As frost looms, fried green tomatoes beckon

Red Yeti Restaurant and Red Foot Brewing in Jeffersonville, IN

Jeffersonville, Indiana, is a fascinating little town with a deep history and a lot of good eats. We will soon be featuring several spots there in upcoming posts about our visit to Louisville, Kentucky, and the towns across the Ohio River in Indiana. But right now we’re looking at frost forecasts this week. So we’re busy harvesting everything left in our garden. That includes a lot of tomatoes that haven’t yet shown the first blush of ripening.

Charcuterie board at Red YetiJeffersonville happens to be the home of Red Yeti Restaurant and Red Foot Brewing Company (256 Spring St., Jeffersonville; 812-288-5788, redyetijeff.com). We enjoyed a beer flight with a bountiful board of cheeses from five Indiana and Kentucky creameries and along with sausages and other charcuterie from Henpecked Farm in neighboring New Albany, Indiana. Chef Michael Bowe makes the country breads and the tangy porter whole grain mustard in house.

Beer flight at Red YetiThe beer choices change frequently, of course, but we found the entire flight to be eminently drinkable. The mellow porter had a nice roundness, while the stout was a mild, not terribly bitter version. Of the lighter beers we tried, we were especially impressed with the ginger beer. It managed to showcase the brightness of the ginger without the muddiness that often dampens our enthusiasm for such brews. With a bright carbonation on the tongue, it was like drinking a spicy pilsner.

We could have stopped there. But we wanted to try the macaroni and cheese topped with fried green tomatoes.

Chef Michael Bowe at Red YetiChef Bowe (right) cleverly tops a bowl of sinfully luscious macaroni and cheese with a trio of crunchy, slightly tart fried tomato slices. While fried green tomatoes are a Southern staple (and Jeffersonville is almost in the South), the seasonings in Bowe’s breading elevated these crispy, tasty slabs far above the usual fare. So for all our readers faced with a drawer of green tomatoes, Bowe and the crew at Red Yeti agreed to share the recipe below. Ours is adapted, since the original made around three dozen servings.

fried green tom mac and cheese at Red Yeti

FRIED GREEN TOMATO MAC & CHEESE


Serves 6

For cheese sauce


1 1/4 cups milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded white cheddar
1 cup shredded Gruyère
1/2 cup shredded Provolone
2 tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons cold water to make slurry
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups elbow macaroni
8 cups lightly salted water

Heat milk and cream on medium-high heat. When near boiling, add the cheeses. While stirring slowly, add the slurry. Continue stirring until sauce thickens. Add white pepper and salt.

Cook macaroni in lightly salted boiling water until just past al dente. Drain and add to cheese sauce.

For fried green tomatoes

Breading


3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Montreal seasoning (see below or substitute steak rub spices)

Preparation


Mix together to make breading.

1 egg
2 cups buttermilk
18 thickly cut slices of green tomatoes
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
vegetable oil to 1/2 inch deep in large frying pan

Beat egg. Then whisk into buttermilk.

Coat tomatoes with breading, then dip tomatoes in buttermilk mixture. Remove and coat with panko breadcrumbs.

Fry breaded tomatoes in vegetable oil until golden brown.

Divide macaroni and cheese into six heatproof bowls. For each serving, place three tomato slices on top. For added flair, sprinkle each with some additional panko crumbs and a little grated Parmesan cheese and brown in 400° oven for 3-5 minutes.

MONTREAL SEASONING


So-called “Montreal” seasoning employs some of the spices used to cure the famous Montreal smoked meat. They are similar to pastrami spices. This recipe makes far more than you’ll need for the mac & cheese, but the remainder makes a good rub for beef or seasoning for hamburgers.

2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 teaspoons dill or fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
4 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
4 teaspoons dried minced garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Toast spices in a dry frying pan until aromatic. Crush in mortar and pestle. Makes about 1/2 cup.

16

10 2017

Relicatessen: heavenly products for earthly delights

Relicatessen stall at La Boqueria in Barcelona

Relicatessen in Barcelona solved a problem for us. When we’re in Spain for any extended period, we enjoy seeking out the cookies, sweets, and other foodstuffs from the country’s 38 monasteries and convents that make products for sale. Often that means placing money on a revolving window (called a retorno) and getting a box of cookies, a jar of jam, or a pot of honey in return.

