Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Walnut and Wine Pairings

When I was initially approached about doing a post on California walnuts I wondered if it was a good fit. After all, the proposed idea was that I make a walnut recipe and write about that. Those that know me are fully aware that I am quite possibly the world’s worst cook and that Shawn is the one who makes most of our meals. When I mentioned it to him his reaction was simple – ‘Go ahead, as long as YOU make this recipe.’ So I confirmed that they didn’t mind that I wanted to do my post as a wine and walnut pairing and decided to take the plunge.

Walnuts are a staple in our kitchen, so I figured this was a good fit for our family. They’re a nutrition powerhouse and they’re super tasty, so it’s a win-win. Shawn uses them in our salads all the time and they make a great quick and easy snack. 

When I received the recipes to choose from, I was relieved to see that many of them looked super easy. I decided to make the Cajun-Spiced California Walnuts (click the link for the recipe) and the Maple Candied Walnuts. They seemed like good, healthy snack options and I figured if they turned out well I could whip up a batch for our New Year’s Eve party.

So what was the result? Well, turns out that both recipes were actually as easy as they look – I managed to make both batches in less than an hour and the results were tasty! These are both recipes that I would make again and that I’d happily serve at our holiday party. These could even make a fun and affordable homemade gift if you created some pretty packaging.

Now, for the wine pairings! As most of my readers know, I’m a confirmed wine newbie. I don’t claim to have any expertise with wine. And other than a growing passion for all things vino and a desire to learn everything I can, I’m still finding my way. That said, I’m really excited to try to pick some pairing options and I hope you don’t hold it against me if they aren’t perfect – I bet there are many actual experts who would be happy to help if these ones don’t work out. In fact, I know John Szabo’s Pairing Food and Wine for Dummies is available in bookstores now for just that purpose.

So here are my picks:

Cajun-Spiced California Walnuts paired with Huff Estates 2011 Off-Dry Riesling, Sandbanks 2010 Shoreline White or Vineland Estates 2010 Semi-Dry Riesling. I think a white Riesling, with a little sweetness would go well with this spicy, salty snack.

Maple Candied Walnuts paired with DiProfio 2010 Late Harvest Vidal or Karlo Estates 2009 Van Alstine Port.  I think a very nice dessert wine would be a good balance with these sweet treats.

I’d love it if you’d share your own thoughts on what to pair with these snacks – I know there are some of you who are food and wine pairing wizards!

For more great holiday recipe ideas using California walnuts you can visit.

Some photos of my cooking adventure:

Mixing the spices
Adding in the California walnuts
Starting to look pretty good

Ready for the oven
The finished Cajun-Spice Walnuts
California Walnuts just waiting to be candied
Stirring in the maple syrup
Adding the sesame seeds

Looking delicious
Ready for the oven
Maple Candied Walnuts finished

The fine print: California Walnuts provided me with the walnuts, the recipes and a gift card with which to purchase the needed ingredients to make these recipes. All wine referenced is wine that I purchased and none of the wineries I’ve mentioned are affiliated with California Walnuts – I just think they’d taste good together. All opinions are 100% my own.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wine On Tap

I had heard about Rock Lobster and their pop-up restaurants at Toronto Underground Market (TUM), but I didn’t get to experience them until we tried a lobster roll at the Gourmet Food and Wine Show in November – it was great. So when we heard that they were opening a permanent location and that they were one of the first restaurants in Toronto to offer wine on tap – and that the wine was from Vineland Estates – we had to check it out. I’m definitely glad we did

Wine on tap is an interesting concept – it allows the customer to order in the quantities they’re comfortable with (at Rock Lobster you can order by the ounce) and the restaurant isn’t left with any half empty bottles that can spoil. It seems like a win-win for everyone – including the environment. I think it’s an especially smart idea for restaurants that don’t offer a lot of wine selections or who want to make wine an affordable option.

"Vineland Estates is thrilled to be able to offer our premium VQA wines on tap,” said Brian Schmidt, winemaker at Vineland Estates when I asked him about this new initiative. “We believe that offering wines in a stainless steel keg to be poured by the glass is not only good for the environment (no glass bottles), but it also gives restauranteurs peace of mind that half opened bottles of wine in a fridge or left on a counter will not oxidize and spoil.”

