Argento Bonarda

April 6th, 2014
ARGENTO BONARDA 2013, $9.95. LCBO# 292458.

ARGENTO BONARDA 2013, $9.95.
LCBO# 292458.

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It is high time for a $10 wine post, and this Bonarda is a winner. We are fans of Argento’s Malbec (here’s a link to my past review). We usually keep it on hand for weeknight dinners and casual gatherings, and one day I noticed the Bonarda next to it in the LCBO. It must have been on sale, and I thought “never heard of that grape but why not?” and I’m so glad I did. I’m not sure which I like better, the Malbec or Bonarda, because both are so nice and also economical. Interestingly, they are Argentina’s 2 most planted grape varietals- points to Argento for doing the local grapes so well.

The Bonarda is a lovely deep plum shade that promises good flavours and then delivers. It is medium/full bodied, full of berry fruits and is also a bit smoky with oak. It makes me think of California style reds, which I also love. Dry, but not too dry, nice with red meat, BBQ, and dark chocolate.

Spring is in the air and backyard parties are right around the corner, so pick it up for a BBQ potluck and I know your friends will be happy.

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

20 Bees Shiraz

February 8th, 2014
20 BEES SHIRAZ, $11.95. LCBO#146837.

20 BEES SHIRAZ, $11.95.
LCBO#146837.

Round #2 of my Wine of the Month Club: The January delivery included a bottle of 2012 20 Bees Shiraz. I have to say I was not excited to see it- I have had 20 Bees Baco Noir and one glass was more than enough for me. I also find their labels and winery name to be overly cute. And Shiraz in Canada? I don’t know- I really like Australian Shiraz (in fact we had a killer bottle last week- 2011 Dandelion Vineyards Lionheart of the Barossa, $20, amazing value, none left at the LCBO, sob, drink some for me if you can find it).

So, I opened the bottle with low expectations on a freezing cold Wednesday night. But my snobbery turned to a smile as we paired it with beef tacos- great match. The wine is what the critics say: dry, light-medium bodied, not overly complex, and a little fruity with a peppery finish. This would be good BBQ wine in the summer.

That said, I don’t know that I would buy it again. The price is reasonable, the wine is fine, it’s just not what I’m looking for in a Shiraz. It was an interesting bottle, not something I would typically pick up on my own, so I will give the Wine Club a pass on this one. But there are a lot of $12 red wines I would buy before this one.

Overall, I give this wine 7.5/10 for taste and 4/5 for value.

Cave Spring Riesling Dry

January 25th, 2014
Riesling Dry

2012 CAVE SPRING RIESLING DRY, $14.95. LCBO#233635.

This year, my resolution is to drink more wine and blog about it. Tough goal, right? To ensure some inspiration, I joined a “Wine of the Month Club” this December which brings new bottles of VQA Ontario wine to my door each month. The club is run by Winery To Home and the critics are David Lawrason and Tony Aspler. I am doing the $45/month version, which includes one white and one red bottle; there are varying price and quality levels, but I thought I would start with the basic one and see how things go.

My December delivery (just pre-Christmas, what a lovely gift to oneself!) included a bottle of 2012 Cave Spring Cellars Riesling Dry. I have long been curious about Cave Spring, there is something very clean and crisp about their name and their wine labels, but not being a big Niagara drinker, I hadn’t bought a bottle yet. We shared the bottle with friends who enjoy Riesling, particularly dry varieties, and the review was a big thumbs up.

It is definitely as described by the critics: light, fresh, some mineral and citrus. Dry, but not overly so. It went very well with a charcuterie spread, particularly prosciutto and sharp cheese, a nice contrast in flavour. A surefire crowd pleaser- would also do well with seafood.

I think $15 is good value for this bottle, and I’m happy to see the local LCBO has lots on hand. So far so good with the wine club- I’ve been introduced to a new wine and winery, and have a new go-to party wine. I plan to pick up more of this bottle soon.

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

Better than a Bakery Cinnamon Buns

January 4th, 2014
PHOTO_crop

Fresh from the oven and waiting for some glaze.

I like to mark a new year by posting the most un-diet thing possible. Last year’s new year post featured a mind-blowing chocolate cake. This year I would like to share a new baking adventure that created the most lovely cinnamon buns that have passed my lips. These yeast-dough buns are fluffy-yet-dense, lightly sweet so as not to compete with the cinnamon and sugar, and bake up into monster buns that you think you won’t finish but you absolutely will.

I have certainly indulged in Cinnabon buns, bakery buns, been served cheater “Land of Nod” buns that I find too sweet with no spiral fun, but I have never made them myself. I can’t believe it took me so long! These will be a brunch staple for sure, the shear impressiveness of a pan of these right out of the oven begs for an audience.

