The Wine and Cheese Experiment

Cheese is good. Wine is also good. Pairing them together? Marvelous!

Wine_and_Cheese_Experiment

The wine and cheese experiment in Niagara Falls

Donning an apron, googles, and chef hat, I got to enjoy a wine and cheese pairing event in Niagara Falls, where the professionals chose the matching duos. For this particular occasion, we were given three types of cheeses to try, but they were served two ways – in it’s original form and what I would like to call, the “mad scientist” form.

Cheese_and_Wine

Three wines and three cheeses served six ways

The first cheese was a soft brie. On it’s own, it was so creamy and delicious how could it possibly get any better? Well, it got smoked. Placing our cheese into little ramekins, we crammed them under a glass dome and smoked it with some fancy tools and applewood. It’s amazing to watch the smoke fill the dome, but what is even more amazing is what a difference it made to flavours of the cheese. It was smoked for about 20 seconds and these deliciously creamy brie cubes were instantly filled with sweet, fruity notes thanks to the applewood and science. Yum!

Cheese_smoker

The cheese smoker

I cannot recall the name of the second type of cheese, but it was semi-hard cheese. Although it was delicious on it’s own, adding a little flame to it changed the flavours. Crème brûlée is extra special because of the burnt sugar on top, so of course adding a little brûlée to the cheese made it so much tastier. It was warm, it was gooier, and it made the toasted cheese a little nuttier. I’m not going to lie, we were in such awe that we wanted to buy a torch after.

Cheese_brûlée

Cheese brûlée

They say to save the best for last, but it was blue cheese. I hate blue cheese and was actually dreading it. However, leave it to the wine and cheese connoisseurs to find one that was actually delicious! I was visually grossed out by the green moldy parts (despite the fact cheese is technically a mold), but it was when we had the second form of the cheese soaking in a beaker with vidal ice wine that made it taste even better. It was sweet and savory and the best part was getting to drink some ice wine!

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Ice wine and blue cheese

Although this tour was only one of hundreds offered in Niagara Falls, I would like to say that ending the event with a dessert wine was awesome! Have you ever tried preparing cheese in a unique, “mad scientist” way?

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Wine Tasting 101

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A winery vineyard in Niagara Falls

Ever wonder what you’re supposed to do when you order a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant and you’re chosen as the one that has to sample it for the table? Nerve-wracking, right? Okay, maybe not so much but I went to Niagara Falls this past weekend and was taught to do the following:

  • Tip glass to 45 degree angle to check the clarity (Any bugs? Hope not. Correct colour? Sure?)
  • Swirl the wine to aerate it and get some oxygen into it (I didn’t believe it, but it actually does make a difference in the taste).
  • Sip to taste the wine, but don’t judge it…yet. Take a second sip and roll it around in your mouth to analyze the flavour and determine if it’s to you’re liking.

That’s apparently the secret to those awkward, I’ll-pretend-I-know-what-I’m-doing situations. While that mystery was solved, I learned a few other interesting things while visiting some of the wineries. For one, the size and shape of the cup makes a difference.

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Size matters!

I know they say size shouldn’t matter, but it does in this case. I truthfully thought it was a myth, but when we tested this experiment several times with several different wines, I became a believer. The wine in the smaller glass doesn’t allow it to aerate properly, so by pouring it into a bigger glass and swirling it around, it actually changes the flavour and enhances the wine. For instance, the merlot we tried became smoother and silkier. Strange, but true.

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Grape skin cause tannins

Then there’s that parched feeling you get in your mouth when you have a dry wine. It’s the result of the tannins (thanks to the grape skins or oak barrels that helped age the wine), which like to attach to proteins. In this case, your saliva. So when your tongue wants to stick to the roof of your mouth, you know it’s the tannins at work. This is why it’s good to pair dry wines with meat and cheeses.

Of course, no wine tasting is complete without some food. Here’s the sample platter that I got to go with my wine samples:

Wine_tasting_platter_Niagara_Falls

Wine tasting platter – slider with caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes, cheese, and a truffle pop.

All I can say is it was a good day. 🙂

 

A Little Thanksgiving with a Lot of Food

This past week was full of celebrations. Wednesday was the Mid-Autumn Festival. Yesterday was Karva Chauth. And today is our Canadian Thanksgiving or what I like to call, Turkey Day (or Gobble Gobble Day).

As usual, I’m thankful to be able to take part in two Thanksgiving meals. The first meal was on Saturday and we had turkey with gravy and cranberry sauce, corn, stuffing, bacon (if you recall, I posted about cooking turkey with bacon last year), Caesar salad, potatoes with sour cream, and a shrimp ring with cocktail sauce. There was also fish, which was a first time appearance on our Thanksgiving spread (a neighbour went fishing and generously shared their catchings with us the day before. You can’t let fresh fish go to waste!)

