So I’m the girl that stocks her pantry with plenty of booze…not to drink, but to cook with. I have to admit though, that one of the best things about boozy cooking is sneaking myself a glass of wine or a cocktail on the side. It doesn’t really feel like drinking that way and adds a little enhancement to the cooking process :)
Speaking of eating…and drinking…and eating what you’re drinking, last month I was invited to visit Peller Estates in the Niagara-on-the-Lake region of Ontario to celebrate the launch of their new 10Below Ice Wine Lounge. It’s basically a super-cool wine tasting igloo! We got to hang out in the lounge, enjoying a wine tasting tour, and best of all – their executive chef prepared us some ice wine-inspired eats. ICE WINE INSPIRED EATS, people.
Now this was one of those things where Peller hosted bloggers and showed them a great boozy/foodie time in hopes that they will go home and say nice things about them on their blogs and twitters. This is new stuff for me, and a little weird to write about since I haven’t done anything like this before. So take these words as a disclosure and a heads-up about the awkwardness that may follow. And….just so you know, I was under no obligation to actually say nice things, nor was I paid (besides the free trip). Honesty is my jam.
It’s been a few years since I visited the Niagara region and it was really nice going back and being reminded about the local bounty of amaaazing wine makers so close to home. Ontario makes some pretty rockin’ wine, even though we’re not all that famous for it. A big reason that Ontario’s so special for wine makers, however, is that we have something that many of the famous wine-producing regions don’t. Winter! The grapes can be harvested and pressed after they’re frozen (at -10°C), yielding juice that is much sweeter and more concentrated. Hello, ice wine!
It takes A LOT of grapes to make this stuff… like 6 times as many grapes as you would need to make regular wine. Not only that, but the conditions at which the grapes can be harvested and processed are really specific in order to meet industry standards, so due to the fragility of the process, production is risky and doesn’t always pan out, making it that much more special….and $$$!
Below is our new friend and awesome tour guide, Ray, showing off his refractometer. This funky device measures the amount of sugar in a solution (i.e squished grape juice) and is used out on the field to determine when grapes are ripe for picking. Sorry I cropped your face, Ray – I’m working on my moving human photography skills.
Many of the wineries in the region make ice wine, like I said earlier, it’s totally our thing here in Ontario. Peller, however, decided to take it a step further and built this crazy awesome igloo thing that mocks the temperature at which the grapes are harvested at. Should you show up at their door with $15 and a craving for a few sips of ice wine and a dose of winter, they’ll hook you up with a parka and take you to their icy dungeon fitted with an ice bar, sculptures, and even and icy chandelier. I was too pre-occupied with the whole thing to take pictures, but I did snap a pour shot of their unique and delicious red ice wine being served from the ice bar.
OK so here’s the most amazing thing about Peller. The have a restaurant and they get to COOK WITH ALL THE ICE WINE!
Once we were done with the drinking, Peller’s executive chef, Jason Parsons, prepared a killer cheese board (and other delicious things) for us to
sober up snack on. I was most fascinated with the ice wine-soaked blue cheese. It’s no joke, you guys – the ice wine runs through the veins of the cheese and transforms it to something really special.
I was sold, ready to buy a few bottles of the sweet stuff to stock my pantry with, but the price tag matched that of liquid gold and I just couldn’t swing it for my often-failing cooking experiments. Chef Parsons, I envy your disposal.
Instead I went home with a sweet little ice wine loot bag and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, which was my favourite of all the wines we tasted.
I didn’t cook with it, but I did make you something from my booze pantry. The idea started off as a French onion soup, made with home-grown beans, which I hoped would make it more filling and eliminate the need to top the soup with bread and cheese. It was delicious, SO good with beans, but the bread and cheese had to stay…it just wasn’t the same without them :)
- 1 Tbsp. of butter
- 2 medium-large cooking onions, sliced
- 2 cups of white wine (I used Pinot Grigio)
- 1 L of veggie or chicken broth
- 1.5 cups of cooked beans (or 1 can, drained) - I used the Yellow Eye beans from my garden, but navy or cannellini beans would work
- fresh rosemary, thyme, and/or sage
- salt and pepper
- 4 - 6 slices of dark sourdough bread, toasted
- cheese for topping (I used mozarella, but I'm sure the French had something else in mind)
- Melt the butter in a medium-large soup pot
- Add the sliced onions, a few fat pinches of salt, and grind some black pepper. Cook for about 10 - 15 minutes, over low heat, until the onions are soft and are just starting to gain some colour. You don't want them to be caramelized, but just cooked enough to bring out their natural sweetness.
- Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high to quickly bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low-medium and simmer until the wine is reduced by about a half and the steam coming from the pot is no longer sharp and boozy. Once it smells sweet and wine-y you now that most of the alcohol has evaporated.
- Add the broth, beans, and herbs. Season with salt and pepper, cover the pot, and simmer over low heat for about 20 - 30 minutes.
- When ready to serve, taste the soup and adjust seasoning if necessary. Ladle it into 4 - 6 oven-proof bowls or ramekins. Top with torn toasted bread, and a grating of your favourite melting cheese.
- Broil for 3 - 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. Garnish with fresh thyme and serve carefully.