Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Steamed Lamb Dumplings With Ponzu Sauce

Last night, Brad and I prepared lamb dumplings.  We were inspired my Molly D.'s delicious looking recipe on this site for pork hash dumplings, but we do not cook with pork.  Thus, I decided that I would do a dumpling experiment using lamb, and I was not disappointed.  For me, lamb goes beautifully with Indian spices, so these dumplings are less of the typical Hawaiian or Asian style dumplings, and more of an Indian-inspired fusion, based on the spices I selected to flavor the lamb.  However, I also wound up using some ancho chile powder, as well.  In the end, Brad and I were very happy with the way the dumplings were flavored, and we enjoyed our home-cooked Friday night dinner.

Sasha's Steamed Lamb Dumplings
1 lb ground lamb
1 tsp curry
2 tsp ancho chile powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp cumin
dash of pepper
2 medium sized shallots, diced
3 cloves of garlic
wonton wrappers
Ponzu sauce (for serving)
Cilantro (for garnish)

To prepare the filling, I sauteed the meat in the spice mixture with 1 T of canola oil and 2 T of water, until the meat was fully cooked.  I strained the meat when I was done to get rid of any excess Canola Oil.  Then, in a small pan, I sauteed the shallots and the garlic and mixed in with the meat filling mixture.

To prepare (fill) and steam the dumplings, I carefully followed Molly D.'s instructions from her earlier post on filling and steaming.  We used small (about 4 inch) Nasoya wonton wrappers as our dumpling wrappers, which I purchased in the Asian section of Whole Foods.  To fill the dumplings, I added about 1 to 1 and a half teaspoons of filling to the center of each dumpling wrapper.  I closed the dumpling by pinching the top into a circle shape with my hands, and used some warm water on my fingers to pinch the dumpling shut at the top.

 Next, we oiled the dumplings with Canola Oil for the steaming process.  As Molly D. points out in her post, the dumplings will stick to the steamer if they are not properly oiled.  After I made each of the dumplings, in true assembly line manner, Brad used a pastry brush to coat each dumpling in Canola Oil. As our steamer, I used the same device that we had used for my Mongolian Hot Pot, the Presto Kitchen Kettle Multi-Cooker / Steamer.  This device was an inexpensive (thirty dollar) investment, but has come in handy on numerous occasions from hot pot to steaming to deep frying.  We followed the manufacturer's instructions for steaming the dumplings, but were sure to coat the surface of the steamer with Canola Oil before adding the dumplings.  The steaming process took about five minutes.

After the dumplings were steamed, we did not pan fry them.  We simply served the steamed dumplings with Ponzu Sauce and Cilantro and enjoyed them right out of the steamer.  This was actually not all that difficult to make and was quite an enjoyable meal.  I plan to make them again in March for a dinner party.

Click here for Molly D.'s Pork Hash Dumplings and here for Eric's Sauteed Chinese Dumplings


Friday, February 26, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Miniature Starry Night Chocolate Stout Cupcakes

My latest recipe for cupcakes should provide some good reading for a snow day.  The snow this morning caught me totally off guard.  I didn't listen to the updated weather forecast and after a entire day of slushy snow that didn't stick well at all, I was surprised at the foot and a half or so of fresh snow on the ground this morning.  Being a Rochester native, who is accustomed to snow, I thought the snow hurricane was just some NYC tough talk when I went to bed last night.  But here I am, home writing about cupcakes on a snow day.

To prepare these cupcakes (which I actually made Tuesday evening), I followed my recipe for chocolate stout cupcakes, both for the frosting and the icing.  I have repeated my recipe below.  If you are making full size cupcakes, follow the recipe exactly.  However, I made two trays of mini-cupcakes using my two new Wilton silicon cupcake trays, another gift from my mom.  Therefore, I cut the recipe in half so I wouldn't have a lot of extra batter.  If you are doing the same, I advise you to also halve the recipe.  The full recipe makes two dozen full size cupcakes.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes (Makes 24 large cupcakes or 48 small cupcakees - so cut in half)
3/4 cups unsweetened cocoa (use Droste Dutch chocolate, which is the best on the market)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 bottle or can of chocolate stout or regular stout (I used 
Guinness in tonight's batch)
1 stick butter (melted)
3 large eggs
3/4 cup non-fat sour cream (because we want to keep our cupcakes healthy. . . yeah right)
1 T vanilla extract