Thanksgiving_dinner

Caesar salad, corn, and turkey with gravy and a side of stuffing

For dessert, there was a platter of fresh fruits, egg tarts, and Japanese cheesecake. My plate that day was very sparse because I had a huge lunch earlier, but don’t worry because I know that just means there will be plenty of leftovers. 🙂

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Egg tarts

My second Thanksgiving meal took place on Sunday. The meal was simple, with turkey, cranberries, salads, mashed potatoes, rice, pickled beets, and broccoli.

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Thanksgiving #2

However, the dessert options were endless. There were two types of cheesecake (one non-bake cheese cake and another cheesecake with a biscuit crust), a foam cake (I’ll talk about this another day), and pie! Thanksgiving isn’t complete without a little pumpkin pie!

Pumpkin_Pie

Pumpkin pie

We went to the park after eating with the kiddies that day, but I’m pretty sure that didn’t burn off all the food we ate. Oh well. It was worth it. Plus it was such a nice day. Even the bees were still flying about, pollinating the flowers. 🙂

Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! 🙂

No Dough Pizza – An Open-Face Pizza Hoagie

We wanted the taste of pizza, but not the mess that came along with using dough so we ended up creating this open-face pizza hoagie instead. It’s similar to the campfire pizza I made last year, minus the naan and the campfire. Intead, we use an oven and buns. This recipe is enough to feed two if you’re super hungry, but you can always split one bun and have a side salad if you’re watching your carb intake. It’s nothing fancy, but this recipe surely satisfies that pizza craving!

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Pizza toppings

Ingredients:

  • 2 long buns
  • 1 container of pizza sauce (or homemade if you have any)
  • Shredded cheese
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 pepper (I chose orange for some sweetness, but any will work)
  • Handful of mushrooms
  • Bag of pre-cut pepperoni

 

Open_Face_Pizza_Hoagie

Ready to go into the oven

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°C.
  2. Cut the buns into halves, lengthwise.
  3. Spread pizza sauce on top.
  4. Add as much cheese as you desire. The more, the gooier.
  5. Add the remaining toppings as sparsely or as heavy as you would like.
  6. Cover a baking sheet with foil for an easy clean up. Add the prepped buns onto the baking sheet and put it into the preheated oven and bake for about 5-10 minutes (or until the ingredients have warmed up/toasted/melted to your liking).

Easy peasy! Even though I generally prefer a thinner bun, there is something about having a thick, crusty bread too. Plus, you don’t want your ingredients to fall off. Enjoy! 🙂

Bayou Gator with Shrimp Po’Boy

I ate alligator. It tastes like chicken, they said. It looks like chicken, they said. Not that it would scare me to eat an alligator, but my take?

Bayou Gator with Shrimp Po’Boy

It literally does look and taste like chicken. The meat seems to be similar to dark meat and it’s a lot tougher than chicken. Oddly, I found that there was some light fishiness to it. I guess you are what you eat?

Gator, anyone?

It’s a southern style influenced dish and I thought it was pretty good. Apparently alligator can come in three types of meat:

  • Tender, white, veal-like tail meat
  • Pinkish body meat (stronger flavours and tougher texture)
  • Dark tail meat (super tough and only good for braising)

The gator I had was battered and mixed with spices and shrimp, so it was crispy and placed into a French baguette – Po’Boy style. Given the toughness of the meat, I’m going to assume it was the “pinkish body meat”. It also came with a bucket of French fries and a side of spicy mayo sauce, which helped enhance the flavours.

Years ago, I discovered a Louisiana restaurant that sold alligator but they never actually had any in stock. When I discovered it at this restaurant, I was happy to order it and be able to finally check it off my bucket list of foods to try! But (!) I would order it again, too. 🙂

Happy 150th Birthday Canada!

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Today marks the sesquicentennial anniversary of Canada, aka Canada Day or Canada’s 150th birthday! There are many festivities occurring all over the country, including parades, fireworks and festivals, but I’m sure there are many throwing their own personal celebrations too!

Whether it be a BBQ or picnic (crossing my fingers the weather pans out) or just hanging out, it’s going to be a memorable occasion for many Canadians! If you plan to throw a party (or need an idea for a potluck), here are some Canadian food ideas and themes:

  • Host a red and white themed party with goodies like red velvet cake, pasta (there are even ones in the shape of maple leafs!) and crab salad
  • Have a Canadian wine and cheese gathering
  • Maple themed dishes – baked goods, glazed meats, chocolates, etc.
  • For the dessert lovers, butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, red and white jello, Timbitsice wine
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Canadian beer
  • Ketchup chips
  • Bacon! bacon! bacon!

