Kerri Henman -

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October 27, 2015

Cask Days 2015

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The adventure begins...

The adventure begins…

Cask Days has become an annual event for Paul and I. I do love a good beer, and there is always something interesting at this event.  This year was no exception!



February 28, 2010

Food, glorious food ….!

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In a week where Toronto finally got a hit of winter, what better way to escape than to take a little trip to the Med?

This dinner was postponed from January. The company was definitely worth the wait; from the day-after reactions, they all seem to feel that the dinner was worth the wait, as well. Which pleases me more than I can possibly tell you!

Wines of the Med was the suggested theme for this evening … Spain, Portugal, Italy. As soon as I knew that, I knew what I wanted to serve for dessert, and immediately had half a dozen ideas for pairings. But more on that later….

As usual, the evening started with a sparkling wine and an amuse bouche. There are so many wonderful sparkling wines from the Mediterranean regions, I hardly knew where to begin. Cava, Prosecco, …. but really, I knew what I wanted. A fun, happy, pretty little wine that you can not possibly drink, and be in any kind of bad mood whatsoever. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I went with Moscato! The bottle I chose was Bottega Petalo il Vino – one of the few Moscato that I’ve seen some under a champagne cork & cage. Moscato is a very light wine – this one’s only 6.5% alcohol. It’s lightly fizzy, refreshing, slightly sweet, and completely addictive. And it’s an affordable addiction – Moscato is usually in the $15-$25 dollar range. Petalo is a classic example of Moscato – it’s got a beautiful, soft floral nose, delicate bubbles, and a lush, mouth-filling burst of peaches, melon, floral sweetness and a lingering finish of rose-scented honey. It rings in at $14.95 – a total bargain.

To pay homage to the floral notes in the wine, I paired it with prosciutto and melon roses. Using a vegetable peeler, I shaved strips of canteloupe, and rolled them into roses with a mild, sweet 18-month old prosciutto. There was a vegetarian version, too – melon with shaved strips of cucumber, that I lightly pickled with a sauvignon-blanc vinegar. The melon notes of the Moscato played so beautifully with the canteloupe, which of course pairs so beautifully with the ham, that it couldn’t help but be a successful pairing. The wine really balanced out the richness of the food; they complemented each other so well – I was very happy with this.

Originally, I’d thought the second course would be paired with a pinot grigio. Then, I got to the shop. And lo….. there it was. Masi Modello. A wonderful blend of Garanega, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanco grapes, it’s a little herbal, crisp and nicely citrusy, with well-balanced acidity. Tasty. Easy. Uncomplicated. You really can’t ask for anything more from a wine at this price point ($9.95!!).

Inspiration came hard for this menu, and I was thankful to be reminded of this dish when I made it as a side last week. It’s a sautéed pepper and onion salad, with caraway, lemon and chili. I lightened up on the chili (maybe too much?), but the caraway came through so well. It wasn’t overpowering, and it really brought out the herbal notes in the wine. It’s a nice, light, workable dish that could be tossed with pasta; you could add shredded chicken or grilled shrimp; you can serve it as a side, or as a vegetarian main (it really is substantial and filling). I loved the subtle citrus notes in the salad (peppers sautéed in Meyer Lemon Grapeseed Oil) – they merged so well with the wine, that it was hard to tell which was supporting the other. I might have added more garlic, but might that have made it too much for the wine? In any case, I was very pleased with this pairing.

And now for the bombshell …..

I was looking for a nice Med rose. Nothing too pricey, something tasty, something that I could pair successfully with a nice tapas dish. One wine kept coming up, which I rejected out of hand. Then I read about it on a respected site. So – I decided to give it a try on my own. WOW, was I surprised! It was so *good* …. the nose was enticing – spicy, with soft berry notes. That was reversed on a palate bursting with rich berries, lifted by subtle, spicy, earthy notes. It was so well balanced; not too sweet, with a clean finish, and just a hint of effervescence. You can not imagine my shock that I was getting all of this from a bottle of Mateus.

YES. Mateus. THAT Mateus. The pink stuff your grandparents drank when they wanted the ‘good’ wine. It’s still Portugal’s number one wine, and there is a reason for it. It’s tasty, people. Deal with it. Oh yeah, and it’s only $8.95!

I hid the wine before I served it. I didn’t want anyone to have a pre-conceived notion of what they were drinking; I wanted them to judge the wine in the glass. A few minds were changed.

