Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Meal Planning Made Easy for Moms

I'm a woman with many loves. I'm an aviation loving receptionist/admin assistant by day at our local International Airport, and by night I chase my passions for food & wine as a blogger. But the greatest loves in my life are my husband and my 2.5 year old daughter.

While on maternity leave from my day job, I stumbled across a local organization called the Mothers Opposed to Boredom, aka "MOB". It was founded a few years back by a couple of ladies looking to connect with other mothers and support eachother in what I believe is one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, jobs in the world. Since then, MOB has grown to a community of over 4,000 members with its own website, Facebook group and book club, among other things.

I was approached by one of the administrators to write an article in the food section of the MOB's online newsletter earlier this year. The subject: meal planning (something else I love to nerd out on!). That same administrator approached me recently to post the article on a family member's blog. Naturally, I said yes. But that reminded me: I never posted it here, on my own blog! So here is the link to the article.

One other thing that I ended up liking about the "More Time Moms" calendar is that my daughter can help by placing stickers on dates where I need them, or play with the stickers I don't need. Something we can do together is always rewarding!

The Mother of All Things Blogstyle is a relatively new blog, but it's a great resource for parents on subjects such as food, health, working parents, humour, basically everything parents want to say! Make sure to check it out.

Cheers!



Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Playing with Pairings: A Light, White "Tour de France"

The Tour de France wrapped up at the end of July and as a homage, I dreamt up a tour of my own! We cooked up 4 dishes and paired them with 4 light-bodied white wines from various regions in France, focusing on the 2008 vintage. In course order, we visited Alsace, Bordeaux, the Loire Valley, and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We chose the date of August 2nd as that was considered Food Day Canada, so we could use the best Canadian ingredients we could find for pairing with these French beauties.

Our first stop was Alsace. August 2008 was a cooler month with regular rain, which was said to bring higher than normal acidity to the fruit. I chose Trimbach's 2008 Pinot Blanc for our first course and paired it with PEI mussels in a wine & herb sauce, along with a Caprese Salad made with fresh BC tomatoes and basil grown in our Alberta garden. Trimbach's 2008 Pinot Blanc carries a concentrated blend of melon, grapefruit and fresh pear aromas, with hints of ripe nectarines and white apple lingering on the finish. There was crisp acidity on the palate, but nowhere near as high as I was expecting. Because I used some of the Pinot Blanc as part of the sauce for the mussels, the wine matched the seafood perfectly and the medium body on the wine did not overpower the delicate mussels. The crisp acidity cut through the mozzarella cheese in the Caprese Salad, and because the cheese isn't strong in flavour, it did not overpower the wine. 


Other foods that would pair well with Trimbach's 2008 Pinot Blanc include shellfish, fresh mixed greens salads and light egg dishes. It is also excellent on it's own and as an aperitif.

Our next stop was Bordeaux. Usually, the region's white grapes are made into the lusciously sweet wines from Sauternes and Barsac. Since not all grapes are affected by the botrytis that renders them sweet, some wineries will make a dry white wine with the unaffected fruit. Such is the case at Chateau Guiraud (see my blog post from April 2013 for more information). I paired Le G de Guiraud 2008 with Atlantic pan-fried salmon and homemade pesto. Le G de Guiraud 2008 is a well-balanced white with notes of underripe pineapple, passion fruit, fresh snap peas and green grass. There is also a refreshing acidity and a mouth-filling richness on the body. This richness, courtesy of the Semillon grape in the blend, cut through the fattiness of the salmon while complementing the rich flavours and textures in the pesto. This was my favourite pairing of the night!

Other foods that would pair well with Chateau Guiraud's Le G de Guiraud 2008 include grilled chicken breasts, portobello mushrooms, cooked asparagus and other vegetable dishes topped with goat's cheese.  

The next stop was the Loire Valley. This wine region is known best for the grape varietal Chenin Blanc, which can be made into wines of different styles including sweet, sparkling, dry and off-dry wines.The 2008 vintage started poorly, with lots of cloud cover. Conditions changed into late summer, and sunshine extended the harvest season well into Autumn. Although off dry and sweeter wines were the focus in 2008, I chose a dry white, Chateau de Targe Les Frenettes 2008 and paired it with Spinach and Parmesan in Puff Pastry. Les Frenettes 2008 is delicate and light-bodied, with flavours of green apple, lemon, and white blossom married with zesty acidity and a subtle complexity with vanilla and herbal notes on the finish. Although the delicate body of the wine did not stand up well against the dense puff pastry, the wine flourished once we got to the spinach and Parmesan center. 