I used Michael Smith’s Cinnamon Rolls recipe and followed it exactly. I wouldn’t change a thing, either. The glaze to finish (not pictured) is the final touch- it’s not too sweet and gives just the right finish. My KitchenAid mixer was a big help with this one, although you don’t need to mix with the dough hook for too long. The dough comes together fairly fast and is a pleasure to knead into a smooth, elastic ball. It rose quickly (hint: I put it in my warm utility closet to speed the rise time) and rolled out like a dream. Almost like play-doh for adults. And it tastes better. I think you could make the dough the night before, let it rise and then store in the fridge to be ready for the morning, since it does take a couple hours from scratch.

Cutting the roll for baking.

Cutting the roll for baking.

Best kneading ever.

Best kneading ever.

And if you’re intimidated by yeast, kneading, rising time, etc., etc., don’t be! I have no real dough experience beyond pizza dough, and this was a dream. You’ll feel so accomplished after baking these, like Laura Ingalls Wilder would be impressed, I dare you to make them- and then tell me about it- or invite me for brunch.

Happy Thanksgiving!

October 12th, 2013

20131012-151035.jpg

It is a beautiful fall weekend in southern Ontario, perfect for a Thanksgiving holiday. Before I could go outside to enjoy it, I baked up this beauty, a Pecan Pie for tomorrow’s family feast.
Happy feasting everyone! I hope a slice of your favourite pie makes it to your plate this weekend.

Ontario Peach Pie

August 25th, 2013

IMG_0015The year has been passing by at light speed, taken up with work, a few vacations, and all the little things that use up a day. I’ve gotten quite a few questions lately about my blog. Why haven’t I posted much this year? What am I drinking? The truth is probably two-fold- I’ve amassed quite a portfolio of favourite wines and recipes and don’t always have new food and drink to share, and having a computer-heavy day job can be a drain on the creative juices.

But if there’s anything that might get a cook’s energy back up, it is late summer and early fall in Ontario. Having grown up a prairie girl, I am amazed every year here when the bounty begins to roll in. Niagara peaches are one of my very favourite treats, but they tend to come in huge baskets and ripen all at once. Every August at this time I search for a random peach pie recipe, and then think, why haven’t I posted this so I’ll know what to make next year?

IMG_0017This year I found two good recipes: One for the #1 Best Pie Crust Ever and the other for Mama Thornton’s Peach Pie, both from the Food Network. The pie crust uses butter and shortening and has definitely replaced my old standard Crisco recipe. The butter makes the dough less crumbly and easier to work with, and browns up so beautifully I could hardly wait for the pie to cool before slicing through the crisp crust into the peaches below. The peach filling is fantastic- gooey but not runny and just the right amount of sweet. The only change I made was to double the lemon juice and add a splash of vanilla extract.

So, if you have peaches ripening en masse at this very moment- I hope a peach pie is in your future.

Best of Baking

January 5th, 2013

IMG_0803The holiday break has afforded many opportunities to rev up the new Kitchenaid mixer. I look at it daily and think “what can we make today?” And then I tell my mixer that treats cannot be an everyday occurrence. Although they should be.

For a New Year’s get together I jumped on the chance to bring dessert so that I would have an excuse to make a chocolate cake. I made my favourite Nigella version, posted here. It was more-ish as always and was promptly demolished, as chocolate cakes should be. You should make it. And fill your face with it-but don’t blame me for your derailed resolutions. Blame Nigella.IMG_0793

If you want something a little lighter and less guilt-inducing, I made holiday gingerbread in December and didn’t get around to posting it. I shared the cookies around at a few holiday shindigs and people are still talking to me about it. It’s just a McCormick recipe, but I think the magic is in the technique. Roll the dough as thin as you can and bake them until firm, and you’ll end up with light, crispy, refreshing ginger bombs. They are so good and so delightfully spiced that I am thinking about making another batch just to have for after-dinner treats. They keep really well in the freezer, just waiting for when you need a ginger pick-me-up. You can also tell yourself that ginger is good for digestion and therefore this cookie is good for you. Plus they have molasses and that’s better than white sugar, right?Blueberry Muffins

So finally, in a moment of holiday boredom, I whipped up some blueberry muffins to pass the time. I used my favourite recipe from Smitten Kitchen (see my previous post here) and they were perfect to have on hand for post-Christmas snacking and lounging about.

So here are 3 ideas for homemade treats to start 2013 with a bang and give the finger to any thoughts of healthier living and self-denial. Plus, some self-righteous food guy once said (something to the effect of) “it’s ok to eat treats as long as you make them yourself.” And that’s the mantra I live by. Although it’s also ok in my books if Pan Chancho or Bread & Butter Bakery make them too.

Luccarelli Primitivo Puglia

January 2nd, 2013
Luccarelli Primitivo 2010, $9.80. LCBO#253856.

Luccarelli Primitivo 2011, $9.80. LCBO#253856.

The new year calls for a return to wonderful $10 wines and I have a good one to share. Primitivo is a favourite varietal of mine, and I love that you can get a great Italian bottle for a good deal.

This one does not disappoint and is very typically fruity and ripe, full bodied, dry but not too dry, and just generally fun to drink. We had it with steak but it was delicious solo too. I think it might also be good with chocolate but it didn’t last long enough to find out.

