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Wine and Food Pairing

Wine and Food Pairing

Chef Dez – Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque – Food Pairing Friday

November 6, 2015
Chef Dez
Chef Dez – Photo Provided

When I was working in the music industry, one of my favourite projects was partnering with Chef Dez on a series of country music recipes. Dez is a fabulous chef with a sense of fun and a lovely spirit and his recipes captured the spirit of some of Canada’s best county artists. A culinary instructor and food columnist, Dez has competed on Chopped Canada and hosts a series of culinary travel experiences across the U.S., which I highly recommend checking out.

I was thrilled when he agreed to participate in my Food Pairing Friday series with a delicious sweet potato bisque recipe that’s not only hearty, but healthy too. This is a perfect recipe for this time of year and just what you need to warm you up well into the winter – I think his pairing suggestions are spot on too.

Shawn and I are thinking this would be a great option for cool fall evenings and as a starter at the big Christmas dinner we always share with our families.

Cooking with Chef Dez – Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque

The autumn season brings cooler weather and transforming leaves. It earmarks the beginning of how our vision of food and celebration starts to change. With the dog days of summer behind us, we are no longer as worried about our bathing suit images, and the calendar lineup of commemorations are welcoming us with open arms. For many, this means indulgences in comfort foods to warm the soul, satisfy our hunger, and highlight the gatherings of family, friends and loved ones.

Eating is a huge part of the social aspect of our lives, but this does not always have to signify an abandonment of healthy choices. There are many ways to pacify our desires with foods that are still very nutritious, without leaving us feeling void of pampered appetites.

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque is the perfect recipe to accomplish this. Sweet potatoes are loaded with beta carotene (recognizable from their orange colour) and are high in vitamins A and C. Their moist sweet texture is ideal for mimicking richness, when in fact there is no added fat in this recipe whatsoever.

Many are confused by the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and this is due to the misinterpretation of the North American grocery industry. Sweet potatoes have orange coloured flesh, while yams are starchier, less flavourful, and have paler flesh. The names here are usually mismatched with each other, but in Europe, for example, the names are assigned accurately.

The steaming process of the diced sweet potato, instead of boiling, is important. Boiling of potatoes, or any vegetable, will cause nutrients to be lost in the discarded water, and the boiled product will take on excess water. Water has no flavour and thus will hinder the taste of the final product. Steam is hotter than boiling water and will provide faster cooking times without being as invasive.

Although this soup is great served as a meal itself, it is a remarkable first course to introduce a traditional holiday meal of stuffed turkey, cranberries, and all the trimmings. The addition of nutmeg and cloves gives it a warm earthiness and highlights the incredible natural flavour the sweet potato has to offer. The elegance of the presentation is heightened when beautifully garnished with swirls of sour cream and a sparse scattering of freshly chopped parsley. With the autumn air surrounding us, this soup will help to soothe our cravings of comfort food while helping us watch our waistlines… at least with the first course!

The perfect wine pairing for this soup is a Gewürztraminer or a Riesling with a sweetness code of 1 (or 2 if you so desire). The touch of sweetness in these fragrant white wines goes divinely with the characteristic flavour of the sweet potato, but it also offers diversity. If you were using this soup as a first course to a traditional holiday meal of stuffed turkey & cranberries, these wines would continue to compliment the rest of the meal as well.

With the recommendation of these wines, I would like to pass on a tasting tip. Traditionally white wines are supposed to be served chilled, however this does not mean ice-cold from the refrigerator. A glass of white wine should only have a slight chill to it, as the cold temperature actually hinders the flavour complexity. The closer it is to room temperature, the more fragrant and intricate the wine will become.

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez
Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez – Photo Provided

Fat Free Sweet Potato Bisque by Chef Dez

Makes approximately 6 portions as a first course

1kg orange sweet potato, peeled, diced 1cm
1 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground white pepper
3 to 4 cups skim milk

For Garnish
1/4 cup no-fat sour cream
1 tbsp skim milk
Fresh parsley, finely chopped

1.    Steam the diced sweet potato over boiling water for 20 minutes until fully cooked and tender.
2.    Discard the water, and place the cooked sweet potato into a heavy bottomed pot, off the heat.
3.    Add the brown sugar, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and white pepper to the sweet potato and combine thoroughly with a potato masher, ensuring no lumps.
4.    Once fully mashed, start adding 2 cups of the skim milk slowly while continuing to mash with the potato masher. Switch to a whisk, turn the heat to medium, and blend in the remaining 1 to 2 cups of skim milk (depending on how thick/thin you want it), mixing thoroughly.
5.    Stir occasionally over medium heat until completely heated through. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.
6.    While soup is heating, combine the sour cream with the tablespoon of milk.
7.    Portion the soup into bowls and drizzle small amounts of the sour cream mixture on each portion. Drag a toothpick back and forth across the surface to create a beautiful design.
8.    Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Many thanks to Chef Dez for sharing this with us! I hope it inspires you to visit his site for more recipes and food insights. Do you have a favourite fall/winter recipe? Share your favourite pairings in the comments or on social.