Francisco Vera of Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaBut we’re not always in a town with a cloistered order that makes products for sale. Thank god (so to speak) that Francisco Vera opened Relicatessen (www.relicatessen.com) three years ago in stall 988 in the Mercat Sant Josep, better known as La Boqueria. Located right on La Rambla in a Modernista-style iron frame shed, the Boqueria is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions. Vera sells the edible products of 11 of the country’s monasteries and nunneries along with some other gourmet items, such as olive oil and saffron.

To get to Vera’s stall, you’ll walk past heaping pyramids of fresh fruits and vegetables, refrigerated cases of big cuts of meat, cured mountain hams hanging from above, and vast swathes of crushed ice with fish so fresh that their eyes gleam clear and bright.

Temptations from on high


Marmalades at Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaVera sells 36 different marmalades, including the signature Spanish bitter orange. The religious order at Monastario de Santa María de Huerta in Soría crafts some of the more sophisticated flavors, such as pear, cinnamon, and cardamom or the combination of kiwi, lemon, and tequila.

There are honeys from the mountains and honeys from fields of anise or groves of madroño trees (strawberry trees). There is dulce de leche “bottled in silence.” The Convento Purísima Concepción makes dulce de membrillo (a quince preserve that’s delicious with Manchego cheese) and Turrón de la Abuela (nougat studded with roasted almonds) that claims to be just like Spanish grandmothers make it. The Monjas Jerónimas Constantina infuse their vinegars with a range of flavors, not least among them mint, rosemary, and garlic.

Yemas at Relicatessen in La Boqueria in BarcelonaThe most popular treats, Vera says, are polvorones, almond shortbread sables made by the Carmelitas Descalzas and Yemas de Santa Clara, candied egg yolks. Legend says that the nuns invented this way of preserving yolks in the late medieval period, when the egg whites were used to clarify wine. The products are so heartfelt that they make nice gifts that also help preserve the vanishing religious vocations. Pressed for his favorite among the many temptations, Vera admits to being most fond of the really good chocolates made by the Monjas Jerónimas.

01

10 2017

Bassus Pinot Noir from Utiel Requena exudes elegance

Bassus and lamb at Alia in Winthrop

Regular readers might recall our summer series on the wines of D.O. Utiel Requena. By and large, those wines represented intriguing expressions of the Bobal grape. The wine we’re talking about today was an outlier. Made by Bodegas Hispano+Suizas (bodegashispanosuizas.com), Bassus is the only 100 percent Pinot Noir wine carrying the D.O. Utiel Requena imprimatur.

Alia in Winthrop is BYOBAs we tried to figure out what kind of food would go with it, we came across Alia Ristorante (395 Shirley St., Winthrop; 617-539-1600; aliaristorante.com) in Winthrop—a peninsular village east of Boston’s Logan Airport. Best of all, Alia (as the chalkboard sign outside indicates) is a BYOB restaurant. Chef-owner Saeed Lahyani named the place for his hometown on the outskirts of Casablanca in Morocco. He has a pretty impressive culinary resume, including 16 years at Boston’s legendary Locke-Ober restaurant.

Saeed Lahyani at Alia in WinthropUnlike haute Locke-Ober, Alia is very much a casual neighborhood restaurant. As befits Winthrop, it is a nominally Italian spot. Lahyani offers a lot of pastas and Italian-American classics. But he had one dish on the menu that caught our eyes when we thought of drinking a Pinot Noir from the hot dry region of Utiel Requena.

Loubna Ghoulam lifts cover on lamb tagine at Alia in WinthropWe had heard other diners sing the praises of Alia’s lamb ossobuco. From their description, we realized that Lahyani had crossed a Milanese ossobuco (traditionally made with veal) with a Moroccan lamb tagine. When we arrived and discovered that we could add couscous for a small surcharge, it only confirmed our guess. A nice thick lamb shank and roasted root vegetables hid beneath the conical cover of a tagine brought to the table by our cheerful and enthusiastic server, Loubna Ghoulam.