Vineland is definitely on the cutting edge with this idea and Brian has been a great spokesperson for why this could be a way to get more Ontario wines into restaurants. “Wine on tap will encourage wine lovers to enjoy amazing VQA wines without committing to purchasing an entire bottle during their dining experience. Wine on tap, its time has come,” he says.

For me, I started with the Vineland Estates Riesling and found it was a nice intro to the meal – it’s a very versatile white, so it pairs well with many of the options on the Rock Lobster menu. The Cab Franc, however, was absolutely fantastic. I had this one with dessert and it was a stunner. When you have only two wine choices on the menu, it’s rare for them to both be of this quality – if wine on tap allows more restaurants to have great wine at a reasonable price, I’m all in favour.

And if you’re in the Toronto area, I highly recommend checking out Rock Lobster. We had the lobster mac and cheese, which is a super tasty comfort food classic and the lobster roll, which is amazing. Shawn ordered the roll and I have to admit I would have happily finished it for him.

The whale tail, which we had for dessert, was one of my favourite desserts ever – it’s sort of like a gourmet beaver tail without the greasy gross feeling that I always get from a beaver tail. Maybe it’s the crème anglaise they use or the Canadian maple sugar – whatever it is, I want it again.

While I was all about the wine Shawn had to try the Caesar, which comes with a half lobster tail. He said it was one of the better ones he’s ever had. I tried a few sips and would have to concur – great presentation for a really good drink.

We’ll definitely be back at Rock Lobster (110 Ossington Street) – especially if they keep serving great Ontario wine on tap.

Toronto Life has a really good review of Rock Lobster (with much better photos) that you can check out here.

A great shot of the wine kegs from Brian Schmidt at Vineland Estates:

More wine keg shots provided by Vineland Estates:

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

B.C. Wine Experience

Some of the delicious seafood to sample.
Recently, I was invited to an event at Roots on Bloor Street West in Toronto to celebrate Tourism B.C. It was a fun and fabulous evening featuring the wine, food and music of British Columbia – what’s not to love?

The smoked salmon and crab cakes I had were excellent, but the evening was really all about the wine for me. There were two B.C. wineries featured – Gray Monk and Mission Hill, both of which I had heard great things about but hadn’t tried. 

I started out with the Gray Monk 2011 Pinot Gris, which was my favourite wine of the evening. It was a lovely, light wine with great hints of citrus on the nose.

I followed that up with the Gray Monk 2011 Unwooded Chardonnay, which I thought was quite nice. It’s a full, fruity chard with great appeal – I would absolutely want to have this wine again.

As regular readers know, I tend to prefer whites to reds but I had heard such great things about Mission Hill that I wanted to give them a try. It’s not often that I have the chance to sample B.C. wine, so I was really nice opportunity to sample just a tiny slice of what the Okanagan has to offer.

I tried the 2010 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Pinot Noir, which was a great pairing with the smoked salmon. It has a vibrant nose and a light, spicy flavour – all things I look for in a red wine.

The 2009 Mission Hill Five Vineyards Cabernet Merlot was one I expected to love. The WSET student I had struck up a conversation with declared it his favourite and I was eagerly anticipating trying it. The nose was one of my favourites, with hints of vanilla and spice, but it was a very full, heavy red and not to my tastes. I think this has more to do with my personal taste in reds than the wine itself – it has scored very, very well and it was a popular choice with my companions.

I had a nice time at this event. It wasn’t a serious wine tasting, but a great opportunity to try wines I wouldn’t normally have access to in Ontario – although I’m hoping that the updates to the rules about inter-provincial wine imports will change that. 

I loved the chance to experience more of B.C.’s culture. Shawn and I were hoping to make it out to Penticton in the spring for the wine bloggers conference and to spend some time exploring B.C. wine country. It looks like we’ll be putting that off for a little bit, but this event reminded me that I need to keep that trip on my bucket list – I know it will be a great one.

Do you have a favourite B.C. wine? I'd love to hear more about the wines you love.