Bourbon Lavender Raspberry Applesauce

I will start off this post with clearing my guilty feelings. I am sorry fellow bloggers for not having been around to comment this week. Life has been nuts. Nothing majors, just super busy. I thought my schedule would calm down as the weather would cool down for fall…but nothing could have been further from the truth. Work is super busy and my social schedule is busting at the seam. So next week starting with a clean slate and I’ll be back at commenting.

Have you been suffering from the same busy bee ailment as I? I have to say I am not complaining, life has been a blast. Today will  be more of a visual treat of a day trip spent with friends. One of our stops was an apple orchard. And it was the perfect excuse to super-major-over the top-play with the best applesauce ever I made last year. The trick is making it over a long period of time in a slow cooker: it totally gets caramelized and the apple flavor dominates. This year I added notes of lavender, vanilla and raspberries with a splash of bourbon. Sounds like  weird mix but they all do go together and the notes were subtle. Time to make some Bourbon Lavender Raspberry Applesauce!

Bourbon Lavender Raspberry Applesauce top

Tasty reading ahead, KEEP GOING… →

Cinque Terre Memories and a 5 Star Pizza Perfect for a Youth Hostel Kitchen Meal

Quick announcement, my article Reviewing Restaurants – You Be The Critic was published today on the Food Bloggers of Canada site. Please go visit the site after reading this post.

I am sitting here on my couch leafing through the 2 photo albums from my fist backpacking trip though Europe. What a trip it was! It was 1996, I was 22 and I left my mom and dad for my first independent trip where I traveled through 9 countries and 25 cities in 60 days all by myself. It was a whirlwind trip as I did not want to miss a single thing just in case I never got to make it back to Europe. Digital cameras were a new thing back then hence the actual photo albums….I scanned a few pics for you.

This was years before the food blog, the food group or even really realizing my passion for food. But I knew I liked to eat and I was thrilled at the prospect of trying so many new specialties. It was my formative years in ethnic food. Budget was the first priority and before anyone would go spend the day sightseeing we had a few basics that needed to be settled, cheaply: food and shelter. Shelter as usually covered with a Youth Hostel and food took on many forms like sandwiches, pastries, going off the tourist path for a local cheaper joint and the occasional Youth Hostel kitchen.

This was years before the food blog, the food group or even really realizing my passion for food. But I knew I liked to eat and I was thrilled at the prospect of trying so many new specialties. It was my formative years in ethnic food. Budget was the first priority and before anyone would go spend the day sightseeing we had a few basics that needed to be settled, cheaply: food and shelter. Shelter as usually covered with a Youth Hostel and food took on many forms like sandwiches, pastries, going off the tourist path for a local cheaper joint and the occasional Youth Hostel kitchen.

When I was contacted by HostelBookers.com to submit a recipe for the Backpackers Recipe Guide, wow I was flooded by so many memories. This cookbook will be sent out to 20,000 youth hostels worldwide with a selection of cheap, easy and delicious recipes a traveler can cook in a youth hostel kitchen. How exciting it would be to have my recipe in there.

The village of Manarola

I have had my fare share of Youth Hostel meals and they were always fun and communal. There is one meal in particular that really stands out in my catalog of memories. And not just that meal but that destination, that youth hostel and the people I met there! It’s a doozy of a story so sit down and get comfy as I take you back 15 years (yikes), in early October, to a little town called Riomaggiore located in Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. Its a long post and story but I swear you will be thoroughly entertained!

The cool guide to travel with at that time was Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door. Do you remember his show on PBS? His travel show took you through the unknown, the cheap, the secret treasures that you did not find in regular travel guides. It was a great book to find cheap accommodation with sometimes quirky descriptions. And in those days Rick Steves was the only guy talking about Cinque Terre, a rugged stretch of the Italian Riviera composed of 5 villages:  Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

Ξ Pesto and Mushroom Pizza Ξ

Ingredients:

  • 12 inch pizza crust
  • ½ cup pesto
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 5 oz ( 150 gr) firm tofu, cubed
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F /180 C.
  2. Place the pizza crust on a lightly oiled baking sheet (or aluminum paper).
  3. Spread the pesto on the crust leaving a clear edge on the crust.
  4. Top with mushrooms, tofu and the cheese.
  5. Bake the pizza for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Makes 6 slices.

