Wednesday, August 31, 2016
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
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.|
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!
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.
1 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
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
- Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the pasta to the dressing and toss well to combine. Gently add the melon, basil and green onion.
- 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
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
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.
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!
Sunday, June 12, 2016
I've been experimenting with gin cocktails lately. Gin is so refreshing as it gets warmer outside.
I didn't used to be a fan of gin. Although my first-ever cocktail was a Singapore Sling (when I was not quite legal age), I found gin to be a little harsh when I was younger. I particularly disliked the combination of gin and tonic, which tasted like pine trees to me.
It's amazing how our tastebuds change as we age. Now I will seek out a refreshing gin or complex bourbon cocktail on a menu instead of something safe and sweet.
This cocktail is based on the "Lady" cocktails popular after prohibition. A Pink Lady is gin, grenadine and eggwhite. A White Lady is gin, Cointreau and lemon juice. I love the White Lady, so I thought I'd try to make a Lavender Lady with lavender from my garden.
I made a lavender simple syrup by mixing a cup of sugar with a cup of water and steeping 5 sprigs of fresh lavender in the syrup as it heats. I left the lavender in the syrup to strain as it cooled, for about an hour, creating a subtle, floral syrup.
Mix 2 ounces gin, 1 ounce lavender syrup and 1 ounce fresh lemon juice in a cocktail mixer half filled with ice. Shake until the mixer is cold and frosty on the outside, about 30 seconds.
Pour the drink into a cocktail glass and garnish with a sprig of lavender. It's not a purple drink, but it is light, floral, refreshing, and very lady-like.
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Here's another Tart of the Month!
I've been slacking on my tart prep in 2016. Things have been hectic and I've had very little time for baking, but this tart is so quick and easy, it barely counts as baking at all!
I had leftover cheese and fruit from a dinner party we had, so I decided to put it all together in some puff pastry for a tasty snack.
You can use virtually any combination of cheese and fruit - blueberries and cream cheese, peaches and goat's cheese, apples and cheddar, pears and blue cheese... the possibilities are endless.
Simply slice up the fruit and place it on a sheet of thawed puff pastry.
Then top with the cheese of your choice either sliced, spread, or crumbled over the fruit
I attempted to get fancy and create a braid pattern by slicing the puff pastry in diagonal strips on either side of the filling. I should have started braiding at the bottom though.
My braid pattern didn't turn out as nicely as I'd hoped, but it's still kind of neat!
Mix an egg with a little water and brush over the pastry and sprinkle with raw sugar.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes until browned and crisp. The cheese will melt out the sides a bit but that's ok!
Slice and serve warm or at room temperature. This makes a great snack or appetizer for a party. Or even a not-too-sweet dessert, perhaps with a little whipped cream or ice cream.
Enjoy this easy tart with all the fruits coming into season soon!