Half Recipe for Sasha's Frosting
2 cups confectioner's sugar
4 oz (half package) cream cheese
2 to 3 tablespoons heavy cream

3/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 T honey
1/2 stick of unsalted butter

Add a drop of high-grade professional quality orange food coloring

To prepare the cupcakes, follow my instructions in my post for chocolate stout cupcakes.  In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (the cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt). Then in a separate bowl, I combined the beer with the stick of butter that I had melted first in the microwave. After you do this, the mixture will look absolutely disgusting and may even curdle (mine did). Persevere and don't worry about this, as it will turn out all right in the end. Then add the vanilla and the three eggs, one at a time. Next mix in the sour cream until fully combined. Next, slowly add the dry ingredients and mix well.

Fill two mini cupcake trays with the batter.  Bake in an oven preheated to 350 F for about 25 minutes until done (test with a toothpick).  Allow the cupcakes to cool before frosting them, or they will melt.  I made the frosting by beating the ingredients in a stand mixer following my instructions in my previous chocolate stout cupcake post.

To decorate the cupcakes, use a spatula or a frosting bag (I used a spatula) to top each cupcake with the frosting.  I used colored fondant that I bought at New York Cake along with star shaped fondant cookie cutters to make purple and orange stars out of fondant to decorate the mini cupcakes.  This was pretty easy - I plan on doing more high-skill, complicated cupcake designs in the weeks ahead, so stay tuned.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Spicy Ancho Chile Mac & Cheese

I was inspired to create a good spicy macaroni & cheese dish after my husband and I tasted a delicious macaroni & cheese, served with a spicy duck rilette on Valentine's Day at a local Brooklyn restaurant called the Jakewalk.  Initially, I was going to do mine with a duck rilette also (even though duck rilette could perhaps be the one thing less healthy than mac & cheese!).  However, that is going to have to wait for another day.  For tonight's recipe, I decided to use primarily pepperjack cheese to add some heat and pepper-flavor.  I also added heat with cayenne pepper, while using tomato mainly for texture and color.  The ancho chile powder adds a smokiness to the overall flavor, as well as color to the dish.

This dish is surprisingly easy to make.  I made enough for two nights at least, mainly because I seem to think I am cooking for an army of people, rather just for two.  Also, the duck wasn't missed at all - this dish had enough kick and spice to steal its own spot in the limelight.

Sasha's Spicy Ancho Chile Mac & Cheese
1 lb box fusilli pasta
4 T butter, melted
1/3 cup flour
3 cups skim milk
1 tsp cayenne pepper
8 oz pepper jack cheese, grated
3 oz cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup panko bread crumbs, plus extra on top
2 diced tomatoes
2 tsp ancho chile powder
2 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper to taste

First, cook the pasta.  Then, combine the flour and skim milk in a pot and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes until it thickens.  Stir in the grated cheese, spices and thyme leaves (removing from the sprigs).  Add the tomatoes and the panko.  Toss with the pasta and place in a casserole dish.  Top with additional panko and bake at 350 F for about 30 minutes until the macaroni & cheese is crunchy on top.  The end result has some heat, but is not on fire, which was just perfect for me.  I would have used regular macaroni but my husband requested that I do the dish with fusilli instead, which wound up looking really  beautiful.

I had enough to fill my heart-shaped Emile Henry casserole dish, but also some extra which I used to fill my set of ramekins.  I guess I'll be eating macaroni & cheese for lunch tomorrow . . . and the day after that . . .

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Crepes With Banana & Nutella

Last night, my husband and I prepared banana-nutella crepes.  After years of hearing about the amazing crepes my husband had years ago on a trip to Paris, and tasting some inexpensive but delicious crepes at the Crooked Tree Creperie in Manhattan, we decided to prepare our own.  The trickiest part of the recipe for crepes is, sure enough, preparing the crepe batter.  I have done this twice, and the mistake I made last night, was not carefully and patiently following the instructions like I did the first time.  They were still very tasty, but the batter for the crepes was a bit thick, resulting in thicker crepes than I intended.  I think the second stop where some trouble shooting could be done was that we should have chilled the batter a bit longer after preparing it, and poured the crepes a bit thinner.  So much for not waiting two hours as Martha Stewart suggested; I guess occasionally it pays to exercise a bit of patience!  Thus, my crepes were delicious, but a bit on the heavy or thick side.  In the post below, I am going to include my suggestions for making the crepes more how I hoped they would turn out (and the way they did when I made this recipe about a year ago).