Wine and Food Pairing

Concession Road Restaurant and Wine Program

September 25, 2015

Last year, I had the opportunity to try Pukka on St. Clair West and was impressed with how they are elevating Indian cuisine and incorporating a serious wine program. When I learned the owners had opened a new restaurant – Concession Road – on the same St. Clair West strip in Toronto, I was eager to check it out. Luckily, I got the chance at a recent blogger dinner.

And it didn’t disappoint – Chef Masayuki Tamaru has elevated French cuisine with a global twist and the results are delicious. As always, I’m told I missed out on the best items because I don’t eat red meat, but I actually sampled a large amount off this menu – there were lots of options featuring chicken, fish and/or vegetables – and confess to enjoying each bite.

Absinthe service at Concession Road in Toronto

Zweigelt and Rose wine bottles
Concession Road also boasts a stellar wine and cocktail program. Their absinthe service is unique and fun – a little bit of ceremony and fuss that goes a really long way. And the cocktails are complex, well-made and tasty. But I’m all about the wine list and this one certainly didn’t disappoint. As with Pukka, top Toronto sommelier Peter Boyd has put together a well-curated wine list that holds something for every taste and budget.

“It’s a concise list, built from Masayuki’s menu, with some wines chosen for customer familiarity and ease, but with a few more novel options, like Marche Pecorino or Austrian Zweigelt, for the more adventurous,” explains Boyd. “Given the fare from the kitchen, it was important not to load up with a lot of heavy wines but, of course, we made sure there were a few heftier choices for those who prefer fuller-bodied wines.”

Steamed Portuguese rockfish at Concession Road in Toronto

And, for the most part, this is a menu that screams out for delicate sipping. The shrimp bonbon with citrus salad and red pepper gastrique is light and bursting with flavour, the steamed Portuguese rockfish with tomato beurre blanc and fresh dill is melt-in-your mouth lovely.

Vegetable stuffed chard at Concession Road in Toronto

I was a big fan of the ‘JFC’ Mennonite-farmed fried chicken, buttermilk mash, tomato and preserved lemon mayo, as well as the vegetable-stuffed chard with vegetable sauce, chive oil, beet crisps and toasted pumpkin seeds. All of these dishes were flavourful and well-made – perfect for a lively dinner with friends (like this one) or a romantic date night. For me, I’d want a versatile white or rosé with this meal (and luckily enough, that’s what was served), but there are plenty of bottles and by-the-glass options to explore.

Cocktails at Concession Road in Toronto

Concession Road is a great stop for wine and food lovers in Toronto – for me it’s more than worth the trip out to St. Clair West (and a reminder I need to get out there more often).

Have you been to Concession Road or Pukka? What to you think of the suggested pairings? Share your thoughts in the comments or on social.

* While my meal was complimentary, all opinions are my own.

Wine and Food Pairing

Sea Witch – What Wine to Pair with Fish and Chips

July 10, 2015
Fish and Chips at Sea Witch in Toronto
Sea Witch Fish and Chips Toronto

The fact that Sea Witch on St. Clair West isn’t licensed didn’t stop me from saying ‘absolutely’ when I was invited to a blogger dinner at the restaurant last month. It’s not a good fit with my healthy diet, but I love fish and chips and this was worth the splurge. And, like many similar restaurants, they offer take out. If I wanted to do a wine (or beer) pairing with my order, I’d just have to grab it to go. Sea Witch also plans to be licensed within the year, offering a small selection of wine and beer for those who want to enjoy their meal with a pairing.

Sea Witch Fish and Chips Toronto

Dinner started out with a sampling of their thick, hearty Witch’s Brew chowder. They vary the fish used in the chowder and this one came with pickerel and halibut, which I thought worked well. I love a warm, filling bowl of chowder and this more than fits the bill. While beer is likely the best overall fit for everything on the menu, I’d always rather have wine, so I’d have this dish with an unoaked Chardonnay.

Fish cakes

That was followed by a mini halibut fish cake with onion sauce, which was another hit with me (and seemed to be the overall favourite with the group). With great flavour and consistency, I thought this would be pretty darn good with Pinot Grigio.

Onion rings at Sea Witch Fish and Chips Toronto

The onion rings at Sea Witch are enormous and super decadent and deeply fried. They’re also addictively yummy, with a chewy consistency and lots of greasy goodness. I don’t know how anyone could eat a full order (pictured) and have room for anything else. Definitely an indulgence and best to share with a few friends.

I admit I was stumped with what to pair with the rings – I immediately thought beer, followed by a white wine with higher acidity. My food pairing books don’t cover onion rings, sadly, so I turned to the internet and found a suggestion for Alsace Pinot Blanc on a Mashable article by Laura Vitto. I’m game to try it! Have another suggestions? Leave it in the comments or share it on social.