Hands-on winemaking


Bassus, it turns out, could be called a truly handmade wine. The grapes are picked around dawn in 15-kilo boxes and whisked to a holding room in the winery. They spend three days chilling at -4°C (about 25°F). Each box is then manually destemmed. The grapes are placed in 400-liter American oak barrels with open tops and allowed to macerate for four days while chilled to 8°C (46°F). Once fermentation begins, the cooling inserts are removed from the barrels. As the fermentation continues, the cap is punched down every day. After about 15 days, the barrels are poured into a bladder press and the wine is very gently pressed. It spends a minimum of 10 months in new French oak. The bodega filters the wine very lightly before bottling.

We were drinking the 2014, which is the current release. It shows a bright cherry color with violet fringes in the glass, though browning is just barely perceptible. The nose shows notes of violet, cherry, blackcurrant, and anise. It comes off full, round, and harmonious in the mouth, revealing a touch of menthol and some bright vanilla of the French oak. The tannins are mature and complex, giving the wine just enough grip to complement the waxiness and rich meatiness of the lamb. The warm finish combines fleshy Pinot Noir fruit with a background caramel note. At a suggested retail of $19, it holds its own as a unique expression of the grape.

29

09 2017

Backhouse realizes Niagara’s great potential

Ryan Campbell of Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake

Too bad the great French gourmand Christian Millau didn’t live long enough to visit Ryan and Bev Campbell’s Backhouse in Niagara-on-the-Lake (242 Mary St.; 289-272-1242; backhouse.xyz). In 1968, Millau revolutionized the way the French (and, given the era, the world) regarded haute cuisine when he announced that he had discovered “the best restaurant in the world” in the provincial town of Roanne. He might have said something similar had he discovered this grill-centric, hyper-locavore restaurant in a shopping strip at the edge of this Lake Ontario resort village.

“Best restaurant in the world” is hyperbole, of course. But the comparison to Les Frères Troisgros is more than fair. Backhouse serves brilliant food far from the metropolitan restaurant scene. Asador Etxebarri in the small village of Atxondo in Spain’s Basque country might be an even closer comparison. Etxebarri’s chef Bittor Arguinzoniz cooks everything with open flame and coals. So does Ryan Campbell, one of the most talented and obsessive chefs we’ve ever met. He uses the trimmings from local peach and cherry orchards that would otherwise be burned as slash.

Light my fire


Campbell knows the appeal of the grill, and he places the five-foot cooking box front and center in the restaurant. Diners can opt to sit at conventional tables—or line up in seats along the bar facing the fire. We chose the bar for a tasting menu. We wanted to watch Campbell work the apparatus and poke the logs while wearing his heavy leather blacksmith’s apron. He is so organized and calm that his motions seemed almost meditative.

chicken liver purses at BackhouseThat’s probably because so much of the menu is prepared ahead. Locavore cooking in a cold climate means lots of smoking, drying, pickling, and even freezing products during their seasonal glut. Most of us associate open-fire cookery with quick roasting. Not Campbell. The chickens hanging in the back of the fireplace are cooking ahead for the first step in his “bird on a wire” dish. For our opener, we ate these pastry purses filled with chicken liver mousse and tomatillo chutney. He paired the dish with barrel-fermented sparkling hard cider.

As soon as we finished this earthy combination, we found ourselves looking at a small bowl of fresh curds and whey with just a dash of maple syrup and a beautiful viola flower floating on top. The milk came from Sheldon Creek Farms, a single-herd microdairy. The combination was ethereal and a bright counterpoint to the chicken liver starter. We thought we’d caught our breath, but immediately Campbell set out a tiny ramekin of fried egg white mousse with a confit egg yolk topped with trout caviar. We couldn’t help but think of the pintxos creativos of Spain’s San Sebastian. In effect, the liver purses, curds and whey, and “Meg’s Egg,” as Campbell calls it, formed a trio of canapes that hinted at the restaurant’s range.

Bread and veggies


After a short pause, another trio of dishes appeared in a sudden flurry. Campbell treats his sourdough breads with house-cultured butter as a course unto itself, as well he should. His sourdough starter, affectionately known as “Roxane,” has been with him for years. The bread and butter clean the palate for the intense vegetable dishes that follow.

wild leek and potato soup from BackhouseThe first was a wild leek and potato soup, thick and green, served with a sourdough brioche toast float, a dab of crème fraiche, and thin matchsticks of homemade prosciutto. (Campbell buys only whole animals and does his own butchering. Nothing goes to waste.) Since local asparagus was still in season, he completed the trio with a plate of wood-roasted Niagara asparagus, a smear of black garlic aioli and another smear of garlic mustard. (He makes his own condiments, of course.)

