Archive | January, 2012

Wine Tasting

31 Jan

A wine tasting hosted by Rose.

I went to an introductory wine tasting hosted by wine enthusiast Rose Vogt. The theme of the night was wines of the world.  A total of  12 wines were sampled; each bottle cost less than $20 (CDN) and some were award winning wines. The cost of each wine was guessed and it’s quite surprisingly that a delicious wine does not have to be expensive.  Other topics that were discussed included how to properly taste wine, wine terminology, flavours, food pairing and corking. The evening was lively, brilliant and intimate.  I left with a greater understanding of the wine world and also realized I preferred white wine rather than red.

The following are some basics for wine tasting from Rose. You will need:

  • wine to taste (see below for some of the wines sampled at the wine tasting)
  • a clean, clear wine glass, preferably stemmed in order to avoid smudge marks on the bowl portion
  • a well-lit room
  • white background (such as a white tablecloth) to judge the colour of the wine

Taste wine with a focus on sight, smell, taste and finish.

Sight: Look at what you are about to taste. Hold the glass with wine at an angle away from you and look at it against the white background. The wine should be clear and reflect light.  Red wines tend to be more purple when young and change to deeper ruby to garnet to brick red as they mature. White wines vary from clear watery white to pale straw to deep golden yellow.  White wines that have tinges of brown colour may have oxidized and may be bad.

Smell: Use your nose. Smell what you are about to taste. When you pour the wine into the glass the contact with the air releases the aromas in the wine. Gently swirl the wine in the glass to introduce more air to the wine in order to release more aromas.  Hold the glass to your nose and consider the different smells. Use your memory of smells (e.g. sour lemons, sweet chocolate chips, salty cheese, tart green apples, etc.) to describe the aroma. If you smell something similar to vinegar or rotten eggs, the wine may be bad.

Some common tastes in wine such as sour lemons, sugary chocolates, creamy and salty cheeses, crisp tart apples, subtlety sweet pears and cantaloupe ....

Taste: Take one small sip and swish the wine in your mouth to connect with all the areas of the tongue and mouth. This is the preparatory step to tasting. Take a second sip and focus on the aromas and flavours. Gently draw air into your mouth to release more aromas.  Is the taste what you expected from the smell?

Finish: This is the taste after swallowing the wine.  Evaluate the flavour left in your mouth. The flavour should be pleasing, not harsh. The finish should have many of the same flavours and aromas of the wine when you first smelled it. Does the flavour linger? What is the scent of the lingering flavours?

Here are the 12 wines that were sampled (wine name, variety, country of production, year, alcohol content, price):

Generation Seven, $13.95

  • Generation Seven, Riesling/Sauvignon Blanc/Gewurztraminer, Canada, 2009, 13%, $13.95
  • Trapiche Astica, Sauvignon Blanc/ Semillon, Argentina, 2011, 13%, $7.45
  • KWV Contemporary Collection, Chenin Blanc, South Africa, 2011, 12%, $8.00
  • Avelda Fonte, Vinho Verde, Portugal, 10%, 2010, $8.95

Jip Jip Rocks, $16.95

  • Jip Jip Rocks, Shiraz, Australia, 14.50%, 2009, $16.95

L.A. Cetta $11.95

  • L.A. Cetta, Petit Sirah, Mexico, 14.50%, 2009, $11.95
  • Amado Sur, Malbec/Bonarda/Syrah, Argentina, 14%, 2009, $15
  • Beso de Vino Seleccion, Syrah/Garnacha, Spain, 13.50%, 2009, $10.10
  • JUST, 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, France, 13%, 2010, $9.95

Gato Negro, $8.95

  • Gato Negro, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile, 13.5%, 2011, $8.95
  • Appassimento Valpolicella Classico Superiore, Corvina/Corvinone/Rondinella, Italy, 13%,  2009, $15.95
  • Inniskillin Late Autumn, Riesling, Canada, 11%, 2010, $12.95

Some additional tips and tidbits I learned from Rose:

  1. Purchase wine in bulk in January because after the holidays, wine usually goes on sale.
  2. Canada is famous for their ice wine.
  3. Smelling and looking at the cork can be a good indicator of the quality of the wine.
  4. White wines can be made from red or black grapes (they don’t have to be made only from white and/or green grapes). Red wines need to be from red grapes to get the colour from the skins as the juice ferments.
  5. Sweet is the flavour of sugar in wine; dry is the opposite of sweet.

To learn more about wine, Rose suggests browsing: The Wine Doctor and The Wine Aroma Wheel.

A great big thank you to Rose for sharing her wine knowledge and organizing the wine tasting.

Marinara Sauce with Whole Wheat Penne

24 Jan

Whole wheat penne coated with marinara sauce and garnished with oregano leaves.