Other foods that would pair well with Chateau Targe's Les Frenettes 2008 include both light and fatty fish and lighter cheeses like feta. I personally prefer this wine on it's own.

Our last stop was Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is most well-known for its robust red wines. However, some perfumed, beautiful white wines are also made in this region using grape varieties that include Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, among other varieties. I paired Domaine des Senechaux's 2008 Blanc blend with Smoked Oregano Chicken, Haricots Verts and Roasted Bell Peppers. The wine contains notes of lime, cantaloupe, and wet stone on the palate, with an intriguing hint of ginger on the finish. Full of racy acidity that doesn't overpower the flavour profile and minerality that really speaks to the terroir of the region, this wine is great with food as the wine has a 14% abv content. The wine complemented the chicken, beans and peppers really well and the quince notes really brought to life some of the other spices used in the chicken.

Other foods that would pair well with Domaine des Senechaux's white blend include everything listed above! 

After these 4 courses, we were too full for dessert! However, the regions of Bordeaux, Loire Valley, and Alsace all create excellent sweet white wines that will pair well with many dessert dishes, as long as the wine is sweeter than the food. This is so that the wine's sweetness and flavour profile will stand out against the sweetness of the dessert.

Whichever foods you decide to pair your French white wines with, remember to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. The majority of these wines are both food friendly, and all are excellent on their own. If you choose to try any of the wines and/or the food pairings we tried, I hope you like them as much as I did. Enjoy! 














Saturday, July 12, 2014

Eating My Way Through...Calgary Stampede 2014

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, not Christmas. Every year this week many Calgarians dust off their cowboy hats, break out their Wrangler jeans and turn Calgary into a western party called the Stampede. The Calgary Stampede features the largest kick-off parade in North America, Grandstand rodeo events like Chuckwagon Races and Bullriding, a large carnival with midway rides, nightly concerts and various exhibits, and other special events throughout the city including concerts and free pancake breakfasts.

Usually, I am what people consider a "Stampede Scrooge". Don't get me wrong, it's an excellent source of exposure and income for the city with many tourists flocking here and spending lots of money on the grounds. It was also a great way to bring the community together during our massive flood last year, and many amazing stories of humanity came out of ensuring the Stampede would go on, "Come Hell or High Water". There are many reasons why the Stampede is an awesome week-long event; too many to list here. But for someone who despises large crowds, boorishly drunk people (when I'm not drinking-ha!) and lineups over 30 minutes long, Stampede isn't really my thing. With all of this said, there is one midway feature that gets me excited enough to brave the crowds, drunks and lineups, throw on my cowboy hat and denim and scream out "Yee-haw!"

The Food.

Each year, the Stampede releases a list of the new, unique and sometimes weird new foods on the midway. Here is the link to this year's list. After salivating over the majority of the foods, my friends and I decided to find as many of these featured items as possible without bursting, and eat our way through the midway.

1. Red Velvet Mini Donuts
Of all the featured food items this year, the most talked-about sweet treat seems to be the Red Velvet Mini Donuts. My summer student insisted that I cover this one, and it was one of the first stops of the day. Warm, moist red velvet donuts with a light glaze of cream cheese icing served on a stick for convenience while walking around. They were wonderfully soft and not overly sticky, but I personally prefer "Those Little Donuts" that are deep-fried in front of you and served with cinnamon sugar on top.


2. Crocodile, Python and Kangaroo Sliders
I'm always looking for something new to try, and different meats is always on that list. I was able to sample 3 more with the sliders package at the Gourmet Burger vendor close to the Indian Village. For $12, you get 3 sliders with your choice of the meats listed above and Ostrich served with a tomato slice and a handful of chips. My personal favourite was python. It has a mild, unique flavour that is sort of like pork. The crocodile slider tasted like chicken and the kangaroo slider resembled venison as it was a little gamey.
Want something more mainstream? Gourmet Burger also offers up a full menu of burgers with both regular and unusual toppings such as the Monkey Burger, which comes with Peanut Butter, Bacon and Banana!
 