The meat of the matter


First Ontario shrimp at BackhouseWithout getting too precious about it, Campbell treats animal proteins with an almost religious regard for the creatures. He said it took him two years to rise to the top of the wait list to be allowed to buy First Ontario farmed shrimp. The farm only produces about 300 pounds per week, and Campbell gives each Pacific white shrimp a place of honor atop local grits in this small bowl.

bird on a wire from BackhouseOur tasting menu moved on to a variation of the “bird on a wire” dish—so called because Campbell slow roasts heritage chickens strung on a wire in the back of a firebox. He then picks the meat and presses the smoky flesh into a tubular sausage. Thick slices are quickly grilled over the open fire before he plates them with a chicken leg, wood-roasted locally foraged wild mushrooms, and homemade gnocchi. The dish might be the apotheosis of poultry. The glass of Gamay Noir from a local virtual winery (13th Street) didn’t hurt either.

Desserts at Backhouse are seasonally inspired. We were dining in late spring, and maple was Campbell’s inspiration. (We never asked if he uses sugar, but we suspect that maple is his sweetener of choice because it’s local.) He presented a sweet potato custard, a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread, and a crumbly spice cake—all scented and sweetened with maple. Alas, we were too sated to try the plate of Ontario cheeses.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Spanning the decades of Niagara craft brewing

The craft brewing scene on the Niagara peninsula is, appropriately enough, fluid. Small breweries pop up in every town and their styles range from simple session ales to extreme brews. We stopped in to taste one of the newest and most experimental—Exchange in Niagara-on-the-Lake—as well as one of the pioneer craft brewers, now operating as Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery in a newly gentrifying neighborhood in Niagara Falls.

At the bar at Exchange Brewery

Exchange Brewery


Shiny black walls, shiny black bottles, and a marble bar immediately signal that Exchange Brewery (7 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 905-468-9888; exchangebrewery.com) is not exactly a suds-soaked beer bar. The brewery and tasting room in the Old Town heritage district strike a sophisticated urban tone in striking contrast to Oast’s aw-shucks country brewery image. The building was the town’s first telephone exchange, which explains the name and the fixation on naming each the beers with a numeral or symbol found on the phone keypad or dial.

Exchange was founded in 2016 by Robin Ridesic, a management consultant with a passion for sour beers and hoppy IPAs. She brought on a team of professional brewers to execute a wide range of beers. (Exchange made more than 30 different beers in its first year.) Those bottled with a symbol have been aged in oak wine barrels, those with a number matured in stainless steel. Ridesic chose 750 ml. Prosecco bottles for all the beers because the glass is manufactured can withstand the pressure of carbonation.

beer and cheese tasting boardAs the brewery finds it niche, it has come to focus increasingly on barrel-aged beers. The # Witbier, for example, spends three months in Hungarian oak. Head brewer Sam Maxbauer combines malted and raw wheat with orange peel and coriander in the beer. The Exchange strain of house yeast contributes nice pepper and clove notes as well. The popular Belgian Golden Ale spends two to four months in used Chardonnay barrels.

The tasting room offers eight lines on tap drawn directly from the brewery in the back of the building. In addition, there’s usually a cask-aged ale of one sort or another (frequently a sour). Flights are available as well as a very nice cheese and beer pairing board. Shown above, it includes three cheeses with three complementary beers and crostini.

Brewery tours are available on the weekends.

Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery


beer tasting at Syndicate

There’s a tangled story behind Syndicate, but the most important thing for a beer-lover to know is that it descends directly from Taps Brewing Company. Founded in 2004, Taps was one of Niagara’s pioneer craft breweries. The building of the Niagara Falls flagship of Syndicate Restaurant and Brewery (6863 Lundy’s Lane, Niagara Falls; 289-477-1022; syndicaterestaurant.ca) also contains Niagara Falls Craft Distillers (289-681-0124). The salesroom on the ground level sells the beers and spirits, while the pubby restaurant upstairs serves some unusual grub for a drinking establishment. (Think duck gravy poutine, fresh pasta stuffed with truffles, or dry-aged beef steaks.) The beers tend toward food-friendly familiar styles—an IPA, a fullsome lager, a crisp rye pale ale, and a porter or two. The brewery makes several house beers for other restaurants as well.

