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My Own Chef, One on One! (October 20, 2006)

Ever wanted to take private cooking lessons... your own chef and master teacher instructing you in simple, contemporary food? Well, us too, and with perfect timing along comes Chef John Ash with his new book, Cooking One on One.

You'll remember Ash's first book, From the Earth to the Table, which won the IACP award for Best American Cookbook and Cookbook of the Year. He also writes a regular column for the LA Times syndicate and teaches at the Culinary Institute of America and other venues around the world. In 1990 Ash joined Fetzer Vineyards as their culinary director, and in his spare time hosts a local talk radio show about food. What a guy!

We started by reading through Cooking One on One, and loved the introduction by Chef Ash: "You may or may not consider yourself a cook, but I know you're an eater. You eat three times a day, or two or five, and if you didn't like it, you wouldn't be reading this book!"

True, John... but who has the time for the elaborate meals we enjoy in good restaurants? And yes, on the way home from the too long hours in the office followed by the gym, we, uh, pick up something to eat in a hurry.

John answered us: "You don't need to learn how to cook. You just need to learn what to cook! And that's where this book comes in."

The introduction follows with questions and answers for today: "How can cream or butter be healthy? What about the foreign ingredients? Can I skip the part about organics, sustainable aquaculture, etc., and how come the so called simple recipes have 17 ingredients?"

Ash answers them all, and we're hooked. Moving into Part One, Flavor-Maker Lessons, we learn all about kinds of salsa – from the basic salsa fresca to fresh cranberry and tangerine salsa to roasted lemon salsa – and the foods to go with them. A great start, and it gets better; there's more, much more, and everything is explained along the way. Exotic ingredients suddenly are not so alien any more, and techniques are described so that the greenest cook will not have a problem.

Useful information is scattered through the book – for instance, how to save egg yolks, how do I buy good salmon, and all about soy foods! There is information in this book that you would really have to search for otherwise. A whole fascinating chapter on oven drying and another on soup basics, and the final... Simple Sophisticated Desserts.

We'll stop here and give you some wonderful recipes. But you need to take a look yourself at Cooking One on One. You just might want your own Chef Ash in your kitchen; this time we can all happily share!

On today's menu:

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Grilled Shrimp Wrapped in Soppressata with Mango Hot Mustard Sauce

Chapter 16 is devoted entirely to shrimp. Seems Americans eat more shrimp per capita than any other nation, and Ash explains – with photographs – the different types available in five fascinating pages. The wonderful-looking recipes range from Quesadilla Marinara to Shrimp with Green Curry Sauce, from a Shrimp with Vinegar Cream to a wicked Paella.

The grilled shrimp looked so tasty that we tried and loved it, and knew you would too! Ash says, "This is one of those combinations that sounds weird but is a crowd-pleaser. You can serve it as an appetizer or as a main course with steamed jasmine rice. Soppressata is a cured Italian sausage similar to salami. It has a wonderful, peppery flavour and is generally available at good delicatessens. Ask for it very thinly sliced – it will stay wrapped around the shrimp better during grilling."

Serves 4 as a main course

  • 16 small fresh basil leaves
  • 16 large (16–20 size) shrimp, peeled, deveined and brined if you like
  • 16 thin slices of soppressata
  • Mango Hot Mustard Sauce (recipe follows)

Prepare a charcoal fire or preheat a gas or stovetop grill. Place a basil leaf on the side of each shrimp and then wrap the shrimp with a slice of the soppressata. Grill the shrimp until just cooked through. The center should be very slightly translucent – you can check with the point of a small knife. Serve immediately with the sauce spooned over or arranged for dipping.

Mango Hot Mustard Sauce

Makes about 1 cup

  • ½ cup pureed ripe mango (from 1 medium mango) or canned
  • ¼ cup fresh tangerine or orange juice
  • ¾ tsp Chinese hot mustard powder, or to taste
  • 2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp dry white wine
  • 1 Tbsp canola or other neutral flavoured oil
  • Salt to taste

Combine the mango, tangerine juice, mustard powder, lime juice, vinegar, and wine in a blender and pulse 3 or 4 times to puree and combine. Add the canola oil and pulse 3 or 4 times more to make a smooth sauce. Season with salt. Set the sauce aside for at least 2 hours while the flavors marry and build. The sauce can be warmed gently but do not simmer or boil. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Something with good acidity and a little sweetness - which suggests Riesling of Spätlese quality or off-dry Vouvray.