For anyone looking for celebrations around Ontario, here’s a grand list of celebrations happening all over the province.

Happy Canada Day!

A New Foodie Concept – Popups

It’s that time of the year where the buds start blooming and new life begins. I went cherry blossom viewing this past weekend, only to find out they weren’t in full bloom yet. However, what I saw this year was definitely better than my first attempt a few years ago when only I only saw one tree with blossoms! Perhaps next year? They say third time’s a charm!

As beautiful as they were, cherry blossom viewing was just a detour towards my real goal that day, which was to check out the new pop-up concept at Yorkdale Mall. It’s called *ahem* “Concept”, where a handful of vendors showcase their products. The first batch were food-related and included:

  • Uncle Tetsu
  • Eva’s Original Chimney
  • Pie Squared
  • Caplansky’s Deli
  • Nadia’s Chocolates
  • Nugateau

The two big ones were Uncle Tetsu and Eva’s Original Chimney. There were huge lineups for these two vendors, but definitely worth the wait. Eva’s Original Chimney are Hungarian style ice cream cones. I first wrote about them back when I first tried them at the Canadian National Exhibit (CNE) last summer. Seeing as I enjoyed them the first time, you can imagine how excited I was to see them again (normally, it’s only sold in a floating food truck that travels around different parts of Toronto). This time, I got their Matcha Crunch, which contained a graham cracker cone that was filled with vanilla soft serve ice cream laced in a matcha Kit Kat crumble. It was also topped with matcha sauce and they added a Kit Kat bar for good measure.Yum!

Uncle Tetsu is a place well known in Asia for for their decadent Japanese cheesecakes. Although they do have a store in the heart of Toronto, it was great to see them uptown. Like the downtown store, it was no shock that the lineups were around the bend.

If you have never tried a Japanese cheesecake, it’s definitely a must. It’s soft, it’s fluffy and moist. Uncle Tetsu just so happens to be one of the best ones around. Even though we had to wait a bit for this scrumptious cheesecake, I ordered a pie from Pie Squared while waiting.

They had five types: Guinness beef and potato, steak and cheese, chicken pot pie, jerk chicken and a vegetarian pie. They’re cute little square-shaped pockets that are easy, grab n’ go snacks. I tried jerk chicken, but was a little disappointed when I realized there were more green peppers than chicken and the spices didn’t taste like authentic jerk spice. However, the crust was crispy and it was hot!

Then there’s Nugateau, a vendor that sold the fanciest éclairs I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get to sample one, but they were very pretty to look at.

Although I have heard lots of great things about Caplansky’s Deli (also a food truck in Toronto), I tend to avoid sandwiches when I can so needless to say I didn’t get anything from there. As for Nadia’s chocolate, they sold beautiful chocolate sculptures and treats but they were a bit pricey. A $65 chocolate sculpture, though nice, isn’t really my cup of tea.

Every four weeks, there’s a rotation and new vendors come in. This is also what I think makes this an exciting new retail experience for foodie lovers out there. I don’t think it will always be food-related, so enjoy this lineup of vendors until April 30. After that, who knows what surprises will come. Hopefully more foodie options!

Yorkdale – Concept:

3401 Dufferin Street
North York, Ontario
M6A 2T9
Canada

Easter Weekend

The chocolate egg and bunny hunts have begun and I’m sure many families are getting together this weekend to celebrate Easter weekend.

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Happy Easter!

Even though I wasn’t raised as a Christian, I celebrate it as a time to get together with family and friends. Plus, it’s an extra long weekend which I’m surely not going to complain about!

I had my family dinner yesterday. Although many families have succulent roasts or juicy hams, my family decided to have turkey. Why? Probably because it’s more versatile when it comes to leftovers – using the bones for soup, preparing the meat for salads and sandwiches or even stir fry dishes (I’ll post a recipe later on about what we did with some of our leftovers).

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Happy Hunting!

Whether you celebrate Easter or not, I’m wishing you a Happy Easter, an awesome long weekend and/or the best of luck in hunting down that discounted chocolate! Enjoy! 🙂

Sugar Shack – The Maple Syrup Festival

Canadian stereotypes:

  • We live in igloos
  • We live amongst polar bears
  • We love maple syrup

For me, two out of the three are false but the maple syrup one is correct! I say this because every year, multiple locations throughout Canada celebrate the maple syrup festival by going to a Sugar Shack, also known as La Cabane à Sucre in French.

