"A gourmet who thinks of calories is like a tart who looks at her watch." - James Beard


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Beer Baron - Trick or Treat with Big Rig Brewing

The Beer Baron is back! This post comes from Matt and you can find him on Twitter & Instagram @geekcanuck

I’m normally not crazy about pumpkin beers that come out at this time of year, as they tend to just be ales overwhelmed by pumpkin pie spices. However, when I saw that Big Rig Brewing’s Tales from the Patch was billed as a “spiced pumpkin porter”, I couldn’t resist. After all, my love of darker beers -- particularly stouts and porters -- is well documented.

I decided to have it with my Thanksgiving dinner alongside the Clockwatching Tart’s amazing spatchcocked turkey and was immediately intrigued and impressed. The maltier, more robust backbone of the porter stood up to the pumpkin spices well and the mouthfeel was silky smooth and beguiling. It was even better than advertised and a quick check back to the can revealed that it wasn’t just a spiced porter, but a spiced MILK porter, which uses lactose (aka milk sugar) to impart a lovely, milky smoothness.

Clearly, I needed to talk to the brewmaster responsible.

“It’s become a tradition that started when I was still working at a brewery out west. Every year, I’d make a different pumpkin beer for my wife, so I’ve tried quite a few variations. I’m happy to say she likes this one,” says Big Rig Brewery brewmaster and co-owner Lon Ladell, who was kind enough to answer my geeky questions about his beer.

According to Lon, the idea behind Tales from the Patch was to create a beer that emulated the flavors of pumpkin pie with whipped cream, hence the lactose.

“Porter is a style of beer that already lends itself to some of the flavours that we wanted. We used crystal malt to give it a bit of a sweet, caramel kind of note and then added some chocolate and biscuit malt to give it that kind of graham cracker crust layer,” says Lon.

As for the spices and the pumpkin itself, Lon and the Big Rig team didn’t treat it much differently than anyone else making homemade pumpkin pie.

“We used a couple of local farms. We go and actually pick some of the pumpkins ourselves and then buy the rest. It was a lot of fun. Once we got them, we broke them apart and scooped out all the innards, cut them into four or five pieces, then we put cinnamon, cloves, allspice and brown sugar on them and then roast them in our ovens at one of our restaurants. It’s exactly how you make pumpkin pie,” says Lon.

Between the roasted maltiness of the porter, the spices used on the pumpkin and the finishing touch of the lactose, Tales from the Patch is nicely balanced, unique, and -- most of all -- delicious. It definitely goes down as an absolute Halloween treat and something I hope to find again next year (even if Lon has to brew a different pumpkin beer for his wife).

P.S. If you happen to get a little caramel square this Halloween, you could do worse things than pairing it with Tales from the Patch, assuming you can track some down at the LCBO.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Cranberry Sauce

Fresh cranberry sauce was one of the first things I learned how to make and it was my contribution to our family Thanksgiving dinner for years.  

And it's SO easy! There's no need to buy canned or pre-made sauce.  All you need is a $2.00 bag of fresh cranberries, some sugar and some water to make a tasty sauce.  I added a few extra flavours but they're totally optional. 

This recipe makes a lot of cranberry sauce, but it keeps for months in the fridge or freezer so use the whole bag.

When you cook the cranberries you'll hear them pop.  Cranberries are full of pectin so the sauce will thicken up as it cools.  

You can make this ahead and chill it for Thanksgiving day!

Here's the recipe: 

340 g (12 oz) bag fresh cranberries, rinsed well
1 cup water
3/4 cup - 1 cup sugar 
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (optional)
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest (optional)

Place the cranberries, water, sugar, ginger and zest in a medium pot. Cover and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes until cranberries pop.  Remove from heat and cool.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Road Trip - Grand Rapids

Back in 2012 we visited Grand Rapids, Michigan for the first time and we loved it!  At the time it was the #1 beer city in the USA.  Since it is less than 4 hours from home, we had to check it out.

