Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec

2010 Trapiche Astica Merlot Malbec, $7.45. LCBO#359075.

I’m writing this post in response to a friend who recently said, “Can you post some more tasty wines on your blog?” Why, yes of course! And, you can always find a list of past $10 wine reviews here, for easy reference.

This Saturday night was full of great conversation, fun ladies, and a rather hilarious ride downtown crammed into a cab like 18 year olds. But before all that came to pass, I was in a rush out the door to start the evening, and grabbed the first bottle of wine I saw. It was one of Chatelaine’s November wine picks, deemed a perfect wintry red.

I didn’t actually know the price while I was drinking it, and have to say I thought it was more than a $10 bottle. The fact that it is $7.45 is amazing. Hello new fave red!

It has a nice balance of spice from the Malbec, and a smooth finish from the Merlot. Easy to drink on its own, it would go well with pasta or pizza too. A bit fruity, dry and smooth; just an easy, tasty bottle.

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 for taste and 5/5 for value.

Marvelous Mediterranean Dips

From left: Baba Ganoush, Tzatziki and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus.

Last week, we hosted a fantastic wine party, some final festivities of the holiday season. We host 2 or 3 of these a year, and each time I knock myself out planning a feast of a spread, and overheat the guests and the kitchen by making fresh baked munchies. So this time around, with about 15 people RSVP’d, I thought I’d better come up with a no-bake solution. Less stress for me, better temperature for all!

I try to keep things home made, fresh, and somewhat healthy, so some dips that could go with veggies and pita sprang to mind. We had been eating store bought Baba Ganoush over the holidays, which is full of mayo and sour cream, and is nothing like the real thing. So I thought I would try making it myself- how hard could something with about 6 ingredients be, anyways? And, once you’ve got the Baba ingredients going, you might as well swap the eggplant for chickpeas and make Hummus, or swap those two out for some greek yogurt and cucumber and make Tzatziki!

These dips are a dream- easy, healthy, pretty cheap, and people will be wowed that you made them yourself. You just need a blender and a little patience. The guests devoured them, especially the Baba, that was the first to go. The pita disappeared pretty quickly, so make sure you’ve gots lots on hand. Next time I think I might toast some and make pita chips too. I think these will be a staple in my entertaining repertoire, because I actually got to relax and enjoy the party this time around. Nothing to keep an eye on, just put out your spread, uncork some wine, and let the party happen!

Baba Ganoush

Ingredients

  • 1 large eggplant
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic (to taste)
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Roast the eggplant at 400F for 30 minutes. You can fire roast it first if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Make sure to poke some holes in your eggplant before you roast it. You can also roast your garlic at the same time, if you would like it be more mellow and sweet.
  2. Place the cooked eggplant in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily. Remove the stem, give the eggplant innards a rough chop and place in a blender.
  3. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth.
  4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of paprika for garnish.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Ingredients

  • 1 can chickpeas, water half drained
  • 1 red pepper, roasted
  • 1/4 cup tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Directions

  1. Fire roast the red pepper if you have a gas stove, just place it on the burner and turn occasionally for 5 minutes. Place the blackened pepper in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap for 15 minutes. This will soften the skin, and it will peel off very easily, remove the stem and seeds and give it a rough chop. You can also use store bought roasted red peppers.
  2. Start by blending the chickpeas a little at a time, the liquid from the can and the lemon juice will help. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth, scraping the sides down and stirring as needed to get everything blended.
  3. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil overtop and a pinch of red pepper flakes for garnish.

Tzatziki

Ingredients

  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. fresh chopped mint
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of black pepper or mint.

The 3 dips joined a mountain of crackers, cheese, chocolate, fruit and other treats. Thanks to everyone who brought something to add to the deliciousness. We’ll have to outdo ourselves next time, which could be hard. But I’m willing to try if you are!

The full spread- wish I could eat like this all the time!

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

This is time of year when most of us feel guilty, overindulged and a bit slothful. We make a return to work, and the gym, and the grocery store, hoping for a better year. If you are someone who manages to remain virtuous all year, this post is not for you. But if you are someone who lets it all hang out at the holidays, and is now looking for redemption, read on.

It’s really cold out right now, the kind of weather that makes frost on your eyelashes and tests your car battery, and always makes me want soup. I borrowed a friend’s Chez Piggy cookbook a while back, and have been eyeing its soup section ever since. I can’t wait to try more of the recipes, because tonight’s experiment was fantastic.

