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Finding My Favorite Wine With LCBO’s goLocal Promo

27 Sep

LCBO goLocal wine Ontario

I’ve always loved the idea of Ontario wine – that is, the idea that our province is home to a wine-producing community that wine aficionados from around the world recognize alongside some of the old-world giants like France and Italy. Unfortunately, try as I might, I’ve never quite managed to fall in love with Ontario wines. Many of the local wines I’ve bought from LCBO shelves just haven’t done it for me, for several reasons: I’m a red wine drinker, and while Ontario produces both reds and whites, it’s usually the rieslings and chardonnays that get the accolades. And as much as I enjoy reds, while I haven’t met many Cabernet Sauvignons or Tempranillos I didn’t enjoy, the Cabernet Francs and Pinot Noirs that dominate Ontario vineyards haven’t dazzled my palate.

Niagara winery wine Ontario

These were the preconceived notions I took with me on a recent media tour of the Niagara wine region to mark the start of the LCBO’s goLocal campaign. I joined several dozen food and wine writers on a Via Rail trek to St. Catharines, where we were split into two groups, each group boarding a different shuttle bus to explore different wine producers. This year marked the twentieth consecutive year of the LCBO’s annual fall promotion of Ontario wines, and the theme of its 2011 campaign – find your favourite – seemed apropos considering my apprehensive attitude toward local wines. We were going to be given the opportunity to taste our way through more than a dozen whites, reds and sparkling products from the Niagara region, and I was determined to leave with a better understanding of our province’s wine industry and, hopefully, to have found a few bottles that I loved.

barrels wine Ontario

Over the course of the day, my group met with winemakers from Hillebrand Estates, Trius, Vineland Estates, Peller Estates, Angels Gate, Henry of Pelham and Diamond Estates (producer of the Dan Ackroyd line of wines). Being given the chance to connect with the producers, listen to them talk about their passion and knowledge for winemaking and the Niagara region, and taste a number of their wines back to back made me realize just how lucky southern Ontarians are to live so close to such a vibrant wine-producing region. This is key to really understanding local wines, because while standing in your LCBO and trying to choose an Ontario wine from a wall of products and labels you’re not entirely familiar with can be intimidating, spending a few hours immersed in the land that bears these wines and having the experts walk you through the differences between each grape, blend and vintage can help you zero in on something you’ll enjoy.

tasting room Niagara wine Ontario
Hillebrand Estates winery tasting room being prepped for a busload of food writers.

The wine that ended up having the biggest impression on me was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc from Trius. This was a surprise to me, in that I didn’t expect to enjoy a white wine this much. But the bright, fruity flavour and really fresh grape bouquet won me over. My runner-up pick (a bottle of which made its way home with me) was 2009 Angels Gate Gamay Noir. AJ McLaughlin, the company’s VP of sales and marketing, commented that Gamay Noir was a grape that didn’t necessarily have the same cachet as some of the more well-known Niagara grapes, but that it produced a “good crossover wine” that often appeals to white drinkers who aren’t big on red wines… or in my case, a red drinker who tends to avoid whites.

Angels Gate Winery Niagara Ontario
The Angels Gate winery in Niagara.

The LCBO goLocal tour reminded me that a visit to Niagara is easily achieved, from Toronto at least, and is a great way for wine lovers to learn more about what makes Ontario-produced wines so special. I may have started the trip as a skeptic, but I definitely left as someone who’ll be a bit more inclined to consider the local racks at the LCBO.

Check out lcbogolocal.com or winecountryontario.ca for info on Ontario’s growing regions, wineries and standout wines.

On the Menu

14 May

 

Jenny and I have been lucky enough to attend a bunch of great food-related events in and around Toronto, most of which we’ve found out about from contacts we’ve made through Communal Table. Since this means people we know have started to look to us for what’s going on in Toronto’s food scene – and we don’t always remember unless we have it written down – we figured it’d be a good idea to start up a periodic listing of cools events we’ve found out about.

