Red Carpet Stars

Well another year of TIFF has wrapped up and Toronto has seen many stars walk the red carpet for their film premieres.

But besides the usual suspects there was another celebrity in town. Famous in his own right, 2-star Michelin Chef, Oliver Glowig was also here. He rolled out the red carpet for a special chef’s table dinner at the Ritz Carlton’s TOCA restaurant and Lis and I were lucky enough to be two of the eight people invited.

The food was a delight to the senses, with bright, vibrant colours that were a feast for the eyes. The sizzle as the swordfish hit the grill signaled another delicious dish was coming and watching the chef hand make the ravioli let you know only the freshest ingredients were being used. As six courses were presented over the evening the flavour explosions brought a taste of Italy to our mouths thanks to the skill of Chef Glowig and his amazing team.

For every course there was a terrific wine pairing and one of the delights of visiting TOCA means you get to try something you won’t always find at your local liquor store.  We started off the evening with a deliciously light sparkling Falanghina Brut DUBL from the Campania region of Southern Italy served by sommelier Taylor Thompson.  Each dish was accompanied by a wine chosen to bring out the flavours of the food and they didn’t disappoint.

Getting rave reviews was the “Ravioli Capresi” stuffed with caciotta and marjoram, served with a cherry tomato and fresh basil sauce. Maybe it was  because Chef shared the secret of how the delicate ravioli were made but I’m pretty sure it was because they tasted truly amazing.  Some of the eight at the table were even willing to give up dessert for another crack at this dish and I was in total agreement.

While chef Oliver Glowig has now flown back to Italy to handle the affairs of his own restaurant in Rome, you can enjoy the menu he created for TOCA any time at Toronto’s Ritz Carlton.

Green Wine & Onion Pie; A Delicious Harvest Tradition

0-1Considering the time of you year you’d think the harvest would long be over in the Niagara region but apparently not.  I know growers leave grapes to freeze for making ice wine but figured everything else would already have been picked, put through the crushers and furiously fermenting.

0Last weekend Lis and I were invited to Vineland Estates to take part in the wine club members event called “Bring Your Boots”.  And believe me when I say that when we woke up Saturday morning I knew we weren’t going anywhere without ours. Not knowing if the event would be cancelled we decided to chance it and headed to Niagara.

0-4There was already about a dozen or more cars in the parking lot and everyone looked ready to tackle the elements in order to pick the Riesling grapes from the club’s vineyard.  But here’s the thing –  it’s not that you can’t pick grapes in the pouring rain you just can’t harvest them because the water clinging to the grapes would dilute the wine when the grapes get crushed.

So what do you do with 50 or so captive wine lovers? Let them drink wine of course! Brian Schmidt the wine maker at Vineland brought everyone into the beautiful carriage house on the estate and regaled us with funny stories, interesting information about the wine making process and led a tasting that even included something called green wine.  I’m far from an expert but as far as I know there’s red, white and rosé so what in the heck is green wine?

0-3It’s not really a varietal or a colour but the word “green” translates into “young” as opposed to a mature wine.  Brian told us drinking the wine like this was a German tradition that came out of harvest time and was often served with a zwiebelkuchen (onion pie or tart). He said they’re served together because  combined they create a flavour explosion in your mouth, and he wasn’t kidding.  We were told to have a sip of the wine, a small bite of our tart and another sip of the wine, which really just made you want more.

0-2The wine itself didn’t look all that appealing since it was sort of cloudy but that’s because it was still going through the fermentation process and all the sediment had not settled as of yet.  Had anyone else served me this wine I would have thought they were kidding but as part of Brian’s tasting lecture that day it was delicious and added another check mark to something I’d never tried before.

So if you think it’s too late in the year to head down to Niagara it’s definitely not…check out the tasting rooms, restaurants and in the case of Vineland there’s even an amazing cheese shop on the property.  Go local and enjoy the flavours offered up not far from your front door.

 

 

 

 

 

Around The World; One Bottle At A Time

When it comes to wine, just like travel we all have our regular go to destination…each spring I visit a stretch of the Mayan Riviera that I just love and while there are definitely other great beaches in the world for some reason every year I return to same place.  It’s the same with wine, considering there is so much great wine from around the world I always seem to go back to the Italian ones.

0-1Trying to step out of my comfort zone this summer I decided I would take a trip around the world one bottle at a time via the wines offered up at my local liquor store.  Considering I live in the burbs the selection isn’t half bad.  My buggy was full and the total came to a tidy sum but I tried to make sure I kept to bottles under $20 so as not to break the bank because even for this adventure there was a budget.

I ended up with wines from Spain, Alsace, France, South Africa, Italy, California, Australia and even a couple of local ones from Ontario.  Some I loved, some not so much and others really surprised me when I wasn’t expecting them to. Here’s the ones that really surprised me and are worth taking a trip to the liquor store for.