Crepe Batter (using Martha Stewart's Recipe, here)
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
three eggs
5 T melted unsalted butter, plus more for skillet

Sift flour, beat eggs and whisk together the ingredients.  I am going to recommend the step I ignored and allow to chill for at least two hours (or overnight, if you prefer).  I did this the first time, and my crepes came out much thinner and perfectly. By allowing it to chill, this will thin the batter somewhat, and correct for the problem I encountered.

To prepare the crepes, heat about 1/2 a tablespoon of butter in a 8 or 12 inch pan.  Pour in about a 1/3 of a cup of batter.  We tried to make larger crepes using a bit more of the batter, but it just made them a bit on the thick side.  Cook like you would prepare a pancake, until golden brown in spots and lifted by pockets of air.  You should only need to cook for about one minute on each side, although obviously it took our somewhat thicker crepes a bit longer.

I filled the crepes with some diced bananas and melted nutella.  Even though they were a bit thicker than the first time, they still tasted great and looked pretty.  We enjoyed our crepes with a taste of Vidal Ice Wine from my trip to Inniskillin (article on Inniskillin wine-tasting here) which provided a lovely, sweet complement to the bananas and hazelnut cream.

Margie in Boston has also written about crepes, using a different approach - check out her article.  She presents some good ideas about swirling the pan in a circular motion, using a tilt.  I did not do this using my recipe, but I think doing so would improve the crepes by thinning out the batter.  I will try her technique next time.


Eric's Kitchen in Jersey City: Grey Sole with Orange Almond Panko Crust

This one was definitely off the top of my head. Jenn and I were talking about using Panko crumbs on fish and I knew we had some leftover raw sliced almonds and thought they might go well with some orange zest. We went to the A&P near us and one of the few really nice looking fresh fish options was this Grey Sole. It was a little more expensive but I decided to go for it because it looked so great.

Panko crumbs are very light and fluffy and available now in most grocery stores. Once I toasted the almonds in my toaster oven I put them in a mixing bowl and crushed them with a spoon. One of these days I'll finally get a mortar and pestle but I seem to get by pretty well without one. I then took a navel orange and used a peeler to shave off small bits of the zest and mixed these into the bread crumb mixture. I dredged the fish in wheat flour and egg whites and then got a nice coating before putting them on the hot pan with some sesame oil and olive oil. They turned out nicely and were a relatively quick and easy dish.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Margie’s Kitchen in Boston: Soufflé – Goat Cheese and Walnut

Photos by Lena
You probably can find different variations of this recipe on the internet. I prefer as a base recipe the one from Joy of Cooking (1997 edition, page 138), with some modifications. The recipe calls for eight 6 ounce buttered ramekins. Coat each with a mixture of ¼ cup coarse corn meal (Goya) and ¾ cup toasted and finely chopped walnuts. This amount of coating seems to be more than required. I end up evenly distributing the excess across the cups. Make the roux, 3 tablespoons butter melted and ¼ cup flour cooked over low heat for 1 minute. To the roux add ⅔ cup milk, stirring constantly until thickened. Scrape into mixing bowl along with 10 ounces (10.5 is a common size) goat cheese. Smash with spatula.

Have ready 6 egg whites whipped with ¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar. Add five of the yolks to the goat cheese. The Joy of Cooking uses a 5 to 4 white/egg yolk combination. Add 1-2 cloves of smashed garlic. Normally I would add the ¼ teaspoon of thyme, eliminate salt, and add some pepper. For this version I also eliminate the thyme because I will be serving the soufflé with a dill sauce from a cookbook I highlighted in a older blog- The Vegetarian Epicure, Book II (page 104): To Roux (2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour, 2 teaspoons dry dill or 2 tablespoons fresh minced), add 1 cup milk, ¾ cup sour cream and whisk until thick. Add ¼ cup white wine, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and ½ teaspoon sugar. To this mixture add, depending on your preferences, a pinch of cayenne and nutmeg, salt and pepper, then simmer for 10 minutes.

As for preparing the soufflé, just do the basics. Stir egg and cheese mixture with spatula until smooth. Fold in egg whites gently with spatula, gently zig and zagging spatula to get an even consistency. Don’t stir the mixture.