Mussels Baked with Asian Pesto

This recipe is so simple and so good; make a double batch for your next cocktail party!

Ash tells us that "This is a fun little appetizer or hors d'oeuvre. It can be assembled as much as a day ahead, refrigerated, and then baked at the last minute. Be sure to serve with little cocktail forks or spoons so that you can get every bit of the pesto out of the shell. (Actually, the best tool for this job is your tongue.) And of course, feel free to substitute any pesto you like for the Asian Pesto. The bonus in this recipe is that you also get the mussel stock, which is a delicious base for seafood soups and sauces. Strain it through a fine sieve and freeze for use later on."

Serves 6 as an appetizer

  • 3 pounds fresh mussels
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Asian Pesto (recipe follows)

Wash the mussels thoroughly and pull off the "beards" (the little bit of seaweed that might be clamped in the shell). Transfer the mussels to a large saucepan or pot and add the wine, butter and parsley. Cover tightly and cook over high heat, stirring a couple of times, until the mussels open, about 3 minutes. Drain the mussels, reserving the broth for another use, and discard any mussels that don't open.

When they are cool enough to handle, remove the top shell from each mussel. Loosen the meat with your fingers or a fork (to make it easier to eat) and arrange the mussels in their half shells on a baking sheet lined with a loosely crumpled sheet of foil or on a bed of coarse salt (this will help keep the mussels upright.) Lift each mussel and place a teaspoon or two of the pesto in the shell and lightly press the meat back in place. If not baking immediately, cover the entire sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

At serving time, preheat the oven to 400°F. Bake the mussels (plastic wrap removed, of course!) just until the pesto begins to bubble and the mussels are heated through, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve immediately.

Asian Pesto

Makes about 1½ cups

You will love this pesto and find you keep it on hand to go with Chinese noodles or pasta, or a side with a poached chicken breast.

  • 3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cups packed fresh cilantro laves
  • 1 cup packed fresh mint leaves
  • 2 Tbsp peeled and fine chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 Tbsp chopped poached or toasted garlic
  • 1 tsp seeded and fine chopped Serrano chile, or to taste
  • Zest and juice of 1 medium lime
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil or to taste
  • ¼ cup chopped dry roasted unsalted peanuts or cashews
  • ½ cup or so peanut or olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Drop the basil, cilantro and mint into a pot of lightly salted boiling water for 5 seconds. Drain and immediately plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color. Drain, squeeze and dry, and chop the herbs. Transfer to a blender or food processor, and add the ginger, garlic, chile, lime zest and juice, sesame oil, and peanuts. Pulse and few times to chop and then, with the motor running, slowly add the peanut or olive oil in a thin stream, stopping few times to scrape down the sides. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Dry Gewurztraminer, Viognier, dry Vidal.


Lemon Zabaglione

Whether Zabaglione (Italian) or sabayon (French), it's an impressive and unusual but easy-to-do dessert that can be made at the very last minute if necessary. This version can be made 30 minutes or so ahead. Zabaglione is like a soufflé without the dish... or the beaten egg whites... or the baking. It's lovely served with fresh fruits spooned on the side.

Serves 6

  • 2 large whole eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 2 medium lemons (about ¼ cup juice)
  • 1/3 cup white port, Muscat, Sauternes, or other sweet dessert wine

Combine all the ingredients in the top of a double boiler and set aside. Fill the bottom of the pot with water and bring it to a simmer. Whisk the mixture until it is light and thick. Place the mixture over the simmering water and whisk vigorously until it ha tripled in volume (just eyeball this) and is thick and even lighter in colour. Total cooking and whisking time will be 6 to 8 minutes. Remove the top of the pot from the heat and whisk to cool slightly (this keeps the egg yolks from scrambling).

Serve immediately or set aside and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Use within 2 hours.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Riesling Icewine, Sauternes, Samos Muscat, Asti Spumante.


We wish to thank Random House Canada and Clarkson N. Potter/Publishers, New York for permission to publish photographs and material from Cooking One on One, by John T. Ash. © John T. Ash and Amy Mintzer. Photographs © 2004 by Noel Barnhurst.


Cropped Lemon photograph courtesy Ryland Peters and Small, New York. From Cooking with Lemons and Limes by Brian Glover. Photography by Richard Jong. Design and photographs © Ryland Peters & Small 2006.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (81 KB)




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