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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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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Rubbing it in

I’m having a great time this summer trying out all kinds of different ways to grill and BBQ foods.
Earlier on I posted my secret rib recipe.
Well, I have another one now and the title of this post should give you a clue.
I finally decided to try ribs on my grill without precooking them and rubbing them instead. In doing so I discovered 2 things.
1. It’s easier
2. They taste even better
Granted, you have to like your grilled meats boldly flavoured and I’m not talking about just drowning then in some BBQ sauce or smoking them with some exotic or raunchy woods.

The other neat thing about rubbing your ribs is that there is really no wrong way to rub the ribs. Essentially you can just o through your pantry or cupboards and see what you’ve got that makes any sense. After that, and providing you have some stuff to play with, you can impart your ribs with a variety of flavours and call them “Cajun”, “South Western”, “Mediterranean”, “French Prevençal” or whatever depending on what you are going to mix up for the occasion.

Here is my ZenGourmand version:

Makes about 250ml (1 cup) which is enough to rub 2 rack of baby pork back ribs.
50 ml (4 tblsp) fresh rosemary leaves, ground up in a mortar (crushed if all you have is dry)
50 ml (4 tblsp) fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped (use dry if you don’t have fresh)
50 ml (4 tblsp) freshly cracked black pepper (use ground white if you want to be more French)
5 bay leaves, crumbled as fine as you have patience for
8-12 juniper berries* (this can be a challenge to get unless you pick them yourself or try your healthfood store)
25 ml (2 tblsp) ground cumin
25 ml (2 tblsp) salt

Now mix this all up thoroughly. If you are making this ahead of time, or if you are multiplying the recipe to last you all season, place the ingredients in a jar of appropriate size, close with a tight fitting lid, shake it well to thoroughl blend all the seasonongs and store at room temperature.

If you are going to do the ribs the same day, take your ribs and rub your creation onto them on both sides and on the ends, patting them to make the rub stick. Don’t be shy, use lots.

If you are in a hurry, you can proceed to grill your ribs right away but if you want a more sensational taste and have the time, place them in suitable dish, cover them with foil and “marinate” them in the fridge for 4 hour or more. Just remove them sufficiently ahead of time to let them come up to room temperature before tossing them on the grill.

So now we get to the grilling part.
Does your grill have a smoking chamber? Great. Soak a good load of your favorite wood chips (mesquite, hickory, chipotle), and load up the smoke chamber. Keep enough chips soaked and ready to toss in the smoker over the time it takes to cook the ribs, about 1.5 – 2 hours.
Fire up your grill full blast on the side with the smoker only. Get the smoke happening but then keep the grill at 180 C (350 F). Put the ribs on the grill and slowly cook for 1.5 – 2 hours depending on your grill. After about 30 minutes, start basting (mopping) them with a suitable and complimentary BBQ sauce (try to match the smoke and the sauce to the ingredients). For the ZenGourmand rub, use mesquite chips and a mesquite sauce or chipotle chips and chipotle sauce.
This accomplishes two things.
1) It prevents your ribs from drying out
2) It gives the an additional flavour attitude and a nice looking glaze

<>Don’t forget to turn the ribs once in a while and top up the smoker.
The ribs are ready whee they look read and the meat wiggles from the bone.


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Ribs on the BBQ – My secret recipe..

There are as many ways to do ribs on the grill as there are grills, I’m sure. Maybe you don’t need yet another recipe because yours is the all-time award winning recipe handed down from generation to rib eating generation.

Well, I’ve tried dozens of them and ended up cooking up my own secret recipe. Needless to say, the secret changes every time I make ribs on the BBQ, but the main theme stays the same.

Here goes…

Get yourself some ribs. Back, side, baby back, beef, frozen or not; whatever turns your crank. The recipe does 2 racks approximately, so adjust quantities to suit. Make sure the ribs are at room temperature when you start.

Preheat your stove or BBQ to 180 C (350 F).

While it’s heating up make up this fabulous marinade:

6 cloves garlick, smashed
2 small onions, minced and sauteed in butter
2 bay leaves, whole or crumbled
45 ml (1.5 oz) maple syrup
45 ml (1.5 oz) Ketchup
2 tblsp Worcestershire sauce
1 lime, juice only
3 tblsp red wine vinegar
150 ml (2/3 cup) Chipotle/Beer BBQ sauce
150 ml (2/3 cup) Beer, preferably dark
3 tblsp brown sugar
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, more if you like your ribs on fire
1 tsp fresh cracked black pepper

Mix the whole thing up and baste your ribs with it on both sides.
Place the ribs bone up in a roasting pan or other fire proof dish just big enough to hold them.
Pour remaining marinade over ribs and cover with aluminum foil.
Bake for 1 – 1.5 hrs. in the preheated oven or on the grill.

Once cooked, cool and remove from the marinade, retaining the marinade.

Now grill the ribs over medium heat or even indirect heat depending on the kind of grill you own, turning and basting the ribs a couple of times until done, about 20 minutes max. If you have a smoke box, by all means put it to good use as well.
While the ribs are on the BBQ make the dipping sauce by reducing the marinade in a small saucepan until it sticks to the back of a spoon.
Serve ribs and sauce with your favorite sides and enjoy with a decent glass of red or your favorite brew.


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