Distribute batter across 8 ramekins, put in water bath in a preheated 360° oven, and cook in lower middle oven for 30 minutes. Let sit in bath for 15 minutes.

The great thing about this dish is you can serve it immediately, or refrigerate for three days and microwave for about a minute.

I serve the soufflés with broiled asparagus and toasted French bread rounds.

Click here for some other souffles:  Sasha's raspberry souffle, dark chocolate souffle and PB&J souffle


Sasha's Kitchen: Asian Infused Sea Bass With Papaya Salsa

I actually wrote about this meal once before when I first started this blog, but I didn't give it the full attention it deserved, nor was there a photo.  This is my favorite seafood dish, so I wanted to give it a full, true Sasha-blog post.  I love the asian infusion of the Chilean Sea Bass, and the combination of the fresh, tropical papaya with the asian flavors in the fish.  If you are concerned with sustainability, you do not have to use Chilean Sea Bass - you could substitute Mahi Mahi, Cod or Halibut.  I can't help it though, occasionally I get a craving for the soft, flaky sea bass with the asian marinade and fresh papapya.  That's exactly what happened last night.

This recipe is one I derived from a very old cookbook called Taste of the Tropics by Jay Solomon, from a restaurant that used to exist in Ithaca, New York when I was a kid.  The restaurant closed years ago (my husband, a Cornell graduate, says it was closed by the time he got to Cornell), but the cookbook lives on.  I have modified the ingredients in the marinade, which the author of the cookbook says is for Mahi Mahi, and made some minor changes in the salsa recipe.  Here's the recipe that I use in my cooking:

Sea Bass With Asian-Infused Marinade & Papaya Salsa 
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup mirin or sake
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2 T sesame oil
2 T lime juice
1 tsp lemongrass
1 T fresh ginger
2/3 tsp red pepper flakes
pinch of salt
dash of pepper
1/2 papaya, seeded and diced (for salsa)
3 T lime juice (for salsa)
2 T cilantro (for salsa)
1/2 red onion, diced (for salsa)
2-4 filets of fish (sea bass, mahi mahi, halibut or cod)

Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl.  Marinate the fish for about 4 to 6 hours in the asian-infused marinade.  You can use either mirin or sake for the marinade (the result is very similar).  Rotate the fish at the halfway point.

To prepare the salsa, seed and dice the papaya.  Combine with the red onion, lemon juice and cilantro.

Cook the fish in a bit of the marinade at 350 for about 30 minutes until flaky and cooked to your liking (this will vary a bit depending on the type of fish that you use).    I always serve the fish with a side of the salsa and a bit of the marinade.  It also tastes great with a vegetable risotto as a side, such as the green apple risotto, that my husband makes, or even a plain risotto.  This recipe remain one of my favorite dinner courses, and will quench our palettes any night of the week.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Sasha's Kitchen: Miniature Chocolate Brownies

Instead of making regular chocolate brownies, I decided to make miniature chocolate brownies, using my new Wilton silicon mini brownie tray that was a gift from my mom.  Like I have said in some of my previous posts, miniature food is so cute and adorable and fun to eat.  I'm not sure there's any health benefit though to making the food smaller, since I ate at least four of the little chocolate brownies.  I'm always loved chocolate brownies and most recipes to make brownies from scratch are actually quite simple and always come out perfectly.  

When making miniature brownies, you only need about a teaspoon or so of batter for each brownie, so the total size of the mix can be decreased.  I made about half the amount of mix that I would have made to fill a normal 8x8 brownie pan.  Because i think miniature food is great for brunch, I think these would make a great brunch dessert.  However, they are also fabulous for snacking on any time you want a bit of chocolate fudge indulgence.  If you prefer to make full size brownies, you can double this recipe.

Miniature Chocolate Brownies  (Modified and Adapted from Martha Stewart's Chocolate Fudge Brownie Recipe in Her Baking Handbook)

4 T unsalted butter
5 oz bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
pinch of salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup plus 1/8 cup flour

Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Melt the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler.  If you don't have a double boiler, you can simply make one by placing a small metal bowl with the chocolate and the butter over a pot of boiling water.  Then, mix in the sugar.  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and add the vanilla.  Stir in the flour and pinch of salt.  Bake for about 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when you test the brownies.  It took me thirty minutes, which is less than it would take for full sized brownies.  These were delicious!

