Kerri Henman - winesconstantly.ca

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January 11, 2010

A little bit of this; a little bit of that….

It’s (way past) time I got back into this site, so I thought I’d start the New Year with new energy, new wines, and details of a new direction I’ve been exploring.

Recently, I re-connected with someone I went to public school with. Turns out, we both have a big interest in wine, food, good music, and great shoes.

She convinced me to try something new – catering a dinner for a group of her friends, in her kitchen.  I love to cook, so I thought “what the heck?”.   That ‘what the heck’ went through a series of transitions, from “what do I do?”, to “what was I thinking?”, to “how am I going to do this?”, and – thankfully! – wouldn up at “WHY haven’t I done this before?” and “when are we doing this again?!?”

 I was given a budget, a theme, and a list of food no-goes (although I still think that ‘monkey brains with kiwi-mango chutney and goat cheese reduction served on eggplant rounds’ holds some real potential….).  Based on that, I let my imagination go wild, and had a lot of fun with the menu which was:

– Steak tartare, paired with a sparkling shiraz
– Lemon-scented couscous with fresh herbs, paired with a South African chenin blanc
– Warm mushroom salad over arugula, paired with a Northern Rhone syrah rose
– Baked brie with monkeygland sauce, paired with an SA cabernet sauvignon
– Seared ostrich loin, with roast potatoes, paired with an Australian petit verdot
– Soma Dark Fire chocolate truffles, paired with a cherry riesling

Sounds good, doesn’t it??  On with the details …

The steak tartare was Anthony Bourdain’s recipe. I had never made it in my life.  Yes, I like to live dangerously ….!  I admit to being intimidated, but really – it was *so* easy.  I hand-chopped a nice top sirloin steak, followed the directions (left out the cognac…), and it was damn tasty.  I went with a sparkling shiraz, since the theme for the evening was “Wine Oddities”, and I felt sure that a bubbly red would be a new thing for everyone.  The sparkling shiraz was Banrock Station, which is occasionally available in Vintages .  I am desperately waiting for it to come back, it’s incredible.  Slightly spicy, great palate of dark raspberry and a little cocoa, with a gorgeous finish.  And the bubbles just make it fun.  Other makes come through Vintages fairly regularly; if you see one, try it. Avoid Seaview at all costs; it’s just not worth it.

The next course – Lemon-scented couscous with fresh herbs – was a bit of a cop-out, I admit.  I mean – it’s really hard to screw up couscous.  This was my ‘safety’ dish.

I loved this recipe though; a bit of garlic sautéed in butter, then stock added and brought to the boil.  Couscous added as usual, and fresh herbs tossed in at the end.  The heat of the couscous let the aromatics of the herbs out, and it was so fresh and tasty.

The Chenin Blanc was Vinum Africa Chenin Blanc – $14.95 at the LCBO. Stock is available all over Toronto, and it’s a really lovely bottle.  Crsip, fresh – nice acidity, which balanced the herbs and the butteriness of the couscous really well.  I’ve got a couple bottles of this at home now.

The favourite dish of the night was no doubt the warm mushroom salad.  After a few “Ohhhhhhhhhhh”s, silence descended as everyone tucked in.   The salad was fairly easy; it called for four varieties of mushrooms (I used two), the dressing was a nice blend of shallots, olive oil, champagne vinegar, s&p, all emulsified – simple but tasty! – and it was all toped by a really good reggiano cheese.  

I was really looking forward to this pairing – northern rhone syrahs are earthy and rich, so I thought it would go well with the mushrooms.  Sadly, this was probably the least successful pairing.  The salad was delicious… and so was the wine! …. But they didn’t play well together. I should have gone with a richer wine, or a lighter dish.

The wine was the Queen of Syrah Cool Climate Syrah Rose, $12.95.  On its own, I really did like it.  There was a subtle earthiness to the finish, but the palate was a clean, bright red fruit party.  I’d like to try this with a cold duck salad; I think the cherry notes would really highlight the duck very well.

