Place the burgers on the grill and lower the heat to medium. Grill for about 4 minutes. Turn the patties and continue grilling until they reach desired doneness, about 3 additional minutes for medium rare and 6 – 7 minutes for medium-well. During the last 2 minutes of cooking time, toast the buns, cut side down. At the last minute before taking the hamburgers off the grill, put a generous dollop of pimiento cheese on each burger. Take the buns from the grill and place on a platter. Place tomato slices and lettuce on each bun and top with a burger and the bun top. Enjoy immediately and don’t forget the wine!.
John Ash © 2014

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Can a GMO save our oceans?

Many of us have strong opinions about GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) and I confess I’ve been one that has been concerned about their development and use. But this article about a genetically modified yeast that can help save marine life is fascinating and provocative, and made me rethink my opposition to all GMO’s.

Let me know your opinion.

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The Best Grilled Cheese

Serves 4

I recently saw a recipe from Chef Gabrielle Hamilton of the famous Prune restaurant in Manhattan that reminded me of the same thing my Grandmother did many years ago.  The secret to the best and fastest grilled cheese you’ll ever have is:  Mayonnaise!  It won’t burn as easily as butter and the end result is crisp and delicious.  Try it with a chilled glass of your favorite white wine. You’ll be amazed!


8 1/2-inch thick slices of good rustic bread

1-1/2 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 cup mayonnaise

8 ounces shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese


Brush 4 of the bread slices with mustard and top with the cheese.  Place the remaining 4 slices of bread on top and spread with half the mayonnaise.

Heat a large non -stick frying pan or griddle over medium heat until hot, about 3 minutes.  Place the sandwiches mayonnaise side down in the pan and cook until the bottoms are golden brown and the cheese is starting to melt, about 4 minutes.  Spread the remaining half of the mayonnaise on top of the sandwiches, turn over and cook until the second sides are golden brown and the cheese completely melted, another 4 minutes or so.  You may have to do this in batches.  If so heat your oven to 275 degrees and place cooked sandwiches in the oven to keep warm while you finish the rest.

Let the sandwiches cool for a minute or two before cutting in half.


John Ash © 2014

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Perfect Burgers for Father’s Day

Grilling hamburgers is the best way to cook them in my opinion.

Grilling hamburgers is the best way to cook them in my opinion.

In recent years burgers have moved up from just being fast food faire to ultra chic and hip with top chefs creating all kinds of exotically flavored and constructed burgers including using outrageously expensive Kobe or Wagyu beef, stuffing them with Foie gras, wild mushrooms, truffles, the meat from braised short ribs or beef cheeks and more. I confess I’m one who likes mine in a simpler vein.

First we should probably define what a Burger or Hamburger is and where they came from. It all begin with a little history. According to Alan Davidson in his wonderful encyclopedic book The Oxford Companion to Food (Oxford University Press 1999), the word “hamburger” has a relatively short history and first showed up in print around 1890. Cooked, flavored patties of meat however date a long way back and appear in many cuisines. It’s thought that the port of Hamburg in Germany and its Hamburg Steak, enjoyed by sailors there who introduced it to others in their travels, is probably the birth place for burgers as we know them today. Their fate was sealed when”hamburgers” served in a bun were introduced at the St. Louis World Fair of 1904 and the rest is history as they say!

Here are some of my tips for making a great burger.

6 Secrets for a Great Grilled Beef Burger

1. The right meat and fat content is critical. I prefer ground sirloin or chuck with 15 to 20 % fat. The old axiom “fat is flavor” really applies here and fat is also what keeps the meat juicy. More fat however doesn’t necessarily make it better. I’ve tried burgers made with 25 and 30% fat and though delicious and juicy, at the end they left a greasy mouth feel. Ideally meat should be freshly ground and if you have a store with a kind butcher ask him or her to do that for you. Alternately you can grind your own.

2. Mix in whatever seasonings you are using very gently. Like pie dough, the more you handle the meat the tougher your burger. Loosely mix to incorporate seasonings and the gently but firmly form the patties. Wetting your hands will help too to prevent them from getting sticky and helps the meat to come together faster.

3. Make patties a little thinner in the center. I shoot for something like 1 inch on the edges and about 3/4 inch in the center. As the meat shrinks during cooking they’ll even out and the meat also will cook more evenly.

4. Keep the patties cold until you are ready to grill them. This keeps the fat firm and helps it stay in the meat adding flavor and juice which is what we are aiming for.

5. Cook on relatively high heat. Obviously make sure your grill is hot, clean and well oiled to prevent the burgers from sticking. Remember too that the hood is your friend. Open the vents so that the fire stays hot but put the lid on while cooking. This provides an even heat and takes advantage of the convection of the heat rising and circulating around the meat. Note: I’m in favor of grilling as opposed to cooking beef burgers in a pan. If you don’t want to fire up your grill however, a ridged grill pan on your stove top is an acceptable alternative.

6. Turn the burgers just once. Resist the temptation to constantly turn them. The more you turn the more you are likely to toughen and dry out the meat. Also if you turn too soon the burgers are more likely to stick to the grill. Never press on the burgers while they are cooking. The juices you squeeze out are where the flavor and moisture is.



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