Category Archives: Flavour Country

Wine Tasting Along the Naramata Bench

My husband and I are fortunate to have lots of relatives in wine country. They didn’t grow up there, but over a period of years each family moved from Vancouver to the sunny shores of Lake Okanagan, and we always love to visit. The dry, rocky landscape, unique restaurants and abundance of vineyards are enough to capture our imaginations each time we’re there. In the summer, as we drive along the lake shore passing row after row of grapes ripening in the sun, we think to ourselves, how could you not want to live here? Every time we visit we return with the relaxing afterglow of a satisfying vacation. We sure are lucky!

We recently drove up on the Thanksgiving long weekend, on a mission to give my brother and his girlfriend the full Okanagan wine tasting experience. On the first day, we planned to lunch at Quail’s Gate in their beautifully designed Old Vines Restaurant, then head to a large cluster of wineries along the Naramata Bench. We arrived at Quail’s Gate and were greeted by a thick wall of people in the tasting room. It was packed with wine tourists, clutching leather wallets and wearing fashionable sweater sets. We stood in line to do a tasting and eventually made it past the crowds to the solid wood tasting bar. The view from their sweeping bay windows, over the rolling hills striped with rows of grapes and across the lake to the rocky, arid shores beyond, was worth the wait alone, but in the end we didn’t buy any wines.

Next stop was the Old Vines Restaurant where we were also unsuccessful. “Do you have a reservation?” the teenage hostess asked us, standing next to two other baby-faced employees. We didn’t. The hostess burst out in a short fit of giggles. “Well, we’re fully booked until Tuesday.” Really? It was Saturday. We peered past her and frankly, it didn’t look busy at all. And what kind of a restaurant books up an entire weekend’s worth of seating, leaving absolutely no allowance for any walk-in diners? Oh well. Apparently, we were out of luck. We made a quick stop at Mission Hill Estates, since the views from up there are also stunning, then we changed directions and headed straight for the Naramata Bench.

With so much family living in town, we were fortunate enough to enlist my husband’s cousin as our designated driver for the day – a must considering the new driving rules, and our extensive plans for wine tasting! After a 45 minute drive Southeast along the highway we arrived at the winery-covered hillside of Naramata. Our plan of attack was to start with the wineries farthest away, and work our way backwards in the direction of home.

We went to six wineries in total and by the end of it we’d tasted and spent enough. At a certain point everything starts to taste the same, especially if you opt to swallow the wine (like we did) instead of spitting it.

Lang Vineyards was our first stop, and we were already partial to their wines. We’d served their 2008 Marechal Foch and 2008 Pinot Gris at our wedding the previous summer. This year we went home with two bottles of 2006 Gewurztraminer and a 2007 Pinot Auxerrois instead.

After Lang, we hopped over to Soaring Eagle since I LOVE their rose! We served this at our wedding too and it was definitely my drink of choice. We’d only ordered one case since it was hard to gauge how many people would request it, but thankfully our bartenders quickly got wise to my preference for pink. As the bottles started to turn up empty, they hid a few for my own special stash!

Therapy Vineyards is the winery with Sigmund Freud or rorschach ink blots on their labels. Their wines were okay – between the four of us we bought 3 bottles – but an infestation of pesky fruit flies was a bit of a turn off.

Tucked away in a blossoming fruit orchard, Elephant Island was an absolute delight to visit. The small tasting bar was festively decorated with quirky elephant-themed art and handicrafts, and out the door in their courtyard a live country band was jamming away with a mix of folksy, old-school funk. If we hadn’t already stopped for food on the way to Naramata, we might have stayed here to eat instead. Focusing solely on dessert wines, hence their fruit-bearing surroundings, their products were fantastic to taste, and expertly arranged on the tasting list. Each sip was even more pleasing than the previous bottle.

Next we stopped at Zero Balance. They didn’t have many wines on offer, but we bought one bottle of red instead of paying the $7 for tasting fees and leaving empty-handed.