In the spirit of things


Niagara Falls Craft Distillers spirits

The distillation business started up in early 2017. All the liquors are beer based. As assistant brewer and distiller Mike McCormack explained to us, he brews a high-alcohol beer (about 10%) from roughly equal parts rye and barley, and pumps it over to the distillery side for distillation in a fractional column still. The Barreling Annie rye whiskey aims to pull through most of the aroma and flavor of the grain while the clear spirits (Lucky Coin Motel Vodka and 1814 Lundy’s Lane Gin) are double-distilled to make the spirit as neutral as possible. McCormack and head distiller Chris Jeffries are experimenting like mad. They are aging whiskey in three-liter barrels to see if the small format can accelerate the marriage of spirit and wood. (Yes, it does.) And they are crafting a heady absinthe with a swirling world of botanicals in addition to the classic anise and wormwood. We tasted and felt it had just the right balance of aromatics and alcohol. Despite being clear, it had the characteristic cough medicine quality of historic versions of the green fairy. So far, no date is set for release.


For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging on the Niagara Peninsula, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

20

09 2017

Lift a glass to toast Niagara’s fine craft beer

Oast bottles
As Niagara began to emerge as a major wine district, someone on the peninsula likely did a double take. “Wait a minute,” he might have said. “We’re Canadians. We drink beer!” Let’s face it, Labatt’s and Molson are more than holding their own against Canadian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But craft brewing has also swept across the Niagara peninsula with salubrious results. Although we, too, were focused on Niagara’s remarkable wines, we squeezed in visits to three very different and very good breweries. Here’s one. Look for the other two in the next post.

Niagara Oast House Brewers


Oast House barn exterior

Route 55 outside Niagara-on-the-Lake cuts through some serious farm country with several vineyards and an aromatic lavender farm lining the highway. But the big red barn of Niagara Oast House Brewers (2017 Niagara Stone Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake; 289-868-9627; oasthousebrewers.com) might be the most prominent landmark of all. The barn has been a fixture in the landscape since 1895. It’s been a fruit basket factory, a fruit packing plant, a farmers’ coop, and even a John Deere dealership. Since late 2012, it’s been the home of Oast.

Oast owner Cian MacNeillA former sommelier and winemaker, Cian MacNeill was one of the three founders. While he sees Oast as a beer-lover’s extension of the Niagara gourmet experience, he is also careful to ensure that the brewery never loses its fun-loving roots. Oast launched with Barnraiser Country Ale in the American pale ale tradition. At 5% alcohol and lightly hopped, it has a sweet caramel malt flavor that drinks well through all three periods of a hockey match. It is literally the beer that built Oast, which continues to make the popular brew but focuses principally on farmhouse ales that have a Franco-Belgian pedigree.

Specialty ales


Bottled in thick 750 ml. bottles, these ales tend to be seasonal—Christmas, spring, a tart summer ale with verjus (tart juice from unripe grapes). Our favorite of the group, however, is the French style Biere de Garde. A robust and malty ale, it has overtones of cherry, burnt brown sugar, and cocoa. True to its name (“beer for keeping”), it ages nicely in the bottle, reaching its peak flavor at about two years.

In a nod to the fruit-growing tradition of Niagara, Oast also produces about a dozen beers with local fruit in its Rural Route series. They are sold in cans. Flavors range from a strawberry-rhubarb ale to a Russian imperial stout with dark plums. One of the big favorites for fall is the pumpkin and squash spiced ale. The brewery roasts its own pumpkins as well as acorn, hubbard, and butternut squash to caramelize the sugars and provide extra body and depth to the ale.

You can stop by the beer shed daily to taste and buy. Tours of the brewery are offered at 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. on weekends.

16

09 2017

Cave Spring Cellars shines in Jordan, Ontario

Cave Spring Cellars barrels
Jordan Village compresses the Niagara Peninsula experience into a single stop. In just one kilometer along Nineteenth Street, the downtown packs in lodgings with character, a bakery, restaurants, a tavern, and just enough boutique shopping to stave off retail withdrawal. This being Niagara, there is, of course, also a winery.