0-3Red Guitar: Old Vine Trempranillo Garnach 2010 Navarra,Spain $12.95 (total steal) My husband and I were totally surprised by this one as we tend to shy away from Spanish wines.  I’m not sure why, as Spain is well known for some really great wine but usually I defer to Italy when it comes to full-bodied reds. This has a deep ruby colour and tasted of rich dried fruits and spices. It was terrific with the grilled t-bone steak and fingerling potatoes.  We both said we would definitely buy it again.

0-2Porcupine Ridge 2012 Syrah Swartland, South Africa $14.95 This comes from the boekenhoutskloof winery
and is named after the crested porcupines that live in the region. Tasting of blackberries, spices and vanilla it’s also a great match for grilled meats and we enjoyed it with pork tenderloin medallions, fingerling potatoes (these are my hubby’s favourites so they make the menu a lot), ripe tomatoes with a dash of olive oil, salt, pepper and some fresh basil.

0Willy Gisselbrecht Sylvaner 2011 Alsace $13.95 But it’s now on clearance for $10.25 so if you want to try it you’ll have to hurry.   This is a terrific full-bodied white wine that goes extremely well with seafood especially oysters.  Certainly not as appreciated as a Riesling which is definitely the most respected grape varietal from Alsace, a Sylvaner from a good producer can certainly hold it’s own.  It was cool and refreshing and as I’ve already searched the LCBO data base I’m going to my local store where they still have 6 bottles to pick up the rest.

Ascheri Barbera D’Alba $14.45 Piemonte, North West Italy this one was recommended by a friend who had it recommended to them by the sommelier who insisted it was a great go to wine if it’s on the wine list when you are out for dinner.  The first time I tried it I knew this would be something I’d have on hand in the cellar for those everyday occasions.  Made from 100% Barbera grapes which have now become the third most-planted red grape variety in Italy after Sangiovese and Montepulciano.  It’s medium bodied and amazing with pasta.

So take a chance because you never know what you’ll find and hey for under $20 you can barely get lunch at a fast food joint never mind a great bottle of wine to go with dinner.

Are you willing to take a chance and step out of your comfort zone?  If you find a great wine you’d like to share let us know.

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

Lobster Pairings with Love from Maine

Gifts from the Maine Coast
Gifts from the Maine Coast

One of the truly wonderful pleasures of traveling to the coast of Maine each year is the anticipation of the perfect summer meal: lobster.

To me, it is as much a sign of summer as the scent of wild roses that line the sea wall, the sand that finds its way into every crevice in the cottage, and the damp towels hanging over the railing.

Chipper has been providing lobster to my family and friends for as long as I can remember. Look up Central Casting for Lobster Fisherman and you will find his picture. He is the real deal. He has the New England twang, the weathered complexion from years of early mornings at sea, and a perpetually cheerful attitude.  Chip is always  smiling, always happy to see you,  and he is the most accurate weather forecaster on the planet.(Sorry, Jeff Hutcheson)

A Palace by Any Other Name
Chipper’s Lobster Shack

The first time I cracked a lobster it was from Chip’s Catch of the day. He held a huge party in his workshop some years back and steamed more lobsters than I had ever seen. His family and friends, his loyal summer friends and their friends feasted on the freshest claws and tails all night, then danced off the garlic butter. One year he took all the kids and a few of the adults out on his boat to show us his favourite lobstering spots.

This year a glut of lobster pushed down the market price making it almost impossible to earn a living.  So Chip took his tasty catches and friendly attitude and opened up his own lobster shack. He steams them on the spot, sells them at bargain prices and sells out pretty much every day. One or two for the night’s feast and one for a homemade lobster roll the day after.

It doesn’t hurt that this year’s catch is the tastiest ever.

Dinner In the Making
Dinner In the Making

So what to pair with your lobster feast, or the next-day delicious lobster roll? Something light and crisp such as Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris is a good choice for the main event. Tread carefully with the Chardonnays because some can be too creamy for the rich lobster meat. And for day after rolls, you cannot go wrong with some sparkling like Prosecco.

For our first traditional steamed lobster feast, the gals went with a Sauvignon Blanc (rapidly becoming my favourite white this summer).

Bring on the Crisp Coppola
Bring on the Crisp Coppola

Coppola Sauvignon Blanc 2012 Diamond Collection – vibrant, fresh, grassy and crisp.  It was a perfect match and so was the price –  $12.00 (US prices but a good crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will never steer you wrong). One of my personal favourites is  Dog Point Vineyard 2012 at $22.95.

Pouilly Fuisse Extrordinaire
Pouilly Fuisse Extrordinaire

 

 

Pouilly Fuisse 2011 Louis Jadot from Maconnais, France at $22.00. Citrus and vanilla notes and ever-so-gently oaked that did not overpower. This was a perfect Chardonnay for the meal.

