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In Good Taste

Bitter, sweet and potent, the Negroni is an acquired taste. Judging by the drink's skyrocketing popularity, a lot more people are acquiring it. It's a simple enough recipe to remember: equal parts gin, Campari and sweet red vermouth, stirred with ice, strained over ice and garnished with an orange twist. But to mix a perfect Negroni, one that's ice cold, perfectly balanced and silky smooth, requires the right tools, the right booze and a bit of skill. Here's how.

GIN

When it's Negroni time, leave the top-shelf gin in the liquor cabinet. The Gilbert Gottfried-like screech of Campari drowns out the subtler qualities of premium spirits. Go with a classic London dry gin such as Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire or Beefeater. I prefer the latter: its sharp citrus flavours can handle the aggressive bitterness of Mr. Gottfried.

CAMPARI

Sweet, complex and as bitter as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, Campari is an Italian liqueur infused with herbs and fruits made according to Gaspare Campari's recipe from 1860. In Canada, Campari is 26 percent alcohol, and its colour is essential to a Negroni's neon red hue that flashes, "Drink me!" Some people prefer the similar, yet lighter Aperol — it's only 11 percent alcohol — but those people would not be drinking a Negroni.

VERMOUTH

Vermouth is a fortified wine that's been flavoured with an array of botanicals including roots, barks, flowers, herbs and spices. It can be sipped on its own as an aperitif, but it's more often than not used as a modifier in a huge range of cocktails.

A Negroni calls for sweet red vermouth. Fratelli Branca Carpano Antica Formula is the Dom Pérignon of said vermouth. And while Antica makes a magnificent Manhattan, its root beer-esque richness throws the balance off in a Negroni. I prefer the more affordable Martini Rosso; its slight vegetal character really ties the drink together.

STIR

A Negroni is a stirred drink. Stirring, rather than shaking, preserves clarity, and yields a cocktail silkier than a Hermès scarf. While you can do it in the bottom of a cocktail shaker, it's worth investing in a handsome mixing glass if you make a lot of Negronis. A long bar spoon comes in handy though you could MacGyver it with the handle of a large metal spoon. (Avoid wood, as you don't want your drink to taste like last week's curry.) Gently stirring the drink over ice chills the liquid while diluting the alcohol to a more palatable level. It takes around 30 to 45 seconds, but taste it to be sure.

ICE

It may seem pretentious to insist on a single two-square-inch ice cube to chill your Negroni, but this is a master class, not nursery school. You want a perfect Negroni? Buy an extra-large ice cube tray. The bigger block keeps the drink cold with minimal dilution.

TWIST

Fort the garnish, remove a 3/4" by 2" strip of orange zest with a Y-peeler, being careful to minimize the bitter, white pith. Squeeze it over the drink to release the oils then drop it in. Finally, it's Negroni time.

If you want to explore variations on the Negroni — they are seemingly endless — I direct you to The Straight Up, Nick Caruana's excellent blog that focuses on classic cocktails.

THE RECIPE

Eric's Negroni

1 oz. Beefeater London dry gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Martini Rosso sweet vermouth
Ice cubes
1 large ice cube
1 orange twist

Step 1: Chill a double rocks or old-fashioned glass.

Step 2: Pour gin, Campari and vermouth into a mixing glass or cocktail shaker. Add enough ice to come above the liquid. Stir until the mixing glass or shaker feels ice cold, 30 to 45 seconds.

Step 3: Place large cube in chilled glass. Strain drink into glass. Pinch orange twist to release oils and drop in glass.

Photo credits:
1-2. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

In the land of five-month winters, I'm always surprised to hear everyone declare an end to summer on Labour Day. Not so fast, partner. According to my calendar there are a few weeks left, and in Toronto, it's often the finest stretch of the season.

While it's still nice out, I like to park myself on the front porch after work and sip a refreshing libation while my daughter affixes stickers to every available surface. At my house, a late summer cocktail means something cold and citrusy with a good slug of gin.