I wanted something earthy to serve with this. Of course, mushrooms came to mind, but they were my main, so that was out. After a lot of research, and hemming and hawing, discarding and re-examining, I decided on a frittata with spinach and brie. Originally, the recipe called for mushrooms, but I substituted sliced potatoes. It was soooooooo gooooood!! I added a handful of watercress, to give it a bit of bite, and used a lot less cheese than the recipe called for (no, I didn’t take out any brie … puhlease). I am definitely serving this again, at a brunch, or a late afternoon lunch. And the *look* on everyone’s face when I told them what they were drinking? Priceless! And a fantastic pairing.

The main course turned out to be very apropos for the weather – I put together a rich, hearty mushroom ragout with roasted garlic and onions. I put it in a baking dish and laid puff pastry over top; voila. Instant comfort food for a snowy February day!

I had this wine in mind almost immediately. I used to work for its agent here in Canada – when it first hit the market, I was stunned at the quality it offered for the price point. Believe it or not – it’s gone down in price in the past two years, but the quality has gone up (in my humble opinion). If you want a deep, full-bodied, satisfying red – and you don’t want to pay more than $15 – look no further than Los Molinos Gran Reserva. Last night, we had the 2002 vintage – it’s the one currently on store shelves. It is beautifully aged, with a deep brick-red colour, an intense nose, and a long, smooth palate. The finish begs you to have another glass. It’s marvellous!  You will never believe that you only paid $14.70 – this wine drinks like a $35 bottle.

The mushroom ragout really needed something big to stand up to it. Los Molinos fit the bill perfectly. It was strong, but not overpowering; rich and heady, with just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the ragout. This is a pairing to curl up with in front of a big roaring fire. Or …. that fireplace DVD. Whatever.

Ahhhhhhhhh, dessert. Is it wrong, that it’s my favourite part of dinner, a lot of the time? This dessert has been planned for a long time. Mini eclairs filled with butterscotch whipped cream, drizzled with dulce de leche, then sprinkled with vanilla salt. On the side, an almond brittle infused with orange zest. Many, many, MANY thanks to Andrea at Selsi (in the St. Lawrence Market – you’ve GOT to go!) for allowing me to purchase only what I needed. And it was good that I bought more than I thought I would need, because the salt got passed around, and we were all just eating it straight.  Sooooo tasty ….

The eclairs were very good – light, creamy, caramelly goodness, and the salt picked it up and made it something new and interesting. The look on J’s face when she realized there was orange in the brittle – classic. But after all, I chose the dessert wine with her in mind, so I did tweak dessert for her, as well.  The brittle was gorgeous paired with the port – I used raw sugar for a deeper sweetness, toasted almonds, and blood orange zest.  It took three batches to get the balance right, but the result was worth it.

Otima. Warre’s very special gift to port drinkers everywhere! It’s a ten-year-old aged tawny port; it’s lighter than you might expect a port to be, but it’s got a lovely raisiny character, with fig notes and a gorgeous burnt-sugar finish.  It is so wonderful and tasty.  Even my sister-in-law, who is not the biggest port fan, likes this stuff.  I discovered it along with a friend at the Gourmet Food & Wine show a few years ago, and it’s been a perennial favourite ever since.  We also discovered – as the baggie went around the table  – that if you let a grain or two of vanilla salt melt on your tongue and then take a sip of Otima, it is an experience you really have to have.

Many many thanks to our hostess for the evening, and my very capable sous-chef. Also, thank you to S, who helped keep the peppers from escaping.  Much appreciated!

And now – our little trip to the Med complete – it’s back to the Olympic hockey final. GO CANADA GO!


March 11, 2007

Winterlicious ….. it’s about time ….. !

So, I’ve fallen behind in my posts (as Paul keeps reminding me…..!), but I suppose it’s better late than never.

A month ago (!!!!) Paul and I headed out to enjoy Winterlicious. If you don’t know what that is, it’s a fantastic restaurant promotion in Toronto. Twice a year, dozens of restaurants across the city offer special prix-fixe menus for lunch or dinner. It’s a great way to discover new restaurants, and a cheap excuse to go back to your old favourites.

I actually did two Winterlicious spots… on my own, I did Annona, at the Park Hyatt in Toronto, which was – well, it was an interesting evening to say the least. Very up and down. Annona is very comfortable, and the service started out really well. I have to say, I was impressed by the tray that came with my bottle of water. Lemon, lime, and *cucumber*, which is a nice change.

