Monday, December 13, 2010

Wine Books for Local Food Donations

Tis’ the season for giving and that’s exactly what Niagara Cooks is hoping to do. Author Lynn Ogryzlo has purged her wine library of over 100 titles and offering them up for a donation to The Craig Award.

Here’s how it works. You pick a title you’d like and it’s yours for a donation. Some titles have a $10 price attached to them and that’s the least amount of donation accepted, others with no amount you can have for whatever you’d like to donate.

The books are lovingly read and lightly handled so most of them look as good as new, there are however, a few with a look of being thoroughly loved.

Choose from the eclectic pile that includes anything from The Oxford Companion to Wines, by Jancis Robinson to Wine Tastes, Wine Styles by Andrew Jefford. There are books on South Africa and others on health, like The Save Your Heart Wine Book. There are some by Simon & Schuster as well as William & Sonoma. There are books about cooking with wine, tasting wine, learning about wine and lots of coffee table style books from the experts; all great for holiday giving for an aspiring student, an eager enthusiast or a winetasting pro.

The Craig Award is a new research scholarship program funded by the Ogryzlo’s and run through Niagara College. It’s to financially encourage students and farmers to work together on innovative agricultural projects that have a positive outcome for Niagara’s local food culture.

Please join the Ogryzlo’s this holiday season, give the gift of wine and food reading while creating a stronger local food community in Niagara.

For a listing of the books, go to

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Niagara's Saffron Harvest

It’s saffron harvest season in Niagara! Robert and Melissa Achal of NOEB Lavender on Niagara Stone Road in Niagara-on-the-Lake are in full saffron harvest. Over 400 pots, each with one crocus bulb bloom intermittedly and Robert has to hand harvest each one.

The harvest runs from mid November to mid December, these little pots burst with beautiful blossoms. It’s Robert Achal’s job to pick each flower, open it up and remove the 4 stamens waiting inside each one of them.

Robert is originally from Figi and everything he does from growing his exotic plants and making them into lines of cosmetics are traditions he learned from his home country and from his grandmother who is an herbalist in Figi.

The worlds largest saffron production comes from Iran. It’s where Robert got his crocus bulbs. Every second year the bulbs are divided and there are waiting lists of companies waiting for the division of the bulbs so they can begin their own saffron production. Robert put his name on that list and in October, they arrived. The new bulbs usually take a year to flower but amazingly, they began to bloom in November. “They must like their new home”, says Robert.

The saffron harvest runs approximately 4 weeks. It starts when the flowers begin to bloom and ends when they no longer bloom. Each bulb can give off 3 to 4 flowers during harvest. Robert himself hand harvests his crop every day. He refers to the crocuses as a fall crocus. It’s is not the kind you grow in your garden, if you use the wrong kind of crocus stamen it could be very poisonous.

To harvest saffron, the entire flower is pinched off the stem of the plant, then each flower is opened and the stems removed very carefully. If a saffron thread is broken upon removal, it is useless, so each one is handled very delicately. A saffron stamen goes from red at the bottom to orange at the top and the redder the saffron, the higher the quality.

To cook with saffron you must soak real saffron in water before you use it then pulverize it with a mortar and pestal. Then you’re ready to add it to dishes for amazing colour and flavour. It’s great in a saffron curry sauce, you can make a saffron cake, it goes well with lamb and seafood pastas and of course the quintessential saffron dish is Bouillabaisse.

Robert is happy to be growing the real thing. For a few years now he’s been growing what is known as a “poor man’s saffron” or Egyptian saffron. This is really a Calendula flower and not a crocus. It doesn’t bleed like real saffron so it doesn’t colour a dish as well. The flower petals are dried and cured and as it does this, the petals shrivel into threads that look like saffron. It’s a great substitute, but it’s not the real thing.

Crocuses are beautiful, delicate little flowers and as I gaze at them in Robert’s greenhouse, appreciating their beauty, I wonder who thought that removing the little stamens, drying them and pulverizing them would make a great ingredient in seafood dishes. I don’t know who had such an amazing mind, but I’m sure glad they did.

NOEB Lavender, 758 Niagara Stone Rd, Niagara-on-the-Lake

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Catching some Silver Bass

If you live in Niagara s I do it’s there’s always something new to eat, something special to discover. This week I got a call from Rod Minor in Port Colborne.

Rod is fisherman and he fishes the waters of Lake Erie. There’s nothing better than the fresh, clean flavours of lake fish. I tend to prefer them to the oily, density of salt water fish. I find them easier to cook with because you can add some verjus and no matter what accompanies with lake fish, it all offers clean, fresh flavous.

This week Rod pulled some beautiful Silver Bass from Lake Erie. So I told Rod I’d take 3 whole ones – no filetting, just clean them and I’d cook them whole. I was feeling like a little dinner presentation was in order.