Good things happen when gin and citrus meet, and they meet often in classic cocktails. The beloved Tom Collins is essentially a spiked glass of sparkling lemonade. A Sloe Gin Fizz is similar to a Collins, but with the addition of sloe gin, an English liqueur made by infusing high proof gin with wild blackthorn plums then sweetening it with sugar and diluting it with water. It's cloying on its own, but magnificent in a fizz. For something stiffer, the South Side is a straight-up icy drink that is perfumed with mint and has the sweet-sour tension of a good margarita or daiquiri.

All three cocktails are unbelievably refreshing, and the lemon's bite primes the palate for the dinner bell. They have just enough gin to wash away the day's troubles, but won't knock you over the head like a martini. These drinks are dead easy to make, and make them you should, to savour the dying days of summer.

A note about the recipes:

Lemon juice for cocktails is always fresh squeezed, preferably passed through a fine strainer to remove pips and pulp. Simple syrup is equal volumes water and granulated sugar heated and stirred until the sugar dissolves. As for gin, I experimented with various brands and found both Beefeater and Plymouth consistently worked best in all three drinks. Do remember to chill your glasses before mixing, as it makes all the difference.

Tom Collins

Ice cubes
2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
Soda water, chilled
Orange slice and cherry, for garnish (optional)

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass. Fill with ice.

Step 2: Pour gin, lemon juice and syrup into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake. Strain into prepared glass. Top with soda. Give a light stir. Garnish with orange and cherry, if desired. Serves 1.

Sloe Gin Fizz

Ice cubes
1 oz. sloe gin
1 oz. gin
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 oz. simple syrup
Soda water, chilled
Lemon slice, for garnish (optional)

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass. Fill with ice.

Step 2: Pour sloe gin, gin, lemon juice and syrup into cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake. Strain into prepared glass. Top with soda. Give a light stir. Garnish with lemon, if desired. Serves 1.

South Side

5 mint leaves
1/2 oz. simple syrup
2 oz. gin
3/4 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
Ice cubes
1 small mint leaf, for garnish

Step 1: Chill a coupe or martini glass.

Step 2: In cocktail shaker, muddle mint and simple syrup. Add gin, lemon juice and ice. Shake. Fine strain into glass. Garnish with mint leaf. Serves 1.

Photo credits:
1-3. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

A gin and tonic is a very personal drink. There is no "best" recipe or "perfect G&T." I like a one-to-two ratio of gin to tonic, but others will find that too potent. I also prefer a G&T with lime, but in the U.K. they often use lemon. I’ve broken it down into its two basic components and given a couple of recipes to get you started. But if you enjoy this libation as much as I do, I would encourage you to delve deep into the subject and create a gin and tonic that makes you go "Hmmm."

Gin

Compared to the great wall of vodka, the gin shelf at most liquor stores is anemic. That’s slowly changing as an increasing number of premium bottlesmuscle in on the classic bar brands.

Gin is essentially vodka (i.e. a neutral spirit) flavoured with an array of botanicals, the defining one being juniper berries. There are no good or bad gins; only ones you like. My go-to brand is Hendrick's, a Scottish gin distinguished by an infusion of Bulgarian roses and cucumber. It's higher in alcohol than the average gin, so I use a little more tonic to compensate. I'm also a big fan of Bombay Sapphire: its juniper is front and centre, and there is a complimentary note of liquorice. Finally, Dillon's, a new micro-distillery in Niagara, Ontario, makes a unique gin that's unfiltered, floral and complex.


Tonic

Most gin and tonics in this country are made with either Canada Dry or Schweppes, a pair of tonic stalwarts available at grocery and corner stores from coast to coast. If you want to up your G&T game, there are two lesser-known brands worth seeking out. The first is Fentimans, a century-old British soft drink maker, whose tonic comes in an old-timey, brown bottle straight out of a Victorian apothecary. It's on the sweet side with a floral, citrusy flavour profile that it gets from lemongrass and lime leaf. It's delicious on its own, and goes extremely well with Dillon's gin. Also from the U.K., Fever Tree has become my house tonic. It's smooth, balanced and herbaceous with a lovely liquorice kick, complimenting both Bombay Sapphire and Hendrick's. Fentimans and Fever Tree are expensive, but, in my opinion, worth it.