This summer, circumstances conspired to get us back there again.  We wanted to see Dolly Parton on tour but the dates close to home were on weeknights meaning booking a day off work so we could stay overnight rather than drive 2 hours home after a concert.  But she was playing Grand Rapids on a Saturday night, so we could make a mini-vacation out of it! 

Some things have changed a lot since we were last in Grand Rapids.  It's still a beautiful, clean, vibrant city, but there are so many new breweries, bars and restaurants.  The hotel we stayed in had only been open for two weeks!  We visited lots of new places and some old favourites from our last trip.  Here are the highlights:

We stayed at the brand-new Homewood Suites downtown.  The hotel is nice and the location is fabulous.  All the rooms have a full kitchen.  The building is a converted furniture warehouse and has some odd features, like interior windows that face into empty hallways, and a second-floor lobby that can be hard to find from the street.  But we really enjoyed the room and location.  We could walk anywhere downtown easily. 

But the first thing we did after checking in was hop in the car and head to Siciliano's Market for local craft beer and cider for our hotel room fridge.  Then it was off to Greyline Brewing Co. for our first drinks of the day.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Happy Hour Two for One: Negroni & Boulevardier

I'm fascinated by the world of cocktails, both classic and all the new craft cocktails being created in bars popping up all over. 

You can't read much about cocktails without coming across the Negroni, a beloved, bitter Italian aperitif. 

The first time I tasted a Negroni I was astonished that anyone would choose to drink something so bitter. I'd describe it as bracingly bitter. But, strangely, the Negroni grows on you.  And so I bought a beautiful bottle of Campari so I could have Negronis any time. 

But once you have a bottle of Campari you have to find other things to do with it. You can make a simple Campari and soda, or you can break out the bourbon and make a Boulevardier.

I prefer to buy the liquor with the most whimsical cap. 
Both the Negroni and the Boulevardier share the same basic recipe, but one is made with gin and the other with bourbon.  As you might imagine, the Boulevardier tastes sweeter and richer, while the Negroni is more crisp and sharp.  

I garnished my Negroni with the traditional orange peel but added a cherry to the Boulevardier to complement the bourbon. 

I have to admit a slight preference for the Boulevardier. The sweet depth of the bourbon offsets the bitterness of the Campari in a way I enjoy.  But in the heat of summer it's nice to have a classic Negroni for a refreshing change of pace. 

Here are the recipes, cheers!

The Negroni

1 1/2 oz London Dry Gin
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Red (sweet) vermouth

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a twist of orange peel. 

The Boulevardier

1/2 oz Bourbon
3/4 oz Campari
3/4 oz Red (sweet) vermouth

Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker over ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry or twist of orange peel. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pasta Salad with Prosciutto and Melon

I adore melon and prosciutto together.  Especially now when ripe melons are available at the markets. I also love a good pasta salad - cold pasta with vinaigrette and veggies is one of my favourite meals. 

So I decided to combine these loves in a pasta salad with prosciutto and melon. 

I received a Galia melon in my CSA box.  It's a small green melon that tastes similar to honeydew.  This salad would also be great with cantaloupe.  

I used medium shells for the pasta.  Orecchiette would also be great here.  Any short pasta will do but I like the way the shells mimic the shape of the scoops of melon.

I think this is the first time my melon baller has been used for melon!  You could certainly just dice the melon but I like the little half-balls.

For the dressing, I made a quick white wine vinaigrette right in the pasta pot after cooking and draining the pasta. This made it a one-pot meal, but you can make all the components separately if you prefer.  

I mixed the prosciutto into the salad, but it has a tendency to clump together.  I'd advise adding the proscuitto to each individual salad once it's plated so it keeps it's vibrant colour and stays separate.

The result was a wonderful, cool, refreshing, salad that made a great summer dinner.  I ate it for lunch the next day too and it kept surprisingly well.  