To make an entire miniature brunch, check out my recipes for mini key lime cheesecakes and mini frittatas.


Eric's Kitchen On The Road: Canary Islands Wrinkly Potatoes with Mojo Sauce

Last summer Jenn and I spent almost a week in Tenerife, one of the islands that makes up the Canary Islands, a Spanish Autonomous Community. Tenerife is a pretty amazing island and has lush greenery and farms on the North half and dry desert-like areas in the Southern half. It's a very popular location for European tourists and most of the Southern half seemed to cater to British tourists in particular. We rented a car and drove around as much of the island as we could, seeing the volcano park, and lots of different beaches that came up every few miles along the coastline.

The two menu items we encountered most frequently were Sangria and these wrinkly potatoes with mojo sauce. The Sangria was far better than any we had had here in the States and I may have to tackle that sometime as well. The wrinkly potatoes are very simple and didn't blow us away but I found myself missing them and wanted to take us back to our sunny getaway and forget about all the cold weather and snow we've had here around NYC. They are supposed to be wrinkled and have a slight salty crust to them and are usually served with a tangy, spicy sauce.

For these potatoes, you basically just boil them in very salty water, I used about 2-3 tbsp of sea salt in water that just covered the potatoes and boiled them for maybe half an hour, until they were soft enough to stick a fork in them easily. Then you pour out the water and let them dry, wrinkling the skin and revealing the salt. I probably could have used more salt and less water for more of a salty crust but they wrinkled nicely.

The mojo sauce was a little more complicated. I found this recipe here that I used because I felt I could get these ingredients easily and make this work.

The ingredients are as follows:
1/2 cup of red wine vinegar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp. fresh minced parsley
3/4 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
3/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt to taste
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

I didn't measure these exactly but wisked the oil and vinegar together and then added the other ingredients and wisked them in as well. The result wasn't too close to what we had in Tenerife as what we had there was always a little thicker and and more finely blended but the taste seemed correct. I might try it in a blender, if I get one, next time.

Either way, for a little while it took us back to our lovely vacation when we didn't have a care in the world and it was very nice.

Sasha's Kitchen: Peanut Butter & Jelly Souffle

As you probably already know, I was in Ontario this weekend visiting some ice wineries during the day on Saturday, since I already wrote about my trip to one of the ice wineries that we visited, and the techniques used to make ice wine.  I spent the rest of the weekend visiting with family in Rochester, NY and didn't really do much cooking this weekend.  However, the one thing I did make this weekend, was mini-souffles Sunday morning for my family.  This souffle was an experimental souffle that worked out.  I decided to do something a bit offbeat and quirky as far as souffles go and experimented with a peanut butter souffle.  In the end, I decided to make mine a true PBJ souffle.  I liked it with the red current jelly that I added as a topping (although no one else was willing to try it with the jelly!) and figured that the recipe was worth sharing here since the souffle was enjoyed by my family.

Sasha's PBJ Souffle  (makes 4 small souffles)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 T flour
1/4 cup sugar (plus extra to sprinkle in ramekins)
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 egg yolks
4 egg whites
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 400 F before you begin (the oven must be ready to go when you put the souffles in or they will not rise).  To prepare the souffle, mix the flour and milk well in a bowl and put in a saucepan.  Add half of the sugar (about 1/8 of a cup) and heat until dissolved.  Over the heat, add the peanut butter and mix for a couple minutes until well combined and creamy.  Take off the heat.  Beat the egg yolks with the salt and vanilla and add to the peanut butter/milk mixture.  Set aside.

Add the cream of tartar to the egg whites.  Beat using either a stand mixer or a hand mixer with the remaining 1/8 cup of sugar (add the sugar slowly as you beat) until the eggs are thick and fluffy (like a foam).  Then, fold the egg whites into the peanut butter mixture gently.  You must make sure to beat the egg whites properly (this is the key step) or the souffle will not rise.  Bake the souffles at 400 until they rise for about 15 minutes (depending on your oven, anywhere from 10-15 minutes).  Don't open the oven until you are ready to take the souffles out, or they will collapse!  My family enjoyed these plain, but you can make it a PBJ souffle with a dollop of jelly on top, if that's your thing.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Michelle's Kitchen in Toronto: Korean-style Stir fried Lettuce

Sometimes the best inspirations come when you least expect them; on the fly. I was waiting for my parents to come and pick me up but couldn't wait until lunch to eat. I went rummaging through my fridge wondering what I could snack on that wouldn't ruin my appetite entirely when I came across a half head of romaine that needed to be used, pronto. When I lived in China, I would often have stir fried lettuce dishes. Here in the West, we don't ever think to cook lettuce and mostly use it in salads. I had also just bought a new bottle of Korean barbecue sauce, so naturally my experimental side that always wants to try something new was activated!