Recipes


Eric's Gin & Tonic Recipe

Ice cubes  
2 oz. Bombay Sapphire
gin  
4 oz. Fever Tree tonic water, chilled  
1 lime wedge

Step 1: Chill a 10-oz. Collins glass.

Step 2: Fill glass with ice. Pour in gin. Top with tonic water. Give drink a light stir. Garnish with lime wedge. Serves 1.


Hendrick's & Tonic Recipe

Ice cubes  
2 oz. Hendrick’s gin
6 oz. tonic water, chilled
3 thin slices cucumber

Step 1: Chill a 12-oz. highball glass.

Step 2: Fill glass with ice. Pour in gin. Top with tonic water. Give drink a light stir. Garnish with cucumber. Serves 1.

Get more drink recipes.

Photo sources:
Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

To complement "Catch of the Day", our East Coast food feature in the July 2014 issue (available on Eastern newsstands June 2nd and Western June 9th), I want to delve more into the wine and cheese being produced by the Atlantic provinces. This, by no means, is a definitive round up. For the sake of brevity and user friendliness, I'm sticking with the stuff that has some national availability. For more info on East Coast wines, visit Wines of Canada, and for cheeses, check out the Canadian Cheese Directory.

The inclement weather and short growing seasoning make farming grapes a real challenge in Atlantic Canada. There are, however, a few terrific wineries along the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Benjamin Bridge in the Gaspereau Valley (see photo above) is one of them, a sparkling specialist with a devout following. Their entry-level Nova 7, a fizzy, pink Moscato-style wine, has brilliant sweet-sour tension that is terrific with piquant cheeses or with spicy food. Their new 2009 Brut, which was aged three years on the lees, is a tight, tangy sparkler that would go well with oysters or gooey, washed-rind cheeses like brie. Finally, their Brut Reserve — I have tasted both the 2005 and 2007 — is aged for five years on the lees, and is a magnificent bottle of bub that can go toe-to-toe with French champagne in the same price range. It should be cellared and saved for an august occasion.

I've also had the pleasure of trying a few wines from Gaspereau Vineyards in the Gaspereau Valley. Their L'Acadie Blanc, made from an all-Canadian grape of the same name, is a crispy, dry, citrusy white that has the lean charm of Petit Chablis. It's a knockout with shellfish.

Now you may be surprised to learn that Newfoundland produces wine, as the Rock is not exactly known for sunshine. While the province does not grow grapes for vinification, there is a bounty of wild fruit on the island, and Rodrigues Winery transforms it into award-winning elixirs. Their blueberry wine is more off dry than sweet with a good zing of acidity. Served well chilled, it would be terrific as an aperitif with goat cheese, or for dessert with any of Atlantic Canada's myriad of berry desserts. It also happens to be kosher.

Atlantic Canada is definitely more suited to cheese making than vinous agriculture, and a rapidly grown range of artisan wheels and wedges are making headway in market dominated by Ontario and Quebec.

P.E.I.'s Cow's Creamery may be more known for its chain of ice cream parlours, but among turophiles, it is the maestro of cheddar. Their Scottish-style Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar won a first prize at the 2013 Canadian Cheese Gran Prix, the Oscars of the dairy world.

From New Brunswick, look out for La Bergerie aux 4 Vents at your local cheesemonger. Their Gaie Bleu is a buttery raw cow's milk blue, and Le Sieur de Deplessis is an earthy, nutty tomme-style wheel made from raw sheep's milk.

Finally, from Nova Scotia, I am quite enamoured with the cheeses from That Dutchman's Farm. Their goudas are excellent (see photo above), and their unique Dragon's Breath Blue lives up to its name.

The next time you're putting together a wine and cheese party, don't forget about Canada's East Coast.

(For more East Coast inspiration, tour a pretty P.E.I. waterfront cottage.)