For those looking to up the taste, but not the calories, this is a great soup; definitely hearty enough to be a meal on its own. Lots of protein and fiber from the lentils, some good fats from the olive oil and coconut milk, and vitamins from the veggies. A perfect winter warm up that leaves you feeling satisfied and maybe even a little self-righteous.

Coconut Curry Lentil Soup

Based on Curry Red Lentil Soup from the Chez Piggy Cookbook

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, minced
  • 3 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 cups red lentils, rinsed
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 can light coconut milk

Directions

  1. Saute the onions, carrots, garlic, and ginger in the olive oil until the onions are translucent.
  2. Add the spices and cook one more minute. Add the lentils and coat them in the oil.
  3. Add in the vegetable stock and coconut milk, bring to a simmer.
  4. Simmer 30 minutes, or until the lentils are soft.

Holiday Baking!

Bird's Nests with Raspberry Jam

I am back in my childhood home for the holidays, and could not resist making my favourite childhood Christmas cookie on a lazy afternoon. There’s something so lovely about getting out all the supplies that haven’t changed much in 20+ years, including the 1970s Tupperware flour and sugar containers, and using the same old oven to make a comforting and familiar treat. Thanks to some baking skills that have improved over the years, I think these were the best batch ever.

They go by many names: Bird’s Nests, Thumbprint cookies, Polish tea cookies, and have many variations: rolled in coconut, pecan or walnut pieces, or plain, filled with chocolate, cherries or jam.  The combos are numerous, but I think my mom’s way is the best; rolled in crushed pecans, and filled raspberry jam. The toastiness of the pecans, the buttery crumbly cookie, and the sweet-tart raspberry jam are delightful, and cannot be matched. I love this cookie so much I am ignoring my egg allergy for a day or two, because there would be no egg-free way to recreate this cookie perfection.

They are so simple, just a few ingredients that are probably already in the pantry, and they bake up crisp and begging for a jam centre. A wonderful way to kick off the holiday break.

Pecan coating assembly line.

Bird’s Nest Cookies with Raspberry Jam

Ingredients

1/2 cup salted butter, softened

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 large egg, separated

1 cup flour

1 small package crushed pecans

good quality raspberry jam

Directions

      1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
      2. Cream butter and sugar until smooth, then mix in egg yolk. Stir in flour until a crumbly dough forms.
      3. Using your hands, form one inch balls from the dough, you will get about 15 balls total.
      4. Give the left over egg white a quick whisk in a small bowl, and pour a small amount of crushed pecans in a separate bowl.
      5. Dip each ball first in the egg white and second in the crushed almonds, rolling around to coat.
      6. Place the rolled balls on a cookie sheet and press an indentation in each cookie using your index finger or a thimble.
      7. Bake for 10 minutes, remove from oven and re-press the indents. Bake another 15 minutes. Cookies should have toasty bottoms but still be slightly soft. They will firm up as they cool.
      8. Once cool, cookies can be frozen for later, or filled with jam for serving immediately.

 

 

Double Chocolate Pudding Pie

I love a creamy, dairy based dessert. Since I can’t eat dairy anymore (or at least now seriously limit my intake), I often feel left out at dessert time, or end up cheating so as not to disappoint a host- or myself.

When I saw a chocolate pudding pie recipe on the Post Punk Kitchen, a tasty vegan blog, I had to give it a go. I made a few changes, which I think made the recipe even better, but I thank the brilliant IsaChandra of PPK for giving me a starting point.

This pie is so chocolatey and creamy, and the coconut milk so undetectable, that anyone will love it. I fed it to a crowd a few months ago at a bbq, and every piece but one disappeared- I didn’t let the dairy free secret out of the bag. I really think the oreo crumb crust perfects the recipe.

Ingredients

Crust
1 1/2 cups oreo cookie crumbs
1/4 cup vegan margarine (or butter), melted

Filling
750 ml canned coconut milk (or milk of your choice)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pinch of salt

Topping
Cool Whip, whipped cream or other whipped topping

Directions

1. Mix melted butter and oreo crumbs together in a pie pan, press them into the pan to form the crust.

2. Bake the crust at 350F for 10 minutes.

3. Combine a small amount of the coconut milk and all of the cornstarch in a medium saucepan, whisk to mix. Alternately, shaking them together in a small jar works well to get rid of any lumps.