Wow, when I got to Minor Fish (176 West St) the 3 fish were so large I began wondering who I’d have to invite for dinner. One of the Silver Bass alone would feed both my husband and I.

On the way home I sorted out what I’d do with them so I made a quick detour to the grocery store for a few boxes of coarse salt.

I washed the fish inside and out, put a few herbs and bit of verjus in the cavity and laid them on a 2-inch bed of salt. Then I covered them with an inch of salt. I left the heads and tails exposed for presentation, then I roasted them for almost an hour.

When they were ready to serve, I chipped away at the salt crust, brushed away any remaining salt, peeled away the skin and began eating the flesh. Oh my gosh!! This fish was succulently juicy, the tender meat flaked beautifully and my husband and I devoured one in the blink of any eye. It was a big one though, so we were very full.

Tonight we’re taking the other 2 to my uncles house for dinner. I’m taking the pickerel cheeks also. I just couldn’t resist, when I was waiting for my Silver Bass to be packaged up, I saw these silver-dollar sized pickerel cheeks. I’m going to bread them and cook them up with some bacon and herbs – perhaps I’ll fry up some sage chips. Them I’ll make a spicy aioli to dip them in – they should be good.

If you live in Niagara I highly recommend a beautiful drive out to Port Colborne to Minor Fish. The 3 large Silver Bass only cost $6.75! A feast to last 3 days and at shockingly low prices – get out there before Rod reads this email and contemplates raising his prices.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Farmhouse Grill

On Saturday Jon and I found ourselves in Keene, Ontario with a few minutes on our hands. If you know Keene, you know there’s not a lot to do, so we looked for a place to have coffee and in the middle of a not-a-lot-happening place, we found the most amazing diner.

There it sat on the crosssroads of Keene’s main intersection – Farmhouse Grill. For 2 lovavores, this was the perfect place to sit and have our coffee. Jon turned off the road to park and out of the diner came a group of rather rough looking guys, they were a motley crew of hard core farmers for sure, almost made us city folk want to just drive by.

We parked the car next to a large tractor and more people came out of this little diner. We walked inside and it was packed. People were lined up at the counter ordering take-out coffee and more were seated, eating large platters of typical breakfasts of sausages, eggs and homefries.

We found a table and sat down. It was a busy little place, decor was exactly what I’d expected – I figured it would have to be casual and rustic to make its patrons comfortable and it was. The longer I sat and the longer I watched the activity, I found myself relaxing and warming to it. This place definitely had charm; at the very least it was completely organic.

Jessica, our waitress finally had a minute to come over. She brought menus and a cloth to clean the table. We decided we’d eat because the menu was absolutely irresistible! The Famished Farmer Special was the large meal we’d noticed when we arrived. Jessica tells us it’s popular, especially the homefries that are made from potatoes they peel themselves.

Jon was wavering between the Barn Raising Omelette and the Farmers’ Daughters Choice. I went for the Traditional Farmer’s Breakfast. All of the meat used in their restaurant is local. I’m not surprised, we were in Keene to meet a cattle farmer; this seems to be cattle territory.

I hear they’re famous for their Traditional Back Kitchen Burgers that Eva makes. Eva works the kitchen and often comes out to serve customers the meals she’s made them. Being totally unprepared for this place, I wrote my notes on a napkin.

If you’re looking for the real deal in country conviviality, then take a Saturday drive to Keene for lunch. Make sure your GPS takes you through the backroads and along the Trent River system for a great drive.

Farmehouse Grill
Located at the 4 corners in Keene

Sunday, October 31, 2010

O & B Canteen
I'm in Toronto at O & B Canteen, a casual eaterie on KIng St West. What a great place! WonderfuL atmosphere! Casual, refreshing. Ordered the Thai coleslaw and it was eye popping good. Israeli cous cous was a bit boring, my take is that if it was just slightly warm the flavours would be much much better. Actually, I predict they would be eye-popping great! Entree was lamb gnocchi another really bland dish but the Calabrese pizza hit a home run. Dessert could't be better, light as a cloud, freshly lemony perfect!

Check it out it really is a fantastic place and my guess is that they will have the food sorted out soon enough.

Tomorrow is the Ontario Culinary Tourism Summit and I'm looking forward to discovering what's new in local food across the province!

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Best Greek Memories

Well I think I left you all in Santorini didn’t I? The thing with blogging is that when you’re really busy, you just can’t leave to share it. There were rays of sun to catch, bottles of wine to sip, amazing dishes to savour, quaint little villages to explore and stunningly beautiful scenery to bath in. Now that I’m back and almost caught up (are we ever caught up!!) I am reminiscing the best parts and it’s the perfect time to share.

