100th Post: Adventures in Prince Edward County

Fabulous view at By Chadsey's Cairns.

To celebrate 3 years of togetherness, Kevin and I took ourselves to Prince Edward County to indulge in fabulous local scenery, food and drink. I’m always amazed that this jewel of a county is only an hour’s drive away, complete with lake views and a quaint ferry ride. It seems fitting that this weekend of gourmand-ness would coincide with the 100th post on La Gourmandesse!

We began the adventure with a wise choice: we stayed 2 nights at the Merrill Inn in Picton, a lovely B&B that knows how to feed and pamper its guests. Our room, in a third floor gable, was cozy and calm, and just what you would expect from a historic inn. They have a restaurant in-house that serves an amazing breakfast spread and gourmet dinners with local wine. We indulged there on our first night, pairing local wines with gazpacho, sauteed calamari, perch and prime rib. We followed that up with house-made peach pie, and declared the evening a locavore’s delight.

Another hilight of the weekend was our wine tour with PEC Wine Tours. We went on an afternoon tour, which was informative and fun, not to mention deluxe due to our limousine ride! The driver and guide, Gilles, was full of great info about the wines of the region, as well as quite a few back stories on the vineyards and personalities of PEC. The tour company’s owner, Bev, also happened to be on the tour that day with some family members for their own enjoyment, and made a lively addition to the day.

My top 3 vineyards of the day were Karlo Estates, By Chadsey’s Cairns and Sandbanks Winery, each for a different reason.

Karlo Estates' multi-purpose barn.

At Karlo Estates, we got to meet the winemaker and owner, Richard Karlo. Tasting wines with him was the best part of my tour, as he is warm, funny and articulate, explaining each wine as we moved through at least 5 tastes. He clearly loves what he does, and it comes through in the character of his wines. We came away with a bottle of the Frontenac Gris Rose, and are on the waiting list for the upcoming Petit Verdot. Can’t wait! I plan to go back soon to soak up the atmosphere and check out the dry stone bridge on the estate.

By Chadsey's Cairns tasting room.

By Chadsey’s Cairns is incredibly picturesque. The land comes complete with a loyalist graveyard, a few historic barns and an apple storage house converted into a wine tasting room. With views of the lake to the south and vineyards to the north, this is a beautifully peaceful place. I enjoyed tasting their wines and discussing them with one of their cheerful tasting staff, but walked away empty handed. It could be that we visited late in the day when my palate was fairly overwhelmed, but nothing grabbed me as something I had to drink again. But I would definitely return to grab a few quiet moments on their deck overlooking the vineyard.

Sandbanks Winery's new indoor/outdoor tasting building.

My other favourite of the day was Sandbanks Winery, one I have visited before. We are already big fans of their Dunes blend and Baco Noir, and had an enjoyable time on the gorgeous patio with one of their fun, young staff. We tried their new Shoreline blends and several others, and came away with a few bottles of Rose, the Shoreline Red, and the Winter Harvest dessert wine. I enjoy Sandbanks’ approachable wines and reasonable prices. It is a bit more commercial than Karlo Estates or By Chadsey’s Cairns, but brings something different to the table. What it may lack in boutique style, it fully makes up for in drinkability and affordability.

We managed to fit in a few other indulgences: lunch at the Tall Poppy Cafe in Wellington and some sweet treats at Miss Lily’s. A trip to Sandbanks provincial park capped off the weekend, and we headed home with 6 local bottles of wine, plenty of good memories, and plans to head back again soon.


Happy Days are Here Again

A favourite childhood treat.

After a 2 month blogging hiatus, I am back! May and June hit me with a double take out- my food allergy diagnoses, and a work overload. I was so busy, I didn’t really have the energy to try out new allergy free treats and report back.

But 3 weeks off in Calgary, complete with trips to the mountains, the Stampede, and plenty of time with lovely family and friends, have left me refreshed. And with a suitcase weighed down by my favourite wines! The selection out here is so much better than the LCBO, I can’t help myself when I enter a wine store. I also found a vegan baking cookbook recently, and will have lots of new things to test out in the kitchen.

However, that will have to wait until I return home next week. Until then, I will share a very exciting recent discovery: the fact that Dutch honey cake does not typically contain eggs or dairy! My mom is Dutch, and I have always enjoyed typical comfort foods like honey cake, speculaas (spice cookies), meat croquettes and red cabbage. Today we saw a sign in the neighbourhood that advertised “dutch treats,” so of course we had a check out this new store. I gravitated toward the honey cake section, as that is my absolute favourite, especially the kind with candy on top, and was delighted to discover that Hille brand is largely allergy free, and is even made of rye flour. That’s good for you, right? We’ll just overlook the fact that sugar is the first ingredient.