Sea Witch also offers a coleslaw that is made fresh daily. I love coleslaw, but I confess I like mine just a little creamier than this. Still, it goes a long way to cut through some of the fried food and is quite tasty. It’s a good option for a refreshing side that will complement the heavier dishes.

Coleslaw at Sea Witch Fish and Chips Toronto


And, finally, the main course! This is the best of the best when it comes to decadent, old-school, fried goodness. The fries are hand chipped (they have someone on staff who pretty much chips all night long), the batter on the fish a lovely, crispy consistency and the halibut soft and tender. Hopefully they’ll have unoaked Chardonnay on their menu when they get their license because it doesn’t get better than that.

Sea Witch Fish and Chips Toronto

Sea Witch offers small, homemade desserts too – I found room to try the caramel square (chewy goodness) and it was a lovely end to the meal.

Funky and fun, Sea Witch has a great atmosphere and their simple, traditional menu is full of well-made fish dishes. Be prepared, though, that this is a definite cheat meal and the portions are much larger than pictured, so keep that in mind when ordering.

Some of the fish they serve is Ocean Wise, as they like to use sustainable fish whenever possible. They do have an old school bent when it comes to frying, though, as they fry exclusively in beef tallow. I didn’t know that going in (my fault for not doing my homework), as I don’t actually (knowingly) eat red meat. That would keep me from eating most of what’s on their menu again, but I will definitely be bringing Shawn back and living vicariously through what I expect will be a pretty great meal.

Do you like fish and chips? What do you pair with it?

*While my meal was complimentary, my opinions are my own.

Wine and Food Pairing

Food Pairing Friday with Andrew Hanna

June 26, 2015
Andrew Hanna, Toronto Wine Agent

Whenever I get a copy of the CellarBuilder newsletter from John Hanna & Sons Ltd, I know I’m going to be hungry reading it – the newsletter is full of great wine and food pairing suggestions. Not surprising from a company that really knows their wine.

This week’s Food Pairing Friday selection is from Andrew Hanna, a third generation wine importer and Director of Sales and Marketing at John Hanna & Sons Ltd. The company is one of Canada’s oldest and most respected sources for fine wines and spirits produced by families – not factories.

Andrew was inspired by a recent visit to Spain and his pairing story will make you dream of a trip to the region.

Andrew’s Pairing:

Having returned – a week or so ago – from a whirlwind tour of northern Spain hosted by Rioja rock-star La Rioja Alta S.A., you’ll pardon me if my mind remains seduced by tasty tapas and on-point pintxos.

Each time I visit Spain, I am taken by both the creativity of leading culinary minds and the amazing quality of the raw materials they’re blessed to work with.

I visited La Rioja Alta S.A. to join in the celebration of this venerable wine producer’s 125th anniversary and was thrilled to have a chance to explore the farms and facilities they own across four important Spanish wine producing districts: (i) Albarino country in Rias Baixas, (ii) serious brooding reds wine territory in Ribera del Duero, (iii) somewhat more generous and modern red wine terroir of the Rioja Alavesa, and of course, (iv) the iconic cellar worthy reds found in the Rioja Alta portion of the Rioja D.O.Ca.

It was on a travel day – between Rias Baixas and the Rioja Alavesa – that we had some time in Bilbao to explore this heretofore industrial port City, perhaps most famous as home to the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum.

Shortly before this cultural indulgence, I sat with a group of leading wine importers, distributors and industry professionals for an incredible foodie indulgence at a small restaurant near the gallery.

Amongst the inspired culinary treasures presented that day was a dish – and wine pairing – that will remain forever etched on my palate for both its sheer deliciousness as well as the technique and skill involved in its preparation.

On display was a simple (but perfectly cooked) oven roasted cod served on red pepper confit and topped with chive beurre blanc. The electrifying colours and appearance of this dish stood in stark contrast to its delicate flavours and textures – and, like many of my most profound food experiences, I was left enchanted by the quiet confidence of a Chef prepared to allow the quality of a scant few ingredients speak volumes.

Next to this stunning fish, we enjoyed a glass of Lagar de Cervera Albarino. Now if you haven’t tried Albarino before, I’d advise you to take immediate remedial action to correct this, as these coastal Galician whites are amongst the most satisfying and sneakily complex white wines you can find, anywhere. Imagine a hypothetical blend showcasing the explosive aromatics of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling all within a bone dry frame, and topped off with unique and compelling mentholated “alpine garrigue” notes of pine, eucalyptus and spearmint framing the cool, refreshing and complex finish.

Not surprisingly, these coastal whites are picture perfect pairings for light seafood and fish dishes for the bright acidity, deep concentrated core of citrus fruit and delicate herbal complexity. The next time you’re thinking about fish, I’d encourage you to give some thought to a glass of Spanish Albarino; I think you’ll find it to be a tasty addition to your dining table.

Many thanks to Andrew for sharing his pairing! To learn more about John Hanna & Sons, visit or I’m sure he can find a perfect food pairing to suit your tastes.