Photo sources:
1. Applehead Studio
2. Gaspereau Vineyards
3. Rodrigues Winery
4. Nova Scotia Tourism Agency

Author: 

Eric Vellend

I'm here to make a case for mushy broccoli. Yes, mushy. While most of us have been taught to cook broccoli quickly so it's bright green and al dente, there is an Italian method for braising it low and slow to the point where it falls apart at the mere suggestion of a fork. It's called stufati, and it is the most delicious preparation of broccoli imaginable.

Stufati translates to "stewed" or "smothered", and while broccoli cooked in this manner is not as pretty as a verdant stir-fry, it develops such a deep, earthy flavour over the long cooking time that you'll never crave another crunchy floret again. It's excellent served hot off the stove or at room temperature, and if you're lucky enough to have any leftovers, they are terrific on garlic-rubbed toasts (aka crostini) the next day.

This recipe is adapted from my tattered copy of More Classic Italian Cooking, published in 1978, by the late, great Marcella Hazan. Mrs. Hazan, who passed away last year, has mentored me through her cookbooks since the early '90s, and I continue to be inspired by her delicious recipes and unwavering integrity. She is known as the Julia Child of Italian cuisine for good reason.

Broccoli Stufati with Red Wine & Pecorino

1 large bunch broccoli
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 anchovy filets, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano to taste

Step 1: Cut the broccoli into large florets. Peel the stems. Slice the stems ¼” thick. Set aside.

Step 2: Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned and softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and anchovies. Cook, stirring, 1 minute. Make an even bed of broccoli stems and florets on top of onions. Pour in wine. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover. When mixture is simmering, reduce heat to low. Cook, without stirring, 45 minutes.

Step 3: Remove lid. Raise heat to medium-low. Cook, without stirring, until most of the moisture has evaporated, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4.

Photo sources:
Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

From tortillas to saltines, there is a whole wheat option for just about everything made with flour. Pizza is no exception: the slice joint near the office has up to four pies made with whole wheat crusts, and my local supermarket has blobs of raw whole wheat pizza dough alongside white. If you're looking a healthier twist on the dough in our pizza feature (in the March 2014 issue, available on Eastern newsstands February 10th and Western stands February 17th), here are some tips on making whole wheat pies.

The general rule is to replace 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the white flour with whole wheat. (Personally, I go with the sweet spot in the middle.) There is a good reason why you don't want to go beyond 50 per cent: whole wheat flour forms less gluten strands than white and will not rise as high. Too much of it will also dominate the pizza with its earthy flavour, and the texture will be decidedly gritty. I was once subjected to a pizza with a crust made with 100 per cent whole wheat flour, and it was about as delicious as the box it came in.

Once you've committed to a whole wheat crust, toppings need to be considered seriously. Personally, I don't like the combination of whole wheat and tomato sauce. The earthy flavours work better with white- (aka bianco) or no-sauce pizzas especially with members of the brassica family on top. I did some experimenting, and here are two winning combinations.

This lovely pie is topped with blanched brussels sprouts cut into wedges and lardons of pancetta that were cooked in dry pan until the fat rendered off and the meat crisped up. The gooey base is Appenzeller, a nutty cow's-milk cheese from Switzerland that melts beautifully. You could also use Gruyère or Fontina. If I were to make this again, I would use double smoked bacon instead of pancetta for a hit of campfire flavour.

This pizza was superb. It started with a thin base of lightly whipped cream, a clever trick from LA chef Nancy Silverton. (It's basically instant white sauce and is lighter, not to mention much easier to make, than roux-thickened béchamel.) I put a little diced mozzarella – about one ounce – then topped it with roasted cauliflower, capers and sliced green onions. When it comes out of the oven, it gets an herbaceous hit of flat-leaf parsley. The piquant, verdant flavours of the toppings worked so well with whole wheat that I bet it would be a lesser pie made with a white crust.