Cave Spring Cellars (cavespring.ca), in fact, is the centerpiece of the community.

The Pennachetti family began buying land on the Beamsville Bench in the early 1970s and by the end of the decade, they had become visionary viticulturalists. Conventional wisdom held that only the area around Niagara-on-the-Lake was warm enough for European wine grapes to thrive, but the Pennachettis began growing Riesling and Chardonnay with considerable success.

In 1986, Len Pennachetti and family members joined forces with winemaker Angelo Pavan to found Cave Spring Cellars. Today they have about 164 acres of vineyards—about 135 acres on the Beamsville Bench and the remainder closer to Lake Ontario in the Lincoln Lakeshore viticultural subdistrict. The original plantings set Cave Spring on its course: the winery specializes in varietal white wines with a special emphasis on Riesling.

Tasting the wines


Pouring at Cave Spring Cellars Provincial liquor stores and some wine shops sell the wines, but about half the portfolio is only available in the Cave Spring Cellars tasting room in Jordan. The 1871 building was constructed as a vinegar works with thick limestone walls that keep the interior naturally cool both above and below ground.

All kinds of tasting options are available, but knowing that we’d be eating (and drinking) at the restaurant next door, we opted for a simple tasting of the “Dolomite” series. Only available at the winery, these limited-release wines are grown in the shadow of the Niagara escarpment in the transition between the Beamsville Bench and the Lincoln Lakeshore.

The 2015 Riesling “Dolomite” (retails for $18 Canadian) is the flagship of this group. It is a superb example of a Mosel clone of Riesling in cooler areas of Niagara. The floral nose leads into a nice fleshy mouthfeel followed by acid fruit notes of lime, lychee, and grapefruit. It is bright and vigorous—a terrific food wine.

Cave Springs wines at On the Twenty restaurant

Eating and drinking


Cave Spring was the first winery in the Niagara region to open a sibling restaurant. Located in the same building as the tasting room, On the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com/dining/dine-on-the-twenty) restaurant is perfect for exploring the food-friendliness of the Cave Spring wines. Chef Jason Williams is home grown. Niagara-born, he trained in the Niagara College Culinary program and worked under some of the region’s leading chefs.

heirloom beets at On the Twenty restaurant at Cave Spring Cellars Williams draws on the local bounty to build menus that complement and enhance the wines. This salad of roasted heirloom beets with a scoop of whipped goat cheese and a toasted hazelnut vinaigrette was a striking example of sweet early-season beets balanced by the light tang of the goat cheese and the dark, ashen quality of a smear of burnt honey. The house rosé (a light treatment of Cabernet Franc) tasted as if it had been conceived as a component of the dish.

venison carpaccio at On the Twenty at Cave Spring CellarsSimilarly, the venison carpaccio with dollops of egg yolk puree and parmesan emulsion is a very mild dish, even with the black pepper and crushed juniper berries on the edges. Trusting to the menu’s pairing suggestion, we had it with the Gamay. We’ve written before how this grape becomes very expressive in Niagara, and Cave Spring’s version is no exception. The fruitiness and soft tannins played very nicely with the spice on the edges and the unctuous meat.

Time for bed


Inn on the Twenty, sister to Cave Spring CellarsAfter dinner, it’s a short walk across the street from the restaurant to the Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com), another property in the Cave Spring family. A former sugar mill has found new life as a stylish lodging with 24 suites that blend traditional furnishings with a confident use of color. (There are also several rooms in adjacent buildings). All the suites have fireplaces and some have hidden private patios. Breakfast at the Inn on the Twenty is included in the rates. If you’d like a bottle of Cave Spring Cellars wine in your room when you check in, be sure to ask when you make your reservations.

We’d suggest the Blanc de Blancs Brut, which has a delicious yeastiness from spending three years on the lees.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca). For an overview of attractions, restaurants, and lodging in the area, see Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

10

09 2017

Zee’s complements adjacent Shaw Festival

eating on porch at Zee's

The Niagara peninsula isn’t all about vineyards and fine dining. Many visitors flock to Niagara on the Lake for the Shaw Festival (www.shawfest.com). The theater company occupies a good portion of the east end of the village. It launched in 1962 to celebrate acclaimed Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). That year’s performances were Don Juan in Hell and Candida.

