In pursuit of Vialone

The other day I happened to be in Quebec City. As I was wandering the streets of the old Quebec, I dropped in on one of the better known culinary specialty shops on rue Saint-Jean (more on that in another post).

I was hoping to find one or the other of one of my preferred varieties of rice for making Risottos, i.e. Vialone or Carnaroli. Amazingly, not only did they have both of these but they also had one I called “Baldo”. I found that quite intriguing as I had never actually seen it in any store before and so I bought some. Needless to say, I will have to let you know how my next Risotto based on this variety will turn out. Let’s just say, it’s another one of the Italian short grain varieties that will cook up in about 18 minutes without going mushy on you.
Well, that’s not actually accurate. You can make any variety of rice go mushy or creamy on you if you are of the restless type and have the need to keep stirring the bloody thing on a regular basis!

That said, did you know that there are some 100,000 plus varieties of rice in the world today?

And more on that later too 🙂


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Le Riopelle – Artist or Cheese?

A wedge of Riopelle cheese

The cheese, actually. But…

“Le Riopelle de l’Isle” is a triple cream cheese from Quebec. More specifically, from l’Isle-aux-Grues, which is part of an archipelago of islands in the middle of the St. Lawrence river east of Quebec somewhere between the Île d’Orléans and l’Île-aux-Coudre.
It is an artisinal cheese made by the dairy cooperative “La fromagerie de l’Île-aux-Grues”.

The Riopelle de l’Isle is a “blooming rind” cheese with a thin downy white mould rind. The “melt-in-your-mouth” center is creamy and smooth, reminiscent of rustic triple cream cheeses, with a salty and slightly acidic taste. It delivers delicious flavour and seductive texture, tasting of fresh milk and cream, a hint of soft butter and faint notes of mushroom. This cheese is positively “Zen Gourmand Approved”.

This cheese does borrow its name from the famous Canadian abstract impressionist painter Jean-Paul Riopelle (1923 – 2002) who was also the island’s most famous resident.
Just months before his death, the artist agreed to lend his name to the cheese and to allow the use of one of his masterpieces on its label stipulating that one dollar from every wheel sold is donated to an education fund for the islands youth.

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I love cheese…

Anyone who knows me also knows I love cheese. Soft ones, hard ones, mouldy ones, stinky ones, blue veined ones… I love them all.
We don’t have any really great cheese shops where I live so it usually means a treck to Downtown Toronto where we have several excellent shops.
The one I frequent most, simply as a matter of convenience, not as an endorsement, is located in the St. Lawrence Market.
Extensive selection, reasonable prices and good service.
Now, I’m not a guru on cheese and will admit I often have to look up a cheese I’m not familiar with. This means I have to reach for the “World Encyclopedia of Cheese“, prominently featured on of my bookshelves.
This is a fantastic book and has a ton of information on pretty much any cheese ever made anywhere in the world. It’s beautifully illustrated and even has some decent recipes along with some essential chapters on general cheese making, cheese types and how they are made, wine and cheese pairing considerations and how to assemble the perfect cheeseboard.
This is definitely a “Zen Gourmand Approved” book any cheese lover should have on the bookshelf.

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Cedar Planked Salmon with Chardonnay

Continuing the theme of summer BBQ’s and grilling, one of my favorites, with a perennial WOW! factor on my friends and guests, is a braided, cedar planked salmon (Get the fully documented recipe from my site).

I usually serve this with rice (50% long grain and 50% Manomin, i.e. Canadian wild rice) and seasonal grilled vegetables.

This recipe does not present any real pairing challenges and a good quality Californian or Burgundian Chardonnay will complement this dish very well but if Chardonnay is not to your liking or you’d rather have a red, there are some options.

Keep in mind the following considerations:

  • Salmon is a flavourful, rich and fatty fish
  • Grilling it enhances the flavours
  • Grilling adds smokiness
  • Grilling on a Cedar board will add additional subtle or strong smoke flavours (depending on whether you water soak the board or not)
  • This recipe uses mapel syrup as well, therefore adding sweetness and caramelized flavours
  • Salt (Sea or Kosher) also plays a significant role in this recipe
  • Rice is relatively neutral but the Manomin adds some earthy flavours to the dish
  • Grilled vegetables typically have an enhanced flavour and add some acidity to the palate.

My first choice will always be a good quality, carefully oaked Californian Chardonnay. They tend to be fruit forward and can match the strong flavours of the dish. They retain sufficient acidity to cut the fattyness of the salmon and echo the acidity of the vegetables. The toasted smokey notes of oaked Chardonnay will echo the smokyness of the dish while the caramel and vanilla aromas derived from toasted oak can harmonize with the sweetness of caramelized maple syrup.

If you are leaning more towards the French style of Chardonnay, a good quality Beaune will work wonderful.