4. Add in the rest of the coconut milk, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Whisk to combine.

5. Bring the mixture to a boil while whisking. Once boiled, lower the heat to simmer, and whisk until it thickens, around 5 minutes.

6. Once thickened, stir in chocolate chips and vanilla, stir until the chocolate chips melt and everything is combined.

7. Pour the mixture into the pie crust. If the mixture has any cocoa or cornstarch lumps, pour it through a fine mesh sieve and your pudding will be silky smooth.

Cool the pie in the fridge, and place plastic wrap or parchment paper on top of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. It will take 2-3 hours to set. Before serving, smooth on some Cool Whip or other topping, and decorate with berries or chocolate shavings if you desire.

KWV Chenin Blanc

2011 KWV Chenin Blanc, $8. LCBO#18689.

I may being selling my soul to the Walmart of South African wineries with this review, but I have to say that this is the best cheap white wine I have discovered to date.

I bought it on a whim, because I really like Inniskillin’s Chenin Blanc from the Okanagan. It is crisp, fresh, not too dry, perfect in the summer. It is also hard to come by in Ontario, so I usually only enjoy it on a patio in Calgary once a year. A bottle runs about $17, which is a fair price for the quality.

This KWV bottle caught my eye in the LCBO, but the $8 price tag left me sceptical and even feeling a little guilty. How can you grow the grapes and get them all the way to Canada at that price, without some serious worker exploitation? I can’t speak for KWV’s business practices, but if I can’t get a decent bottle of wine all the way from New Zealand for less than $15, how can they produce one for $8? As well, if a Canadian Chenin Blanc runs for the double the price, how good can an $8 bottle be?

But once I sampled some of the KWV, I was sold. All social conscience flew out the window, and all I could think was, I can buy many, many of these bottles, and my bank account will be still be happy.

To date, most white wines I have tried that are under $10 are watery, or sweet, or yeasty or just plain crap. My first sip of the KWV was a blissful change from the usual disappointment.

The wine is crisp, medium bodied and dry. Still fruity and tropical, with some green apple and citrus in there, and is nicely balanced. Very food friendly- I used some to make a sauce for chicken, and it went nicely with the meal as well.

It is safe to say that this wine will have a permanent place in the door of my fridge- ready to take the edge off a bad day at work, to cook with, or to share with a friend.

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 and 5/5 for value.

Accidentally Organic Beer Braised Beef

My recent blogging hiatus has finally come to an end. Thankfully my soul crushing and creativity squashing workload has eased up slightly, just enough to allow me a smidgen of extra energy to plan and execute a delicious meal. Earlier this fall, we bought a mixed pack of beef from a local organic farm, and a giant prime rib roast has been haunting my dreams (and my freezer) ever since. This high quality piece of meat had to be treated right, and braising came to mind.

Melt in your mouth tenderness.

We love roast beef. This is actually my third post on the subject, and I think I have reached the pinnacle of beefy perfection this time.

I found a simple recipe on Epicurious for Beer Braised Beef and Onions, and the reviews did not lie. This 6 ingredient recipe is amazingly easy, low maintenance and DELICIOUS. Basically: brown the meat, saute some onions, add in some beer, put this in the oven for 2-3 hours, and voila. Please try it the next time you have a hunk of beef in your fridge, a cheap cut would certainly suffice. The prime rib roast was falling off the bone, tender, juicy and full of flavour, but I wonder what I could achieve with a less fancy cut. A future challenge!

The only beer I had around was Mill St. Organic, and although the recipe called for pilsner, the lager was fine. It is coincidentally organic, along with my beef, and while everyone who knows me will laugh at the idea of me trying to be healthy, it was a happy accident. I don’t know that the taste was any better or worse, but I felt slightly virtuous while chowing down on a plate of red meat.

I paired the beautiful roast with yorkshire puddings, something no roast beef dinner should be without. Roasted veggies, done on a Silpat mat came out golden and toasty, calling out to be soaked with the onion gravy I made out of the remaining braising liquid.

Just before it goes in the oven.

A few tips for dinner perfection:

  • Don’t be afraid to brown the heck out of your roast before braising. This will ensure flavour perfection.
  • Use the parchment circle under the lid as they recommend in the Epicurious recipe- it will keep all the juices in the pot as they will condense on the parchment and drip back onto the roast.
  • Cook the yorkshire puddings at 450F for about 30 minutes, they will be huge and perfectly crispy on the outside.
  • To make the gravy, bring the remaining braising liquid to a boil, whisk plenty so that the onions disintegrate and thicken the sauce. Add a bit of beef stock or bouillon for flavour and some flour or cornstarch that you have pre-mixed with water, and you’ll have excellent gravy in 5 minutes.

