Al Spoler | WYPR

Al Spoler

Host, Cellar Notes and Radio Kitchen

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.

His most rewarding immersion in cooking came through his work as a television director at MPT.  Spoler served as off-line editor and assistant director on two series featuring the legendary French chef Pierre Franey.  He also worked with Mexican chef Patricia Quintana, and with Bed and Breakfast expert Gail Greco on her series "Country Inn Cooking". Al says traveling all over the US visiting country inns and taping recipes that they prepared in little makeshift television kitchens was an incredible education.

Spoler's tastes in cooking are influenced by regional tradition and contemporary casual French fare. Never slavish to recipes, he is never happier than improvising a Sunday dinner with whatever ingredients come to hand.

With St. Patrick's Day looming large more than a handful of people are contemplating beer and how to best use it.  Now if I were making a list of things to do with beer, numbers 1 through 9 would be to drink it.  But slot #10 would actually be how to cook with it.  And as Chef Jerry Pellegriono of Schola Cooking Schol notes, we use various liquids in millions of recipes, why not use beer?

Off the top of his head, Jerry came up with four great uses for beer in cooking:beer batters, especially tempura, which takes advantage of beer's carbonation; braising liquids which utilize beer's natural acidity; in stew and chili recipes, which like the richness of a darker beer; and in baking where you can take advantage of some of the exotic flavors that are found in today's beer.

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Al and Hugh give some picks for light and bright wines to have on your table this spring.

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The first spinach, which often has been exposed to cold crisp air, is often the sweetest.  Besides its marvelous flavor, spinach is, as Popeye averred, really healthy for you.  It's a great nutrient delivery vehicle, and the only caveat we can offer is not to over-cook it. Al and Chef Jerry Pellegrino give two spinach recipes that'll keep you feeling strong and satisfied!

French Reds

Feb 28, 2018
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Al and Hugh give their picks for some French reds you can trust. 

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If any of us are competent home cooks, it's because we have accumulated hundreds and hundreds of small little lessons on how to do it right. And if you spend as much time talking cooking with Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School as Jerry do, you will pick up a think or two. Here are just a few of hundreds of tips Jerry has complied.

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This is the season of the root vegetable, the heartiest and most die-hard of Maryland produce, the food that just keeps on giving. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School will tell you, perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy winter root vegetables is in a root vegetable soup.

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Al and Hugh recommend some Ogier wines from the complex Rhone Valley. 

Winter Tapas

Feb 13, 2018
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Having been in Spain last Spring, Al came back with all sorts of ideas about serving tapas to his friends when they came over.  One might think tapas are warm weather concepts to, but it ain't necessarily so. There are cold winters in Spain, but that doesn't mean the tapas hibernate. 

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Al and Hugh discuss some interesting Grenache wines from France. 

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Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School and I invited a long-time friend of the show, Liz Nuttle to come on and tell us how the creative application of oils and vinegars can make a huge difference.

Say oil and most people think olive oil, especially the authentic extra virgin kind.  But most oils come not from fruit (which the olive is) but from nuts and seeds.  Some of the most popular include our favorite, roasted sesame seed oil, almond oil, hazelnut oil, sunflower oil, grape seed oil, macadamia nut oil, peanut oil, pumpkin seed oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil.

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Al and Hugh give their picks for Spanish Garnachas, a red grape variety. 

Goulash

Jan 30, 2018
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I sometimes wonder if the concept of long, slow cooking didn't develop in the bleak mid-winter.  There's something about filling your home, hour after hour, with the aromas of something tasty bubbling away in a kettle. One such dish that I try to make at least once a winter is goulash, that soul satisfying stew of slowly cooked beef and onions...and of course a bowl full of spices. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School can vouch for this, it should come as no surprise that goulash comes in about a million different versions, as is typical of most simple, irresistible dishes.