If you are a diehard red wine drinker you can’t go wrong with a New World style of Pinot Noir, preferably Californian from Sonoma, Santa Barbara or Monterey. These Pinots are fruity, have good acidity and soft tannins (harsh tannins are the enemy of fish and salt).

Here are some possibilities:

Sonoma-Cutrer Russian River Ranches Chardonnay, (LCBO 608653 ), $ 24.95

This light yellow chard displays aromas of ripe orchard and tropical fruit, buttery toasted oak notes, nuts and citrus with hints of minerals. Medium – full bodied and substantial alcohol (14.5%).

Louis Jadot Bourgogne Chardonnay , (LCBO 933077), $ 19.95

Light honey-gold in colour, this wine offers nutty, toasty oak, warm apple and dairy notes on the nose. It’s medium bodied and replays orchard fruits on the palate with balanced acidity and just a hint of residual sugar up front.

2006 Chalone Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, (LCBO 710145), $ 30.50

This medium ruby red Pinot shows good and complex intensity of cherry, light toasty oak, cedar and graphite with hints of dried meat and chocolate. This is a full bodied and slightly boozy (14.4%) style of Pinot that will really shine with this dish.

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Cheese Discoveries – Montboissie

Montboissie, Cows milk, semi-hard cheese (24%)

It is to Bernard’s credit (Nice Bistro, Whitby, ON) and his passionate persuit of fine cheeses for his restaurant that I discovered this marvel of gastronomic delight.

Produced by the Société Fromagère du Livradois in the heart of the Auvergne region, Montboissie is a pasteurized version of Morbier. Originally named after a little farm town in France.

Montboissié Cheeses
Montboissie Cheese

Montboissie is a semi-hard cheese with a layer of vegetable ash midway between top and bottom. Today, the ash is purely decorative, a nod to the method by which this cheese was once produced in Franche-Comte. Originally, the evening’s fresh curds were sprinkled with ash to prevent the formation of a rind overnight. The next morning, new curds were laid upon the thin layer of ash to finish off the wheel.
The wheel is then washed and rubbed by hand, forming a rind to protect the rich, creamy interior and create a delectably pungent aroma. Contrary to its smell it has a mild taste with a wonderful nutty aftertaste.
Perfect with tangy whites and light fruity reds.

I loved this cheese and look forward to getting my hands on some more.
If you’d like some, send me an email with your request and I’ll get you some!

Definitely “Zen Gourmand Approved”

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May 31st – Spanish Tasting Menu paired with the Wines of Spain

Enjoy an evening of Spanish food paired with the Wines of Spain and guided by Bruno Cantieni in the capacity of acting Sommelier and Zen Gourmand! This event takes place at the fabulous La Vie Restaurant located in the rolling hills just north of Uxbridge at the Highfields Country Inn and Spa. Chefs Christine and Jeremy will prepare an exquisite 5 course extravaganza starting with Tapas and Cava for Hors d’hoeuvres followed by four courses of Spanish delicacies and a 5th course consisting of a selection of fine cheeses to complete the dinner.

For full details and reservations call La Vie at 905.473.6621 or visit their website at to book your reservation online!

There are only a few seats left for this event, so please act quickly to secure your reservation.

Reception from 6 – 7 PM
Dinner starting at 7 PM

See you there!

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The Zen Gourmand Product Line

The Zen Gourmand has been messing around in the Kitchen developing some of the popular items usually exclusively produced for Spa clients of Julie Moore Spa and is now making them available to the general public under the Zen Gourmand label. Biscotti right out of the oven

I’m offering you a preview of two of the products and I am taking orders for these at this time. Just call or email me for the time being. The on-line store will go live in approximately 2 weeks.

These items make excellent gifts both personal and corporate. For corporate gifting, lables and tags can be customized with your business logo and special message!

Biscotti and Marinated Sun Dried Tomatoes

Red Wine and Herb infused Sun Dried Tomatoes in Extra Virgin Olive Oil

This is a truly Super Premium Gourmet Food item. Top quality Sun Dried Tomatoes and a secret blend of fresh herbs are simmered in Red Wine and subsequently aged for a minimum of 2 weeks with additional herbs, spices and garlick in Premium Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

These marinated sun dried tomatoes are exquisite on their own, as a finishing touch on a variety of pastas or salads, on tapas and appetizers or in marinades to suggest just a few uses.

Red Wine and Herbs infused Sun Dried Tomatoes

250 ml jar as shown, $15


These incredibly delicious biscotti will leave you craving for more and belive me if I say “One is never enough”! Availble in a wide variety, options and packaging choices.

  • Cherry – Hazelnut
  • Vanilla Tradizione
  • Chocolate – Espresso
  • Chocolate – Almond
  • Rosemary – Pecan
  • Romano – Sesame – Pine Nuts

Where appropriate, specify white or dark chocolate dipped as an option.