For dinner, the chef offered an amuse-bouche of what was basically a mini pizza. It was very good – garlic focaccia, with roasted tomato and just a bit of mozzarella and fresh basil. Next was gnocchi in a smoked mozzarella tomato sauce. It was good – the cheese wasn’t overpowering, but the gnocchi wasn’t as nice as Gio’s. A little on the stodgy side. My main was veal scallopini with preserved lemon jus, potato gratin, and sautéed swiss chard. The chard was bitter; I know swiss chard is on the bitter side, but this was *really* bitter. To the point of being inedible. But I’d rather have inedible greenery than inedible veal…. and the veal was very, very edible. Nice and tender, the sauce was and creamy tangy but not LEMON-y, it was good. The potatoes were fine – verging on convention food, but fine. A little more butter, a little more pepper would have done wonders. Maybe a bit of fresh chive.

As dessert approached, I have to say, service really started to slip. I waited a loooong time for dessert, and I had to ask for my bill twice. I was on a timeline, and I wound up being late, which didn’t impress me.

I do have to say that dessert was worth waiting for. I could choose two to taste; I went for apple fritters with mayan chocolate ice cream, and chocolate lava cake with caramelized hazelnut ice cream. I’d have put the hazelnut ice cream with the fritters, and the mayan chocolate ice cream with the cake (it wasn’t very very chocolate), but both desserts made up for the middle-of-the-road aspect of the rest of dinner.

At least the wine was good – I had a glass of Kumala Sauvignon Blanc, which I’d never tried before. Very tasty – fresh, crisp. some good tropical fruit, and a nice limey finish. I’ll have that again!

Our second venture in Winterlicious brought us to the Beer Bistro. It was a close call – I’d left reservations to the last minute, and thought we weren’t going to be able to get in, but the floor manager realized that there was space at – GASP! – the chef’s table!! I have *always* wanted to sit there. I was so excited!!

We love the Beer Bistro, no matter what – the food is great, the service is marvelous, and it’s always an experience. The menu for Winterlicious left us with some tough choices, and we were really looking forward to it.

Paul decided to go for the wild mushroom soup with shallots, London porter & truffle cream; he paired it with an English beer, Sammy Smith’s Winter Warmer. The beer was nice – not bitter, a little spicy. And I have never in my life tasted mushroom soup like this – rich, creamy, and earthy with just a bit of sweetness. It almost made me regret ordering the smoked salmon.


I had beer cured & smoked salmon, with white beer cream cheese. They make the salmon right there; it’s incredible!! I ordered the St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout – didn’t like it. I found it too bitter, and too heavy, but Paul loved it. The smoked salmon was buttery, flavourful, absolutely out of this world. I will definitely have it again, but I’d like to try Denison’s Weissbier with it – I think the spices and cloves in the beer would go well with the smokiness in the salmon.

For mains, Paul stayed on the mushroom theme. He went for mushroom and goat cheese gnocchi, in a brown ale cream sauce and leeks. Seriously tasty – but again, the gnocchi not a patch on Gio’s. Still and all, creamy earthy smooth tangy goodness in the sauce – awesome.

I had the grilled flatiron steak with caramelized beer onions, redskin smashed potatoes & tarragon butter. It was perfectly medium-rare, one of the best steaks I’ve had in a restaurant. And of course, part of the fun was watching it being made!!

For dessert, we decided to go for a bottle of Quelque Chose – a dark, spiced cherry beer from Unibroue. It paired beautifully with the chocolate mousse I had, and it didn’t go too badly with the apple crumble that Paul went for. The beer is served warm, and it’s really unique. We were given some strawberry Friuli ice cream to have with it, as well. GAWD, I love the ice cream at Beer Bistro – again, it’s all made right there, and it all has beer in it! The Friuli is a Belgian fruit beer, and makes a fantastic ice cream. It pairs really nice with the Quelque Chose; they complement each other well. The only down side of Quelque Chose is that they’re not making it anymore, so what’s left is all there is. Makes me want to go back. A lot.

Another thing that makes me want to go back – a lot! – is sitting at the chef’s table. We were able to see everything going on, talk to the chefs, and the smells were amazing. Seeing the steak tartare being prepared definitely made me want to make plans to go back so that I could try it, and a few other dishes. And beers.

But that’s another post …………!