3. Creole Cajun Chicken Po'Boy
The word "Po'Boy" alone gets me excited; how can you go wrong with a sandwich full of delicious meat and creamy sauce served in a baguette-like bun? Unfortunately, the vendors found a way for this sandwich to fall flat. It wasn't anything more than a glorified chicken sandwich on a run-of-the-mill hamburger bun. Yahoo to the flavourful coleslaw and the spiciness of the breaded chicken.
Rope in Instead: The Turkey Dinner Poutine from the same vendor. It's a mishmash of both worlds, and it's also a great base if you plan to hit the beer gardens for awhile.

We also ate some food that wasn't on the featured list this year but have become tried-and-true favourites:

4. Deep-Fried Cheesecake and Deep-Fried Snickers Bar
This is everything it promises: a snickers bar breaded, deep-fried and served on a stick. They are both gooey, melty delicious treats, albeit a bit messy to eat. Perfect for satisfying a sweet tooth! The picture below is of the cheesecake.


5. The Quebec Poutine, La Poutinerie
La Poutinerie takes this Canadian treasure to the next level by adding different items into the mix. I chose the Quebec Poutine which includes maple syrup with the traditional ingredients. It added a wonderful dimension to the savoury and salty flavours and the portion size was enough to leave you full without feeling too full.

We were also pleased to find out that some of the beer gardens allow minors until 8pm! It was a great chance for parents to imbibe with a beer or 2, and my daughter enjoyed a fruit smoothie while watching her daddy ride the mechanical bull! Win-win!

Although Stampede is almost over this year, there's still a chance to get down to the grounds and try some of the weird and wonderful foods on the midway. Maybe this year I'm not such a "Stampede Scrooge" after all. Happy eating and happy Stampeding!







Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The World Cup...of Wine Too?

Starting tomorrow, the majority of the world will shift their eyes to Brazil, intensely fixated on the matches of their chosen football teams, fiercely focused on the scoreboards and standings for the next month. I'm usually not part of this vast majority-that is, until this year.

It's interesting to note that there are many winemaking countries that qualified for the World Cup this year: Chile, Spain, Italy, France, Australia, USA, Greece, the list goes on. You'll find a winemaking country in the majority of the Group Stage matches. Since I have no real affinity for any specific team, I'm going to follow along-and drink along!-to the winemaking countries by uncorking a bottle to celebrate team wins by Chile, Australia, Italy, France and the USA (let's face it, if I drank a bottle in honour of every winemaking country that wins a game in the tournament, you might as well throw me into rehab!). Those are my top 5 choices. However, if Spain, Portugal, Argentina, Germany or Greece make it to the Quarter-finals, I will cheer them on at that point too. In order to pace myself, I've scheduled out the games I will celebrate-drinking multiple bottles mid-week really isn't responsible when you're a parent and work full-time. So here's my celebratory schedule for the Group Stage:

Fri June 13: Chile vs Australia, 4pm MST
Sat June 14: England vs Italy, 4pm MST
*due to a French-themed dinner party I am hosting that night, I will drink the Italian bottle on Sunday the 15th if Italy wins
Sun June 15: France vs Honduras, 1pm MST
Mon June 16: Ghana vs USA, 4pm MST
*Liver break for 3 days. I'm getting old!*
Fri June 20: France better win so I can celebrate hard at a French wine festival I already have tickets to that night!
*If Italy wins their game vs Costa Rica, I will drink on Sat June 21
Sun June 22: USA vs Portugal, 4pm MST
*If Portugal wins, I'm drinking port! 
*2 day liver and probably wallet break*
Wed June 25: Ecuador vs France, 2pm MST
Thurs June 26: USA vs Germany, 10am
*If Germany wins, I'll toast them instead 

All bottles opened for a win will be tweeted. I'll revisit the rules for the 2nd stage when the standings are finalized. 

Best of luck to my top 5 picks, my liver and my wallet, although this will definitely make football more fun! Cheers! 





Thursday, May 8, 2014

Playing with Pairings: Okanagan Merlot and BBQ Meats

Spring "officially" began on March 20th, and although the winter season has dragged on into May, we've also seen a few short bursts of Spring-like weather. This has given my husband and I the chance to light up the barbecue and pair our grilled meats with some of the 2011 Merlots and Merlot blends from British Columbia.

