Not-so-innocent whites

In our house, you really can’t go wrong with red wine, particularly a nice New World Syrah or Grenache – but we’re big on whites, too (well, really, we’re just big on wine, and sticking to one colour would be far too limiting).
White wine was actually taboo for quite some time with me, due primarily to a regrettable prom night during which I tried to look sophisticated by drinking white wine. Not only did I not achieve the desired sophistication credit, I awoke with enough headache for three people, and what I thought was a lifelong aversion to white wine.
Then I discovered oaky Chardonnay.
It turns out that there are many, many white wines out there, and not all of them are horribly cheap house wines served in small town bars. It’s true that in the dead of winter, a nice, deep red seems like the way to go, wine-wise, but we do have a few suggestions, starting with the oaky Chardonnay that sparked the whole rediscovery process…

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According to a Spanish adage, good wine ruins the purse; bad wine ruins the stomach. When it comes to red wines, bad wine is truly bad, often for the stomach and head, because the tannins in cheap wine (or, as we connoisseurs say, “Chateau du Depanneur) are sometimes seed-based. Red wine is red at least in part because of the tannins, but in better wines, the grapes are crushed rather than pressed, so the tannins come mainly from the grape skins, not the seeds. The seed-based tannins can be quite harsh, and are responsible for many a regretful morning after.
We’ve discovered, thankfully, that we can still enjoy good red wine without ruining our purse. In fact, when I first broached the idea of a column of our “Top Five Affordable Reds,” Dr. T. looked thoughtful for a moment, then pronounced that the hardest part would be narrowing it down to only five. After some negotiation, we decided we wanted a list with a range of prices and nations. So, without further ado, this is our
Top Five Reds Under $20

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This is one of Dr. T’s favourites from his childhood, and now one of the many flat round things he counts in his culinary repertoire. We had these tonight with a very nice Grand Caumont, which is not the shiraz that might really pop with this kind of dish, but is one of our ‘drink with anything’ standbys.

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Simply Supper

Tonight, the last night of the Christmas vacation, was a simple affair: bread and soup.
I am a big fan of comfort food (as I assume everyone else is, too, given the term). On a winter night, one of the most comforting suppers is a good, hearty soup with a loaf of fresh bread. In this case, I doubled Rose Elliot’s Golden Lentil Soup recipe and halved the Kitchenaid French Bread recipe*:
*if, like me, you don’t use yeast in packages, the equivalent is 4 1/2 tsp; I used 2 1/4 tsp for my halved recipe and it was just right.
We opened up a bottle of Rosemount Estate Diamond Label Shiraz with tonight’s supper. The wine is great, but since I forgot the curry in the soup, it was a little over the top for plain lentil soup. It was certainly acceptable enough to keep the bottle open – but something a little less full-bodied would probably have been just right.
Rose Elliot’s Golden Lentil Soup*

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Rediscovering rose

Rose is that wine that was fun to drink once upon a time, because it was a grown-up drink, but was pink… and probably fruity and sweet. Kind of like Kool-Aid with alcohol. At least that is what every single review of rose I’ve ever read says. Personally, the closest I ever came to rose was the white Zinfandel my American friend used to bring whenever she visited Montreal.
But then we “got into” wine, and for summertime drinking, my choices were rose or white. Before I discovered Chardonnay (which, critics be damned, is best when it’s oaky), the only whites I knew were the insipid house whites served at bars in the Eastern Townships, like the one on which I got unbelievably drunk one night, and after which the idea of white wine made me a little green around the gills.
So rose it was.
Our perennial favourite is Candidato, which is very drinkable but also very reasonably priced. It’s a Tempranillo, and while it’s fruity, it’s not oversweet, and goes down well with a BBQ.
This evening, I made a Thai vegetable curry from the Moosewood Low Fat cookbook (using coriander and Vietnamese coriander from the garden, no less) with naan from President’s Choice (which I recommend for those weekday meals when the idea of making naan from scratch isn’t so appealing). We decided we wanted to go pink with this meal, and opened a bottle of Inycon Estate Shiraz rose, which we bought this week based on the Gazette review. Because this one is a Shiraz base, I was expecting it to be a little heartier than the Candidato, but it’s not particularly thick. It is very, very nice, and we will buy it again – for the same basic reasons we’re Candidato buyers. The Inycon Estate is maybe a little less sweet than the Tempranillo, but it’s still definitely a rose, not just a pale red. It’s got a few berries in it, a hint of lime, and Dr. T claims there’s a trace of bubblegum (!). It’s got a nice finish, and I didn’t taste the gum 😉
We have a couple of other pinks to try, but we’re also heading out to the UK before the end of the week – I’ll try to post a few reviews, particularly if the bottle is available in Quebec or other parts of Canada.