Then Alex arrived…bearing wine. Alex Manikas is the owner of Toronto’s uber steakhouse Bardi’s which has received the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 1994. And he brought two winners.

grothGroth 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from the Napa Valley.  Mama Mia that was  one spectacular wine! Rich, crisp, aromatic and only $19.00. Unfortunately purchased here and not available at the LCBO, but if you are traveling to the US, put it on the list!

Then out came the star of the night. And it was a shining Chardonnay.

The Shining Chardonnay
The Shining Chardonnay

Talbott 2011 Chardonnay Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Monterey County, California.  This is a big Chardonnay, but so well- balanced, the flavours performed as harmoniously as the Beach Boys in their heyday.  It has a buttery rich feel with notes of pear, peach and the oak did not overwhelm. Thank you Alex.

And for the sparkle..

La Marca Prosecco
La Marca Prosecco

La Marca Prosecco DOC from Italy LCBO $17.95 $13.95 US (ouch) This lovely was perfectly chilled and an ideal pair for just about anything including our day-after Lobster Roll.

Doesn’t it just make you want to visit your nearest lobster pound? If you are ever in on Route 9 between Kennebunkport and Cape Porpoise – drop in on Chipper. You will not go home disappointed!

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The Maine Event; When life’s a beautiful beach

There are times in many of our lives where the pure joy and bliss you feel is hard to describe. Generally they come from time spent with the ones we love, witnessing a wedding or cradling a new-born baby.  And while those are extremely special moments mine came during a recent trip to a beach house in Maine.

stairsGrowing up I was never one of those girls who spent endless hours giggling on the phone with friends and I seemed to understand the ways of boys better than teenage girls.  But as I get older I greatly cherish the relationships I’ve built with a particular group of women introduced to me by my blog writing partner, Lis. Her extremely giving nature draws people in and over the years she’s generously shared her closest friends with me.  And oh what lovely friends they are…smart, funny, accomplished, beautiful and generous of spirit.

beachFor thirty years Lis and her family have rented a beach house in Maine each summer for a couple of weeks enjoying the sun, sand and warm ocean breeze…ok, occasionally the breeze isn’t so warm since we are talking about the Atlantic.  This year she arranged the house for an extra week themed around wine, women and song and invited 5 friends including myself.

cartThe six of us drove down in a caravan of two cars and the laughter of the road set the tone for the week along with our first shopping trip to the liquor store.  I know it looks like a lot but we thought it would last, ha who were we kidding. There were equal amounts of white and red from around the world and if you’re looking closely even a bottle gin in the corner of the cart to start off cocktail hour.

all on the beachMornings were meant for long walks on the beach (exercise was necessary after all the food and wine) but no pressure if you just wanted to laze around the house and have a second cup of coffee. Days were for sitting in the sun, reading beach books, swimming in the ocean and sipping wine.

lynnOur nights were filled with delicious dinners, more wine and singing along to Lis’ amazing playlist. Some days we even sat on the beach long after everyone else had left just chatting as the sun went down. And as the tide went out again in the late evening we sometimes snuck back down to the beach whispering and laughing as we walked in the dark along the water’s edge.

puzzleIt was all so uncomplicated and easy as if we’d been friends for life.  Everyone chipped in with the cooking and cleaning and there was even a big jigsaw puzzle on the table that everyone just seemed to pick away at in hopes of finding that one elusive piece nobody could find. I’m extremely competitive so it almost killed me to leave before the puzzle was finished.

At the end of the week I was the first to leave and I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and believe when I say I’m not the mushy type. But at a certain age when you start to feel like the world doesn’t see you anymore these women made me feel amazing not only about myself but the possibilities of what life still has to offer.

book&wineSitting there with my toes in the sand, the sound of the waves washing against the shore I realized life couldn’t be more perfect.  So for all the times life lets you down remember there will be other times when life’s a beautiful beach.  We’ve only been apart for a short time but I’m missing my marvelous friends and hope this is the beginning of an amazing new tradition.

 

 

 

 

 

Pinot and Pasta; The Perfect Pair

0My husband loves pasta.  Pretty much any pasta but one of his favourite dishes is Spaghetti alla Carbonara (Spaghetti with Eggs and Bacon) and it’s super simple to make.  Not only is it delicious, it takes hardly any time and as he does most of the cooking during the week I’m happy to oblige when he requests this dish.