OK – I’d like to once again thank April-Dawn for being such a good sport when I had some fun with her.  I had asked for food no-goes – allergies, preferences, whatever. She had a bit of fun, and said “No monkey brains!”.  However – she neglected to rule out Monkeygland. And the smartass in me jumped on it.

First of all – let me say that no monkeys are harmed in the making of Monkeygland sauce!  It’s a tomato/onion/fruit chutney from South Africa, and it’s delicious.  I used it as a glaze for baked brie in puff pastry, and paired it with Viljoensdrift River Grandeur Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was $10.95 when it was available in Vintages, but is available on consignment through Eleanor Cosman of Bokke Wine Imports (www.bokkewines.com).  WHAT a fabulous Cabernet – lush and spicy, with a beautiful finish.  Gobs of fruit, a little hint of licorice; incredible value, this wine.  You’d never guess it was in the $10 range, since it drinks like a $25 bottle.

The main course was ostrich (and tofu for the veggies that were present!).  I dressed it simply with a little bit of paprika and smoked salt, then seared it and brought it gently to medium-rare.  The wine was Pennyfield Basket Pressed Petit Verdot, $22.00 at the LCBO in Vintages.  Sadly – none left in Ontario, but if it comes back, I am jumping on this one.  I love Petit Verdot – it’s a nice change from a shiraz.  It still has deep red fruit, a bit of spice, and a long, solid finish, but it’s not as heavy.  Still wonderfully rich, this one has great flavours of raspberries and violets, with some spice and coffee in the background.  There’s a nice cedar note to the finish; a sharp, earthy tang, which really shows off its savoury character.  Delicious!

And finally – Soma Dark Fire chocolate truffles, paired with a cherry Riesling.  Dark Fire is a chocolate with cinnamon, chillies, ginger, and other spices in it.  It’s fantastic!  Handmade by Soma in the Distillery District – so worth the trip!  Jessica had a cherry Riesling dessert wine that she’d been saving; what a pair!  The acidity in the wine balanced the spiciness of the chocolate, and with the cherry notes …. fantastic!  Sadly – the wine isn’t available any more. If I were going to do the truffles again (and I will ….) I’d probably head to Crown Bench (www.crownbenchestates.com)and pick up either their Hot Ice, or their Ginger Ice wine.  Both are wonderfully rich and honey-sweet, but the Hot Ice is infused with peppers. Delicious with thai food, or rich chocolate desserts.  Ginger Ice would be a nice balance, and bring out the ginger notes in the chocolate – I don’t think I’d go far wrong with either one.

 On the whole, the evening was a real success.  I learned a lot about portion size (I live in mortal fear of anyone leaving my table hungry …!), and I had a blast.  So much so, that we’re doing it again!  I’ve already got dessert planned…. a nice little trio of orange-scented creme brulee, almond cookies, and a dulce-de-leche whipped cream filled profiterole, with caramel and vanilla-scented salt. This will be paired with a fantastic and affordable ten-year-old tawny port.  Stay tuned for the result!

  1. Petit Verdot…

    Your post on A little bit of this; a little bit of that … was interesting….

    Trackback by Petit Verdot — January 18, 2010 @ 9:35 pm
  2. Hi

    Just read your article and would like to know who you are so we can get in touch.

    Eleanor

    Comment by Eleanor Cosman — January 22, 2010 @ 11:45 am
  3. Hi Hi. Just had the opportunity to read this – the evening was ‘all that’ and more!

    By the way, the cherry riesling is still available.
    Tasting notes and details at http://www.legendsestates.com/wines_fruit.html

    Comment by Jessica Chaikowsky — February 28, 2010 @ 5:05 pm
  4. Mmm…what a great night that was! And what an pleasure to have just had an incredible repeat!

    Comment by Jenn Travis — March 1, 2010 @ 9:53 am

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