While we’re not planning to run this listing on any sort of defined weekly schedule – at least not initially – we will offer up a look at what’s “on the menu” once in a while, as we get wind of interesting happenings. Here’s what we’ve heard about recently:

86’D at the Drake Hotel:  Cheese Rave
Monday, May 16

Food-related fun is the focus of Monday nights at the Drake Hotel’s 86’D events, hosted by local food personality Ivy Knight. Each Monday evening features music, food cook-offs pitting local chefs or amateur cooks against each other over a themed dish (think battle pate or kimchi), and great drinks from the Drake’s bar staff. This coming Monday’s 86’d is all about cheese, as attendees sample different varieties in recognition of the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival.

iYellow Wines of Niagara on the Lake
Wednesday, May 18

We’ve told you about the iYellow Wine Club in the past, and they’re back with another event aimed at helping people learn about and sample a selection of wines. This one will feature owners and winemakers from 26 different Niagara Region wineries, each sampling two of their newest VQA release wines. In addition to tastings, the event will include food from Oliver & Bonacini and three educational wine seminars. And here’s something cool – for every ticket you buy to the Wines of Niagara on the Lake event, you’ll get a free ticket to one of iYellow’s wine events taking place later this summer.

Recipe for Change
May 26

FoodShare is a Toronto organization with a mandate of ensuring good, healthy food for all. They offer school programs to improve the food knowledge of young people, a Good Food Box program to deliver quality produce to people all over Toronto, and focus on working to change food policy, among other activities. The Recipe for Change event is a night of great food, wine and beer from some of Toronto’s best chefs, as well as local wineries and craft breweries. Proceeds from the event help fund FoodShare’s programs for students. Jenny and I are excited by the list of chefs and dishes scheduled, and we’re planning on being there.

Donate a Can Project
Until May 28

Until May 28, the organizers of this initiative will donate a can of food to Second Harvest for every LIKE they get on their Facebook fan page, as well as a can of food for every follower they get to their Twitter account @donateacan. Sounds like a great initiative, and an easy way for everyone in Toronto and elsewhere to help feed people in need through Second Harvest.

The Winner Is…

8 May

Great Canadian Cheese Festival

Congratulations to Karen Mwachikobe, who has won two passes to the Cheese Fair and Artisan Food Market taking place June 5 in Picton, Ontario as part of the first Great Canadian Cheese Festival. This looks like it’s going to be a great event, and it should give you and your husband the opportunity to sample an amazing variety of cheeses from all across Canada, as well as local wines and beer.

The details for the Cheese Fair and Artisan Food Market can be found here. But remember, there are many other great events happening as part of the Great Canadian Cheese Festival weekend. Go here for the full schedule and to purchase tickets to any of the other events.

Tasting Beringer Wines with iYellow Wine Club

19 Feb

iYellow Beringer

Jenny and I both love wine, and like we do with food, we enjoy exploring different grapes and regions. Neither of us have any formal training in cooking, but I think we know enough about food and combining flavours that we’re comfortable experimenting, rather than being guided by a recipe. We know substantially less about wine than we do about food and cooking, but we generally prefer reds and like certain characteristics (full-bodied, and earthy or spicy rather than full-on fruity taste), and we experiment with different wines that fit these guidelines – experimenting, in this case, means hitting the LCBO and picking something that’s gotten good reviews and has interesting-sounding tasting notes.

While we’re usually able to find some great wines using this method, it’s nice to occasionally have the opportunity to learn about different wines in a more formal setting. Earlier this month, I checked out a wine tasting event put on by Toronto’s iYellow Wine Club. The event was called I Heart Beringer, and provided the opportunity to taste seven different wines produced by this California company.

iYellow Beringer pour

I’ve been to a couple of larger wine shows over the past few years, which allow visitors to taste a huge variety of different wines from all over the world. These kinds of events are great for discovering several new grapes in one place and learning about wine-producing regions (who knew the former USSR member country, Georgia, is actually the world’s oldest wine-producing country – a fact I learned at a recent wine show). But it can be difficult to mentally process the good from the not-so-good after an hour or two of running around tasting wines.