I served this pizza for a potluck this weekend and it got rave reviews. This is truly one of the most flavorful pizzas I have ever made and it is so easy to make. Because of the tofu and the good amount of mushrooms, a couple of slices constitute a balanced quick meal. You do not need a lot of utensils besides a spoon, a knife and a baking sheet or aluminum paper. But my favorite part of this recipe is that it will satisfy both vegetarians and carnivores in one dish, not a claim many recipes can make. And who does not like Italian Pizza?

Back then there was only one option for cheap lodging and it was listed in the guide book: Mama Rosa’s Hostel in Riomaggiore. The guide said Mama Rosa met every train that arrived to round up the backpackers. The guide also said she ran her modest hostel with her son Sylvio. Although I doubted she would actually be at the train station a fairytale setting did start forming in my head of this private non touristy stop with Mama Rosa, the vineyards and her hot Italian son. That image got shattered real fast.

Oh yes Mama Rosa was at the train station. Try to imagine a 50 year old woman wearing a bright Barbie pink full jump suit with a bad light blond hair dye job waving her hands like all Italian mothers should announcing loudly:(say it with emphasis) MAAAma ROOOSaaaaaa, MAAAma ROOOSaaaaaa! I picked up my jaw off the Cinque Terre terre and followed her to the Hostel. What a dump! Some online reviews call it a slum and a notorious place. But what was I going to do!  I was there, it was cheap and I was in an isolated part of Italy.

Cactus pears, Mama Rosa's kitchen and outdoor bathroom

The set up was rudimentary at best, I remember the roof of my room was a corrugated roof – it rained and it made that unavoidable musical noise you hear in movies. And the outdoor bathroom was perfectly visible to the people living in the houses above that flank of the mountain, as in they could have seen us on the toilet! The common area was the basic kitchen with a long table.

And when you thought you saw the worst of it, Sylvio teh son made his appearance: carrying a bucket of dirty water the imaginary hot Italian son was actually an ugly and toothless middle-aged bachelor in tattered clothes. As stupid and vain as it may sound I was in shock. And I was not alone as I confirmed with all the girls I met there that we had all imagined Sylvio up into an Italian Stallion. NOT!

Thank god when you are traveling like a backpacker you can put all these things aside and go with the flow. Because you know what? This was one of the most memorable and enjoyable stops on my trip in the end. I met quite a few really delightful travelers there – all with a copy of Rick Steves Europe Through the Back Door under their arm.

My first friend was a tall German guy who was also at the train station. It was late afternoon when we got in so not much to do except explore the tiny village. We spotted the vineyard terraces above the village and we decided to go for a stroll through the grapes. Of course to make it to the grapes we had to find out if permission would be granted to climb the old stone stairs leading to the terrace by the 3 typical widowed women, all dressed in black. It was like a militia guards post. A little apprehensive, German guy and I flashed our biggest smiles and said our best Hellos and How are yous in Italian. Well we got the blessing and were allowed to climb up the stairs and stroll in the vineyards. I could not resist and I grabbed a raisin and bit into it. That was the first time I ever ate a raisin right off the vine: it was heaven, sweet, luscious and destined for a great wine.

The next day I joined another small group of travelers who were getting ready to hike the famous walking trail joining the 5 villages. After all that was the point of going to Cinque Terre. I only remember bits and pieces of that hike. I know it took about 5 hours to do including very quick stops and a lunch. I have a very vivid memory of the most quintessential Italian scene I have ever seen in my life: a old man climbing out of his cellar into his house with his feet barefoot and purple from stomping the grapes. I remember the hiking path being so narrow at times it was scary.

Narrow path, Monterosso al Mare beach and a Mediterranean dip

I can still feel the little pricks on my fingers of the cactus pears I picked right of the cactus, a fruit my new friends had never seen. Yes even then I was introducing people to new foods. And my last memory of the actual hike was our destination, the tiny beach of Monterosso al Mare at the end of the day where I was going to swim in the Mediterranean come hell or high water. After all the sun was going down at the end of that cooler October day but I am from Canada and I can handle cold water. And the guy with us agreed to join me. The locals looked at us like we were absolutely crazy.

It was such a great day. We took the train back to Mama Rosa’s where we bought food for a communal dinner. During the hike we found out Pesto was from this part of Italy so we made a simple dish of pasta with a pesto sauce bought by the ladle in a small shop, got extra cheese and a few bottles of wine in tow. For dessert we enjoyed the sliced cactus pears I had picked – still feeling the tiny shards lodged under my skin. That is how I remember Cinque Terre: rugged in every sense of the word but such a beautiful raw experience. And I owe it all to Mama Rosa and her Hostel!