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During these cold, dark weeks I like to pass the time cozying up with some of my old cookbooks.  One book I return to time and again is called "Scheherazade's Feast" by Habeeb Salloum.  The book finds inspiration in the cuisine of the medieval Arab world, including the region of Morocco. The recipes are adapted for the modern kitchen, and as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School can attest, Moroccan cooking is outright fabulous. And to boot, it pairs up extremely well with locally produced Maryland meats, seafood and vegetables.

MERF Wines

Jan 24, 2018
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Hugh and Al give us the lowdown on a new value wine distributed by the well-known Pacific Northwest winemaker David "Merf" Merfeld.

Madeira

Jan 17, 2018
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One type of fortified wine that has fallen off the radar is Madeira. Al and Hugh tell us more about the wine and give their picks. 

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A few weeks ago we offered our listeners a long list of handy holiday gifts for home cooks.  One of our suggestions was the new sous vide systems that use a submersible wand to handle the temperature control side of things.  So guess what?  I ended up getting one for Christmas, and I've already used it a couple times.  With Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School at my side with advice, I am confident that I will master this technique.

Seasonal Ales

Jan 10, 2018

A little heavier and a little higher in alcohol content, these are the beers you want to warm up with this winter.

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How are those New Year's Resolutions going? I wonder how many of our promises involve food? Lose weight, cut down on this and that, eat fewer snacks. Maintaining a healthy diet is a fantastic way to contribute to your health, and Chef Jerry Pellegrino has noticed, once a new approach to eating sets into your lifestyle, it becomes a habit and pretty easy to stick to.

This year we are going to concentrate on minimizing fats. One great technique is to cook "en papillote", i.e. cooking in parchment paper. Kitchen grade parchment paper is pretty easy to find in quality grocery stores.

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Al and Hugh revisit wines they tasted in 2017 that deserve a mention. 

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The first few weeks of the New Year are a perfect time for dining with friends. To make your dinners a little more festive you can dress up your desserts by whipping up a few creative tarts and pies. Chef Jerry Pellegrino has some great ideas.    

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You gotta have bubbles this time of year! Al shares some of his favorites. 

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You've got a week to get ready, so let's cracking on a first class New Year's Eve party menu. This is when you want to get in touch with your "Inner Pellegrino" and let it all hang out. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School has put together some ideas for folks to try.

Shopping Lists

Dec 20, 2017
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Al and Hugh review their favorite wines from this year, which would be great for gifts. 

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We've been talking a lot about holiday traditions this month, and one of the most ancient is a little treat called Plum Pudding. Making a proper Plum Pudding involves a few techniques that most Americans aren't familiar with. But we've got you covered. 

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Al and Hugh discuss the wines of Jess Stonestreet Jackson, which the hosts say is one of the most important figures in the California wine industry in the last 30-40 years.

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Kids all over love this time of year, with the presents, the holidays, the cookies, it's all dreamland.  One of the perennial props for this time of year is a project that you can take on with your kids.  In Chef Jerry Pellegrino's opinion, nothing says winter holidays like a Gingerbread House.

Kosher Wines

Dec 6, 2017
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Kosher wine has come a long way in quality and variety. Hugh and Al discuss this list of kosher wines from Quarry Wine and Spirits, and they learn what makes a wine kosher. 

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The next few weeks will be a season of traditional celebration with lots of big hearty dinners.  So let's say you're going to be serving a big old roast beef; what is one of the best accompaniments?  Anyone from Great Britain will answer enthusiastically, Yorkshire Pudding! But as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School has observed, this is one of those dishes that draws a puzzled shrug from most Americans.

Chianti Regions

Nov 29, 2017
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The name Chianti comes from the Chianti region in central Tuscany. Al and Hugh give some picks from the many subregions. 

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If you have a foodie, a gourmet chef, or a good old fashioned home cook on your shopping list, gift ideas are not hard to come up with. And as Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Schola Cooking School can attest, the Internet has made shopping for the kitchen very easy and very inspiring. Here's a few things we'd like to see under the tree.

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