iYellow Beringer Wine Tasting

iYellow’s Beringer event brought together around 200 people in a casual, fun setting at a downtown art gallery, and allowed us to focus our taste buds on a series of wines produced by one company, all from grapes grown in California’s Napa Valley. The Beringer wines being poured were 2009 California Collection White Zinfandel, 2009 Founders’ Estate Pinot Grigio, 2009 Founders’ Estate Sauvignon Blanc, 2009 Founders’ Estate Chardonnay, 2008 Founders’ Estate Merlot, 2008 Founders’ Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 2008 Founders’ Estate Syrah. I tend prefer cabernet sauvignon, and this was the one that stood out for me the most. But I really enjoyed the opportunity to taste these all at once and to be able to compare Beringer whites and reds from the same vintages.

Ange Aiello
Ange Aiello, founder of iYellow Wine Club

Ange Aiello (get it… iYellow) started iYellow Wine Club in 2006 after moving to Toronto from the Niagara region to provide people with the opportunity to learn about wine in an approachable, fun and casual environment. I talked to a couple people at the Beringer tasting who said that they generally avoid the bigger wine shows and educational events because they feel intimidating, but that they enjoyed the laid-back vibe of the gallery, with tasting stations set up around the venue and a DJ spinning tunes.

iYellow runs several events over the year, including tastings, wine education events and tours of Ontario’s wine regions, with prices starting around $35 a head, which seems like a pretty reasonable deal to me for wines, food and some valuable education.

For more info on upcoming iYellow Wine Club events, check out www.iyellowwineclub.com

(Special thanks to iYellow Wine Club and photographer Patrick Sijis for use of the images.)

How to Make Store-Bought Fruitcake Taste Delicious in 5 Easy Steps

9 Dec

Fruitcake alcohol cheesecloth

I love Christmas. I love the traditions, and the fact it involves hanging out with family. And, of course, I love the food – with one exception: fruitcake. I know I’m not the only person who shares a hatred of fruitcake. There are many of us fruitcake haters. And yet, there it is every year at Christmas, sitting there, taunting us. Dry, mealy doorstops, or moist, overly sweet doorstops, filled with little gross bits of candied who-knows-what.

I’m sure that, somewhere, there is a 12-step program for fruitcake haters. But I’ve looked, and I can’t find it. And until I do I know I’m going to be faced with Christmas after Christmas of bad fruitcake being offered to me by good people. I could continually refuse every offered piece of fruitcake and risk offending some of the people I love most. Or, I could take matters into my own hands. I’ve decided to try doing the latter this year.

My problem with fruitcake isn’t so much fruitcake itself. I have actually enjoyed a few homemade fruitcakes. But mostly, the omnipresent fruitcake at Christmas is the store-bought type. Most of these are terrible, but this year I thought ‘what if I could take a terrible product and actually make it taste reasonably delicious?’ This got me thinking of the fruitcakes I’ve enjoyed, and what made them taste so good. The answer, I’m convinced, is alcohol. And so, last weekend I decided to take two store-bought fruitcakes and, using alcohol and some tips and tricks picked up through various online sites, turn them into tasty, alcohol-soaked treats.

Here are my 5 easy steps for making store-bought fruitcake taste delicious:

Fruitcake brushed alcohol

    1. Brush: Unwrap your store-bought fruitcake. Place it on a work surface and, using a toothpick or another thin, sharp tool, poke small holes all over the surface of the cake – top, bottom and sides. The holes, apparently, will help the fruitcake absorb all the delicious alcohol you’re about to douse it with. After you’ve covered your cake in holes, pour a small amount of alcohol into a bowl; I used about 1/3 of a cup for a small cake. As for what alcohol, rum or brandy is pretty traditional for soaking fruitcake, but almost anything will work. I had two cakes, and used madeira on one and marsala on the other. Dip a pastry brush into the bowl of booze, and brush alcohol across all surfaces of the cake. You’re glazing it more than soaking it at this phase.