Laughing Stock was next on our list and it took a little effort to find. Their label design, curious looking at first, actually shines some light on the owners of the vineyard. Both stock traders by day, this husband and wife team decided to change their pace of life and open a winery instead. Of course, their investment-savvy friends thought they’d gone crazy, leading to the name Laughing Stock. Their label design takes a nod from the stock world as well. Across the bottle is a stock ticker tape, representative of the exact state of the market on the day the wine was bottled. An interesting idea, and a great present for any financially-minded wine lovers in your life.

After Laughing Stock, the sun was getting lower in the sky and it was time to balance all the wine we’d sampled with some real food. We’d tasted a lot of amazing varietals, chatted with some interesting hosts, and pulled out the wallet enough times. Yet before the long weekend was over we’d go to one more award-winning, yet elusive, winery still.  I’ll save that tale for another day…

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How I Discovered Brazilian Cheese Bread

About six months ago, a good friend of mine discovered she was allergic to gluten. The second she told me I instantly felt what I’m sure she felt too: a tragic sense of loss. I had attempted a wheat-free, sugar-free diet myself about a year earlier, so I knew how hard it was going to be. And as an avid food lover (which my friend is), it was awful to find out she could no longer eat a whole host of tasty foods. But, unfortunately, gluten is in everything these days!

Aside from the obvious breads, pastas and baked goods, it’s in sauces, salad dressings, processed meat products, and countless other things. It’s so difficult to avoid that it makes buying pre-made, packaged or even restaurant food a very frustrating experience. Yet, what I quickly learned while on my diet – after a week or so of boring meals – is that you just have to readjust how you think about your food, and get creative instead! Make pizza crust out of mashed potatoes, design recipes for your own sauces and salad dressings, and bake breads with different styles of flour (like those made from rice, kamut, almond, potato or tapioca). Once you get into the swing of it each day gets easier and easier, and now my friend is happily dining on delicious meals every night!

Brazilian Cheese Bread is a recipe I learned from her, after she made some for my husband and I earlier this summer. After our first bite, we instantly fell in love! The bread is made with tapioca flour, which gives the baked dough a wonderfully sticky, chewy texture. Combined with a pinch of salt and grated, cheddar cheese, this was the best bread we’d ever been served before!

AllRecipes.com has a wonderful recipe for Brazilian Cheese Bread that I’ve made many times since my first encounter that night. Each time I’ve served it, guests have gobbled it up, and commented, without fail, on the deliciously gooey texture. If you want to impress your friends, regardless of a gluten-allergy or not, this recipe is definitely a winner.

Kimbe’s tips:
If you don’t have any parmesan cheese you can use cheddar or mozzarella (or both) instead. I also usually increase the garlic and add some chive flakes, for colour.

I usually double this recipe, because otherwise the buns disappear too fast! When doubling, take extra care to make sure you measure the flour correctly. I had a little mishap myself between batches last time. See the difference that one extra half-cup of tapioca flour makes?!

Oops! Remember to measure carefully.

But even still, the buns were immensely satisfying, and were completely devoured before the end of the night!

Making Spring Rolls

Whenever I make or eat spring rolls, I always think of South East Asia. It was four years ago when my husband and I first learned how to make them. We were on a backpacking trip through SE Asia and our little guesthouse, Eagle House, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, offered a full-day cooking course held in the hotel’s lush, tropical courtyard. We’d been enjoying the different cuisines of Asia immensely throughout our trip so we jumped at the chance to learn the secrets of the locals. We signed up with The Chili Club Cooking Academy to do a full-day course the following day.

The next morning, a small group of travelers gathered in the steamy, humid courtyard to meet our instructor, Mr. Visutt. He was a short, friendly man who was clearly very intelligent, and cared very deeply about teaching the traditional way of cooking Thai food. He’d learned his techniques from the elders of his village, his neighbours and his parent – knowledge passed down through generations. He did not believe in “instant” Thai food, and he wholeheartedly disapproved of microwaves.