Hot & Sour & Easy

Tonight’s supper was hot and sour soup, based on a recipe from the Moosewood Restaurant Lowfat Favorites cookbook. I have made some modifications to the original, but I use verbatim the recipe for the Southeast Asian Vegetable Stock, for which you boil:
one onion, quartered
6 garlic cloves, peeled
2 stalks celery
2 carrots, peeled
3″ fresh ginger, sliced
1 stalk lemongrass*
2 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 star anise (or 1/2 tsp aniseed)
9 cups water
for 45 minutes (or 10 minutes in a pressure cooker), then drain.
*We found lemongrass at the Atwater market, but we’ve also used citronella in jars from the supermarket, and you can find it dried, as well.
For the actual soup, I use:
2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 tsps oil (something light)
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 or 2 minced chilis (optional**)
1 tbsp chipotle-lime mustard (optional)
the stock
15 ounce can mushrooms, or one package fresh, sliced
8 ounce can pineapple chunks, drained
28 ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained
lots of fresh basil, cilantro and mint (about a 1/4 cup or more of herbs altogether)
2 tbsp lime juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 pkge tofu, cut into cubes or strips
Use a big pot.
Saute the onions in the oil until they’re a little soft (about 5 minutes), then add the garlic, and the chilis if you’re using them. Stir for a minute, then add the mustard and vegetables, bring to a boil, and simmer on lower heat for about 5 minutes. Add everything else, then simmer for another 10 minutes.
If you want to get really fancy, you can serve with lime wedges, etc.
**to accommodate younger palates, I leave out the chilis and bring red and/or green Tabasco to the table for the grown-ups, who can add as much or as little hot as they like. In fact, this strategy works well with all kinds of traditionally hot dishes, like chili, and has the added benefit of allowing you to adjust the hotness to your personal taste. At our dinner table, the green Tabasco lives at my end, and the red at his. And on a side note, we defy anyone to spend two weeks in New Orleans and not come home addicted to Tabasco. We met one woman there who actually carried a bottle in her purse “for emergencies.”
We serve this soup with a well-chilled Riesling, such as the 2006 McWilliams. The wine is quite citrusy, so it works well with this kind of soup, and it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t overpower the flavours of the soup.
Reisling is one of those whites that I would never drink on its own, but that works really well with the right food. Asian dishes, or the very few Thai dishes we do, seem to be the perfect foil for the McWilliams. When it comes to Indian, we tend to favour the Chardonnays and blends, perhaps because the creaminess of the Indian dishes works better with a good, buttery Chardonnay.

Easiest Mac & Cheese Ever

My don’t-cook-your-noodles lasagne is a staple of our menu, and was the inspiration for this macaroni and cheese casserole. On Wednesday evenings, Dr. T goes off to play with his Scrabble club, and the boys and I grab a bowl of this casserole and watch TV – decadent, fun, relaxing – it’s a great way to deal with the middle of the week.
I make my couch potato time even nicer with a glass of Chardonnay at almost room temperature. Little Penguin does a 3-litre box, so I don’t have to open a whole bottle just for myself.
1 box whole wheat macaroni
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 onion, quartered
1 tbsp Dijon mustard**
2 tbsp cream cheese (low-fat OK)
1 cup buttermilk
salt & pepper
You’ll need a nice deep casserole dish with a cover. I use my black clay cooking pot (which I LOVE for this recipe, and a few others).
*Experiment! Remember the really annoying cheese guy? “You change the cheese, you change the taste”? Aim for about a cup of cheese, or if you want to, more. Use this as an opportunity to get rid of any odd bits of cheese. I’ve used blue, Brie, feta… I usually make sure that about half the cheese is old cheddar (low-fat, even) and a quarter fresh Parmesan, but that’s a reflection of my personal tastes.
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. If you’re like me, remind yourself to remove/adjust oven racks to accommodate the covered casserole.
2. Put the uncooked macaroni into the casserole dish.
3. Toss the onion, tomatoes, and cheese(s) into a food processor and whirr it all up, adding the buttermilk as needed to keep things moving. Add the mustard, cream cheese, and, if using, nutmeg and/or cloves, and give it one last whirl.
4. Pour the tomato mixture into the casserole, add the salt and pepper, and mix thoroughly.
5. Cover and bake at 350 for one hour.
6. Remove from oven, give it a good stir, and let it sit for another 5 minutes or so – enjoy!
**My friend Iris was aghast at this ingredient, because she doesn’t like mustard. I assured her (and now you) that there’s no hint of mustard in the finished product. Somehow the Dijon brings out the cheese taste. You can also add a dash of nutmeg and/or cloves to enhance the cheesiness even more.