Cheesecloth soaked in alcohol

    1. Soak: Measure a length of cheesecloth long enough so it can be wrapped around your fruitcake two or three times, then immerse the cheesecloth into the bowl of alcohol. Soak the cheesecloth thoroughly in the alcohol.
Cheesecloth

Trying to tame the cheesecloth…

    1. Wrap: Pick up the soaked cheesecloth and gently squeeze out some of the alcohol so that the cloth is wet, but not dripping. Lay soaked cheesecloth out on a work surface, then wrap the fruitcake in the cheesecloth, folding the cloth around the cake as many times as you can (two or three times). Wrap the cheesecloth-covered cake tightly in aluminum foil. If you’re doing several fruitcakes in different kinds of alcohol, make sure to label them by alcohol type. Store the fruitcake in a cool, dry place.

Fruitcake wrapped in cheesecloth

    1. Reapply: Every week or so, unwrap the foil and sprinkle the cheesecloth-covered cake on all sides with more alcohol. Any of the websites and recipes I’ve looked at have said you can repeat this step weekly for up to several months – the longer you age the fruitcake, the deeper the flavour. I started my fruitcake experiment on December 4 and I want to eat them by Christmas, so I’ve decided to apply more alcohol every 5 days or so until then.

Fruitcake labelled Madeira

  1. Wait: From everything I’ve read, this seems to be the key step. As mentioned in step 4, the fruitcake apparently tastes better the longer you wait. Makes sense: more alcohol applied, more alcohol soaking-in time, more delicious alcohol infused cake.

I’ve just hit step 4 for the first time today. When I went to apply more alcohol to my fruitcakes they already felt fairly moist, which makes me think that the alcohol is soaking in nicely. It also makes me worry that after two or three more alcohol applications, I could end up with logs of alcoholic mush. Time will tell, I suppose.
I’ll follow up this post in a couple of weeks with the end results of my fruitcake experiment. Until then, if you have a good method for making store-bought fruitcake taste better, let me know in the comments section below. Or, if you have a good homemade fruitcake recipe, feel free to leave it here. I’m not much of a baker, but given the right recipe I might be persuaded to make my own fruitcake next winter.

Holiday Giveaway #2: High-Quality Spanish Olive Oils

7 Dec

Jenny and I planned this holiday giveaway ‘extravaganza’ with two goals in mind. The first was to give a little something back to some of the people who’ve read our blog, followed us on our Facebook page, and just generally made us feel like they’re interested in what we’ve been writing (since blogging can be a pretty lonely activity when you don’t feel like anyone is reading). And the second goal was to give our readers a chance to share in some of our favorite things. As I mentioned last week, we chose to give away some PC Insider’s Report products because I have fond memories of growing up with them in my house during the holidays. And for giveaway #2, we’re offering readers the chance to win something our kitchen is never without: great-tasting, high-quality olive oils.

Jenny and I both love good olive oils. A good bottle of olive oil is like a good wine, with a flavour profile that can be spicy, or citrusy, or fruity. And like a good wine, different olive oils are suited to different foods; some taste great on salads, some are great drizzled on top of grilled meat or fish as a finishing flavour. Some, as we’ve talked about in previous posts, are even ideal to use as a main ingredient in sweet things, such as cakes or ice cream.

Our first-ever post on Communal Table was focused on olive oils, after we were invited to a fun and informative olive oil tasting event hosted by Dolores Smith at Olivar Corp. We loved meeting Dolores and taking in some of her vast olive oil knowledge, and really loved tasting the different Spanish olive oils that Olivar Corp. imports into Canada. So we were thrilled when Dolores agreed to donate a couple of amazing olive oil prize packs for our holiday giveaway.

Thanks to Dolores’ generosity, we have two prizes to give away this week, each consisting of two bottles of high-quality Spanish olive oils from Olivar Corp.

The first prize consists of a bottle each of:

  • Rincon de la Subbetica – an organic Spanish olive oil that is the world’s most-awarded olive oil, with over 70 honours since 2006. This was one of the olive oils I sampled during the olive oil tasting Dolores led earlier this year, and it ended up being my favorite, with an interesting flavour mix of green apple and peppery spice.
  • Dauro – a blend of olives including arbequina and hojiblanca from Spain, and koroneiki from Greece. This one has a delicate taste that is praised in Japanese kitchens for its ability to pair well with wasabi, and has been featured in Nobel Prize Award banquet dinners.