Photo sources:
1-3. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

You don’t need to be a culinary anthropologist to figure out my bias towards Italian cooking. From San Marzano tomatoes, to Sicilian olive oil, to Caranoli rice, my pantry is stocked with the best from The Boot. One of my favourite staples from the Italian larder is dried porcini. They hum a deep bass line of umami in my signature mushroom risotto (the recipe is in the February 2014 issue, available on Eastern newsstands January 6th and Western January 13th), and their woodsy, autumnal flavour helps lift the timid taste of most cultivated mushrooms.

Dried porcini are most commonly available in little 20-gram packets. These envelopes are generally on the low end of the quality scale, as the sliced fungi are small, dark and broken. But since the soaking liquid is of far more interest than the reconstituted mushrooms, they are perfectly fine, and I always use them when testing recipes for the magazine.

It is, however, worth sourcing and splurging on a higher quality porcini like the lovely specimens in the photo above, which were a generous gift from a friend who went on a shopping spree at the Eataly in Turin. If you ever find yourself in Italy, it is worth filling your suitcase with dried porcini, as the quality and bulk prices can’t be beat. Otherwise, Italian delis and better food shops often carry top shelf fungi.

While most recipes call for soaking dried porcini in boiling water, I always use hot, salted vegetable stock for extra flavour. After about 20 minutes, squeeze the mushrooms dry, rinse in a sieve then squeeze dry again. If it’s cheaper porcini, I’ll chop them up. If it’s the good stuff, I’ll leave them as is.

Porcini always carry fine grit than can only be caught if the soaking liquid is strained through a coffee filter. However, if you slowly decant the dark broth to another container, you can leave the sediment behind and skip this time consuming process. The resulting elixir is deeply flavoured and the closest thing vegans will get to a rich meat stock. Use it to deglaze the pan when sautéing blander mushrooms like buttons or king oysters, or thicken it with a roux for vegetarian gravy.

If you’ve never cooked with dried porcini, stop what you’re doing and rectify this situation immediately. It’s a unique flavour booster with no real substitute, and an indispensible ingredient in any pantry.

Try dried porcini in this Midwinter Minestrone Recipe.

Photo credit:
1. Eric Velland

Author: 

Eric Vellend

At the end of cooking school, I did a month-long "externship" at Centro, a legendary fine dining restaurant (now closed) in midtown Toronto. From a jewel-like concassé of tomatoes to perfectly julienned peppers, vegetables were cut in a very precise manner, leaving a fair amount of scrap. Every ounce of these trimmings were saved, sorted and used up. The bulk of it went to flavour stocks and sauces, but sometimes they were transformed into a big steam kettle of delicious soup fondly known as potage de garbage (only the kitchen, never the dining room.) Even dark outer leaves of romaine lettuce, too bitter for salad, where used to cover salmon filets as they baked to keep them moist. This thrifty attitude showed both a respect for the ingredients and the restaurant's bottom line.

Today, as more people become conscious of where their food comes from, cooks are taking this mantra to the next level. Like nose-to-tail for vegetarians, the root-to-stalk cooking movement is coming up with creative ways to use edible trimmings that usually end up in the green bin. To further explore the root-to-stalk trend in the January 2014 issue (pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands December 9, and Western newsstand on December 16), here are some ways to get the most out of your veggies.

Celery

When I buy a head of celery, I divide it up into four groups. The tops, dark leaves and bottom cores go into stocks or braises. They can also be run through a juicer and used in cocktails or smoothies. The outer stalks, which are more bitter and fibrous, are best slow-cooked in soups or stews. The tender inner stalks are delicious shaved into salads or cut into sticks for crûdité. Finally, the delicate inner leaves are terrific in tuna salad or smoked fish sandwiches.

Tomatoes

Some recipes require coring, peeling and seeding tomatoes. This byproduct adds a golden hue and hint of umami to vegetable stock. The seeds and their surrounding goop can be strained and the resulting liquid saved for gazpacho or Bloody Caesars. Or cook down everything to make a rough tomato paste that can be frozen and used in dark stocks or braises.