The 2011 growing season is said to be one of the coolest on record in the Okanagan. Cool and wet conditions kicked off Spring and continued into the early summer. A late August heat wave allowed more hang time for the grapes to achieve physiological ripeness, and the time frame for harvest lasted a few weeks. According to the BC Wine Institute, Okanagan Merlots typically show a flavour profile that includes raspberries, plums, black cherries, licorice, oranges, coffee, toffee, chocolate, even fruit cake! They are also known to be medium to full-bodied, with moderate to assertive intensity. Here are a few of the standout wines we tasted:

Intrigue Wines is a relatively new winery in the Okanagan, but they are making their name known through their 2011 Merlot, which is consistently sold out on their website. Mellow and smooth, with soft tannins well integrated into the palate of ripe cherries, plum and smoke. Light in body and easy to drink, it will pair well with pizza, grilled chicken and ribs. The wine was also an excellent counterbalance to a Cuban cigar after dinner due to it's smoky finish, according to my husband!

Tinhorn Creek released a Merlot that is also fruit-forward with notes of ripe strawberries, raspberries and cherries. Bright and juicy, with refreshing acidity and a long, vibrant finish. This wine was great on it's own while watching the sun set on the deck, but would also play nicely with grilled chicken salads.

Nk'Mip's 2011 Winemaker's Series Merlot starts with a pronounced nose of plums and cloves, leading into a polished palate of raspberries, cherries and more spice. Well structured and rich with a sultry, smoky finish. This wine is an excellent accompaniment to steak and prime rib. Perhaps the best Canadian Merlot I have ever tasted, and has me back on the proverbial Merlot bandwagon!

Merlot has always been a great sidekick to Cabernet Sauvignon, softening it's bold tannins and adding fruitiness to the palate. This is no exception for Cab-Merlot blends in the Okanagan, and the two varietals continue to compliment eachother - both in bottle and with food.

Sumac Ridge's 2011 Cabernet Merlot has the approachable charm of a Merlot combined with the body and structure of a cool climate Cabernet Sauvignon. Notes of plum, blackberry and green bell pepper linger on the palate through the long, smooth finish. Excellent on it's own or paired with grilled pork and vegetable kebabs. A fun wine to share with good company over animated conversation.

The Mission Hill Five Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Merlot contains notes of fresh strawberries, blackcurrant leaves and green beans, intertwined with mouthwatering acidity and grippy tannins. This lively, intense wine would be great with everything from grilled bison burgers to venison. Excellent value for money at a price of $20 CDN.

It was interesting to note that most of the Merlot wines we tasted had a smokiness on the palate, which added a beautiful complexity to the wines. They were also very expressive of the varietal, showing the traditional notes of plum and fresh berries. Despite the early season growing challenges, the wines were well structured and married nicely with all the grilled meats we paired with them. If you love Merlot, why not include a bottle, or 2, or 3 from the Okanagan? It will be sure to impress both you and your guests alike. 

Cheers! 


Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Add Some Green to your Glass for St. Patrick's Day

St. Patrick's Day is celebrated on March 17 to commemorate the patron saint of Ireland, and the country's culture and customs. Because it is also known as a Christian feast day, food and drink tend to be at the forefront of the celebration; especially drink. St. Patrick's Day falls under the season of Lent, which means no meat on Fridays, sacrificing a luxury in the name of the Lord, and in some cases, no drinking. However, these restrictions are lifted on March 17, allowing everyone to participate, which may encourage some views that this day represents heavy drinking. Traditionally, pubs fill up quickly and green beer flows like the water cascading down Niagara Falls. Other traditional drinks include Irish Whiskey (i.e. Bushmills), Irish Cream Liqueur (mmm, Bailey's!), and for those who don't want food colouring in their beer, Ireland's trademark Guinness does the trick.

But what about us wine drinkers? Is there a way we can celebrate with wine? Yes! Here are some ways us wine lovers can add some green to our glass, without the food colouring:

1. Drink "Green Wine"

Vinho Verde is a Portuguese semi-sparkling white wine that translates into English as "green wine". This translation is meant to describe the wine as young, and not in reference to the colour. Vinho Verde wines are full of citrus flavour, with mouth-watering acidity and low alcohol. They can also show notes of tropical fruit, lighter stone fruits like apples, and in some cases a bit of a barnyard aroma. Vinho Verde wines are great values and many are found in Canada under $20. They also pair well with fish and chips!

Vinhos I recommend: Twin Vines, Gazela, any Vinho Verde made exclusively with the grape Alvarinho.