The second prize pack consists of a bottle each of:

  • Full Moon – produced in limited quantities, using only the best Spanish arbequina olives harvested very early, during the full moon. This creates an olive oil that is balanced and smooth, with both fruit and a hint of pepper in the taste.
  • Parqueoliva – another highly-awarded oil, with more than 40 recognitions. This is considered a sister olive oil to the Rincon, with a slightly more intense flavour profile that includes herbs and floral notes, with a slight peppery kick.

To win one of these great olive oil prize packs:

  1. First, click this link and “Like” us to join Communal Table’s Facebook Fan Page.
  2. Second, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to be entered into our Holiday Giveaway #2 and also telling us what your favorite use is for a great olive oil. Please note that you must complete BOTH of these steps to be entered. If you already Like us on Facebook, leave a comment on our Facebook Fan Page wall stating that you want to enter and tell us about your favorite use for great olive oil.

**While we welcome anyone who wants to join our Facebook Fan Page, this contest is restricted to Canadian entries only.

    You have until next Monday evening, December 13, to enter. We will draw two names from all entries and those lucky winners will each be sent one of our two prize packs.

    These are great bottles of olive oil, and we’re happy to be able to share them with you, whether you’re as passionate about olive oils as we are or are looking for an introduction into the world of high-quality olive oil.

    Also, don’t forget about Communal Table’s donation drive on behalf of the Daily Bread Food Bank… all donations made are eligible to win a $200 gift certificate to North 44 Restaurant in Toronto and a signed copy of chef Mark McEwan’s new cookbook, Good Food at Home. Click here for details on how you can donate and win with Communal Table.

    And The VIP Tix Go To…

    9 Nov

    We want to thank everyone who entered the contest to win VIP tickets to The Toronto Gourmet Food & Wine Expo. (Don’t worry, if you got a bonus entry your name was entered twice)

    We wish we had tickets for all of you, but we just have the 3 pairs.

    All of the names (including bonus entries!) were entered into the pot.

    A little shake, shake, shake.

    And the rest was up to fate!

    And the winners are….

    Congratulations to Jonathan, Tracey and Carly! You’ll each be getting a pair of VIP tix. Enjoy!!

    Check back for more exciting contests in the next little while and thanks again for entering!

    Perfect Tiramisu, Part 2: The quest for perfection at home

    6 Nov

    After Chris Pengelly from The Milford Bistro generously gave me the secret to the bistro’s perfect “Swedish Tiramisu”, I had to try making it myself.

    Understandably, he didn’t give me the actual recipe, but he did share the most important ingredient: Madeira wine. It’s a fortified Portuguese wine from the islands of Madeira and the bistro uses it as a replacement for the more typical Marsala wine found in most classic tiramisu recipes.

    I searched a ton of tiramisu recipes online and decided to use this one from Gourmet magazine 2003 as a base, and modify it as I went.

    Let me start off by saying that this seemingly easy dessert is actually quite the process. It’s not a complicated process, but a process nonetheless. I think I used every clean bowl in my cupboard to make this one dessert. And it took me about an hour to actually make from start to finish (though I was stopping to take photos along the way).

    Here are the ingredients for my modified recipe:

    3 large eggs, separated

    Sugar, divided into ½ cup and ¼ cup measurements (* I didn’t fill my measuring cups up the whole way, I just didn’t want to use as much sugar as the recipe called for so I eyeballed a little less.)

    1 (8-oz) container mascarpone cheese or 1 scant cup (* I have a confession to make here. I screwed this up. The mascarpone I bought listed the amount in grams and I didn’t bother to do the conversion or measure it out in a measuring cup. I bought the large container of mascarpone (475 g, or what I later discovered to be 16 ounces) which turned out to be double the amount that the recipe called for. Believing that tiramisu needed to have a good amount of mascarpone, I threw in the entire container. This definitely screwed up the recipe but read on to see my assessment of the final dessert and the texture/taste.)