Mushrooms

Often a recipe will call for removing the stems from portobellos. These brown cylinders are vegetarian gold. Deeply flavoured and packed with umami, they are delicious cut into julienne and used in stir-fries or omelettes. If you have bunch, pulse them in food processor and cook them down with butter, shallots and thyme for mushroom pâté. Shiitake stems are way too tough to eat, but they can flavour stocks and cream sauces.

Broccoli

Broccoli stems are good eatin', but all too often they end up in the garbage. Trim an inch off the bottom — it's usually too woody — and peel, saving the trimmings for vegetable stock. The tender stalk can be sliced paper thin and eaten raw in salads or winter slaw, or sliced into coins and cooked along with the florets.

Leeks

The dark green leaves of leeks are so rarely called for in recipes that most people think if them as inedible. Au contraire. While they may be too dark and strong for elegant soups, leek greens are delicious sliced and braised in butter and chicken stock for a wintery side dish. Leeks are expensive, might as well get your money's worth.

Photo credit:
1. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Vellend

While most people open a bottle of bub to toast an august occasion, I've long made the case for sparkling as an everyday wine. With frothy effervescence and mouthwatering acidity, it's remarkably food-friendly, pairing perfectly with everything from raw oysters to fried chicken. Some of the more robust rosés from Champagne can even match red meat. To help fill your flute for our New Year's Eve menu in the December 2013 issue (pick up your copy on Eastern newsstands November 11 and Western November 18), here's a primer on sparkling wine.

Champagne

Read up on the long, complicated process of making champagne, and you will appreciate its hefty price tag. It usually starts with a blend of still wines (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) from various vintages, a secondary fermentation in the bottle to produce the fizz, careful rotation of the bottles to gather dead yeast cells, disgorging those cells, then topping up the bottle with a dosage of white wine, brandy of sugar to adjust the sweetness. Is it worth the big bucks? In most cases, the answer is an emphatic yes. Champagne is by far the most complex sparkling wine with layers of flavour, bracing acidity and a rich, tangy finish. To quote John Maynard Keynes, "My only regret in life is that I did not drink more champagne."

My favourite entry-level bottles from the big houses include Louis Roederer, Perrier-Jouet and Piper-Heidsieck. For great value from smaller producers, look for Gonet-Médeville and Gardet. When it comes to the iconic Veuve Clicquot, you are better off spending a few extra bucks for their single vintage champagnes, which are considerably more interesting than their basic bottle.

Cava

Fondly known as "pour man's champagne", Cava is Spain's sparkling wine, most of which is made in the Penedès area of Catalonia, just north of Barcelona. The most common grapes used in Cava production are Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, and it's bottle fermented like champagne, which, by law, must be referred to as method traditional, so there is no reference to the fiercely copyrighted "champagne."

Since it's younger, cheaper juice and a quicker, more automated process, most Cava is under $20. I rarely come across a cava I don't like. It's generally dry and toasty with a solid backbone of acidity. It's a weekday sparkler, to wash away a bad day, or pair with take-out sushi, one of my favourite food and wine matches. My go-to bottle is Segura Viudas Brut Reserva (see above), and keep your eye out for Codorniu Pinot Noir Brut Rosé Cava.

Prosecco

Prosecco, Italy's famous sparkler, is the darling of restaurateurs, who pour it by the glass and mark it up into the stratosphere. Usually made from Glera grapes, prosecco is produced by the charmat method, where the secondary fermentation takes place in big, stainless steel tanks. Other than price — usually under $20 — the big reason for prosecco's popularity is that it's slightly off-dry. Throw in peachy flavours and softer acidity, and you've got one easy-drinking sparkler. (Warning: Even when the label says 'extra-dry', that's just by prosecco standards, so there is usually still a hint of sweetness.)

While I would take cava over prosecco any day, I've recently enjoyed the basic bottles from Zonin (see above) and Villa Sandi, both of which are under $15.

Other Sparkling Wine

While sparkling wine is made all over the world, the good stuff comes from cooler climates: grapes that get too ripe won't have enough acidity, which is what give the best bubbles its snap, crackle and pop.