Michelle's Korean-style Stir-fried Lettuce

1 tbsp canola oil
1/2 head of clean romaine lettuce, chopped
1 clove garlic chopped fine
1 1/2 - 2 tbsp Korean barbecue sauce (I used President's Choice Memories of Korean Barbecue Sauce)
1/4 c chicken broth
salt to taste

Heat the oil in your pan or wok. Add the lettuce, bottoms first with a little salt to bring out the liquid. Cook about 30 seconds and add the garlic and stir fry until everything starts to soften. Add the sauce and the broth, cooking until the lettuce is soft but still crisp. Serve immediately. Serves 4 as a side dish (or just me as a very greedy snack!)

This is another great fridge-cleaning recipe and a new take on lettuce for many of us not used to eating lettuce any other way but raw!

Gilly's Kitchen on the Road: Changsha

I recently flew to Changsha (the capital of the Hunan Province in China) to attend my brother-in-law's wedding. I also visited Hong Kong for several days, and I will write about my dining experiences in that city in a later post. Our visit preceded the Chinese New Year by only one week. Oh, and clearly this post has nothing to do with vegan baking.

The majority of our meals in Changsha took place in banquet-type facilities (rather normal given that the meals were part of larger events, such as the rehearsal and the wedding itself) so I cannot discuss actual restaurants, but did take plenty of photos of some interesting dishes. We did have a meal at the Changsha Sheraton the first night we were there, even though we were not staying in the Sheraton. We also ate at Pizza Hut, which is a little different (ahem.. extremely different) than U.S. Pizza Huts! Therefore, this post will be more of a photographic tour of my dining experiences in Changsha.

Our first meal, as mentioned above, was at the Sheraton at an upscale restaurant and bar named Bar Zen. I had delicious bacon-wrapped giant prawns, and my husband had some sort of lobster pasta (not pictured).

Bacon-wrapped giant prawns (and a side of fries)

The following day consisted of meeting our translator/friend of the bride's family (a local college student preparing to further her education in the U.S.) and taking a trip to a main shopping district. We stopped for lunch at Pizza Hut, which in Changsha is a somewhat upscale-sort of restaurant with a very extensive menu. The bride and groom even suggested we stop in for a meal, so we took their advice. We ordered a rather odd array of dishes, from benign mashed potatoes and lychee smoothies to a fried shrimp pizza (which also had crab and octopus buried in the cheese) and a shrimp stuffed crust pizza (the stuffed knots alternated between cheese and shrimp).

Friend shrimp pizza (half eaten by the time I remember to take a photo)

Shrimp stuffed crust pizza

We then spent an hour or two walking around the shopping district, popping in and out of various stores and generally people-watching as our translator told us about cram schools and other interesting tidbits.


Sasha's Kitchen On The Road: Ontario Wine Tasting & Ice Wines At Inniskillin

Until recent years, Canadian wines produced in the province of Ontario were known primarily only to Canadians.  Most Americans would give you a blank stare in response to a discussion of the wines produced in Canada.  However, over the last decade and a half, this conception has changed, as Canada has developed an international reputation for producing some of the best Ice Wines in the world at the Inniskillin Winery, as well as other smaller wineries located in Southern Ontario and the Okanagan region of British Columbia.  Ice wine, a late harvest dessert wine, where the grapes are harvested at lower temperatures, have put both Inniskillin and Canada on the map for its wine production.  But I discovered during my trip to some local Ontario wineries, that Canada's climate also allows for production of some excellent Rieslings and medium bodied red wines as well.

