Light the Candles and Melt the Cheese this Valentine's
How does certain food earn the label of ‘romantic’? For foods like chocolate or oysters, it might be the promised aphrodisiac qualities. Fruits like strawberries might make the list because they’re juicy and sweet.
But, for a lot of people, a meal is romantic when you can share it. And there is no better example of share-worthy food than fondue. You’ve got that big pot of melted cheese in the middle where you and your partner will slowly dip nibbles of food. See, even describing it sounds romantic.
Plus, cheese fondue just begs to be paired with wine. We can all agree that wine is the most romantic beverage, right?
So, why aren’t more couples dipping their way to romance on Valentine’s Day (or any other date night)? It might be that the idea of making a cheese fondue feels intimidating. It’s actually a lot easier than you might think.
Great Estates Okanagan Chef, Ben Overland, shares his recipe and the simple steps to a perfect fondue - the romance part is up to you.
250g Gruyere (shredded)
250g Emmental (shredded)
2 Tbsp flour
1 ½ cups white wine (or chicken stock)
⅛ tsp nutmeg (grated)
pepper to taste (optional)
Begin by preparing your accompaniments (aka your dippers!). Choose bite-sized foods you love that go well with melted cheese. For example, cooked cheese tortellini, cubed sourdough bread, sliced Granny Smith apples, cooked sausage coil (chopped), cherry tomatoes, blanched broccoli and cauliflower, and boiled baby potatoes.
Set these aside.
In a bowl, combine cheeses and flour and mix well with your hands.
In a pot, bring wine to a boil and add cheese/flour mixture.
Reduce heat to medium and stir until cheese is melted and smooth.
If the fondue is too thin, make a slurry using 1 Tbsp of cornstarch and 1 cup of cold water. Whisk well so there are no lumps then slowly stir the slurry into the hot liquid. Only add a little bit at a time until desired thickness is reached. It will thicken up quickly.
Transfer your liquid cheese to your fondue pot and heat according to the instructions.
Pro Tip: When you finish with the fondue, the cheese at the very bottom of the pot will have cooked and turned into a wonderful, crispy piece of swiss cheese. Make sure you eat it. It’s amazing!
Comfort Food and Wine
Want to know the antidote to cold, dark, winter nights? Beef stew served with a bold red wine.
Great Estates Okanagan Chef, Ben Overland, loves to serve this hearty, comforting meal at this time of year. And, since there is no substitute for made-from-scratch beef stew, he’s sharing his recipe with us.
This recipe can be made on the stovetop in a large stock pot or in a slow cooker. Ben has given us his recipe but he also says that stews are a great way to clean out the fridge so don’t be afraid to get creative with the ingredients. Really, almost anything goes, as he explains, “Leftover squash from two dinners ago, put it in. Random herbs, wonderful.”
He also likes to add celery root as an option to his stock, “Add diced celery root when you add the carrots. If using celery stalks, slice the celery about ½ inch thick and add it about an hour before the stew is expected to be done.”
Ideally, you are making the stock from scratch but if you need a cooking short-cut, you can use powdered beef base - just follow the directions on the package.
For pairings, we recommend 2015 Inniskillin Reserve Merlot, 2015 Black Sage Vineyard Meritage, or the 2015 Sunrock Vineyards Shiraz. The bold dark fruit components of these wines and prominent tannins will be softened by the richness of the stew. And, the rosemary component will not override the flavours of these delicious wines. They also each provide a lovely glass of ‘cook’s nip.’
Speaking of cooking, let’s prepeare this beautiful beef stew recipe.
4 Tbsp Olive Oil
½ lb. Butter
2 lb. Stewing Beef (1” cubes, fat removed)
2 L. Beef Stock
½ lb. Potatoes
1 Medium Onion (diced)
2 Large Carrots
2 cups Frozen Peas
Crème Fraiche or sour cream (optional) for garnish.
In a bowl, generously season diced beef with salt and pepper.
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet combine half of the oil and half of the butter. When the butter is frothy and golden brown add cubed beef in a single layer. Get a nice,crisp sear on all sides of the beef. Do this in batches to keep the temperature high and the butter from burning.
When beef is seared, strain off the fat and set the beef aside. Start again with fresh fat until all of the beef is seared.
If using a powdered beef base, follow directions on the package and get this started. While the stock is heating up, cut potatoes and onion into bite-sized pieces. Peel carrots and cut them into bite-sized pieces as well. Chunky carrots are better than thin slices, as they don’t break down as fast.
If using a crockpot, combine beef, potatoes, onions, and stock into the bowl, affix the lid, then set the program according to the directions.
If using a pot on the stove, combine the same ingredients and bring to a good simmer over medium/high heat. Once simmering, turn heat down to low and cover with a tight-fitting lid.
In the crockpot, this stew will take 4-5 hours, on the stove it should take closer to 3 hours.