  • 10oz (or about 275 g) pasta*, cook as instructed
  • 4 cups crushed tomatoes* (or tomato sauce)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • fresh oregano, remove leaves from stem, discard stems
  • 1/4 cup feta, crumbled
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tbsps unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt and pepper

Heat a deep pot on high. Add in butter, oil, onions and garlic. Turn down heat to medium and cook until the onions are soft (about 5 minutes).  Add in the crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano leaves and sugar. Combine well. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook for 15 to 20 minutes so that all the flavours meld together. Add in the pasta and feta cheese. Season with salt and pepper.  Mix well and cook for one or two more minutes such that the marinara sauce is coated to each pasta. Serve immediately.

*I like my pasta heavy on the sauce but feel free to adjust the the quantity of pasta and tomato sauce to your own preferences.

Garlic Oregano Dip

16 Jan

Sliced carrots served with a homemade creamy garlic oregano dip.

The following recipe makes approximately one cup of dip.

  • 1 oregano sprig, remove leaves from stem, discard stem
  • 3/4 cup Balkan style yogurt
  • 3 tbsps freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 gloves garlic, peeled, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • sea salt

Sprinkle a bit of salt over the garlic. With the flat part of a knife, grind against the salt and garlic. The salt acts as an abrasive and helps release the juices in the garlic and turns the garlic into a paste consistency.  Add the garlic paste and lemon juice into a mixing bowl. Mix well with a whisk or fork. Add in the olive oil and grated parmesan. Whisk well. Add in the yogurt and oregano leaves. Combine well.  Serve immediately with fresh crispy vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers and/or zucchini.

Spinach, Egg and Mushroom Salad

10 Jan

The following recipe is inspired by a spinach salad I ate at Pasquale’s in Winnipeg, Manitoba. At Pasquale’s, their insalata spinaci is served with mushrooms, spinach and bacon. I enjoyed the taste and texture of the buttery mushrooms and eggs against the crunchy spinach and crispy bacon. The dressing is light but slightly creamy and is the perfect accompaniment to the flavours and texture in the salad.

A large order of Pasquale's insalata spinaci, $9.95.

Here is my version of Pasquale’s insalata spinaci:

  • three handfuls of baby spinach
  • two brown tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
  • four cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced into bite-size pieces
  • 1/4 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and each chopped into thirds
  • one sprig of fresh oregano, remove the leaves from the stem, discard stem
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsps grated parmesan cheese plus a bit more for garnishing
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 4 tbsps extra virgin olive oil

A bowl of baby spinach, brown tomatoes, eggs, mushrooms, onions and fresh oregano.

In a large bowl, add in the baby spinach. This will be the bed of the salad.  Add to the spinach, the sliced mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, oregano leaves and eggs. Sprinkle a little salt, pepper and a bit of parmesan on top.

A sprinkle of salt, pepper and parmesan cheese a top the salad.

To make the dressing, combine the parmesan cheese, lemon juice, mustard and olive oil.  Add the dressing right before serving.

The dressing consists of grated parmesan cheese, lemon juice, dijon mustard and olive oil.

Try to serve the salad while the eggs are still warm. I really enjoy a hint of warmth against cool veggies.

VIA Rail Canada

3 Jan

VIA train travelling along northern Ontario.

VIA Rail Canada is a Canadian rail line that travels across the country. Their trains meander through the Rocky Mountains and Jasper National Park, wander Ontario’s boreal forest and western Prairies, explore the icy north where Polar bears can be seen and in the east, travels along next to the St. Lawrence River. There are VIA stations in all the major cities in Canada as well as many of the smaller towns.

I recently took a long distance train trip from Toronto to Winnipeg which is a two nights and one day stay.  I had a cabin for two which includes two beds, a private bathroom, sink with vanity, a large window and every car has a shower. This is the sleeper plus class which includes meals.

My little cabin was cozy, comfy and clean.  The gentle rolling motion of the train put me right to sleep.

The dome car, which hosts most of the entertainment, activities and socializing, has two levels. Upstairs offers a panoramic view of Canada’s breathtaking landscape.

A view from the upstairs portion of the dome car.

The downstairs has two rooms. The first room has tables, banquettes and a tv, and hence is ideal for watching historic VIA videos, movies and/or playing board games. The second room, which has huge sweeping windows and comfy chairs, acts as the palour room.  This room hosts the live music, wine tasting, all day snacks and drinks as well as interesting conversation from people across Canada and around the world.

Willy Blizzard performing in the dome car.

The dining car is a full service restaurant that offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu usually has three choices for each meal. There are also options for vegetarians and kids.  The food is classy, simple, healthy and delicious.

The dining car.

At my breakfasts, I had spanish omelettes one morning and the classic bacon, eggs and potatoes the next morning. Don’t sleep in; otherwise you’ll have to settle for a continental breakfast in the dome car.

Two poached eggs, crispy bacon and hash browns.

During lunch I enjoyed a hamburger with potato salad and soup, and chocolate ice cream for dessert.

Angus burger with potato salad.

Chocolate ice cream.

And at dinner I had prime rib with seasonal vegetables, salad and soup with chocolate cake for dessert.

Prime rib with gravy and seasonal vegetables.

A slice of chocolate cake.

My long distance travel on the VIA train was an amazingly fun journey and incredibly relaxing. The service was impeccable, the food scrumptious and the company of the other travellers never dull.