I’m off to cut a few slices and savour them with a cup of tea….with the aid of a tea towel with windmills on it, naturally.

Rainy Days and Food Allergies

The weather this weekend really matches my mood; rainfall warnings and grey skies go well with newly diagnosed food allergies. It seems ironic that I would turn out to be allergic to eggs and cow’s milk, which ingredients show up more in gourmand cooking?

Weekend breakfasts are feeling pretty sad. I can stick with oatmeal all week, but who can do that 7 days in a row? And now I can’t even have a splash of cream on top to jazz it up. It’s startling (and a bit defeating) how much dairy and eggs show up in products and everyday foods! I realized I couldn’t even put mayo on my bacon and tomato sandwich. What a cruel start to the weekend.

So, my mission today is to find some alternatives. I’m on a hunt for vegenaise, milk substitutes and some goat cheese. A strange turn of events for La Gourmandesse! I’m really not sure what I will bake now, other than wacky cake. I can’t think of any baked goods that don’t call for eggs! Perhaps I will become an involuntary health nut in this process. Just what I’ve always wanted to be.

Snowy Weekends are Made for Cooking

The chicken, fresh off the rotisserie. Roasted perfection!

It is clear to me that there are 2 types of Canadians during the winter: those that see snow as a wonderful vehicle for skiiing and other outdoor fun, and those that use snow days as time to imagine their future retirement in Florida. I am part of the latter group. When the snow falls, I take my running inside to a treadmill, and my recreation inside to the kitchen.  I’ve just never been a snow bunny. As a kid, I did enjoy skating at the neighbourhood rink, and making snow men and snow angels, but I never learned to ski. My favourite thing about snow was that it occasionally meant school was cancelled. Maybe some day I’ll live near the mountains again and take some ski lessons, but for now, all snow feels like is a nuisance.

And so, this weekend, with the cold temperatures and the snowbanks, I hibernated. Yesterday, Kevin bribed me into baking him some blueberry muffins, which is never much of a chore. I also made a new cherry tomato and basil spaghetti dish that I will have to blog about another time- the camera batteries were dead at the pivotal moment!

This afternoon was a usual Sunday- spent as a teaching widow- which is a perfect opportunity to make something great for dinner. And also to lament a little about being a kitchen slave (sigh), and think about the collective housewife consciousness out there. We really do make the world go round, or at least keep the world fed.

We recently bought a GE toaster oven with rotisserie function (surprisingly affordable at Wal-Mart), and I was dying to try it out. The joy I feel about this appliance is on the same level as what I once felt about my Easy-Bake oven.  The new toaster oven baked perfect muffins for me yesterday, but a rotisserie chicken seemed a bit more complicated. I am happy to report that it was ridiculously easy. I stuffed a chicken full of lemon wedges, slathered it with some minced garlic, olive oil and S & P, and speared it with the rotisserie rod. It gets held onto the rod by 2 adjustable forks, and then slides into the toater oven.  I cooked it at 350F for 30 min/lb, which was 1.5 hours for my 3 lb little friend. I basically ignored it the whole time (other than to sometimes stare raptly at its golden beauty rotating inside the oven), and it came out better than I could have hoped. The skin was perfectly crisp, the lemon came through nicely and the meat was juicy and tender. It was so tender, in fact, that I barely had to carve it, the legs and wings came off like magic.

The carved chicken with mushroom risotto.

To go with the chicken, I cooked up some mushroom risotto. I used the recipe found here, which was simple, although a bit labour intensive, as risotto tends to be. If I make it again, I think I would eliminate the milk in the recipe and just use all vegetable stock, and perhaps add some fresh peas at the end, as it was a bit too rich. Which is saying a lot when one is in a hibernating mood.

All in all, it was a successful weekend of carb loading, staying warm, and enjoying junk television while waiting for things to cook. So much more fun than digging your car out of a snow bank or putting on 6 layers just to go outside.

Cheers to 2011

The new year not only brings the promise of a fresh start, but also the first anniversary of La Gourmandesse. Looking back to January 2010, I found myself a bit bored and in need of some inspiration. Writing a blog devoted to the pleasures of food and wine was just the ticket to spicing things up.