After my rude beginning with bad food and exorbitant prices I wised up – come on, tell me you’ve all been there! Santorini is simply an amazing island. For a winter population of 2,000 it has the most sensational restaurants. Here are my 3 favourites…….

Perivoli, ( Exo Gonia beach. They’re calling it Greek creative cuisine, but I call it nothing short of the best culinary experience I’ve had so far. It’s a blend of amazingly light textures, bursts of flavours and surprising presentations. Many say that 1800 in Oia is the best restaurant on the island and while I think it’s great, it can’t hold a candle to this new restaurant that is leagues ahead of anything else on the island.

Seleni ( in Pyrgos. This is Santorini’s quintessential farm to table fine dining restaurant. I first discovered Selini about 10 years ago when it was in downtown Fira, now it’s on a high point on the island in a little village called Pyrgos. The bus will take you there and with Santorini’s new more modern buses you can dress up for one of the best meals on the island.

Sea Side by Notos ( Perivolos Beach. This is an exciting place to be with white washed benches and boat-lounges, extreme design and even more extreme food presentation on the plate – and it’s extremely delicious! Just to sit on the beach lounges and sip on a chilled cocktail surveying the sea is a job I wouldn’t pass up.

Nichteri at Kamari beach was recommended to me but I never made it there. I'm planning to back in the summer of 2012, if anyone is interested incoming along, I know the best places to stay, eat, drink - and oh yea, shop!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blogging not an easy thing to do

I'm trying to take the time to write about my culinary adventures in Santorini but there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day.

Responding to a tip from the locals, Jon and I took a bus to Akrotiri. Melina's Taverna was on the water, the first taverna on the beach. In Greece, if someone has a taverna, it's not long before a 2nd, a 3rd, a 4th and so on open up and before you know it there is a string of taverna's all competing for the limited customers. But in a country who's main industry is tourism it kind of makes sense.

Melina's is the first taverna. The tables were covered in brilliant lime green table cloths and the chairs were painted in the same fresh colour. It was beautiful against the white building and the stunningly blue sea. The owner, Niko opened this little taverna almost 16 years ago and named it after his first daughter.

Melina's boasts a very traditional menu and claims his food comes from the island, the fish is fresh daily (from the waters your sitting by) and any frozen fish is noted with an * so his customers don't get confused. Wow, claims of food origins and pride in local food exists in the smallest, most remote place in the world.

Jon and I ordered the catch of the day which was Santorini Balls (more like pancakes made with very ripe and delicious red and yellow tomatoes grown on the island). They were amazing! Next came a fava dish. It was more like a hummus made with fava beans grown in Niko's fathers garden. Drizzled with a bit of lemon, it was full of luscious flavour.

Next came a dish Niko claims is his signature dish. It's called egglpant salad but I find the Greeks use the word salad where we would use the word dip, sauce or salsa. The eggplant dish was like an eggplant salsa with garlic, vinegar and onions. It was charred on the barbecue so it had smoky flavours to add to its dimension. This is the most amazing way to eat eggplant I've ever tasted - wow!

Next came the entire red snapper on a platter. Niko had carved it up and removed most of the bones. This is what I live for - fresh fish! It was clean, light and delicious - we at the whole thing!

If you're ever in Santorini, this little taverna that has been written up by Bon Appetite Magazine is worth the bus ride from any place on the island. If you don't know it's there, you'll miss the best Greek meal on the island!

If I have time, I'll share my next day of delicious fun on the island with you....... if not, know I'm having a better time than if I were blogging......

Friday, July 23, 2010

Eating in Santorini Day Three

I come to Santorini for the view – it’s spectacular! There was a time when you could buy a greek salad and beer for one or two dracma, then they joined the European Union and prices went up. Well, I’m in shock how expensive it is to eat in this little, rustic island. Our lunch on day one was 2 Santorini salads, a beer and water came to 32 Euros (translates into more than $50 dollars!).

We tried to have dinner at a restaurant that came highly recommended. Koukoumavlos Restaurant is not far from our apartment, maybe a 2 minute walk. They’re said to have a great chef, but get this. A gourmet burger is 28 Euros, duck burger with fois gras 28 Euros (that’s a whopping $44 for a burger!!!). I looked down the menu, beef carpaccio was 22 Euro ($35), gyros of veal cheeks 20 Euros ($32), pasta Carbonara 25 Euros ($40 for a plate of spaghetti!!!!). Desserts ranged from 12 to 14 Euros each and that’s for dishes of ice cream, chocolate mousse or tiramisu – not exactly exciting stuff. Wine by the glass was anywhere from 10 to 18 Euros a glass ($16 to $28 for a glass of wine!!) and the kicker – a 3 Euro cover charge (about $5).

