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It is Boxing Day here in Canada and I am not venturing near a stove or oven — after all, even a cook needs some downtime. Because I enjoy sharing my food experiences with you, I thought I would tell you about our new family Christmas Eve tradition. My husband, Bryan, asked me if I would make Boeuf Bourguignon for Christmas Eve last year when we were watching the movie Julie & Julia. At first I thought he was kidding and sometimes it is difficult to tell with Bryan. However, he was being genuinely serious. With great trepidation I perused my cookbooks to find a recipe for the dish. He loved it so much that he asked for it again this year. It has the stigma of being fussy and difficult to make but it really isn’t as complicated as it first seems. I modified the recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook slightly by using triple A stewing beef. The wine I used was a lovely burgundy of which I purchased two bottles from the Vintages section of the LCBO on the recommendation of the Vintages manager. I will post more about the wine below the recipe.

boeuf bourguignon

makes 6 servings

6 strips bacon cut into 1/2-inch (12 mm) pieces
3 lbs (1.5 kg) beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 1/2 cm) cubes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
3 Tbsp all-purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) Cognac or other brandy
3 cups (24 fl oz/750 ml) Burgundy or other dry, full-bodied wine
1 1/2 cups 12 fl oz/375 ml) Beef Stock or prepared low-sodium broth
1 Tbsp tomato paste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb (500 g) white button mushrooms, quartered
7 ounces (220 g) fresh pearl onions, blanched and peeled (see note)
3 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). In a frying pan over medium-high heat, sauté the bacon until browned but not crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels.

Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the beef and brown on all side, 4-5 minutes per batch. Transfer the browned meat to a bowl and set aside.

Add the chopped onions and carrots to the pot and sauté over medium-high heat until the onions are lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, sprinkle the flour on top, and cook, stirring constantly, until the flour is incorporated, 1-2 minutes. Return the bacon and meat, along with any juices, to the pot.

Remove from the heat, add the Cognac, and flambé. Return to medium-low heat, add the wine, stock, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Transfer to the oven and braise, covered, until the meat is fork tender, about 2 hours. Discard the bay leaf.

Meanwhile, in a frying pan over medium-high heat, melt 2 Tbsp of the butter. Add the mushrooms and sauté until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Melt the remaining 1 Tbsp butter, add the pearl onions, and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) water, cover, and cook until the onions are softened, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms.

When ready to serve, stir the mushrooms, pearl onions, and 1 Tbsp of the parsley into the stew. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the remaining 2 Tbsp parsley. Serve at once.

Note: Peeling pearl onions… Sweeter and less sharp-tasting that full-sized onions, pearl onions are no more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, with papery skins. Because they hold their color and shape well when cooked, they make an attractive visual contrast in a deep brown stew or braise. To remove the skins, trim off the root ends and blanch the onions in a saucepan of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain, then quickly transfer to a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking. Drain again and peel off the loosened skins; they should fall away easily.

courtesy of The Williams-Sonoma Cookbook © 2008

The wine that I cooked with and served alongside the Boeuf Bourguignon was a classic French Burgundy — Le Bourgogne Pinot Noir 2008 from Chanson Père et Fils.

Tasting note: “After a beautiful spring, the weather at the start of summer was quite demanding.  It became fine again from the end of August with much sun and a cold wind, which aided concentration of flavours.  The harvest commenced in mid-September in perfect conditions under an Indian summer. Bright red colour with dark purple nuances. Intense aromas of red currant and liquorice with a hint of spice. Concentrated and complex. Refreshing and lively. Very pure fruit aromas. Spicy nuances in the finish.” – http://www.vins-chanson.com

My notes: This was a very nice pairing for the meal. At about $20 Canadian a bottle it is quite reasonable. Because it is a lighter red than the Cabernet Sauvignon that I often serve with beef, the leftover wine also made a good pairing for the roasted turkey that we enjoyed the next evening for Christmas dinner. I love the fruitiness of this wine and how it balances with the meats. It was also delicious on its own and the finish lingered nicely.