Sandbanks Shoreline Red

2009 Sandbanks Shoreline Red, $14.95. LCBO#159962.

Kevin & I have been big fans of Sandbanks Estate Winery for the past few years. I first visited the vineyard on a PEC tour in 2009, and came home with bottles of Dunes & Baco Noir, which quickly became our go-to Ontario wines. Dunes is perfect with appetizers, especially anything cheesy, and the Baco Noir is great solo or with something meaty.

On our latest trip to Prince Edward County, we stopped by again to see their new building (which is lovely) and had a fun tasting out on the patio with one of their energetic young staff. We came away with yet another winner, the newly released Shoreline Red. I’m having trouble deciding if it has dethroned Baco Noir as my personal favourite. It’s along the same lines, but a bit more restrained. The fruit is still in there, but it’s not such a cherry bomb. The Cabernet Franc in the blend lends some smoothness and a bit of vanilla.

The thing I love most about Sandbanks is that they make such reliably great wine at really reasonable prices. The quality and price in Prince Edward County really varies, and while I love trying new wineries there, I also like knowing I can count on Sandbanks for very drinkable wine.

Ontario wine drinkers may want to note that while prices from the winery and the LCBO are the same, when you buy direct from the winery, they get to keep a greater share of the profit. Sandbanks offers complimentary shipping; consider ordering directly from them on their website. I notice that other PEC wineries are also offering complimentary shipping as well.

Overall, I give this wine 9/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Summer Wine Picks Wrap Up

On the eve of my official return to work, post-summer break, it seems fitting to weigh in on the last of the CBC “All in a Day” summer wine picks. We managed to try all 6 bottles since we found the list in July, and included a few friends along the way in our taste testing. I got around to formally reviewing 4 of them, which are all linked below. The final 2 were a bit lack lustre, so I’ve just included a few notes on them below.

To Recap: “All in a Day” Wine Panel’s Summer Picks

Rod’s Picks:

Stacey’s Picks:

  • White: Grooner Gruner Veltliner (Austria) $13.30– 8/10 for taste and 3.5/5 for value.
  • Rosé: The Beach House Rosé (South Africa) $9.95- Overly sweet and a bit yeasty. Felt like a cheap bottle of flavoured wine, it was just missing the fake strawberry taste. Would not buy again, although would never have bought it, had it not been on the list.
  • Red: Santa Carolina Reserva Carmenere (Chile) $11.95- A dry red, spicy and peppery. Had a high alcohol content that took a long time to dissipate. Not the greatest because the alcohol really overwhelmed the flavour.

Trying these new bottles was a fun experiment, although it was not extremely useful in finding wines I would buy again. I think my wine taste is closer to Rod’s, I would buy both his red and white recommendation again, probably next summer. Stacey’s picks weren’t my favourite, all of them were a bit blah or cheap feeling, which is disappointing, because there are lots of $10 wines out there worth buying.

I think the verdict is, there are lots of wines on my $10 list that I would recommend ahead of these 6.

Thanks to Joe Shlabotnik for the photo.

Cono Sur Bicycle Viognier

2010 Cono Sur Bicycle Viognier, $9.95. LCBO#64287.

We are making good progress on the “All in a Day” summer wine list, having polished off 4 of the 6 bottles so far. We tested bottle number 4 out at a BBQ hosted by white wine loving friends. The wine was served well chilled while we nibbled on some Fifth Town goat cheese, with crackers and olive tapenade from Tuscany. Not too shabby if I do say so myself!

The wine went wonderfully with the cheese, and was also great on its own.  A medium golden colour with plenty of ripe fruit on the nose, some peach and melon for sure. The taste is full of orchard fruit as well as something a bit tropical, with a nice citrus acidity. It is a 1 in sugar content, but is well balanced and not overly sweet.

It’s a really fresh and fruity wine that is optimally consumed with bare toes touching the grass, and one’s bottom cushioned by a comfy deck chair. It’s backyard gathering wine for sure. I don’t know if I would pick it up in the winter, it probably would not be as fun to drink.

This wine went well with goat cheese, both sharp and mild, and would also be a great pair to some spicy asian takeout, seafood or fried chicken. At the $10 price tag, you can’t go wrong.

Overall, I give this wine 8.5/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.