As I walked around Fira, these prices weren’t uncommon, even the lower end restaurants serving traditional food is charging way too much for what you get. Last night we went to the grocery store and bought everything we needed for a Greek salad – it cost approximately $15. We had a top quality extra virgin olive oil (tasted a few before we bought), amazing feta cheese, fresh, fresh, fresh olives, island ripened tomatoes, chilled cucumbers and a few large shallots that worked in place of a red onion. Oh yes, a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine and we ate like kings.

Today we took a bus to Kamari Beach and the prices were much more reasonable. We ate beachside (Kamari is a black volcanic beach – beautiful) on fresh, fried calamari, marinated octopus, a large plate of tzatziki, beer and more water for 23 Euro ($37). Not bad for 2 for lunch and the quality was quite good.

It’s a pity because Santorini has become a combination of contradictions. Prices for food and accommodation rival the best places in the world, yet the accommodation, food and towns are very primitive. What I mean is the prices have gone up exponentially but the quality of the tourism offering has not………… pity.

Add to that they’ve allowed dozens of late night bars to blast music across the cliff until all hours of the morning and they’ve allowed out of control development that blocks the public view of the most beautiful view in the world.

I still love Santorini, but it may be the last time I come. For the prices I’m paying I could easily explore more sophisticated and equally beautiful destinations where my vacation would be much more comfortable and positively pleasurable.

For now, I’ve figured it out and can now live a little more sensibly in my remaining week here but I have to say my first few days were a shock.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Santorini Day Two

After searching all day yesterday, I finally found a loose, long sleeve, gauze blouse to keep me protected from the sun. Then I bought a paper, sun umbrella, ok maybe that wasn’t the wisest move spending 5 Euro on a paper umbrella that was destroyed by the sheer number of tourists you bump elbows with here.

We had done some unofficial research and identified some of the best restaurants on the island. Tonight we would start our taste testing. We went to Koukouuavolos just to the right of Hotel Atlantis. The prices were shocking. Considering that I ate at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant, MAZE just last week in London England and the prices didn’t come close to these shocking numbers. We left for a nice looking seafood restaurant just down the street for more surprises.

There was only one thing to do until we had these numbers under control and that was to go to Nicholas. It’s a tiny, authentic restaurant in the heart of Fira. It’s communal dining here as people are seated next to each other regardless of them knowing each other. We started off with tzaziki (3 Euros), marinated octopus (11 Euros) and half a carafe of unnamed local white wine (4 Euros). It was chilled, I was hot and we got along all too well.

After dinner we went to Georges place; George is my jeweler. When I come to Santorini, Jon and I always have another date inscribed into wedding bands, the very bands that George made for us over 20 years ago. We had drinks with George, picked up our rings, cleaned and inscribed with 2010, then made our way home about 10 pm. It’s a much quieter night than last; the bars are not as loud.

This morning I got up, opened the shutters and the sun, the sea and cool breezes streamed through the window. This is a glorious view and a wonderful reason for getting up in the morning. It’s a day to take it easy, don’t know if it’s the sun, the heat or the copious amounts of Greek wine I consumed last night, but today is a day to take it easy.

We had our traditional breakfast of Greek yogurt and honey and made our way to the market. The market is just to the left of the main square in Fira. It consists of 2 fishmongers with boxes of fresly caught fish, mostly sardines and some sea bream and 2 vegetable sellers. Fresh food on the island is difficult to come by, the climate is too hot to grow much and by the time other vegetables make it to the island, the heat has wilted them. It’s pretty slim pickings. We looked at the Santorini tiny tomatoes and decide they looked better at the grocery store.

It wasn’t a total disappointment though. We found the village baker and ventured down to the lower level of the street. Here there were racks of freshly baked bread cooling off in the alley and inside they were packaging up bags and bags of baguettes, probably for some of the restaurants just above.

I’ve just heard of a fantastic restaurant in Perivolos Beach called Sea Side at Notos. It’s a bit out of town but I’m thinking the prices will be a little more realistic.

We walked over to the bus station and made note of the schedules for later exploring and inquired about car rentals. We made our way back to the apartment. We had found a really, really great Greek olive oil, some vinegar, salt and pepper. Now we needed the vegetables, olives and feta and our Greek salad would be ready to make in our tiny kichen.

The sun is way too hot and we settle down on our fantastically large and shaded balcony for an afternoon of heat, shade and cool breezes that come off the sea. Today, it’s me, a few jugs of ice cold water, some fresh pistachios from the island and a lot of sleep. Santorini life is pretty slow……. Oh my gosh, my feet have swollen in the heat……….

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Looking for the Best Greek Food

I’m sitting cliffside in the village of Fira in Santorini, Greece. I have a small apartment that hangs over the Santorini cliff. It’s not my first time here, I’ve been many times before so I know the lay of the land. For instance most of the beautiful and affordable hotels, suites and small apartments aren’t widely publicized so the only way to make sure you’re where you want to be is to book one or two nights accommodation, then set out on foot to find the perfect place.