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mulled wine

mulled wine

In my last post I mentioned the Cookie Swap I hosted and the mulled wine. I had a few emails asking for the recipe and here it is. I used a Canadian Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon blend by Pelee Island Winery. Enjoy and toast to a Merry Christmas!

mulled wine

peel of 1/2 lemon
peel of 1 lime
peel and juice of 1 clementine
195 grams superfine granulated sugar
4 cloves
2 allspice berries
1 small bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
6 gratings fresh nutmeg or a scant 1/4 teaspoon
1 black cardamom pod cut in half
2 ounces cognac or brandy
5 cups dry red wine
2 whole star anise

Peel the citrus using a carrot peeler aka speed peeler. In a large saucepan add the lemon, lemon, and clementine peel to the juice and sugar. Add the spices except for the star anise and add the cognac. Pour enough wine over the mixture to just cover it. Heat over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Stir frequently. When the mixture has boiled add the remaining wine and the star anise. Heat gently for an additional 5 minutes and serve warm.

Okay, so I don’t really have a wine cellar. Well I do, but I never use it because the wine never seems to make it downstairs. I know a little about wine but I am, by no means, an expert. I have the philosophy of “drink what you enjoy” and leave the rest to the wine snobs. I hadn’t really had any wine since October of 2009 because of being pregnant and then with breast feeding. Now I’ve gone back to having a glass or two every couple of weeks. I love to learn about wine and the complexities of it even though I am a bit of a novice.

I thought I’d like to share a few of my latest discoveries…

I prefer wines with good tannins and I love the heavy reds. That said, I do enjoy a nice, full-bodied white wine from time-to-time. One of my favorite “new world” wines is the 2008 Toasted Head Chardonnay from California. It is one of the more flavorful Chardonnays I’ve had from North America and it lived up to its description.

Tasting note: “The nose offers ripe pineapple and peach aromas with toasted graham cracker. The bright straw color prepares the palate for the rich tropical fruit and luscious stone fruit with a viscous mouth feel accented by toasted coconut, vanilla and butterscotch. The creamy finish lingers with hints of buttered toast and lemon zest. This wine will pair well with creamy Italian pasta dishes, roasted chicken or fish, and fresh summer corn.” – from Toasted Head

My notes: I was a little surprised at the color and flavor of this wine. It is one of the tastiest new world Chardonnays I’ve tried. The color was a little richer than some of the other Chardonnays I’ve had in the past and the flavor was bold and delicious. There was a great toasty element that made the wine live up to the name of its winery. I served it with chicken that had been cooked on the rotisserie, golden baby potatoes mashed with cream and a fresh salad.

We were invited to the Olmsted’s for Thanksgiving dinner back in October so I went searching for a red wine to enjoy while sitting outside enjoying a gorgeous fall day. I was in the midst of trying to wrap up the manuscript for Another Fork in the Trail and had decided to take the full weekend off. When I went to the LCBO and wandered through the Vintages section I saw the perfect wine. It was a 2008 Cabernet Franc/Cabernet Sauvignon blend called The Procrastinator and was from the Wits End (Chalk Hill) winery in Australia. I have to say that I bought it just for the name of the winery and the wine… it just seemed fitting.

Tasting note: “Good colour; bright blue fruit with a pleasant seasoning of spice and floral aromatics; the palate is fleshy and concentrated, with good texture and focused acidity cleaning up the finish.” – James Halliday, http://www.winecompanion.com.au, Feb. 2009

My notes: This was a wine I quite enjoyed beyond the way the name made me smile. It was velvety, full and very dark. The color was simply gorgeous. I could really taste cherry and other rich berry flavors in this one. The wine had a beautiful finish that lingered perfectly on my palate. I wish I had purchased several bottles because when I returned to the store this past weekend the wine was no longer available, much to my dismay. Delicious! I’m going to have to see if I can find another bottle or three of this one.

Speaking of not being able to find The Procrastinator brings me to my next wine find. On Saturday we were going to our friend’s home for a birthday party. I popped into the LCBO hoping to get a bottle of Wits End’s Procrastinator. No luck. The lovely lady in the Vintages section showed me another wine from Wits End named Free Settler & The Convict. You have to love the creativity in naming these wines. Anyway, it was a Shiraz/Grenache blend from 2008. Anyone who knows me also knows I adore a good Shiraz so I thought I’d give this a try.

