Though the East Coast can boast a couple of producers, such as Uncouth Vermouth and Atsby, much of the new action is on the West Coast. I tasted these vermouths neat and on the rocks, fascinated by how different they were and also by how difficult it is to untangle the flavors. They're also changelings. The initial impression can give way to a completely different impression a few minutes later. Straight out of the bottle, vermouths are as complex as any cocktail. Just add a big ice cube, sip slowly and settle in for a workout for every one of your taste buds. Some of these may be hard to find; Binny's Beverage Depot in Chicago is a good place to look, www.binnys.com.

Just what is a sommelier and how do you use one? It's important if you're having dinner in an elegant restaurant with your boss, future in-laws or new squeeze you're trying to impress.

Sour and gooey. Sweet and syrupy. Yech! Just a few of the comments heard when I mentioned vermouth. The old-school aperitif and mixer of brandy-fortified wine steeped in myriad botanicals elicits strong - and often wrong-headed - opinions.

When the weather is hot, my enthusiasm for complicated cooking fades. I stay away from dishes that take a long time to prepare or require slow braises in the oven.

Dear SOS: I had a wonderful soup at Angelini Osteria. It was a tomato-based soup that was the best I've ever had in my life. Full of vibrant flavor. I have emailed the restaurant, but they have not replied. It may be that there is no recipe - just a cook's inspiration of the night before, who knows? But I would love to see if you can get them to share.

You know those squeezable pouches that toddlers and preschoolers love to use? Effectively mess-proof, they're great for on-the-go snacking.

The origin of pizza is obscure; what it has become is not. Anything goes, as this multicolored Tex-Mex version well shows. In the spirit of the dish, why not have some fun with wines to accompany it? Easily done, for the world of wine is chockablock with bottlings of offbeat grape varieties and from far-flung locales. Play with color, too, because white, pink (sparkling!) or red will do here. As for a style of wine, however, be sure that it is also light on its feet; that is, fresh and lively with crisp, cleansing acidity.

Good heavens, there's another new flavor of Oreo cookies! It's Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, represented with yet another two-color filling swirl - in this case, peanut butter and chocolate. As with other recent "limited edition" Oreos, the bag of the Reese's version weighs 12.2 ounces, for the same price as the 14.3-ounce bags of regular Oreos. Oddly, the 15.25-ounce bags of Peanut Butter Oreos seem to have disappeared.

An outdoor cookout or potluck is not complete without some sort of a pasta salad. It's the go-to salad that goes a long way. And it's the type of salad where just about anything goes. Use leftover chopped vegetables, lean cooked and cubed meats and combine with a creamy dressing or vinaigrette.

Mary Beth York from Niles, Mich., was copying some old recipes a friend had collected over the years and stuck in the back of a cookbook from 1942 when she came across one called "Crisco Breath o' Spring" cake. Unfortunately, there was some damage to the recipe and she was unable to read parts of it. Apparently, the recipe was on the label of a can of Crisco, but when York contacted the Crisco company, she was told that they do not save all their old recipes and no longer had the one she was looking for. York was hoping someone still had the recipe and would be willing to share it with her.

Add a tangy, cool salad topped with blue cheese dressing to balance the heat of these fiery Buffalo-style chicken legs. The heat level is up to you.

Camp fosters the cowgirl fantasy. Wake early. Brush down and saddle up. Ride the trails, humming. Then break for breakfast: apple pie with cheddar cheese.

If you tried making strawberry freezer jam recently and couldn't get it to set, the blame may lie with a bad recipe mistakenly inserted into boxes of Sure-Jell regular pectin.

What it is: A black lager from Salt Lake City's Uinta Brewing. The black lager enjoys a deep beer history - in Germany it's called Schwarzbier - that amounts to the light body and easy drinkability of a lager (most of the nation's major beers are lagers) but with the pleasant curveball of dark, roasted character. However, black lagers are relatively rare in American craft brewing. That's too bad, because they're perfect summer beers for someone who wants to drink lighter, lower-alcohol brews without sacrificing flavor (and who isn't in the mood for a hop-forward beer). Bonus points for being certified organic.

Royal Bavarian Schnitzel Haus in Miami serves a tangy yet light German potato salad that makes a great dish to complement your summer barbecue.

Q: My cracker recipe calls for rolling the dough thinly between two sheets of parchment paper. When I try it, the parchment slips all over the counter. How can I hold it in place?

From an experienced hand at Grenache and grapes farmed biodynamically comes this bright, juicy Sonoma Grenache. The 2012 Quivera Grenache from Wine Creek Ranch is silky and smooth, tasting of black cherries and dried wild herbs. It's delicious and easygoing, but with some depth and character.

The Yonanas Frozen Treat Maker earns hosannas from youthful dessert eaters, yet the alpha male isn't convinced this machine can turn slightly thawed fruit into a healthful treat that looks and tastes like soft-serve ice cream.

When the weather is hot, my enthusiasm for complicated cooking fades. I stay away from dishes that take a long time to prepare or require slow braises in the oven.

Here are terms and ingredients you'll see at ramen shops.

News flash: Americans now drink more wine than any other country in the world.

I buy more fresh salmon than I need for dinner. Not because I'm lured by the mammoth slabs sold at warehouse clubs or its, well, salmon color. It's because salmon's texture and richness work well oven-roasted or grilled. Those same qualities make the leftovers perfect for a second meal.

It's difficult to fathom that back-to-school mania is but a mere month or two away. Assuredly kids and teens everywhere will cling to the last dog days of summer, sucking up every last ray of sun and fun. Take heed from the young ones, ye adults, and go out with a last-summer blowout. Who better to consult for big-kid celebrations than the Queen of cuisine, creativity, and cool, Nadia G, Host of Cooking Channel's, "Bite This with Nadia G."

Americans consume 818 hot dogs every second between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day, according to the National Hot Dog & Sausage Council.

Don't settle for the same old backyard barbecue menu! With these easy recipes and techniques, you can bring a new zip to classic dishes while still keeping their kid appeal.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you know by now I feel pork, specifically pork loin, is one of the best grilling and cooking meats there is. It is lean, affordable and versatile. In today's column I will encourage you to go out and buy a pork loin and prepare two great meals: one on the grill and one in the kitchen. Sometimes you can find pork loin on sale for $2.99 per pound. You will always pay under $4 per pound at a supermarket. It will be a bit more expensive at a premium meat shop, but well worth it. I bought a 5-pound loin and split it evenly between these two recipes.

Our version of this classic Italian dessert combines the flavors of sweet vanilla bean and fresh summer berries.

Quick, while the berries are still full of their summer flavor, go grab a bunch and throw together this delicious berry tart.

Almost 200 years ago - Sept. 14, 1814, to be exact - Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics to our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Madeira is the Doctor Who of wine. With it, in it, through it, you will travel through time as with no other wine.

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