Over the past year, I have found some wonderful new wines. My favourite $10 or less discoveries have to be Sogrape Gazela, Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc, Argento Malbec, and Farnese Sangiovese. I also tried at least 10-20 bottles that I’d rather forget. But, much like dating, trying cheap wine comes with risk and rewards.

As well as embarking on a $10 wine challenge, I tried bottles in the $15-$25 range. The best finds were Concha Y Toro Cabernet Trio, Gnarly Head Old Vine Zin, and J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon. Luckily, I have at least one bottle of each of these waiting in the cupboard for a happy occasion.

La Gourmandesse has given me a place to showcase the tasty treats I would have been cooking and baking anyway, and also spurred me to find other delicious food and wine blogs to draw inspiration from. My regular reads are Smitten Kitchen, Reems Eats, 1 Wine Dude and Pretty.Good.Food. I love to read about other people’s food and wine lives; the inclusion of great photography also never hurts.

Some favourite recipes I discovered this year were quinoa salad, fudgy layer cake, and new takes on blueberry muffins and banana bread. You can see my love of baked goods shining through there. I suppose that explains my need to hit the gym a little more frequently in 2011.

Thinking back on how delicious 2010 was, how much fun I had discussing affordable wine with people, and how much I loved hearing “I was reading your blog and…”, I’m really looking forward to what 2011 will bring. The $10 wine quest is definitely not yet complete,  there is always a new bottle or two to try.

2011 is bound to bring more chances to share great food and drink with the people that matter most to me, and also give me opportunities to showcase them here. So cheers to the new year, may it bring much inspiration and pleasure.

An Early Holiday Feast

It seems fitting that my final post of 2010 be all about la gourmandise. Kevin and I have a week with family and friends lined up for the holidays, so last night we decided to have a holiday party for two. We wanted steak, and then thought up tasty things to go along with it. It ended up being a party in the oven, as everything got roasted at some point.

The baked potato was simple enough, 375F for 45 minutes, remember to poke them a few times, rub the skin with olive oil and just put them right on the oven rack. Crispy skin, fluffy insides. Next, roasted butternut squash wedges, coated in olive oil, sprinkled with some Italian seasoning. They joined the potatoes for 30 minutes.

Then, things got a bit more complicated (and the oven got significantly hotter). The roasted mushrooms with garlic butter needed 450F for about 20 minutes, and the steak needed to get finished in the oven for 5-10 minutes. A juggling of oven racks occurred.

This steak method is perfection when you can’t BBQ (or maybe even better than BBQ’d). Buy a good cut of meat, sear both sides of the steak on the stove, meanwhile saute a few cloves of minced garlic in 2 tbsp of butter, then stir a handful of fresh parsley into it. Once the steak is seared, transfer it to a baking sheet, pour over the butter and parsley mixture, and put it in a 450F oven for 5 to 10 minutes. The steak will be perfectly medium rare, and the butter-parsley combo will remind you of an expensive steakhouse. The roasted mushrooms also help the fantasy.

This meaty, buttery feast was heaven, and was accomplished for less than $20, something I cannot say of any steakhouse. To finish up the extreme decadence, home made brownies with ice cream and chocolate sauce. The best thing about making a feast like this is sitting in your comfies on the couch after, thinking of all the money you saved. And what a fabulous chef you clearly are.

Cheers to the coming week of holiday indulgence!

Appetizers for Dinner

Sometimes,  I come home from a long day and think “cooking feels like too much.” And so, 1 of 3 things usually happens: 1. Kevin gets stuck with the job, 2. we pay someone else to feed us, or 3. we rummage through the fridge and have appetizers for dinner. Option number 3 provides the chance to use our funky pottery appetizer dishes, which is a bonus. We got them at a little pottery workshop outside Winnipeg during our summer travels. The smaller plates fit perfectly in the palm of your hand- made for snacking.

The appetizers for dinner plan is obviously best when you have some good wine already on hand, and the fridge is well stocked with tasty treats. Lucky for us, we had a decent selection of meat and cheese, a small baguette, and some of our favourite Dunes chilled in the fridge. You’ll notice a sad absence of olives in this spread (Pasta Genova was closed), but some home made pickles tried their best to substitute. The only item above that probably needs some explaining is the lower right dish, that’s goat cheese with olive oil and balsamic vinegar drizzled on top. It’s the world’s easiest bread dip, sprinkle some fresh basil on top and people will rave.