Vegetarian stroganof

Tonight we’re having one of our mainstays: stroganof. I remember stroganof as one of the few vaguely exotic dishes my mum used to make (sole amandine was another). My dad’s a conservative eater, so it was never easy to introduce new flavours. Stroganof, back home, is rather less appealingly called “that gray stuff.”
This version is decidedly low cuisine, not to mention ultra-quick.
1 large onion
butter/oil/spray for frying
1/2 pound mushrooms*
1/4 cup wine**
1 package soy ground round
1 cup sour cream (low fat OK)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
salt & pepper
1 package egg noodles (375 g broad)
*I usually just use one regular container of sliced mushrooms -fast! Otherwise, you’ll have to do your own slicing.
**the original recipe calls for white wine, but I just add a 1/4 cup from the bottle we’ll be drinking – good excuse to open the bottle early 😉
Cook the egg noodles (usually 6 minutes) while you prepare the rest.
Saute the onion for a few minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the mushrooms and saute for a few more minutes, until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Add the wine and let it simmer a minute, then add the ground round and mx it up. Add the nutmeg, sour cream and salt & pepper, and let it simmer another 5 minutes or so.
Noodles + sauce in bowl – tada!
We eat this with Chateau du Grand Caumont, a nice French Corbieres.

New recipe, new wine

Tonight I made a Summer Vegetable Tian from Deborah Madison’s The Savory Way (a loan from Aurora), which we ate with fresh rosemary-topped rolls and the recommended “variety of cheeses” (since Dr. T did the cheese shopping, these were Brie, blue Brie, a Danish blue, and Havarti).
The Tian, with eggplant, red onion, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, was quite nice, but perhaps not really substantial enough to be a main meal. I see it now as something I could make as a side, or perhaps as an antipasto. It would also be quite nice on top of pasta, although I think I’d go for smaller slices of veg for that. It emerged from the oven with quite a lot of juice from the vegetables, so, following Madison’s advice, I poured the liquid off into a saucepan and reduced it to a syrup – Robert was excited about the idea of syrup on vegetables, but in the end complained that his veggies were too sweet.
Bonus – I used fresh marjoram from the garden in the dish! This year I have planted marjoram, coriander (which I’ve already used a lot!), parsley, basil, oregano, rosemary (my favourite plant aesthetically), tarragon, mint (carefully segregated from everything else), dill, Vietnamese coriander, pineapple sage, and curry (yes, really). My chives are thriving, and about to flower. Dr. T and the boys planted some carrots and lettuce, but I am pessimistic…
But back to the meal:
We opened up a bottle of Eco Trail Chardonnay Auxerrois, an organic white from Pelee Island, to accompany the meal. I am a big Chardonnay fan, and we were attracted to this one (on our most recent Ottawa excursion, since it’s not available here) for the grape, the ‘organic’ label, and the frog sillouette on the bottle.
Terence & Irene, who are our most frequent dinner guests, have determined that wine is good if there’s an animal on the bottle. With the possible exception of one bottle of Porcupine Ridge (which was, well, skunky), the system has worked, so whenever we spot an animal label in the store, we grab it for the next time T&I come for supper. This explains the tetrapack of “Frisky Zebras” in the cellar. On the other hand, because our weekends of late have been hard to coordinate with T&I, the animal labels are starting to accumulate, so we buckled and opened our frog-adorned Eco Trail.
It’s a nice wine – we’ll buy it again – and it worked well with the Tian and cheese meal. It would probably work well with pasta with a rose sauce, but I don’t think it would fare well with spicy stuff. I tasted gooseberries in the first sips, and Dr. T identified apples and possibly limes. It’s not oaky, which means it’s less of a Chardonnay than I was expecting, but I can live with it.