Six Biscotti Gift Wrapped

Six Biscotti, elegantly Cello wrapped, from $12

Biscotti in Tin

Biscotti Tin, 240g approx., from $20

Single Biscotti

Individually wrapped Biscotti, from $2, exclusively available at Julie Moore Spa

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Cheese Fondue with the Zen Gourmand

I continued my “Zen Gourmand” series of cooking demonstrations and tutored tastings on Saturday January 12th with an authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue and a tasting of three appropriate whites. Traditional convention pairs cheese fondue with wines such as Fendant, Riesling, Veltliner, Gewürtz and Pinot Gris. I chose a Peller Estates Signature Series Pinot Gris 2006 1), a Hillebrand Artist Series 2006 Gewürztraminer 2) and the Peller Estates French Cross Dry White Vidal 3) which I often use a my standard white cooking wine.

For the full story, visit Cheese Fondue – Traditional Swiss Style.

My tasting notes on the wines will be posted here shortly.

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Cheese Fondue – Traditional Swiss Style

The Zen Gourmand series of cooking demonstrations and tutored tastings continued on Saturday January 12th with an authentic Swiss Cheese Fondue and a tasting of three appropriate whites. Traditional convention pairs cheese fondue with wines such as Fendant, Riesling, Veltliner, Gewürtz and Pinot Gris. I chose a Peller Estates Signature Series Pinot Gris 2006 1), a Hillebrand Artist Series 2006 Gewürztraminer 2) and the Peller Estates French Cross Dry White Vidal 3) which I often use a my standard white cooking wine.

Authentic Swiss Cheese FondueThe evening got under way by cracking a bottle of Ice Cuvée (see Linzer Torte post) to get everybody in the swing. It didn’t take long for the cheeses to make an appearance for sampling as well. This included Gruyere, Emmental, Appenzeller and some pretty potent Vacherin.

While the participants were still sampling cheeses I set out to pour the wines for a blind tasting (bottles carefully wrapped in aluminum foil and at proper service temperature).

Palates cleared with bread and water, the tasting proceeded and the results were not unexpected with the Pinot Gris the winner while the Gewürtz was a bit of a disappointment barely nudging out the FX Dry.

Once the fondue was prepared (using the FX Dry as the wine component) the participants had an opportunity to evaluate the wines once more on the basis of how well they paired with the fondu.

The consensus was again in favour of the Pinot Gris with the others sharing second place.

The fondue itself was a hit and the participants were polite enough not to lick the pot at the end 🙂

You can download the recipe here.

Winemaker’s notes:

1) Hint of copper colour with a fresh, aromatic nose of peach, melon, orange and banana with just a hint of white pepper spice. A medium-bodied wine with a soft, opulent mouth-feel and flavours of honeydew melon, pear and peach. A summer-fresh finish with flavours of green apple, lemon and pear

2) Intense floral aromas and lychee notes make this classically styled Gewürztraminer easy to identify. The palate is weighty with great floral notes and a hint of honeydew.

3) Pale yellow straw; Cooked pear and yellow apple aroma. Off-dry with soft round fruit flavours and light tropical fruit notes. Easy drinking wine.

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Linzer Torte & Champagne

Saturday Nov. 17th saw another successful evening of cooking demonstrations and a tutored tasting of sparkling wines with the Zen Gourmand.

The evening started out with the wine tasting. The three sparkling wines tasted were the Peller Estates Cuvée Niagara Brut 1), Trius Brut VQA 2) and the Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée VQA 3). The latter one being the clear winner.

Linzer Torte SliceThe Linzer torte was a great hit as well. I had one made up beforehand using black currant (cassis) jam which is what the earliest recorded recipes were calling for. For the actual demonstration I used the more conventionally used raspberry jam. When the demo torte was ready to eat (a bit warm still), the consensus voted for the raspberry version. Personally, I prefer the more sophisticated and a bit tarter taste of the black currant version. If you are interested in trying your hand at one of these fabulous creations, you can download the recipe here.


Signature Series Ice Cuvee VQA1) Peller Estates Cuvée Niagara Brut:  A medium-bodied sparkling wine exhibits tiny bubbles with apple, citrus and floral aromas. On the pallet echo juicy green apples and pear followed by a refreshing citrus finish.

2)  Trius Brut VQA : A medium-bodied sparkling wine offering pretty lively mousse, refreshing acidity and follows through with citrus, apple and yeasty notes.

3) Peller Estates Signature Series Ice Cuvée VQA: A brilliant yellow/straw coloured sparkling wine exhibiting aromas of apricot and ripe apple with hints of honey and yeast. These are followed by tropical fruits on the palate and a refreshing sweet grapefruit finish.

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