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Got a simple recipe up your sleeve? Enter it and thousands of people could be cooking your recipe from a special cookbook that will be in youth hostel kitchens all over the world. To submit a recipe check out how to enter.

Don’t forget to go check out my article Reviewing Restaurants – You Be The Critic on the Food Bloggers of Canada site.

Wining in Niagara

As I mentioned in a last post this holiday season was partly celebrated in the Niagara and Toronto region. There will be a few blogs about this trip but my first one will concentrate on the really important stuff: the Niagara wine region!

Of course Niagara in famous for the massive horse shoe falls and the tourist mecca around it has turned into a family oriented gaudy Las Vegas slash theme park with rides, family museums, Ferris wheels, mazes and casinos. Go with an open mind and enjoy the overkill kitch atmosphere. Of course we mostly returned to adult childhood in the evening. Day time was reserved for another adult treat: visiting the vineyards and enjoying some tastings.

In all we did 7 vineyards over 2 days. My friend Stef was driving so he swirled, tasted and spat. I was not driving so a swirled, tasted and was plastered in the middle of the day twice. Awesome times people! And we bought A LOT of wine. All in all we came back to Montreal with 71 bottles, 21 of those were mine. But chances are I good till next year so it is a wise investment (well it made sense then). I also got a bottle of grape seed oil.

Yes my cat Sati snuck into the picture posing perfectly

Now I won’t describe every winery we went to, let’s make it more a picture essay. But first if you plan on going – and I strongly suggest you do – here is what you can expect from the wines in this part of the world:

  • the appellation of origin for Ontario is VQA.
  • there are over 100 VQA certified wineries in the Niagara region.
  • commonly used grapes are riesling, chardonnay, vidal blanc, pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, Gewurztraminer, cabernet franc, baco noir, cabernet sauvigon, merlot, pinot noir and gamay noir.
  • you will find table wines, late harvest wines, sparkling wines and the famous ice wine.
  • The term “Meritage” is used to describe the popular red wine combination of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot.

And before I start the photo wine tour I highly suggest you try at least once in your life the Baco Noir which is a unique grape to the Niagara region in Canada. The deep red grape produces an extremely dark red wine yet the wine has fruity flavors, a bright acidity and is low tannins.

Reifs Estate Winery

Our first stop, the surprise find here was the Riesling Late Harvest and Gewurztraminer Late Harvest at around 12$ for 350ml bottle.

Pellar Estates

What a wonderful stop this was. At first we hesitated because it is a big known place and usually quality can slide with popularity. Not here. And Stef recognized the lady who helped us from his past trip. The wonderful Rose-Anne was phenomenal and she got us some really special older years to taste in her favorites like the Merlot 2002, 2004 and 2006. The Chardonnay sur Lie was awesome too. But the best by far (of the entire trip) was the Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Signature Series. Truly one of the best wines I have ever tasted.

Konzelman Winery Estate

Well I was right away smitten a bit with Jeremy he he. This is one of Stef favorite place and he knew before hand he was getting a case of their Baco Noir. It is the perfect red vine for any meal during the year. We also enjoyed the sweeter Peach wine here.

Pillittery Estate

Unfortunately the dud of the trip. I am sure I was here 5 years ago and loved it but now everything was a disappointment. The only purchased here was a Chambourcin Special Select Late Harvest.

Henry of Pelham

Another MUST on the vineyard road. The reds here are phenomenal. Get the 2006 Merlot and any Baco Noir. Great little place and ladies go to the bathroom because going up the stairs feels like a small museum.

Herdner Estate

Avid the usual stuff here and stick to the out of the ordinary. Go for all the sweet fruit wines here: black currant, blueberry, peach, strawberry and  raspberry. The drier rhubarb wine is the find here. But I had a revelation here: a green tea Gewurztraminer…OH I got 3 bottles, perfect for a hot summer day.

Harbour Estates

This was my little find 5 years ago and I really wanted to go back. It is not the best place but I like it. The Chardonnay is lovely, I like the Harbour Midnight which is a mix of Cabernet Sauvigon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot. Finally we both got a few Cherry sweet wines, 50% at $5 a bottle, hello!

Next trip blog we will cover food, stay tuned!