It’s a tree tapping tradition where you can learn about the Canadian customs of maple syrup production and let me tell you, it takes a lot of time and effort to fill those bottles with 100% real syrup! 40 gallons of maple sap only creates 1 litre of syrup, to be exact!

To make this delicious syrup, the first thing they do is tap a bunch of maple trees by creating a small hole and inserting a nozzle. Rest assured, according to our guide, this process doesn’t harm the tree. In fact, it will heal on its own, like a minor boo boo. A bucket is then hung to catch the sap from the maple trees. Sap is created with the magic of photosynthesis – when sunlight creates energy and food for plants.

From here, there are two different ways to produce maple syrup. First, the old school pioneer way! Pioneer children were lucky. Most kids these days get one week for March break, but pioneer children get one month. However, this month is spent making maple syrup because the season is only 6-8 weeks long. If the temperature is too cold, the sap will freeze so the production of syrup each year is pretty time sensitive. Children help out by carrying buckets of sap on that wooden thingamajig attached to two buckets. It is then poured into cauldrons and boiled for hours. There are three different pots because each stage requires a certain type of monitoring. The syrup is created over time through heat and evaporation of the liquid sap to make it more concentrated.

When it’s done, it needs to be filtered. The pioneer way pours the sap into a simple bucket with cloth to get rid of the sediments, which is done several times.

The modern way is with big, fancy machines. It is boiled and stirred periodically before it goes into a big white container to be filtered into that clear, viscous liquid we all love.

The type of sap depends on the tree. It can range from clear to golden-brown, but the most common one we can find in most stores is amber syrup. It’s the good stuff you use to put on your pancakes and waffles! And real maple syrup contains 66% sugar which is measured using a refractometer. It can’t be less because it will go bad quickly (sugar acts as a preservative) and it can’t be more otherwise it will crystallize.

Some stores sell organic maple syrup, but do you know why it’s considered organic? Although everything comes from the maple tree, it’s the way it is processed. Boiling down the maple sap creates a foam which slows down the evaporation process. In non-organic maple syrup, a chemical defoamer is used. This is what renders the difference between organic and non-organic maple syrup.

Although it is interesting to learn about the history and making of maple syrup, it stirs up quite the appetite. The best part about visiting a sugar bush is visiting the sugar shack!

There are various treats that you can get at a sugar bush. Although it differs from place to place, you can get things such as maple cookies, maple chocolates or even maple taffy on a stick. At this particular location, they used ice to freeze the maple syrup. However, other places throw maple syrup on snow and peel it off to eat. Either way is delicious!

However, what I look forward to at a sugar bush is the pancakes with maple syrup! The pancakes are normally huge and pouring some beautiful maple syrup on top is the icing to the cake…pancake in this case. 🙂

Interestingly enough, maple trees aren’t the only trees that make syrup. You can also use birch trees, which require a ration of 80:1, just for drinking purposes. However, apparently it’s not that good. I’ll stick to the maple tree syrup which is apparently the only tree that produces a sweet flavour. And it’s my personal preference on pancakes and waffles. Yum!

 

Popcorn Gifts

This is a very random post, but I’ve noticed that my friends have been bringing me gifts/souvenirs from around the world and there has been a common theme – POPCORN! Not that there is anything wrong with popcorn, I just found the trend interesting. The first being popcorn flavoured candy from Taiwan.

These little square, yellow candies come in these tiny boxes. Oddly enough, it actually tastes like buttery popcorn – only in the form of soft, chewy candy like taffy. I guess you could say the flavour reminded me of those jellybeans that are used in that Beanboozled game or those Bernie Botts beans for those Harry Potter fans out there. It was interesting to eat.

Another friend of mine came back from Disney World, Florida, and she bought me a bag of kettle popcorn that was Sriracha flavor.

While the popcorn itself wasn’t shocking, it was the flavour. I was also happy to learn that it was GMO-free popcorn. While it didn’t exactly have “Sriracha” listed in the ingredients (more like sugar, sunflower oil, organic apple cider vinegar, salt, natural garlic flavor and chili pepper flavor, paprika powder, citric acid and lecithin), it was surprisingly good! It had a contrast of sweet and savory flavors with some spice to it. I might be the only person in the world that doesn’t really care about going to Disney World (more than once, anyway), but the popcorn may be worth a visit.

Although I never expect my awesome friends to buy me anything when they come back from a trip or for a visit, I wonder if I’ll be seeing another popcorn treat in the near future? Have you noticed any popcorn trends or received/given any popcorn related gifts?