Weekend in the County

November 10th, 2014

I was recently the lucky recipient of a gift certificate for Countylicious 2014, courtesy of The County. It arrived and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was for East & Main, a restaurant in Wellington I had wanted to try before but had never matched up with its somewhat limited hours.

A weekend adventured ensued, complete with Saturday wine touring, a Countylicious dinner, and a fantastic Sunday breakfast at the Tall Poppy Cafe.

We spent our Saturday afternoon snaking through the wineries of Hillier, a region with too many options to cover in one afternoon, so we picked ones we had yet to visit. We took home bottles from Harwood, Hillier Creek, Stanners and Trail Estate. Two highlights were chats with wonderful wine making ladies at Harwood and Stanners, which I found was the most fun part of the tasting. I do appreciate that wine makers might want a Saturday off, but tasting is much more enjoyable with passionate people whose own livelihood is tied up in their product. The complimentary cheese pairings at Harwood and the crackling wood stove made it the best stop of the day- it is a great place to visit in the colder weather. I’m most excited to try the Harwood Pinot Noir & St. Laurent blend we took home, and the county Pinot Noir from Stanners.

We spent our evening at East & Main, where the Countylicious menu did not disappoint. $35 pp for 3 courses was very reasonable, and even better when you have a gift certificate. The service was very competent and efficient, and the place was hopping the whole time we had dinner, with a new crowd coming in as we finished. The menu was a bit different than what was on the Countylicious website, but the selection was still really good. For the appetizer I would recommend the french onion soup if they have it- very classic salty broth and cheesy broiled top. The scallop dish is decent too. Perfect November food, especially on a rainy and windy evening. The mains we had were good but not great- I wish I had gotten the lamb, as the veal scallopini I ordered was actually more like schnitzel, and the steak frites was pretty ordinary. But they won me over with the dessert- the banana and caramel bread pudding was really incredible. I can still taste it! Also the apple/berry crumble was nice- but I think the bread pudding was the star of the whole meal. We paired the meal with a bottle of Sandbanks Baco Noir, which matched the meaty main courses well, and added some coffees with dessert. Overall- really good meal with great service too- I will be back (if my timing matches their hours again!).

I tried to book us a B&B that was walkable to downtown Wellington, but everything I tried was either closed for the season or full for the weekend, even booking weeks in advance. I think it was a combo of small inventory + others with Countylicious weekend plans. We ended up staying at a guest suite in one of the small businesses in Wellington. I wish I could give them a shout out, but unfortunately the suite smelled so strongly of second hand smoke, coupled with dog hair around the suite, it really ruined our stay and I can’t recommend them. Allergy disaster! To avoid spending too much time there, we wandered over to the new Drake Devonshire hotel post-dinner. Some of the pluses: amazing waterfront property and neat architecture. The minuses: overly kitschy hipster decor (read: trying way too hard), roaring noise from dining room/bar and poor ventilation in the dining area- you will smell like whatever is cooking. What I hear about the Drake in general is that it is fine but has overpriced rooms and food, geared to a Toronto crowd. Personally, I’m looking for authentic experiences when I am in the County and I don’t see myself hurrying back here. We didn’t even get a drink as planned on Saturday evening, the bar was so loud and smelled so strongly of the kitchen, to pay $15 for a cocktail seemed masochistic. Also- dining host was not attentive (read: could not be found) and front desk staff could barely rip her eyes away from her laptop to acknowledge my existence. Perhaps a Toronto attitude has also been imported? We sat a bit in the lobby, the “eccentric” furniture was surprisingly comfortable. I think the only good reason to come back here would be to enjoy the waterfront in the summer- they have one of the only hotel properties in the County that really maximizes the beach and water.

I woke up early Sunday morning, eager to get the heck out of that smoker’s haven, and we were at the Tall Poppy before most of their staff had started their day! I love that cafe- the food is good, the atmosphere is great and the people are even better. We chowed down on the breakfast menu, honestly, everything I have ever eaten there is good, and given their 7am-3pm daily hours I eat there pretty well every time I am in the area. Also good coffee and lovely baked goods- you will not be disappointed! And it is licensed with very fair prices. It’s probably a good thing I don’t live close enough to show up daily.

The only downside to our early start on Sunday was that no stores or wineries were open by the time we were heading out, so instead of a slow meander home through Bloomfield and Picton, we had a speedy trip back home, complete with a stop for cheap gas on highway 49.

So, the moral of the story is that you have until November 23, 2014 to get in on Countylicious, and if you miss that, remember that Wassail runs the last 2 weekends of November and the first weekend in December. Plenty of time to do a little Christmas shopping in the County! There’s a bus tour every Saturday during Wassail for $15 and you just might find me back again in a few weeks.

Luccarelli Negroamaro Puglia

October 16th, 2014

2012 Luccarelli Negroamaro Puglia, $9.95. LCBO#380972.

Recently someone, a creative sort, asked if I make things, and all I could think of was cooking….and then I thought “Well I do have a blog. I might neglect it but it is creative…right?” And then a conversation ensued on the virtues of drinking good cheap wine and sharing that with the universe. After that I came across a new $10 possibility at the LCBO and knew it was time to stop making excuses about work exhaustion and share a nice bottle with fellow cheapskate wine drinkers.

I am a lover of Luccarelli Primitivo, and am a bit sad to see that it has moved from $9.80 to $10.95. So I picked up its Negroamaro cousin, because it still lives in the $10 zone. I really don’t know much about Negroamaro, but apparently it is a popular grape in southern Italy and is similar to Primitivo. I wasn’t able to compare the 2 bottles side by side as my LCBO was sold out of the Luccarelli Primitivo, but I would say they are both deep in colour, fruit forward, but nicely balanced in flavour.

The Negroamaro has a really smoky nose, and so much berry-cherry quality that it feels like a California wine to me, which is great, because I love big California reds. It is a little bit restrained on the finish, with some nice acidity, and the alcohol is at 13%, which is potent but not overwhelming.

All in all, I would most certainly buy this again, and given that it is hard to say if the Primitivo is better, I might grab the Negroamaro because it is $1 cheaper.

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

Argento Bonarda

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

ARGENTO BONARDA 2013, $9.95.
LCBO# 292458.

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

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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.