Halfway through the cooking process, add your carrots and a sprig of fresh rosemary.
After three hours of cooking time, taste-test a piece of beef. If it is tender enough for you, add the 2 cups of frozen peas, stir, turn off the heat and put the lid back. The peas will thaw in about 5 minutes. Once the peas are cooked taste the broth and adjust the seasoning to your preference.
If you have some crème Fraiche or sour cream, add it as a garnish. It’s great for the temperature contrast and the sourness helps counter the richness of the stew.
Note, if you are using powdered stock mix, use enough to make about two litres of stock. If you are going this route, Ben recommends using half beef base and half powdered gravy as it will result in a thicker strew.
For those using a ready-made stock from a butcher shop, you may want to add a thickening agent such as cornstarch. To do this, take one cup of cold stock and combine it with one tablespoon of cornstarch. Whisk until there are no visible lumps. Add this mixture to the rest of the stock.
One last tip: If you find the stew a little thin once everything has cooked, ladle out half of the liquid and reduce it by half in a separate pot (on medium/high heat). Return the reduced stock to your stew, et voila!
Pour a glass of bold, fruity red wine and enjoy a perfect winter meal.
Wine Pairing Recommendations for Beautiful Beef Stew
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To-Die-For Bubbly Cocktail Recipes
There’s nothing like a signature cocktail to start a party off right. Why not add some sparkle to the night by mixing up a few bubbly cocktails?
Here are a few tried and tested, show-stopping cocktails that will have your guests raving for weeks about your party.
Let’s kick things off with a cocktail that Shea shared with us LIVE in the Great Estates Okanagan Virtual Tasting Room (via our Facebook page). It’s called the Cranberry Fizz and it’s a perfect blend of sweet, tangy, and sparkly.
Ingredients (serves 6):
1 cup frozen cranberries
3.5 tablespoons of honey
1 cup coconut water
1 bottle of Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut (or, take it up a notch with Steller’s Jay Pinnacle available at the winery)
Blend cranberries, honey and coconut water on high until smooth.
Pour into a sugar-rimmed glass
Top with Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut or Steller’s Jay Pinnacle
Take your presentation over the top by garnishing with candied cranberries
Is it just us or does the Grinch get a bad wrap at this time of year? After all, he was transformed at the end of the book! This cocktail is just like the Grinch - despite its green colour, it’s nothing but goodness inside. Your guests’ hearts will grow three sizes with love for you after you serve them one of these.
Ingredients (serves 1):
2 ounces of Bols Melon or Midori Liqueur
A splash of Blue Curaçao or Bols Blue
3 ounces of pineapple juice
3 ounces of Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the melon liqueur, Blue Curaçao, and pineapple juice.
Shake. Shake. Shake.
Strain into a flute glass and top with Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut
Garnish with a small melon ball (optional)
Sparkling Moscow Mule
You think it’s cold here? Try being in Russia right now. Instead, why not just serve up a Russian inspired cocktail. Mules are super popular right now so why not add a little sparkle to this classic?
Ingredients (serves 1):
juice of 1 lime
1 ounce of vodka
1 ounce of simple syrup
3 ounces of ginger beer
3 1/2 ounces Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut
Chill your copper Moscow Mule cup with a few ice cubes.
Pour lime juice, vodka, and simple syrup into a cocktail shaker.
Shake. Shake. Shake.
Pour over ice in your chilled cup.
Add ginger beer and Steller’s Jay Mountain Jay Brut.
Garnish with a lime wedge.
Your guests have never had sangria like this so prepare for some accolades and demands for the recipe. Feel free to get creative with the berry and fruit mix - add whatever you love.
Ingredients (makes a pitcher):
1 cup blended frozen berries
2 cups of cut oranges, strawberries, and blueberries
1/4 cup orange liqueur (Triple Sec or Cointreau)
2 cups fruit juice or sparkling water
1 bottle of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz ← This is the secret
One hour before guests arrive, combine blended berries, fruit, fruit juice, and orange liqueur in a large pitcher.
Just before guests arrive, add the bottle of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Shiraz.
Serve in tumblers over ice.
Christmas Morning Mimosa
Christmas morning is so much more civilized when you can welcome it with a mimosa. All of the adults will thank you for this one!
Ingredients (serves 1):
2 ounces of pomegranate juice
1 ounce of freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3 1/2 ounces of Steller’s Jay Sparkling Rosé
Fresh fruit (strawberries, blueberries, lemon, pomegranate seeds, or raspberries) for garnish (optional)
Shake juices in a cocktail shaker with ice.
Strain into a glass.
Top with Steller’s Jay Sparkling Rosé.
Garnish with fruit.
These bubbly cocktails are sure to add to the sparkle of the season. We hope they make your parties shine. Please enjoy responsibly.
Photo Credit (all images): Colony Digital