Just as wine grapes have flourished in the Niagara peninsula, so has drama. From those first four performances in a hall in the historic Court House, the Shaw Festival has grown into a major player in the theater world. This year’s April through mid-October season features 11 plays presented in four different venues. (A Christmas Carol is also scheduled for the holiday season.) Shaw, of course, is well-represented with productions of Saint Joan and Androcles and the Lion. But the season intersperses the Shaw among other classic, modern, and new plays.

Before and after the curtain


The theater facility is right across Wellington Street from the aptly named Shaw Club Hotel (www.niagarasfinest.com/shaw). Embodying a relaxed modern sensibility, the hostelry is an alternative to the plush traditionalism of the Prince of Wales. (See earlier post.) The covered front porch, where slowly rotating overhead fans stir the air, is a great spot for a pre- or post-performance bite. An extension of Zee’s Grill, it’s also an excellent perch to watch the comings and goings on Picton Street.

Executive chef Matt Tattrie grew up in the Niagara region and studied at Niagara College. He has a keen appreciation for local growers and producers. At lunch, he makes a mean burger with locally farmed beef and pork topped with pickled daikon, cucumber, carrot and sriracha aioli. He also offers salads and other options for those who prefer to eat lightly in warm weather. We found his chilled Smoked Red Pepper Gazpacho to be the perfect restorative on a warm afternoon. He kindly shared the recipe and it has already become a staple in our repertoire at home. He calls for a liter of roasted red peppers. You can certainly used canned roasted peppers, but we prefer to roast our own either on a charcoal grill or under the broiler. It takes about 10 red peppers to make the volume he suggests. If you roast them yourself, omit the Liquid Smoke.

Red pepper gazpacho at Zee's

SMOKED RED PEPPER GAZPACHO

Ingredients


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 white onion, roughly chopped
1 bulb of peeled raw garlic
half bunch of fresh thyme finely chopped
1 liter container of fire roasted red peppers (about 10)
1 teaspoon of Liquid Smoke
1 liter of chicken stock (or water to keep it vegetarian)
Salt and pepper

Directions


Heat up a saucepot with vegetable oil. Once oil is hot add your onions and garlic and sauté for 3-5 minutes at medium heat. Add fresh thyme to pot and sauté for 2 more minutes.
Add your fire roasted red peppers and Liquid Smoke to pot along with stock or water. Simmer for 1 hour.

Let soup cool and blend gazpacho all together. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate.

Serve cold or at room temperature, garnishing with a drizzle of reduced balsamic glaze and a sprinkling of microgreens.

Adapted from Matt Tattrie, Executive Chef, Zee’s Restaurant, Shaw Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake

For an overview of travel on the Niagara Peninsula, see the web site of Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

04

09 2017

Kensington afternoon tea shows sweet wit

Kensington hotel exterior
Years ago on a visit to London, David and I interviewed Benny Hill for a feature in an American magazine. We were surprised when his publicist suggested that we meet the comedian known for his bawdy humor for afternoon tea. It seemed a bit, shall I say, refined. But, in person, Hill turned out to be a gentle man, perhaps even a bit shy. And the ritual of the tea service made for a very relaxed couple of hours.

Tea service at KensingtonThe experience sold me on the afternoon tea tradition. Now I make a point of sampling tea in a different spot whenever I’m in London. On my last visit, I spent a lovely afternoon with a couple of friends in the Kensington (at top). It’s one of the three hotels in London owned by the Doyle Collection, a group of Irish family-owned luxury lodgings (doylecollection.com).

As the name suggests, the elegant white stucco building sits in a neighborhood associated with royalty. Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge are the latest in a line of royal family members to occupy Kensington Palace. The red brick palace is an easy walk from the hotel. Surrounded by wrought iron gates, it sits on the western edge of the sprawling Kensington Gardens. The Gardens are filled with statuary and beautiful plantings. On an afternoon stroll, I even encountered a 1932 Rolls Royce converted to an ice cream truck.

Chef’s treat at the Kensington


Chef Ste Gibbs of the KensingtonBut the best afternoon I spent was in the Drawing Room of the Kensington hotel. The weather was still chilly enough to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace as tea service began. The Kensington serves teas from the London-based Rare Tea Company, which sources its own white, green, and black teas. Kensington Executive Chef Steve Gibbs (right) oversees the Town House restaurant as well as afternoon tea.

