by Joan Saunders & Tania Tomaszewska –
Celebrations may look quite different this year, but we can still take the time to mark the season and plan a festive atmosphere. Pull out the sparkly glasses, linen tablecloth and pretty plates and set the scene. Light some candles, pick up a bottle of bubbly or try a new type of wine. It may not be exactly what we are used to, but we can, nevertheless, create some special memories.
One of my favourite ways to shape a holiday atmosphere is with a variety of appetizers. I love to pick and choose, to graze, to spend some time perusing the options while enjoying a glass of wine. It’s a relaxed way to spend an evening and, if you order some goodies from local shops, it’s not too much of an effort. In years past when it’s often been just three of us at home, we would have an appetizer feast on Christmas Eve and watch holiday movies.
What I’ve always enjoyed about appetizer events is that there is usually something that everyone will savour. It’s also a bit decadent. Love cheese? Go for it. Make your own wonderful baked brie and order a cheese and charcuterie board from a local fromagerie. You could then augment the board with pickled asparagus rolled in prosciutto. Enjoy quiche? Fabulous. Bake one yourself or pick some up ready to go.
Anything stacked on a baguette is a winner, in my estimation. Bruschetta is always a popular choice, as I believe you can never go wrong with something cheesy mounded on a slice of delectable bread. I do try, generally, not to eat too many carbs, but ’tis the season to indulge. When I first tasted the French Onion Toasts recipe, I was enamored. Caramelized onions and cheese? Yes, please. And they are well suited to a flavourful glass of wine.
I’m teaming up with Tania Tomaszewska, Seaside Magazine’s Off the Vine columnist, to offer some suggestions for the perfect sip to accompany these scrumptious savouries. Tania, what are some wine pairing ideas for these rich and lovely French Onion Toasts?
From Off the Vine: This screams weighty and viscous whites or light fruity reds. Think textured Alsatian-style pinot gris, oaked chardonnay, viognier, white Rhône blends (viognier-marsanne-roussanne), gamay noir or fruity pinot noir.
Some B.C. picks: Liber Farm Grand Estate Reserve Chardonnay (Similkameen Valley), Lariana Cellars Viognier (Osoyoos), Deep Roots Gamay Noir (Naramata Bench), Meyer Pinot Noir (Okanagan Valley).
Beyond B.C.: Pfaffenheim Pfaff Pinot Gris (Alsace, France), Louis Jadot Bourgogne Blanc (Burgundy, France), Dominique Piron La Chanaise Morgon (Beaujolais, France).
And nothing says holiday like cranberries. Their jewel-like tones add so much to so many recipes as not only are they beautiful, they’re also darn tasty. Heat them up with pecans, maple syrup and honey and throw the tangy-sweet sauce onto baked brie and you’ve got a winner. It’s gooey, yes, but that’s definitely part of the pleasure.
Tania, what kind of wine would go with this decadent baked brie?
From Off the Vine: Beautifully (and handily), the same wines which go with the French Onion Toasts will pretty much work here too (see previous page). But you can throw some other styles into the mix and play white wine crisp acidity or red wine richness off the gooey brie. Some ideas: traditional method sparkling wine, sauvignon blanc, less-oaked/unoaked chardonnay, dry fruity rosé, rich fruity merlot, ripasso style Italian reds, port.
Some B.C. picks: Winemaker’s Cut Sauvignon Blanc (Okanagan Valley), Meyer Chardonnay (Okanagan Valley), “Re-Think Pink” Rosé by Joie Farm (Naramata Bench), Corcelettes Merlot (Similkameen Valley), Black Sage Vineyard Pipe (Okanagan Valley).
Beyond B.C.: Chateau de Sancerre (Loire Valley, France), Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand), Vasse Felix Chardonnay (Australia), Gerard Betrand Côtes des Roses (France), Masi Campofiorin Ripasso or Amarone Classico (Italy), Taylor Fladgate Late Bottled Vintage Port (Portugal).
For dessert, I like to serve something that’s easy to deal with and isn’t too over the top. You’ve been grazing for a while, so might need to pace yourself … or not. Cupcakes are a fabulous choice, and others can then decide if they want dessert first. After all, it is a celebration.
Tania, do cupcakes and wine dance together?
From Off the Vine: Absolutely! Cupcakes love bubbles – and sparkling wine will go with everything else on this appetizer menu. With its high acidity, traditional method sparkling wine (especially rosé styles) pairs with practically every food group. Ditto for dry or off-dry riesling (which is a natural with vanilla cupcakes). Lemon cupcakes and sauvignon blanc are fast friends. Rolling into deep, dark chocolate with your red wine loving friends? Merlot, syrah or cabernet sauvignon will not be out of place.
Some B.C. picks: Haywire The Bub Sparkling (Okanagan Valley), Unsworth Charme de L’lle Rosé (Cowichan Valley), Moraine Estate Winery Riesling (Naramata Bench), Bartier Bros Syrah (Black Sage Bench).
Beyond B.C.: Louis Bouillot Perle D’aurore Crémant de Bourgogne (France), Pewsey Vale Riesling (Australia), Chapoutier Bila Haut Rouge (grenache-syrah blend)(France).
Bon appetit et santé!
French Onion Toasts
From The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
2 pounds yellow onions, diced (about 4½ cups)
½ tsp salt
pinch of sugar
1 tbsp cognac, brandy or vermouth (optional)1 cup low-sodium beef, veal or mushroom stock or broth
32 half-inch thick slices
About 2 cups finely grated Gruyère cheese
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, toss gently, reduce heat to medium low, cover the pan. Cook the onions for 15 minutes, then remove the lid, stir in salt and sugar and sauté without the lid for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the onions are fully caramelized and are a deep golden brown colour. Pour in cognac, if using, and the stock, then turn the heat all the way up and scrape up any brown bits stuck to the pan. Simmer until the broth almost completely disappears (a small amount is okay, as onions shouldn’t seem dry), about five to 10 minutes. Adjust the salt, if needed; season with pepper.
Preheat oven to 375°. Line baking sheet with foil. Dollop bread slices with about a tbsp of onion mixture (depending on the size of the baguette). Add 1 tbsp of grated cheese to the top of each toast, mounding it a bit so it stays in place. Bake the toasts for about 15 minutes, until bubbly and a bit browned. Serve immediately.
Cranberry Pecan Baked Brie
Adapted slightly from Damn Delicious
1 (8-ounce) wheel brie cheese, rind trimmed
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp unsalted butter
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
zest of 1 orange
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup cranberries (whole or cut up)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Place brie in 5-inch baking dish. Place in oven and bake until softened, about 12-15 minutes; let cool five minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat combine brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and orange zest. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until foamy, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in pecans and cranberries.
Serve brie warm topped with pecan mixture; serve with crackers or baguette.