I arrived late last night and did the touristy thing. I went to the square and ate an gyro – to me it’s like the flavours of home – Greek comfort food. I’ve been coming here for almost 25 years and the view, climate and people have remained constant. Usually I come in the off season and it’s quieter. This time it’s July and I don’t like how the village rocks with too many bars blasting music off the cliff and across the sea – it’s a disgrace and it cheapens this place - most beautiful and magical place in the whole world.

Today is a new day and Jon and I walked up the street, picked a nice restaurant from the hundreds that exist on top of the cliff and sat - cliff side again - and had a cool and crisp Santorini salad. It's the only thing to do on this deliciously hot, hot day.

I’ve got some leads on the islands best chefs so in another day or two Jon and I will rent a car and venture out to meet them. Traditional Greek food is not what I’m here for, although that’s all the restaurants here seem to think the tourists want. It’s the new food of Greece, the taste that’s a reflection of who the people are today – sophisticated, brilliant and beautiful.

I'm here for another 10 days so keep in touch and I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A friend of mine is coming to town

It was almost a decade ago when I went to Greece courtesy of the International Olive Oil Council. There was a large group of journalists from around the world but very few from Canada. Every day for the 10-days they held us captive so we could experience the healthy benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. It worked – I felt amazingly great!

But when you spend 10-days in captivity you get to know your fellow culinary colleagues pretty well and that’s when I met Ricardo Larrivee of Ricardo & Friends (Food Network TV).

During our 10-day stay we attended olive lectures, olive oil cooking demos and olive tastings in the ancient part of Athens called the Plaka. We were bused out of the city into the countryside to tour olive groves, cheese factories and little villages. We were divided into small groups to spend a day in the mountains with a family learning to cook the traditional ways – with copious amounts of olive oil. These people with beautiful skin use olive oil as liberally as I drink water.

We were in a tiny little village so remote that they rarely see visitors. In the corner was a group of curious neighbours who came to see the strange visitors who were here to learn to cook.

It was at the end of dinner when we had all eaten an incredible meal and drank their home made wine (and they could drink us weak Canadians under the table any day!) when the trouble began. One of the neighbours wanting to show us another custom; stood up and began to sing, dance and smash plates on the floor.

The host immediately jumped up from her chair and screamed at the plate smasher – it was all Greek to us. As it turned out, she had used her good china for her special guests. She disappeared only to return with a large stack of plain white dishes – the plate smashing began again.

Since Ricardo was the only male in this little group, he was chosen to participate in another ritual – the gun shooting celebration. Outside he was handed a large rifle. It was his first time with a gun in his hands and as you may know, Ricardo is not a large man, so when the rifle kicked back it spun him around and we all hit the floor.

It was last year when Ricardo and I bumped into each other again and this time we kept in touch. So when he decided to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake this year, he called and that’s when I asked him to host a harvest celebration to raise funds for the Niagara Culinary Trail.

On Saturday, August 21 Ricardo and I along with many new friends will dine at one long harvest table in the Kurtz peach orchard on the Niagara Parkway. After Ricardo’s cooking demo, we’ll feast on a 5-course dinner that features peaches and then – a big surprise (I can’t tell anyone!). Get your tickets now ($125/person) by calling Kurtz Orchards at 905.468.2937 and be one of Ricardo’s friends for the evening while supporting Niagara’s local food movement.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A delicious day in Niagara

Niagara’s best cherries are in!

When a farmer calls, I go running like a puppy. Sue Pohorly, farmer and owner of The Fruit Shack in the Village of Virgil called, “the cherries are in”.

On the Pohorly farm there are two giant hoop rows and inside are beautiful cherry trees that bear the big, black, juicy, ultra-sweet cherries at farmers in Niagara don’t grow because they split with the least amount of rain. But the Pohorly’s protect them with their own hoop house so they’re guaranteed to be big and beautiful.

I went running down and sure enough they were on the counter; I wasn’t the only one there for the cherries, the line up was out the door!

The Good Shepherd is back!

As I stood in line I saw freezers stocked with frozen meat; chicken from the Poultry Barn in St Jacobs and beef from Gerber Meats – this is the meat from Franz and Denise Gerber formerly of the Good Shepherd! If you’re a Niagara foodie, The Good Shepherd will need no explaining.

It’s as close as we’re going to get to the Good Shepherd, Sue and Frank Pohorly were standing in the room talking to customers and explaining the quality of their chicken and meat products. It’s barbecue season I thought as I put some incredible looking tenderloin in my basket along with some bone-in chicken breast (I think boneless is next to flavourless!), packed up my cherries and headed home – window open of course, so I could spit my pits.