Here's the recipe:

For the salad:
500 grams (1 lb) medium pasta shells, orecchiette, penne or pasta of your choice
1 small Galia melon or half a medium cantaloupe or honeydew melon
1 sprig of basil leaves, sliced if large
1 green onion, thinly sliced
125 grams (1/4 lb) thinly sliced prosciutto
125 grams (1/4 lb) diced or crumbled feta or ricotta salata

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper


  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente.  Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.
  2. Meanwhile, halve the melon, remove the seeds, and use a melon baller to scrape out balls or scoops of melon. Alternatively, peel and dice the melon.
  3. In the empty pasta pot or a large bowl, combine the vinegar and red pepper flakes.  Whisk in oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
  4. Add the pasta to the dressing and toss well to combine.  Gently add the melon, basil and green onion.  
  5. Plate the salad in individual servings and top each serving with torn slices of prosciutto and cheese.  Sprinkle generously with black pepper to serve. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Road Trip - Bayfield, Ontario

Wow, it's been a while since there's been a new post on this blog! Since we moved last December there has been lots going on and now that it's summertime, we're really enjoying our new yard and garden. 

This is one of the things we've been spending time on.  Our house's previous owner planted beautiful perennial gardens so every week brings a new surprise.  

But last weekend we decided to take a break from our garden and head on a little road trip to Bayfield, Ontario.  Bayfield is a little village on the shores of Lake Huron, between Goderich and Grand Bend.  It's only about an hour from home.  We've been there on day trips several times but this time we stayed overnight at The Little Inn of Bayfield, located right on Main Street in the centre of town. 

The Little Inn is an historic property recently under new ownership and it was a perfect place to stay. We had a little room with a king sized bed on the second floor. Service at the front desk was beyond friendly and helpful. In fact, service was absolutely fantastic everywhere we went in the Inn and its restaurants and bars. 

The first thing we did when we arrived was make a beeline to the Inn's weekly Backyard BBQ, every Saturday this summer from 11:30 am until 3:30 pm or until the food is gone. It's all you can eat for $19.99 per person and the food was surprisingly delicious!  We had pulled pork, ribs, chicken, brisket, corn, potato salad, pasta salad, coleslaw, amazing biscuits, and even pie for dessert. 

We also ordered some craft beer for Matt and a bourbon sour for me.  The BBQ is served outside in a lovely back garden with plenty of sun and shade. The service was once again terrific, especially from the young man handling the grill.

Next we headed for a walk down Main Street, which is great for shopping.  And then we walked down to the marina and main beach.  There are three beaches in Bayfield and we had a lovely time swimming in the lake.

For dinner we headed to the Black Dog Village Pub. We've had lunch here many times and we were looking forward to being able to stay longer and enjoy their extensive beer and cocktail list.  Unfortunately, service wasn't quite up to their normal standards so we were only able to order one cocktail each with dinner.  

The food was fantastic though!  This cauliflower & quinoa salad was so good I can't wait to attempt to make it myself. 

After dinner we were still thirsty so we headed to the Ashwood Inn's bourbon bar.  This place has been nicely renovated and has a huge patio.  

We headed back to our Little Inn for one last cocktail in their wonderful bar.  

We had a great sleep and in the morning we were delighted to find that breakfast was included with our room rate.  The breakfast buffet had eggs, bacon, sausage, cold meats and cheeses, excellent chicken and roasted vegetables, salads and desserts, plus juice and coffee. It was an unexpected treat. 

Before leaving Bayfield we stopped at the cutest bird store I've ever seen. Porter's Hill has a great selection of bird feeders and seed, plus other great gifts. And the service is extremely knowledgeable and friendly.  We will be back here for sure. 

On the way home we stopped by one of our favourite places, Twin Pines Cider House. We've been here several times but were pleased to see they now they have a new tasting room on the main floor.  We picked up some cider and glasses and headed home. 