Gibbs has been at the hotel since Town House opened about two years ago. In keeping with the Doyle Collection’s ethos of warm, relaxed service, and comforting menus, Gibbs likes to create what he calls “updated classic foods, with a bit of a twist.” He also enjoys the showmanship of an elegant presentation.

Gibbs is even particular about how the sandwiches—including potted Argyle smoked salmon with crème fraiche and roast Devon Red chicken with cranberry—are cut. Like all breads that I sampled at the Doyle hotels, the buttermilk scones were just right: neither too dry, nor too heavy.

Tea is the perfect setting for Gibbs to indulge his refined sense of presentation as well as his sly wit. For my friends and me—all from the U.S.—he inscribed “Have A Nice Day” in chocolate around the edge of a scrumptious plate of pastries (below). The coffee Opera cake, coconut rum macaron, and bitter chocolate and raspberry choux were, figuratively speaking, the icing on the cake.

tea plate at Kensington

A pastry lesson for home


I asked Gibbs to share a recipe so that I might get a sense of how his kitchen makes such delightful pastries. He kindly shared his recipe for four individual blueberry pies. Following Gibbs’ commitment to fresh, local product, I waited for the short but sweet season of wild Maine blueberries to try the recipe. Rather than making four individual pies, I cut the recipe in half to make a six-inch pie, which is more than adequate for four servings. You could also make a nine-inch pie with the full recipe. My adaptation of Gibbs’ recipe follows. I have kept his measurements in grams because following them exactly makes a far better pie than using the approximations of so-called “English” measure. Brushing egg white on the top crust makes it nicely crisp.

BLUEBERRY PIE


Makes 4 individual 4-inch pies

blueberry pie

Ingredients

For the pastry

125g unsalted butter
180g superfine sugar
1 large egg, beaten
250g all-purpose flour plus additional for dusting surface

For the filling

600g blueberries, fresh or frozen (fresh better)
120g superfine sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1 tablespoon superfine sugar

Crème fraîche for serving.

Directions


Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and creamy. Add the beaten egg, scraping the sides of the bowl every so often if you are using a mixer. Fold in the flour. (For greatest ease, this can be done in a food processor. Just don’t overmix the flour at the end.)

Put the blueberries into a saucepan with the superfine sugar and tablespoon of water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes.

Dilute the cornstarch with a little water, add to the blueberries and simmer for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and scrape into a bowl to chill in the refrigerator.

Roll the pastry to 5mm (about 1/4 inch) thick and cut discs big enough to slightly overlap a 10cm (4 inch) non-stick pie dish. Fill to the top with blueberry filling, Cut another 10cm disc then cut a quarter- size hole in the middle. Place on top and crimp together. Brush with slightly whipped egg white and sprinkle with superfine sugar.

Repeat for other three pies.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown for 4-inch pies. The 6-inch pie takes about 25 minutes and the 9-inch pie will take 35-40 minutes.

Serve with dollops of crème fraiche.

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08 2017

Boston Globe taps advice of ‘Street Food’ editors

Street Food book coverBruce Kraig and Colleen Taylor Sen are the editors of Street Food: Everything You Need to Know About Open-Air Stands, Carts & Food Trucks Around the Globe (Surrey Books, $24.95). Kraig and Taylor Sen drew on their own experiences and those of other food experts around the world to compile a book originally intended for an academic audience. But with the growing interest in local foods, the editors recently released a new volume aimed at travelers who want to savor local culture one bite at a time. We spoke with them for the Boston Globe, which published an edited interview in Wednesday’s Food section.

We were, of course, curious about the advisability of eating on the street around the world. Sen suggested that maybe we were worrying too much.

“In 2014, Angela C. Erikson of the Institute of Justice in Washington, D.C., did a study comparing restaurant food and street food in seven cities around the U.S.,” She said. “She found that street food was marginally safer than restaurant food. Think about it. Street food is made in front of you. You see it. You know how long it has been there. As long as you see the food made in front of you and it is hot and it is not sitting there, and there are no flies, I think you are pretty safe.”

Read the complete remarks at “Global street food experts share worldview.”

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08 2017