Since every great pasta dish deserves a good Italian wine this is no exception and you even add a bit of the wine to the recipe. Before I started cooking I popped downstairs to see what was in the wine rack (I dream of a cellar but I’m not there yet) because I generally have more red than white on hand.  0-4

There was a bottle of Tommasi Le Rosse Pinot Grigio there and I figured it would be perfect for this dish.  Generally recommended to go with a salad plate or soft cheeses I knew this cool crisp wine would beautifully offset the creaminess of the pasta dish.  It’s available in ON at the LCBO for $14.95 but it’s also available in QC, BC, AB and MB but the cost varies.  You can also order it through RKW Wine Imports by the case if you’re interested.

While recipes vary there are a few key ingredients you’ll need for the dish; cheese (Romano, parmesan, or a combination), egg yolks (or whole eggs), some sort of cured, fatty pork (bacon or pancetta) and black pepper.  Here’s my recipe:

2 tbsp Extra Virgin Oil, 2 tbsp butter, 8 strips bacon cut into 1/4 inch strips, 1/2 cup dry white wine, 3 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese, 1 large clove garlic, freshly ground black pepper (lots and lots) and 1 lb. spaghetti

0-2Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil and generously salt it.  Then take a large bowl and whisk the 3 yolks and whole egg together.  Get a large pasta bowl and whisk the 3 yolks and whole egg together, grate in the cheese and add some freshly ground pepper. I usually like to have this done so you can add the cooked bacon to this mixture (of course you’ll want to sip on some wine while your working).

0-3Put the butter in the pan, and on medium heat saute the bacon until well browned but not crisp.  Turn down the heat and add the minced garlic so it gently cooks not fries.  You’ll notice the only salt is in the pasta water because since most bacon is already well salted you don’t really need to add more salt.  Add the wine and continue cooking tip the liquid is slightly reduced.  Take the pan off the burner and let it cool so you don’t scramble the eggs when you pour it into the egg and cheese mixture.  Once your pasta is cooked al dente, drain well and immediately pour into the egg, cheese, bacon mixture – the heat from the pasta will cook the eggs but remember to toss continuously so the eggs don’t scrabble.  Serve with a generous amount of more freshly ground pepper.

Eat immediately but try not to eat the entire bowl (I will confess at our house there is rarely left overs).  Oh…and of course enjoy the bottle of cool crisp Pinot Grigio.

 

Progressive Dinner; Fun With Food and Wine

When you live in the burbs and downtown is an eighty dollar cab ride away, going out with friends to a nice restaurant can get expensive.  So how do you enjoy a delicious meal,  good wine, the company of great friends without the big bill?

0Well, a few years ago I approached three couples in my neighbourhood that we regularly hang out with and suggested we form a dinner club to get us through the long boring winter and they loved the idea.  Once a month we hold a progressive dinner, traditionally done by starting at one person’s house for appetizers, moving to the next for the main meal and again to another house for dessert.  This seemed like way too much work so I changed the rules.

0-1Each month one couple holds the dinner at their house and they’re in charge of the main meal while the others provide the appetizer, soup or salad and then dessert. We rotate the houses and who makes what, ensuring the same person doesn’t get stuck making the same thing each time.  Everyone gets dressed up (no jeans allowed) so it feels like a special evening and the dinners are themed on international cuisine, or even an event like the Oscars.  Each course is paired with a wine, beer or cocktail that suits the dish or at least we give it the good old college try.

One members of the group is a true foodie (I think his TV is stuck on the Food Network) and this time around he thought we should switch it up so he came up with a bunch of cooking challenges and then picked four out of a hat.  Here’s what we wound up with:

  1. Food made with fire
  2. Breakfast for Dinner
  3. Pizza as a comfort food
  4. Food based on a colour

The categories were assigned and you could get as creative as you wanted and here’s what we ended up with:

  1. Chicken skewers and roasted veggies on the grill paired with Cave Spring Riesling from Ontario
  2. Devilled eggs with smoked salmon & capers along with white and sweet potato Rosti – a Swiss hash brown paired with Italian Proseco
  3. Wings with Blue Cheese dip on a pizza -this was amazing and the hit of the night (no wine – the boys said it had to be beer) see recipe below
  4. RED velvet cake pair with Inniskillin Riesling Ice Wine

There was lots of good wine, and some not so good (Girl’s Night Out is not really a wine – more of a cooler if you must know) lots of laughs and best of all we could all just walk home

Buffalo Wing Style Chicken Pizza
2 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cooked and cubed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (2 ounce) buffalo wing sauce
1 (8 ounce) bottle blue cheese salad dressing (Renee’s is great for this)
1 (16 inch) prepared pizza crust
1 (8 ounce) package shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
Cook up the 2 chicken breasts in a pan then cube
In a medium bowl combine the cubed chicken, melted butter and wing sauce. Mix well.
Spread half the bottle of salad dressing over crust, then top with chicken mixture and sprinkle with shredded cheese.
Bake in preheated oven until crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 5 to 10 minutes. Let set a few minutes before slicing, and serve.