    1/2 cup chilled heavy cream

    1 cup very strong brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Strong espresso is essential for the full coffee flavor. I made mine in the French press.)

    1 cup Madeira wine (* The original recipe called for 2 cups of espresso and just 2 tablespoons of booze. That was NOT going to do for my taste, so I decided to go with half the amount of espresso and an equal amount of Madeira.)

    4 Packages of Lady Fingers (I used Milano brand Giant Lady Fingers.)

    Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

    And here’s how you do it (instruction from Gourmet’s recipe, with my additional thoughts in brackets):

    Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until thick and pale, about 2 minutes.

    Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

    Beat whites with a pinch of salt in another bowl with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, then continue to beat whites until they just hold stiff peaks.

    Beat cream in another bowl with cleaned beaters until it just holds soft peaks.

    all three mixtures before folding them into each other

    Fold cream into mascarpone mixture gently but thoroughly, then fold in whites.

    final consistency of the mascarpone cream

    Stir together coffee and Madeira in a shallow bowl. Dip 1 ladyfinger in coffee mixture, and transfer to a glass baking dish.

    (** Ok, this is where I will have to modify the recipe again next time I make it. The original recipe said to soak the ladyfingers for about 4 seconds on each side, which I started to do but they seemed too dry. But then when I soaked them for longer, they started to fall apart and I thought that would ruin the dessert. Next time, I’m going to soak them for as long as I can before they completely fall apart and I might even try pouring some of the coffee mixture on top of the ladyfingers once they’re placed in the dish. They were not ‘wet’ enough for our liking. Using this amount of liquid and soaking the ladyfingers for approx 5 seconds a side resulted in more of a cakey consistency, so if you’re into that, then keep it as is. Next time, I’ll keep extra espresso on hand and try doubling the liquid to 2 cups espresso, 2 cups Madeira.)

    Repeat with more ladyfingers and arrange in bottom of dish, trimming as needed to fit snugly. (*I layered some of them so that they were slightly overlapping in some places.)

    Spread half of mascarpone mixture evenly over ladyfingers. Make another layer in same manner with remaining ladyfingers and mascarpone mixture.

    Cover with plastic wrap and chill tiramisu at least 6 hours in the fridge. (I made mine 24 hours in advance of serving it and it worked out great.)

    Just before serving, sprinkle with cocoa powder.

    My final assessment:

    Let me start by saying that this, my very first attempt at tiramisu, paled in comparison to The Milford Bistro’s. I have a long way to go and many versions to try. But, I do think this recipe is a good start.

    We invited friends for dinner and had everyone at the table give their constructive feedback.

    We all felt that the flavors were very much there. One bite and you could definitely taste the strong flavor of espresso, the richness of the mascarpone (especially since I used too much! Oops!), and the booziness and special flavor of the Madeira. It tasted like a good tiramisu.

    But, texture-wise, Neil and I both felt that it was a bit too cake-ey (not dry by any means but just not ‘wet’ enough). We wanted more saturation in the cookies. We also felt that we wanted it to be boozier, though our guests thought it was boozy enough. We tend to be extremists though, so maybe it’s just us.

    Also, the mascarpone cream was too cheesy, which made for a very heavy dessert. At the time I tasted it, I still hadn’t realized my mistake and thought that next time I would just use less mascarpone. Well yes, next time I will follow the recipe better and definitely use less than I did (since I doubled it by mistake), though I might actually use a bit more than what’s called for (maybe a scant cup plus a few more tablespoons). We thought the texture was too thick and heavy and needed to be silkier. Less cheese will definitely help that.

    And, as I mentioned above, I think next time I’ll try soaking the ladyfingers and then pouring some extra liquid right on top after they’re layered in the dish so they really soak it in. This would mean probably doubling the liquid measurements. As it was, I nearly ran out of the liquid I had.

    At the end of the day, if I wasn’t trying so hard to analyze this recipe, it was delicious and a great ending to a meal with friends. It also kept well in the fridge for a few days, and the flavors seemed to have intensified over time.

    I will definitely keep trying to perfect this recipe with the hopes of one day living up to the dessert that inspired this crazy tiramisu extravaganza in the first place.