And so, we carried this feast upstairs and watched a movie in bed. Is there a more luxurious and gourmand way to spend an evening at home?

Big Breakfasts

If I had to pick one that thing that keeps Kevin & I together, it would be our love of breakfast. Breakfast is definitely our glue. I’m not saying there’s nothing else that is important in our lives, of course, but I feel that if we ran into trouble some day, a breakfast like this would be the first olive branch. Kevin makes an egg over-easy that cannot be beat. And obviously, the way to La Gourmandesse’s heart is through her stomach.

Having traveled in Europe and Asia, I can say that the Canadian thing I have always missed the most is bacon and eggs. In the UK, they know how to do it right, and I love the addition of fried tomatoes and mushrooms, and baked beans. But in France, all I could ever think was that baguette with jam was not going to take me very far. And in Asia, I never quite got behind the noodles or rice for breakfast, although I would love some more tropical fruit in my life.

So, today, we made the best of it: some grease to satisfy the traditional cravings, and some fruit salad to tell ourselves that we were paying attention to health. This is best prepared on a Saturday morning when you can lay around and watch PBS building shows and think about great houses that you will probably never own.

Cheers to weekend indulgences with the person who loves you most.

Concha Y Toro Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon

2009 Concha Y Toro Sunrise Cabernet Sauvignon, $8.95. LCBO#47951.

I’ve been spending a lot of time solo of late, as Kevin has been working quite a bit. Last week, I had a bad day at work, and with no one to share my woes with when I came home, I decided that cooking and wine would have to be my therapists. Although I sometimes complain about being left alone, I have to say that there is something wonderful about being alone in the house, turning your music on as loud as you want, and getting out the cutting board and a wine glass.

And, so, to the sounds of Ray LaMontagne, I opened a bottle of Sunrise Cab Sav and started making a wholesome favourite, Saucy Pork Chops.  I love chopping veggies and the colours of them mixing around in the pan, the sizzle of pork chops browning, the sounds of rummaging through cupboards to find the ingredients for the sauce. Add in the music, the wine and the smells of dinner cooking, and you have a soothing sensory masterpiece.  I don’t think anything calms me down quite like cooking dinner.

That evening was my first time trying this wine, and I have to say it was a good match for my mood.  It’s quite mellow, easy to drink, doesn’t make you think too much. It was a bit too light bodied to be a bottle I’ll buy again, but for $9, it was reliable, smooth, somewhat fruity and not too tart. I didn’t pick up much on the nose or even in the taste, so I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who takes pleasure in decoding the mysteries of a wine bottle.  But for someone who wants an easy, affordable and reliable bottle, this one would do nicely.

Overall, I give this wine an 8/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Clay Wine Glasses- Cheap Wine’s New Best Friend

Clay Wine Glasses

Recently, on a lovely weekend spent with friends in Perth, Ontario, we wandered into Riverguild Fine Crafts, an artists’ cooperative. Along with many local works of art was a selection of pottery made by Jackie Seaton. We were drawn to his unglazed wine glasses, which claim to soften rough wines. The store keeper told us they sell about a dozen of them a day during the summer.

The sceptic in me was awakened, but then I read the info card beside them, with an explanation of the science behind this fad from Konrad Ejbich. I am a big fan of Konrad Ejbich, and am always excited to catch his monthly wine call-in on CBC Radio’s Ontario Today. I have faith in Konrad, he has rarely steered me wrong. The explanation goes something like this: clay is often added to wine while being made, in order to clarify it and remove certain proteins. The logic of a clay wine glass is that since it is unglazed, the clay can still bind with the proteins that would cause an acidic taste– thus softening a cheaper, everyday wine.

Since I am the Queen of cheap, everyday wine, I had to have a set of these glasses. For about $10 a glass, we were set for our experiment. We tried them that evening on an affordable Spanish bottle, and have brought them out again and again for our affordable, everyday stand-bys.

I have to say, they really do work, especially if you pour the wine and let it hang out for 15 minutes or so. The only downside of this is that after a while, the wine starts to stain the glass, since the clay really does absorb it. We even did some blind taste testing of wine that had been mellowing awhile versus newly pored wine, and over time, things really do get smoother.

I still get out my real glasses for $15+ wine, but anything in my $10 or less category goes in the clay glasses now. They also keep the wine a nice cool temperature, and are so short they are hard to knock over. I’m all about wine gadgets that make cheap wine taste expensive, and I think these are my favourite gimmick yet.