This vintage is sold out in most major Ontario cities but there are still quite a few bottles in rural Ontario areas. Maybe you’ll luck out and find a few bottles (or maybe you live elsewhere and your wine shop has lots of this gem). And trust me, you’ll want more than one.

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

Holiday Baking Round 2

December 11th, 2012

IMG_0791This weekend, I spent an afternoon in the kitchen, adding 3 new treats to the baking stockpile. My Kitchenaid mixer got another workout, this time with Whipped Shortbread (dipped in chocolate), and I followed that up with 2 simple but delicious no-bake cookies: Chocolate Haystacks and Butterscotch Confetti squares.

The shortbread and squares are both classics, throwbacks from childhood, just as delightful and addictive as ever. Just today I shared the Butterscotch Confetti with a friend and we discussed what vintage gold they are. As a rule, I’m not a huge square fan as sometimes they are best left in the 1980s, but these are just the right mix of peanut butter and butterscotch, and if you eat them super cold, the texture of the marshmallows is irresistible.

And the beauty of these 3 treats is that they each have so few ingredients, chances are you have them already in your pantry.

Whipped Shortbread
(From Best of Bridge)

Ingredients
1 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup icing sugar
3 squares of semi-sweet baking chocolate

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Whip the first 3 ingredients together in a stand mixer for 10 minutes, until very smooth and fluffy.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for 13 minutes at 325F.
4. Cool the cookies while melting the chocolate. Dip the cookies half in the chocolate and cool in the fridge.

Butterscotch Confetti
(From Company’s Coming)

Ingredients
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 bag mini marshmallows

Directions
1. Melt the first 3 ingredients together in a saucepan or the microwave.
2. Stir in the marshmallows and pat into a 9×9 pan.
3. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into squares. These freeze well for later use.

Chocolate Haystacks

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1/2 cup milk
6 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flaked coconut
3 cups quick oats

Directions
1. Boil the first 4 ingredients together in a saucepan for 3 minutes, stirring constantly.
2. Stir in the final 3 ingredients quickly.
3. Drop by the teaspoon onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate until firm. These freeze well for later use.

And finally….Kevin is asking for gingerbread…so perhaps we’ll have adventure #3 in Christmas baking someday soon.

The holidays are here…

December 2nd, 2012

December is upon us and I find myself in the mood to stockpile delicious baked treats in my freezer. It may have something to do with my new friend. We met last weekend in America, while doing some browsing of the holiday sales, I came upon a Kitchenaid mixer in need of a good home. This amazing piece of kitchen equipment had never really been on my radar because of the steep pricetag, but I found a deal too good to pass up, and now I have a glossy black Kitchenaid Professional 5 Plus standmixer staring me in the face every time I walk into the kitchen.

I used it earlier this week to whip cream in record time, but have been thinking all week about holiday cookies. I decided to make a favourite, Bird’s Nests with Raspberry Jam, these are always such a nice mix of crispy cookie and sweet-tart jam (pictured in the foreground). Those didn’t seem enough, so I let Kevin pick from Chatelaine’s holiday cookie list, and he wanted Birthday Cake Icebox Cookies (pictured on the left). To be honest, I laughed and assumed they would not be great, but I have to say they are quite tasty. It’s basically a sugar cookie with a bit of crunch from the sprinkles and an extra sweet kick from the icing sugar glaze- a vanilla sugar bomb of a cookie.

To round out the weekend I decided to make some buttertarts. These didn’t need the help of the mixer, but I’ve been missing these in my holiday life for years. There are so many buttertart variations out there, pecan, walnut, raisin, no raisin, corn syrup-based, maple syrup-based, egg-based, etc., etc. All I really want is the kind my mom made when I was a kid: egg-based, with raisins and pecans. The recipe comes from a well-worn Best of Bridge cookbook and is simply buttertart perfection (pictured on the right).

The Best Buttertarts

Makes 12 buttertarts.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 4 tbsp. cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 cup seedless raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 12 tart shells (recipe for 1 pie crust will be enough)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375F.

2. Beat eggs in a saucepan, then combine the next 5 ingredients in the saucepan. Boil on medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes.

3. Sprinkle a few pecan pieces in the bottom of each tart shell, then spoon 1/4 cup of tart filling into each shell.

4. Bake for 15 minutes at 375F. The tarts will be done when the filling is set and the crust is flaky and golden.

Pastry tip: Make 1 pie crust using the Crisco recipe (3/8 cup shortening, 1 cup flour, 1/2 tsp. salt and 4 tbsp. cold water), shape into a ball and chill 30 minutes. Roll out to 1/4″ thickness, cut into 12 circles with a cookie cutter or water glass, and shape into a 12-muffin tin. Chill the tart shells another 30 minutes, then fill with hot filling and bake immediately. The cold crust will turn out extra puffy and flaky.

So, holiday treats to come…perhaps some Butterscotch Confetti, Chocolate Haystacks, Whipped Shortbreads? Stay tuned.