It's so great to have such a wonderful getaway so close to home. Bayfield is definitely close enough for a day trip, but it was very relaxing to stay overnight. We will be back soon for sure!  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Beer Baron: Christmas in June | The London Beer & BBQ Show 2016

The Beer Baron is back! This post comes from Matt and you can find him on Twitter & Instagram @geekcanuck 

The London Beer & BBQ Show has steadily been getting bigger and hoppier with each passing year. At last year’s show, I discovered Elora Brewing Co.’s Lady Friend IPA and Maclean’s Ales’ Luck & Charm Oatmeal Stout, two fantastic beers that I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy many times since. What wonderful Ontario craft beer discoveries are in store for this year? Read on to find out!

The Ontario craft beer scene certainly seems healthy and ever growing. It’s pretty amazing what has happened in the last decade. This year, my most pleasant discovery of the show was Four Fathers Brewing Co., from just north of Guelph, which is a pretty wonderful part of the province for craft beer.

There is no such thing as a bad time for Russian Imperial Stout, so despite the almost-summer heat, I couldn’t resist trying their Pyotr Chetyre Russian Imperial Stout with Cinnamon and Vanilla and I’m glad I did. Hiding it’s 8.5% abv well, it was a welcome addition to the Ontario stout scene and was nicely balanced and not at all overwhelming, despite the style and spices.

On the other end of the abv and flavour spectrum - but no less a wonderful craft beer discovery - was Highlander Brew Co.’s Beerded Lady, a delicate but lively light ale that they somehow managed not to call a session ale, despite the rising popularity of the name. Beerded Lady had a subtle sweetness and a light hop finish that would make it a perfect summer ale.


Speaking of summer, Neustadt Springs Brewery brought their Sour Kraut raspberry lager to town, which is always a nice, tart treat. While you can sometimes find it Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium in London, the brewery in quaint and adorable Neustadt, Ontario is worth a visit if you happen to be heading up to Wiarton or Tobermory and need a nice place to stop for a break. The people and the historic brewery are both top-notch, as is the beer, though it seems in need of a marketing refresh to compete in the bold new age of Ontario craft beer.

Speaking of marketing and none-too-subtle segues, we have Cameron’s Brewing from Oakville, Ontario, who just this February rebranded and launched their bold and wonderfully simplistic new labels. Cameron’s beer has always been solid but I expect their rebranding will serve them well, just as Wellington Brewing did with their own bold rebranding and subsequent growth years before.

On the newer sider of the Ontario craft beer scene, we have Whitewater Brewing Co., from the Ottawa Valley. Interestingly enough, I first tried their Midnight Stout oatmeal milk stout at the tiny but wonderful Bayfield Wine & Food Festival in May. There is nothing tiny about Midnight Stout, it is creamy, bold and inviting and - god and LCBO bureaucratic processes willing - I’ll be thrilled to see it on the LCBO shelves this fall.

While it is the London Beer & BBQ Show (and a shout out to Shmokey’s for always having the best BBQ in town), there were a couple other surprises to be had, namely in the form of booze! The Clockwatching Tart and I both love gin and the Tobermory / Georgian Bay area, so it is no wonder we were drawn to the trying a gin & tonic from Georgian Bay Spirit Co., which featured juniper sourced from the Georgian Bay area and was really quite wonderful.

Just as the Georgian Bay Spirit Co. adds local flavour to make its product special, so too do the people behind Chic Choc spiced rum, who import their rum and then add a blend of nordic spices from the Chic Choc mountain region of Quebec. Smooth and happily not sweet, Chic Choc was another nice discovery and makes an excellent dark and stormy mixed with ginger beer or dark ginger ale.

That wraps up another London Beer & BBQ Show for us. Like Christmas, it was full of wonderful surprises, amazing scents and tastes, and fantastic people - and is also followed best by a nice afternoon nap. Cheers!