Sparklers made in France but outside of the Champange region are usually referred to as crémant. The bulk of these wines come from Alsace and Burgundy and cost around $20. Like cava, I haven't met too many crémants I haven't liked, and I'm especially fond of the ones that come from the Loire and Jura.

On home soil, Canada is producing some world-class sparkling wines. The Niagara's Henry of Pelham Cuvée Catharine Rosé Brut (see above) is consistently delicious with red berry aromas, frothy mousse and vibrant acidity. In Prince Edward County, Hinterland is making killer bubbles using both method traditional and charmat. Look for it on smarter wine lists in Ontario.

Saving the best for last, the Canada's finest sparkling wine is made in — surprise, surprise — Nova Scotia. From the Gaspereau Valley, Benjamin Bridge Brut Reserve Methode Classique 2005 is an exquisitely balanced sparkler that sells for around $100, but can go toe-to-toe with grand cru champagnes that cost three times as much. It also makes a great conversation piece on New Year's Eve.

Photo credits
1. Veuve Clicquot
2. Segura Viudas
3. Zonin
4. Henry of Pelham 

Author: 

Eric Vellend

As a young line cook in the '90s, I mashed my fair share of potatoes. Whether it was amped up with roasted garlic or left unadulterated, back then mash was served with just about everything. When I was an apprentice at a small French bistro, I made them every night, right before service, and heated each portion to order so it was hot, fluffy and perfect.

Despite being a four-ingredient recipe, there are many variables involved: often the simplest dishes are the hardest to get right. To help you make the Horseradish Whipped Potatoes in our holiday menu in the November 2013 issue. Here is a breakdown of the art and science of mashed potatoes.

Pick The Right Potato

For mash, you need a starchy potato that will absorb plenty of milk and butter. The two best options are russet (aka baking) potatoes or Yukon Golds. Russets are starchier, so they will take on more liquid and yield richer results. I prefer Yukon Golds for their sweet flavour and golden hue.

The Boiling Point

Mashed potato purists will roast potatoes in their skins so they will be as dry as possible, but when you're preparing a big holiday feast, it's much preferable to do them on the stovetop as the oven is usually booked up for the day with desserts, roasts, etc. Peel the potatoes, cut into large, even chunks and simmer in aggressively salted water until just done — they will be just starting to disintegrate at the edges and a pairing knife inserted into the centre will meet with little resistance. Keep a close eye on them, as over-boiled potatoes will absorb too much water, leaving less room for milk and butter.

Drying Time

Once the potatoes have drained in a colander, return them to the pot they were cooked in, off the burner, and allow the residual heat of the pot to remove some of the excess moisture. Again, the less water in the potatoes, the more milk and butter they can take in.

Mash Up

I prefer smooth mashed potatoes, and to achieve this you need one of two tools. A food mill purees and strains the potatoes by forcing them through small holes. A ricer, which looks like giant garlic press, essentially does the same thing. I prefer a food mill, as you can set it over a pot or bowl. If you don't mind a few lumps, a potato masher does the trick.

Start Fluffing 

While the potatoes are cooking, heat the milk (homogenized) and butter (unsalted) in a saucepan. My basic ratio is 2 lb. of unpeeled potatoes to ¾ cup milk and ¼ cup butter. It is essential that the potatoes and liquid are both hot when they meet, so they emulsify properly and yield fluffy mash. If either one is cold the end result will be unappetizingly gluey. (The first and only time I did this, the chef dumped them into garbage without comment.) Add the hot milk and butter in stages, and mix it in with a heatproof silicone spatula. This will produce fluffy mash without splattering up the counter.

Season

I only season mashed potatoes with salt, either fine sea or kosher. Never pepper, especially, God forbid, white pepper. Some old school European chefs use white pepper in mash, but I find it's bizarre flavour so dominant that even a pinch will yield white pepper flavoured mashed potatoes. Not on my watch.

Reheat

The beauty of mashed potatoes is that they can be made a few hours before dinner, left to cool at room temperature, then slowly reheated over a low flame until hot and fluffy.

Photo Credit:
1. Eric Vellend

Author: 

Eric Velland

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