Once home I began unpacking and found a little brown bag. Sue is known for her amazing butter tarts and inside the brown bag were two of them. Wow, I went outside under the shade of the large maple tree and sat down. I was ready. I sunk my teeth into the overly large tart and the insides oozed out. There were soft raisins, yummy pecans and caramelized bits around to top of the flaky crust. These are the best, but you’ll need to get to The Fruit Shack before noon because there’s never any left after that.

How are you enjoying your summer?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Excited about Sourdough!

Went to a bread and wine tasting at The Old Mill Inn yesterday staged by Puratos. If you’ve never heard of this company before it’s because Puratos make bread ingredients and sellw them to the baking industry. Today we were to sample breads made from various sourdough starters. If you’ve ever thought sourdough was all the same, I’m about to introduce you to a world of variances and textures of sourdough bread to get excited about.

First tasting was a crusty roll made with Sapore Tosca. A typical Italian durm wheat sourdough made from fine hard semolina. This sourdough lends a nutty, slightly malted, strong wheat taste. The wine was the Niagara College Sauvignon Blanc. The lightness of the bread and wine went beautifully together. In fact all the wines were from Niagara College, it seems that the College is working with Puratos in market research of their products.

I noticed Puratos make about a dozen sourdough starters, some originate from small villages in Europe and they all produce bread with various resulting flavours just as wine yeasts all lend different flavours to wine.

Second tasting was Sapore Traviata,

a typical French sourdough with a subtle nose of rye, nuts and raisins that contribute to the milk and fine acidic flavour. The wine was the Dean’s List Pinot Noir. The cooked cherry, vanilla and toasty flavours of the wine stood up well to the hardiness of this sourdough.

Third bread was my favourite, a San Francisco sourdough produced with authentic sanfranciscensis culture. The assertive sour possesses a sharp acidity with undertones of sour cream and white button mushrooms. It was paired with a fruit forward and lush Meritage. Even though the San Francisco sourdough gave the impression of being a lightweight, it actually had a full weight of sour cream and a rich, chewy, often times sweetish texture. They paired beautifully together.

There is a method of tasting bread just as there is with wine. First you tap on it, check the colour of the bread and then the crumbs. Next is to blow on it and take a deep smell. Now break it open and stick your nose in to smell the soft, lush bread – oh yum! Now dive in with some freshly turned, whole milk butter – nothing but the best will do. Ok, that last part wasn’t encouraged, but sometimes you just can’t resist!

You can’t tell which sourdough started your neighbourhood baker uses or if they even use Puratos products, so my best advise is to get out there and try all the sourdough breads you can find and begin tasting the differences. Your favourite is out there for you to discover!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Defence of Local Food

I am beyond concern now. It’s another dark day for Niagara’s food scene. If you’re a regular at the Good Shepherd in Vineland you know more than anyone, it’s about more than buying meat. Franz and Denise Gerber are Mennonite farmers who converted their barn into a retail space so customers like you and I can buy good, organic, safe meat.

In their coolers you’ll find various cuts of beef, pork and chicken. From these animals they also make cutlets, pies, rolls, pepperettes, kielbasa, sausages and cheese. There are lamb roaming in the pasture and turkeys to be ordered for holiday seasons.

When you arrive at the Good Shepherd, Franz and Denise know you by name – a remarkable feat considering the abundance of loyal customers they have. You can sit at the table (a welcoming site when you arrive), or shop the coolers and know that when something comes off the stove, it will be offered to you.

Some say it’s good marketing to have your customers taste your products, but to know Franz and Denise is to know that it’s about taking care of their friends. At the Good Shepherd they encourage you to eat as much as you want and stay as long as you like, believing it’s the least they can do to make your life a little bit better.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it's about a connection to our food. It's about knowing and trusting people to provide good quality safe food. All of the animals are raised naturally, butchered carefully and sold lovingly. The meat is free of chemicals, hormones, nitrates or any unnatural ingredients. The fact that Denise and Franz are great people is just a bonus.

So why is it a dark day you ask? Because on May 1, the Good Shepherd is closing its doors – and it’s not by choice. It’s a complicated story but I think it’s safe to say our government regulations have become so blind, restrictive, obscure and expensive that they felt closing was the only option.

For a couple who’ve spent their entire business life cultivating loyalty and trust, this decision is a sad and painful one for them. For thousands of current customers and countless future customers, it means we are loosing our choice. In Niagara we cannot buy this great food any longer - this is a crisis.

We are loosing our right to shop and buy what we want and where we want – where will it end? Being stripped of our local food choices is not what safe food is all about and we need to send a message that we don’t like it. Enough is enough!