    If anyone out there has any suggestions, techniques or awesome alternative recipes for tiramisu that they’d like to share, please do! This process has already been sort of a ‘pay it forward’ kind of deal, thanks again to Chris at the Milford Bistro.

    **** UPDATE **** Since writing this post, I’ve gotten a tip from Toronto food personality and writer Christine Picheca who told me that I used the wrong cookies! She said you have to use savoiardi biscuits which are much more porous than lady fingers so a light dip on each side (as the original recipe from Gourmet called for) would probably do the trick to get the consistency and texture that I like. Thank you Christine! I will definitely change cookies for my next attempt at creating the perfect tiramisu.

    Perfect Tiramisu, Part 1: Perfection in the most unexpected of places

    4 Nov

    This past summer Neil and I went on an unforgettable trip to Italy. We ate our way through all the amazing places we visited making for an unforgettable culinary experience that resulted in more photos of food than of ourselves.

    One of the things that we were most excited to sample was Tiramisu.

    It had become a bit of a running joke between Neil and I; in our four years together we had never had good tiramisu together, despite our efforts to track it down all over the place. We had been to tons of restaurants, all claiming to have ‘the best’ or ‘the most authentic’ tiramisu and we would continuously give them the benefit of the doubt, and with one taste, we’d look at each other and know that our search would have to press on.

    Though we had never experienced a great tiramisu together, we knew that we were united in our quest, looking for the same qualities in the seemingly-simple dessert; a tiramisu that was really boozy and ‘wet’ in texture, with silky mascarpone cream and a really intense coffee flavor. What could be so hard?

    With a fast-approaching trip to Italy, we knew that our search was most likely going to come to an end. We promptly ordered tiramisu on one of our first nights in Rome.

    And we never ordered it again.

    It was terrible. In fact, it was probably the most disappointing addition to our ‘terrible tiramisu’ list because, well, it was Italy! If the dessert was that much of a let down in its country of birth, then it was probably time to give up. And we pretty much did.

    And then, a few months ago we found ourselves in Milford, Ontario. A small, quiet little town in Prince Edward County. We stayed at the charming and hospitable Milford B&B and by fluke had made a reservation at The Milford Bistro, just a few doors down. It wasn’t something we planned, we just sort of happened upon it.

    From briefly reading about the place online, we knew that it was owned by Chris and Veronica Pengelly, a husband-wife team who had found their dream in the small town.

    Dinner was a set menu with a few options to choose from because it was the busy weekend of the Taste! event. When we originally scanned the menu, Neil and I snobbily (yes I will admit, we can sometimes have moments of snobbery when it comes to food) gave each other a look that said “this seems kind of boring”. The menu was simple and uncomplicated and we had to choose our dessert option when we ordered our mains. The choices were tiramisu or crème brulée and we chose one of each, assuming we knew what we were in for.

    The entire meal, course after course, was a huge, unexpected, delightful surprise.

    Keeping in tune with the philosophy of so many restaurants in the county, the food was so fresh, the ingredients so pure and well treated. We couldn’t believe how flavorful our simple salad of local greens and carrots tasted, along with handmade cheese biscuits and the most savory and lovingly-prepared (you could taste the love, I swear) lamb with root vegetables. We enjoyed the meal so much that we both admitted and discussed how wrong we were to initially judge (admitting we’re wrong is not something Neil or I are very good at, by the way!).

    But even still, when the dessert came, we kind of expected the same mediocrity that we had experienced everywhere else.

    How wrong we were.

    With just one bite, I knew this was it. We had found it; the perfect tiramisu in the most unexpected of places! You can see in the photo above just how liquid-ey (but not too liquid-ey!) and creamy this dessert was. It was incredibly boozy in the best of ways, but not overwhelmingly so that it overtook the other flavors of intense coffee and silky cream. It was perfection. We had to take a moment to properly take it all in.

    But the story doesn’t end there. We had no idea that this specimen of perfection was actually a very special recipe that meant a lot to The Milford Bistro itself. When I grabbed our waitress to compliment the dessert, she told us that we were lucky it was on the menu that night because it had been taken off their regular menu months before.