Yesterday, I spent a lovely day wine tasting with a group of old friends (Lisa, Jeff, Shannon and Michelle; as well as my mom and one of her friends) at two Ontario wineries, Inniskillin and a wonderful small winery called Lailey Vineyards.  A trip to local wineries, whether you live near the Finger Lakes Region, Canada, Oregon, Napa or Sonoma is a wonderful way to have a pleasant get together with a group of old friends.  It also makes a perfect girls day.  Whether you are a wine connoisseur or a casual wine drinker, wine tasting is a fun and relaxing way to spend a day, and you can learn a great deal about wine and the local wine making process.  In this article, I will write a detailed summary of how Ice Wine is made at Inniskillin, one of Canada and the world's most famous ice wineries, as well as our experience tasting wines at Inniskillin.  Michelle (who writes from Toronto), will follow up with an article about our tasting experience sampling the wines at Lailey Vineyards.  I will also discuss Inniskillin's other excellent wine varieties, including its regular harvest Riesling and Cabernet Franc.

Ice wine, we learned was first produced in Germany and Austria (where it is referred to as Eis Wein).  Inniskillin has produced Ice Wine in Canada every year since 1984, while the climate in Germany and Austria is only suitable to harvest Ice Wine grapes every couple of years.  The winery first obtained its license to produce wine in 1975, after Ontario's prohibition on winery licensing ended, and was founded by Karl Kaiser and Donald Ziraldo.  Crush, or harvest of regular grapes occurs in Ontario between September and November, while Ice Wine Crush occurs between December and February.  In order to comply with international standards, Ice Wine grapes must be harvested at a temperature between minus eight to minus twelve degrees Centigrade.  Grapes for Ice Wine are harvested between 2 AM and 4 AM for the most stable low temperatures.

There are several varieties of grapes that are used both for Ice WIne and regular table wines in Canada's cooler climate.  These include Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc and Vidal (a hybrid grape).  The soils, which were formed in Lake Huron thousands of years ago, as the glaciers of the last ice age receded, are clay-like and rich in minerals that are excellent for growing a number of varieties of grapes.  Winemakers generally believe that Ontario's cool climate allows for the production of excellent lighter, fruitier wines, whereas a warmer climate allows for production of less fruity, full bodied wines.  Ice wine is made from three grapes:  Riesling, Cabarnet Franc (which has a lovely raspberry sweetness to its flavor) and Vidal.  Eighty percent of Canadian Ice Wine is made form the Vidal grape, which is hardier and can be harvested later since it is a hybrid grape.

During our tour of the winery with our friendly and knowledgeable guide Jonathan, we saw the fields where the grapes are grown (and have already been harvested) as well as the wine production rooms at Innniskillin and learned how wine and Ice Wine are made in Canada as well as the history of Ice Wine production in this emerging wine region. We had a sampling of wines and local Canadian artisanal cheeses in one of the tasting rooms.

We sampled three wines while at the winery, each of which was fantastic.  The first wine we sampled was the 2008 Legacy Riesling, a light and fruity Riesling had a wonderful taste full of nectarines, honey, fragrant flowers and apple.  This Riesling, another wine that Canada is known for, was every bit as good as some of the very best Finger Lakes Rieslings, and nearly every member of my party purchased a bottle to take home.  It paired nicely with the local creamy Canadian cheese that we tasted.

The second wine we sampled was a light and fruity red wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes, from the 2007 Cabernet Franc Reserve Series.  This wine was also fabulous, a floral red wine with the flavor of raspberries, chocolate and spice evident on its nose.  The wine is a nice well-balanced wine that highlights the spiced raspberry aroma.  It paired nicely with the Canadian blue cheese and with a Quebec cheese called Oka (a trappist cheese that was the perfect pairing for this wine).

Finally, we tried our first Ice WIne of the day at Inniskillin, a 2007 Riesling Ice wine, which paired well with the Blue Cheese.  This was perhaps my favorite Inniskillin wine (although it is a hard choice).  The Ice Wines we tasted both at Inniskillin and nearby Lailey Vineyards were some of the best well-balanced dessert wines I have ever had.  The 2007 Riesling Ice Wine had hints of lemon, lime and honey that was simply delicious.  I loved the Cabernet Franc so much that we tasted that I purchased a mini-bottle of its Ice Wine cousin at the store, along with a mini-bottle of Vidal Ice Wine to try at home.  I can't wait to pair these lovely Ice Wines with some of my favorite cheeses and desserts when I return to Brooklyn.

To learn about the wineries I visited in Napa and Sonoma on an earlier wine tasting trip, click here.

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