Let’s all dress in black and meet at the Good Shepherd on May 1. Black to represent the death of one more of our food choices. If you’re with me on this one, email back!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Flavours of Greece on a Plate and in a Glass

Treadwell’s in Port Dalhousie does regional cuisine superbly! So when they were approached by the Kolonaki Group of Toronto and WineSavvy Consultants of Niagara to organize a special (trade only) Greek wine tasting, it was way over the top in flavour and authenticity. It became a delicious, palate lead journey to Greece.

To say Greece is the new up and coming wine region is not quite accurate. Greece has been producing wines like these for a few decades now, but without the giant marketing budgets other wine growing regions of the world have, they become the treasures of those in the know. For those of us who love Greece and its food and wine culture, these are the wines we surprise our friends with and these are the wines we enjoy at restaurants the likes of Treadwells who know better than any, how to create amazing culinary experiences that we all yearn for.

Tselepos Amalia Brut (100% Moschofilero, $24.95, available through *The Kolonaki Group)

First Course

Steamed PEI Mussels with Fennel Pollen Cream and Spring Chives


ved with 2008 Antonopoulos Adoli Ghis ($21.95, blend of Lagorthi, chardonnay, Roditis Alepou, available through *The Kolonaki Group)

Second Course

Grilled Mackerel with Oven Dried Tomatoes and Poached Free Range Egg

2008 Sigalas Santorini ($21.95, VQPRD Santorini, 100% Assyrtiko, available through LCBO Vintages starting May 1)

2003 Sigalas Santorini ($34.95, VQPRD Santorini, 100% Assyrtiko, available through *The Kolonaki Group)

Third Course

Steak Tartar with Potato Chips

2007 Skouras St George Nemea ($16.95, VQPRD Nemea, 100% Agiorgitiko (St George), available in LCBO Vintages)

2005 Estate Papaioannau Nemea ($19.95, VQPRD Nemea, 100% Agiorgitiko (St George), available in LCBO Vintages Sept 18)

Fourth Course

Roasted Belly of Pork with Wild Mushrooms and Red Wine Reduction

2004 Boutari Grand Reserve Naoussa ($17.95, VQPDR Naoussa, 100% Xinomavro, available through *The Kolonaki Group)

207 Kir Yianni Ramnista Xinomavro ($19.95, VQPDR Naoussa, 100% Xinomavro, available through LCBO Vintages Oct 16)

Fifth Course

Rosemary Crème Brulee with Lemon Sorbet

2008 Muscat of Limnos ($11.95, Appellation Limnos, 100% Muscat of Alexandria, available through LCBO Vintages)

2003 Sigalas Vinsanto ($44.95, 375 mL, VQPRD Santorini, 75% Assyrtiko/25% Aidani, available through *The Kolonaki Group)

* Kolonaki Group, Steve Kriaris

WineSavvy Consultants, Evan Saviolidis

Facebook- WineSavvy Consultants

Twitter- Evanwinesavvy

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Feasting on the Best in the World

I love openings, especially of great food shops! And he did it just for you and me. Lino Collevecchio is owner of Woodland Imports, an import company that brings in the most exquisite food products from around the world – and he’s just opened up his warehouse to retail sales.

Born and raised in St. Catharines, Collevecchio became a chef at George Brown College, worked in some of the best kitchens around the world and opened Woodland 15 years ago in Ancaster. Just last year he moved his business to Niagara and this past weekend (April 11, 2010), launched his retail division with a gastronomic opening that has been unmatched to date.

Woodlands supplies the best retailers in Canada from Whole Foods, Bruno’s, Pusateri’s and other like them. He flies in fresh cheese every 2 weeks and today, he opened most of them to try. My favourite by far was the Italian Rochetta ($20), an earthy, creamy, decadently rich cheese. The irresistible Ribiola ($15) is a blend of sheep and cows milk, triple cream and how could it not be decadent! He has fresh Italian Buffalo Mozzarella ($12) and Vento D’Estate, a sheep milk cheese aged in grass.

Along with the cheese, he also flies in fresh made ravioli in flavours of Arugula and Ricotta, Buffalo Mozzarella and Aged Asiago cheese, Pumpkin and the fourth is Porcini ($7).

Collevecchio still travels the world but now he’s not cooking, now he’s looking for amazing products to bring back to Canada. He inspects every producer he represents – what a job!

There was Chianti salami, one made with Rose and another with Pinot Grigio ($8). You can find Pingue meats there and an impressive collection of balsamic vinegars that are priced from $7 all the way up to $300 for the 100-year old balsamic.

Cases of Italian tomatoes ($22), fresh baguettes ($3), alborio rice ($4) and an amazing Calasparra rice from Spain ($8). One shelf held a collection of salts and another some juice; 100% organic pomegranate juice or black mulberry ($9). I munched on some sweet potato chips from New Brunswick ($4.50 for a large bag!) and mixed root vegetable chips ($3).