2. Wines that Think Green

Many wineries throughout the world highly value sustainability in the vineyards. Organic and biodynamic wineries are on the rise as environmental concerns become mainstream. No chemical treatments are used in organic viticulture, and all wines have to be registered with a certification body in order to be classified as organic. Biodynamic wineries base their vineyard management on planet and star cycles, and winegrowers use holistic concoctions to mitigate pests & diseases. Organic wines range in prices from inexpensive to premium, but there are many good quality wines on the market that do their part for Mother Nature without costing you a lot of greenbacks!

I recommend: Villa Teresa DOC Prosecco-why not add a little bubbly to the celebration?

3. Wines that Taste Green

This is where the red wine drinkers come in. There are many varietals in the wine world that pack a vegetal punch with hints of asparagus, peas, and grass to name a few. Some of the most common varietals include:

-Cabernet Franc
-Sauvignon Blanc
-Cabernet Sauvignon
-Pinot Noir
-Gruner Veltliner

Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon would both pair well with Irish stew, and Gruner Veltliner marries well with potatoes. Bonus points for finding bottles that have Irish names, places or language on the label!



You don't have to be a beer drinker or a whiskey lover to participate in St. Patrick's Day. The day is for celebrating Ireland's customs, culture and St. Patrick's contribution to Christianity. Everyone is welcome to celebrate no matter what they drink as the day is meant to be fun and friendly. And as an Irish toast once said:

"May friendship, like wine, improve as time advances.
And may we always have old wine, old friends, and young cares."

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Petite Sirah: A Star of California's Vineyards

You've heard the trademark Hollywood rags to riches stories about the girl next door leaving home and moving to California to try their hand at acting, getting their first major role in a movie after some bit parts and becoming a blockbuster star. A similar story can be found in the wine world. Petite Sirah has made a name for itself in Napa, Sonoma, San Luis Obispo and San Joaquin Valley; currently starring in it's own bottles, which is a big change from the tiny roles it used to play in blends. Here is the rags to riches story of Petite Sirah, one of California's boldest grapes with an almost cult-like following.

Originally named Durif, the grape was born by experimentally crossing Peloursin in an eastern French lab around 1868. For a long while, Durif had no idea who it's father was, but many years later found out it was likely Syrah. The grape did quite well in France in it's early years, proving to be strong enough to resist the the downy mildew epidemic running rampant through the vineyards at that time. However, Durif did not do well in frost and was also sensitive to the scorching summer sun. The grape needed a change of terroir to really flourish and show it's true potential.

In a typical Hollywood story the star is "discovered" by an influential person who can see their "star power". For Amy Adams it was Stacy O'Neil. For Durif it was Charles McIver of California's Linda Vista Winery, who imported the grape as Petite Sirah, possibly misspelled from Petite Syrah. Fortunately the name caught on, and Petite Sirah adapted well to the more temperate climate. It didn't take long for other wineries to notice the grape, and by the turn of the century Petite Sirah was one of the most widely planted varietals in the state. However, the grape was so powerful and tannic only small amounts were used in blends to add structure and colour. This would continue for decades until 1961, when Concannon vineyards made the first bottle of 100% Petite Sirah. This turned out to be the grape's "big break" as other wineries followed suit, and Petite Sirah gained many devoted fans thanks to this trend. Although other varietals have found their way into the limelight from the 1970s to today, many wineries continue to produce bottles made exclusively of Petite Sirah, and websites like psiloveyou.org/ advocate the awareness and support of these wines. Petite Sirah has found a true home in California, and plantings have also been recorded in Mexico, Brazil, Australia and South Africa. Cellar owners would love P.S. as the wines tend to age very well, upwards of 10 years. Patience is rewarded when aging this varietal.


Stag's Leap Winery's 2010 Petite Sirah shows the powerful tannins, inky dark colouring and juicy palate that are trademark to the varietal. Full-bodied and complex, the bouquet contains notes of black fruit, tobacco and cedar. This wine was best after decanting for 4 hours. Pairs well with grilled lamb or roast beef, and will age beautifully in the next 7-10 years.


Stargroves 2008 Petite Sirah is approachable now, with an elegance and refined structure consistent with the Best Actress nominees on Oscar night. Supple tannins are harmoniously balanced with refreshing acidity. Notes of cherries, tobacco and rubber linger on the palate through to the long and lively finish. Surprisingly drinkable on it's own, and also pairs well with red meats and hard cheeses. Decant for 1-2 hours.

Petite Sirah has come a long way from it's humble beginnings in Eastern France to thriving in the California limelight. If you enjoy dark, bold, tannic reds, this varietal will not disappoint! So treat yourself like the star you are and try a bottle today!