We cooked five other dishes with him – Red Curry with Chicken and Eggplant, Chiang Mai Noodle Soup, Sweet & Sour Chicken, Mango Sticky Rice, and Red Curry Paste Dip – but the Spring Rolls are the one dish we’ve made again, and again. Each time we do, we think back to Mr. Visutt’s instructions. In his unique Thai-accented English he’d tell us, “You must control yourself, the amount of spiciness,” and “Fresh ingredients, mix together, fresh taste.”

Now that we’re back in North America, we often vary the ingredients we put in our spring rolls to include whatever we have in our fridge. Some great additions have been shredded chicken breast, chopped green beans, bok or sui choy, finely chopped broccoli, and ground peanuts.

Here’s Mr. Visutt’s recipe for spring rolls. You can vary the ingredients as desired.

Spring Rolls (Boh-Bia, in Thai)

4 tablespoons oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled & finely chopped
80 grams minced meat (beef, chicken or pork)
160 grams onions, finely sliced & diced
200 grams carrots, finely sliced & diced
40 grams dried shrimp (optional), soak in water for 5 minutes and drain
80 grams tofu
200 grams cabbage, finely sliced & diced
200 grams bean sprouts
240 grams mushrooms (straw, Chinese, champignon), cut into 1 cm chunks
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 teaspoons white sugar
4 teaspoons ground white pepper
24 grams glass noodles, soak in water for 20 minutes, then cut into 4 cm lengths
8 tablespoons water
12-20 spring roll wrappers
enough egg yolk to seal wrappers
oil for deep-frying

Method:
1. Heat oil in wok on low heat for 15 seconds.
2. Add garlic, minced meat, onion, carrots, dried shrimps and tofu and stir-fry for one minute.
3. Mix in the cabbage, bean sprouts and mushrooms.
4. Stir in the oyster and mushroom sauces.
5. Mix in the sugar and ground pepper.
Add glass noodles and water and stir-fry for 30-45 seconds.
7. Turn off heat and put on a plate.
8. Onto each individual spring roll wrapper, place 1 tablespoon of the vegetable mixture at one end of the wrapper and spread it to about 8 cm in length. Roll up the wrapper from the bottom to the middle and then fold in the left and right sides. Use the egg for sticking the folds. Roll up to the top and stick again.
9. Heat enough oil for deep-frying at medium heat. Put in the spring rolls.
10. As soon as they are golden in colour take them out, put on absorbent paper towel to drain off the excess oil, and serve with a sweet chili sauce, plum sauce, sweet & sour sauce or peanut sauce.

Kimbe’s tips:
You can vary the sauces and ingredients to your taste. You may not like oyster sauce, but soy or teriyaki sauce work well too. You may also want to add ginger, though sadly, I’m allergic.

There are a variety of spring roll wrappers you can purchase. Some are made with egg and flour, but for those that are gluten-free you can use rice wrappers instead. We learned to use the flour ones in Thailand, but at home we stick to the rice-based wrappers. They’re a little more delicate to handle, and they’re often round instead of rectangular, but they produce a lighter crust on the finished spring roll.

If you’ve got one, save yourself the hassle of chopping and let your food processor do the work for you. I use my chopping, slicing and shredding blades to prep all my veggies, garlic, and occasionally meat (such as shredded leftover BBQ chicken breast) for this dish in less than 5 minutes.

Food-processed ingredients saves a lot of time.

Spring roll size can vary according to your preference too. If you’re making these as appetizers, then stick to the small scoop of mixture that the recipe suggests. However, if you’re making these for dinner, making them larger and longer works well too. Just be sure to crisp them enough on the outside first.

On the subject of deep-frying, I’m not a fan of completely submerging any of my food in bubbling oil. It just seems way too unhealthy. Instead, we use a non-stick pan with a few tablespoons of oil, instead of the 2 litres that Mr. Visutt recommended. If you use our lightly oiled approach, make sure to turn the spring rolls and crisp all 4 sides. You’ll need a good pair of tongs to accomplish this successfully.

If you’re traveling to Thailand and you’re interested in cooking courses, I would definitely recommend The Chili Club Cooking Academy at the Eagle House Guesthouse in Chiang Mai.