I found truffles, whole, chopped and sauced and the best collection of olive oil from bottles that ranged from $15 to $90 (great gift!). In between there are gourmet products that range from fig balsamic, marinated artichokes, black olive paste, dried porcini and Niagara’s Ice Syrup.

Woodland Imports, Gourmet Food Specialists is on 330 Vansicle Road in St Catharines and it’s only open Saturday and Sunday

from 11 to 3. It’s too bad you missed the feast of the best in the world, but drop in the shop - it’s a feast for the eyes!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Season Has Begun

It’s Niagara’s first agricultural crop of the season. Harvesting maple syrup starts around mid February and depending on the weather, lasts until the end of March.

“We need 3 days above freezing to get the sap running”, explains Ann Bering of White Meadows Farm in beautiful Effingham. The freezing and thawing temperatures starts and stops the sap many times.

Maple syrup starts as a sticky sap from the insides of a maple tree and is then transformed into a lusciously sweet nectar that is irresistible to all who try it. White Meadows Farm is in full maple syrup swing right now. You can visit the farm every Saturday and Sunday (holidays as well) from 8:30 am to 4 pm from now until mid April. Bring the kids for a wagon tour of the sugar bush and see how the trees are tapped, learn how its boiled down into maple syrup and end in the Pancake House with a full pancake breakfast complete with loads of sweet, fresh maple syrup.

throughout Niagara more chefs are using maple syrup in their dishes because it's a more complex sugar with more depth of flavour and has more nutrition than regular cane sugar.

White Meadow offers different grades of maple syrup; light, medium, amber and dark. The different grades have more to do with the time of the season than it has to do with processing. Traditionally, at the beginning of the season the sap is light and as the season progresses, the sap gets darker and richer. You'll find all four grades of maple syrup in The Sugar Shack, the on-farm retail shop. The dark syrup is almost black and the taste is reminiscent of molasses, but not as thick as molasses. The Sugar Shack is the only place you’ll find this rare and unique maple syrup.

If you’re looking to eat local this winter and you’re thinking nothing is happening in Niagara in February, think again. Not only is the sugar bush in full harvest, but White Meadow is also a cattle farm offering frozen beef in boxes with mixed cuts; ground hamburger, wieners, hamburger patties and pepperettes.

There’s even farm made baked beans (Ann’s own secret recipe!) and popping corn. From just over 2-acres of popping corn planted last summer, the Berings have more than 5 tons of popping corn in storage, ready to test, package and sell. Their popular maple kettle corn is made from their very own popping corn.

Inside The Sugar Shack you’ll also find the Berings famous maple barbecue sauce – perfect to glaze a winter roast or rack of beef ribs. There’s maple salad dressing, maple vinegar, maple mustard and red pepper maple jelly. They blend and mix their own pancake mix in two varieties; Buttermilk and Gluten Free and have a trio of fruit sauces all laced with maple syrup; cranberry, peach and wild blueberry.

They have maple granola, maple sugar candy, maple butter, maple tarts and of course with a barn brimming full of popping corn, you can pick up a big bag of fully popped maple kettle corn.

Get out to White Meadows on the weekends and enjoy the regions first of many harvests to come and don’t forget to bring the kids for some good, wholesome, family, farm and country fun.

Zeppola are here!

In the donut capital of Canada, it’s amazing how little Niagarians know about pastries.

Zeppola are tiny (about 2-inches), fluffy and rolled in granulated sugar. Commonly deep-fried, these dough balls may be filled with custard, cannoli-style cream or a butter-and-honey mixture. Their consistency ranges from light and puffy to bread-like. They’re delicious, addictive and warming.

Zeppola are the pastry of La Festa di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph's Day, March 19). So from now, through to the patron saint’s day and the Easter weekend, this is the season to find these delicious little pastries.

In Niagara Falls, the famous Criveller Cakes & Pastries (4435 Portage Rd) keeps with tradition, but pastry master Giovanni Priore (the man responsible for all their heavenly pastries) creates his own exquisite versions of zeppola.

Crivelliers Zeppola de St. Giuseppe are baked cream puffs made from choux pastry. The airy little puffballs are filled with Zabaione cream (a frothy cream made by cooking egg yolks with sugar and spiked with marsala). They’re not quite small enough to pop into your mouth so you have to bite it in half; the Zabaione cream oozes over my fingers. The pastry is ultra light with a dreamy, sweet, airiness about it, very moist, light and elegant. As it sweetly floats in my mouth, I try to get it between my teeth and the rich, cream slides across the layers of sugar dusted pastry. Oh yum, ok these are the best zeppola I’ve ever tasted!

I can’t explain how donut hungry Niagarians have missed out on the most decadent, elegant, upscale, delicious pastry donuts in the world, but that just means there are plenty more for those of us who know where to find the best food Niagara has to offer – it’s the season for zeppola, enjoy.