Tasting notes: “Opaque purple in colour, this crowd-pleasing red features a black fruit nose, and smoky aromas of chocolate, black licorice and blackberry. Add to that further flavours of raspberry, strawberry, mocha and herbs and you’ve got palate pleasure! Enjoy this ripe and round red tonight along with some burgers smothered in sharp cheddar.” – VINTAGES panel, Jan. 2010

My notes: I had a little of this wine before dinner. I liked it well enough, however, not as much as The Procrastinator. It had a lovely finish and I liked the chocolate and berry flavors which are common in Shiraz. The Grenache added a little more fruitiness which balanced nicely with the Shiraz. We had lasagna for dinner and this wasn’t the perfect wine for the meal. In hindsight a vintage Ruffino Chianti would have been a better choice but I still enjoyed the wine. I think it might have paired beautifully with a nice slice of chocolate torte!

Last but not least is a Canadian find. We were having Steak au Poivre for dinner. I was in a hurry so I just went to the little wine shop in Sobey’s Grocery Store. I enjoy the Inniskillin Meritage on occasion but thought I’d try one of their East West Series wines — a 2008 Cabernet/Shiraz blend. This blend is made from Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon from their Okanagan vineyards and Cabernet Franc from the Niagara-On-The-Lake vineyards.

Tasting notes: “This wine shows the full bodied complexity of the West with the approachable aromatics and texture of the East. Layers of dark chocolate, black cherry, and spice aromas and flavours deliver a wine with excellent mouth feel with an extended finish and soft tannins.This wine is an ideal match with prime rib, leg of lamb, grilled steak, roast venison, and cheddar or other aged cheeses.” – from Inniskillin.com

My notes: It was a good pairing for the steak and it held up well to the richness of the dish. It had a good finish. The spice of the Shiraz worked well with the pepper. I was pleasantly surprised and would purchase this one again.

In closing, I’d like to mention cooking with wine. I like to do this as it can add a complexity to a dish. I just wanted to say to avoid “cooking wines”. Always cook with a wine that you’d enjoy drinking because if it doesn’t taste great in the glass it is not going to taste good in your dish.

Remember… if you are going to indulge during this holiday season — don’t drink and drive.

The Monday afternoon before Christmas I was watching an episode of Ricardo and Friends on Food Network Canada called Ski Trip.

ice cider

ice cider

The group of friends enjoyed dessert with a glass of an apple ice cider (apple ice wine) called Neige. It really caught my interest. In the episode, Ricardo visits La Face Cachée de la Pomme, the winery where Neige is made.

The winery makes some ice ciders where the apples are left to freeze on the tree and the process actually cooks the apples. For Neige the apples are pressed into a cider and left to ferment in the cold winter weather of Quebec. It takes a lot more apples and effort than I could have imagined to make just one bottle of the apple ice wine. The process is called Cryoconcentration. There are specific standards that have to be achieved for a cider to be classed as an ice cider.

It just so happened that my husband was in Montreal until December 23 and I asked him to pop by the Quebec store called SAQ to see if he could find a bottle of Neige for us to try on Christmas Eve. He managed to get the last bottle that they had.

On Christmas Eve, after our 7 year old went to bed, Bryan poured us each a glass. We snuggled by the Christmas tree reminiscing about the wonderful Christmases we’ve had together over the past 17 years. It was wonderful.

Of course, you will want to know more about this ice cider. I was expecting the sweetness of an ice wine made from grapes. I am not a fan of ice wine usually.

Neige is different. It has a great apple flavor and a tartness that I did not anticipate. I could see why Chef Ricardo paired this with a Rustic Apple, Pear and Date Pie as it would go beautifully.

If you get the chance to try Neige, I highly recommend it. It is an unusual and delicious beverage to serve with a dessert or to enjoy on a romantic evening by the glowing lights of the Christmas tree or a crackling fire.