    It was called “Swedish Tiramisu” and it was a family recipe from owner Veronica’s Swedish roots. Veronica used to make it herself when it was on the regular menu and her husband (and bistro chef) Chris later told us that they were used to people swooning over the dessert and coming from far and wide just to have it again.

    But to our dismay, the waitress told us that after battling a sudden and unexpected illness earlier in the summer, Veronica had passed away at only 39 years old. Understandably, her husband pulled the dessert from the regular menu and it hadn’t been made since. Until that night.

    I remember shuddering at the sad story and looking over to see Chris, who was still in his chef whites, gabbing away with some bistro guests like the gracious host that he is. Neil and I decided that we had to go over and tell him personally how much we enjoyed our meal and especially, how perfect his wife’s tiramisu had been. He was so lovely to talk to, so grateful for the feedback and such an inspiration, we thought, given the fact that he’s continued on with the bistro so flawlessly.

    We left feeling warm and satisfied and deeply touched by Chris and Veronica’s story. It seemed somehow fateful that we ended up there by chance, on just that night.

    I emailed Chris a few days later after trying to research “Swedish Tiramisu” online to find out what made it so special, and not finding any information about it. Chris emailed me back right away saying that the reason they named their version of the classic dessert “Swedish Tiramisu” is because it was created by Veronica’s mother who had passed it on to her. We weren’t going to find any information about it because it was unique to them. The secret ingredient (of course there had to be a secret ingredient!) is actually Madeira wine instead of the typical Marsala Wine. He said that it gives a special flavor.

    Well, the whole experience was special, in my opinion. I want to thank Veronica and Chris Pengelly for giving my husband and I a special memory of an unforgettable meal, and our first experience together tasting the most exceptional tiramisu we’ve ever had.

    We loved it so much that we vowed to try making our own based on The Milford Bistro’s version…. Stay tuned for ‘part 2’ of this post!

    Win VIP tix to the T.O. Gourmet Food and Wine Expo!

    3 Nov

    Toronto Gourmet Food & Wine Expo

    The 2010 edition of Toronto’s Gourmet Food and Wine Expo is just around the corner. The event offers attendees the chance to sample more than 1,500 wines, beers and spirits from all over the world, check out cooking demonstrations by chefs and Food Network personalities, and taste food from a variety of vendors. Communal Table has three pairs of VIP event tickets to give away to lucky readers – read on to find out how to win!

    The flavours of Texas will be centre stage at this year’s Expo. Chefs from Dallas’s Go Fish Ocean Club, Austin BBQ chain The County Line, Houston restaurant Mo’s and La Gloria of San Antonio will be on hand to showcase some of their dishes. The demonstration stage will also feature chef David Adjey of the Food Network show The Opener, as well as winners of the annual Nine of Dine Awards.

    Of course, food is only half of the focus. The InterVin Award Winners Pavillion will showcase this year’s winning wines, while a variety of other bottles from Canada and around the world will also be tasted. Those looking for even more can check out the Fine Wine and Fine Scotch Tasting Lounges.

    The four-day event runs from Thursday, November 18 through Sunday, November 21. Single-day admission tickets for Friday, Saturday or Sunday cost $16, with tasting tickets available for an extra $1 each (individual wine and food tastings average a couple of tickets each). Those looking for smaller crowds and special features – including a sneak preview of show highlights, the chance to taste wines available only to VIP guests, and an opportunity to connect with industry professionals and food media – can opt for tickets to the VIP evening on Thursday, November 18.

    VIP tickets are available for $39.55 each, but Communal Table has three pairs to give away! Want to win? Here’s what you need to do:

    1. Click here to become a fan of Communal Table on Facebook.
    2. Leave a comment on our wall letting us know you want to win.
    3. For a bonus entry, leave a comment below this post letting us know you’ve become a Fan of Communal Table on Facebook!

    We’ll draw names from all entries received by end of day Monday, November 8 and mail tix to the winners. So become a Fan and leave a comment soon!

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