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Fire When Ready! (June 18, 2007)

"Something deep in our human DNA drives us toward the primordial satisfaction of cooking over crackling flames and glowing embers. Each time we light a live fire we reconnect with generations of ancestors all the way back to the beginning of civilization." So saith Chef Jamie Purviance, a leading expert in outdoor cooking and author of three best-selling cookbooks, Weber's Art of the Grill, Weber's Real Grilling and his latest beauty, Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The art of cooking with live fire.

Indeed, archaeologists in Israel may have unearthed the oldest evidence of fire use by our ancestors. The site, on the banks of the Jordan River, dates to about 790,000 years ago. There are older sites in Africa, but the evidence from these is much more hotly contested.

The moment our ancestors discovered how to create and control fire has long occupied an iconic place in the popular imagination. Chimpanzees, our closest living ancestors, have demonstrated impressive feats of language and tool use, but fire use "is the most human skill that we have," says Nira Alperson, an archaeologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Everyone agrees about the impact that fire would have had on our ancestors though. "We know for sure that it dramatically changed their lives," says Alperson. Fire-starters would have been able to migrate to colder regions, drive away predators, get more energy from food by cooking it and enjoy a more cohesive social life. Almost sounds like today...

And you must be hungry after that fascinating bit of socio-anthropology, so let's move on and satisfy that feeling to some great ideas with food and fire! Here to help is Jamie Purviance and Weber-Stephen Products Co., who have just produced a beauty of a book, Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The art of cooking with live fire. Sure, gas grills are wildly popular; they're convenient, they're easy, and yes, there is a taste difference. But there's no mistaking the smoky aromas or the primal satisfaction of grilling over crackling flames and glowing embers…which our early ancestors knew, but to many of us is a lost art! Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The art of cooking with live fire takes the reader through all the steps to get it right; from lighting the coals to producing perfect dishes every time. There are recipes and stories from experts, and drop dead gorgeous photos. Bet that mastodon haunch didn't look as good as these pictures!

For the millions who have gas grills and love them, the annual ATCO Blue Flame Kitchen BBQ book is out again. This year's version, The Hall of Flame, contains more than 150 new BBQ recipes for every course, and every occasion! You'll find yummy burger and kabob recipes, and new twists on grilled vegetables, but wait... there's a lot more! We loved the Artichoke and Shrimp and the Corn and Black Bean Pizza recipes, Canadian Beer Biscuits and Pesto Cheese Bread! Want a Tuscan Grilled Rack of Lamb or Fresh Basil Ice Cream? So did we, and they're all here. They've all been tested the by the Blue Flame Kitchen staff home economists using natural gas barbecues, and we can tell you this is not a book you'll put down soon.

Our favourites? Those "cover girl" ribs on the front of the book and the Pomegranate Cooler that goes down so nice and easy! For more information on this and all the other best-selling cookbooks they've produced, go to

Time to fire up! Wouldn't those cavemen have loved all this…

On today's menu:

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Wild Rose Country Ribs

From the Wild West and the Blue Flame Home Economists comes this spectacular rib fest; these meaty back ribs turn out perfectly cooked with tender meat on the bone, yet crunchy and splendidly gooey on the outside. We loved them with grilled garlic bread and tangy coleslaw.

Have the hose ready!

Serves 4–6

  • ¼ cup (50 mL) paprika
  • 2 Tbsp (25 mL) dry mustard
  • 2 Tbsp (25 mL) flour
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) seasoned salt
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) freshly ground pepper
  • 4 lbs (2 kg) pork back ribs
  • ¾ cup (174 mL) apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) honey
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) cold water
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) cornstarch

To prepare rub, combine first 6 ingredients (paprika through pepper). Spread 1/3 cup (75 mL) of rub over both sides of ribs. Reserve remaining rub for sauce. Place ribs in a large foil roasting pan. Let stand for 15 minutes. Cover pan tightly with heavy-duty foil. Place pan directly on barbecue grid. Cook ribs, with lid down, over low heat on natural gas barbecue for 1¼ hours or just until ribs are tender. Meanwhile, to prepare sauce, combine vinegar, honey and reserved rub in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered for 5 minutes. Whisk together cold water and cornstarch until blended. Add to vinegar mixture, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring constantly until thickened, and bubbly, about 2 minutes; set aside. Remove ribs from pan; place ribs directly on barbecue grid. Grill ribs over low heat on natural gas barbecue, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Baste with sauce and continue grilling for 10 minutes or until ribs are richly glazed. Cut into serving pieces.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A bold, fruity red – California Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, Languedoc red


Mussels with Tomatoes, Scallions, Garlic, and Butter

You know how much we love mussels, and had a ball doing this recipe outdoors over live coals. Have the drinks and sides ready, for this is truly a quickie at 15 minutes only!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Grilling time: 6 to 8 minutes
Makes 4 servings

  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • ½ cup thinly sliced scallions
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into 3 equal pieces
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds live mussels, rinsed and debearded
  • 2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 baguette, torn into bite-size pieces
  1. Prepare a two-zone fire for high heat (see below)
  2. In a 9×13-inch, heavy-duty foil pan combine the tomatoes, scallions, butter, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Mix well. Scatter the mussels over the tomato mixture. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and crimp the edges to capture the steam.
  3. Place the pan over direct high heat and cook, with the lid open, until the steam forces the shells open, 6 to 8 minutes. Discard any mussels that do not open within 10 minutes of cooking time (they are unsafe to eat).
  4. Carefully pour the mussels and all the liquid into a large serving bowl, toss gently with the parsley, and serve warm. Dip the pieces of bread into the liquid.

*Recommended procedures for setting up a two-zone fire: Get coals started until they are lightly covered with ash. Spread the coals in a tightly packed, single layer across one-half to three-quarters of the charcoal grate. Put the cooking grate in place, close the lid and let the coals burn down to the desired heat, leave all vents open. This is an efficient charcoal arrangement for a wide array of foods; it combines both direct (over the coals) and indirect (close but not over coals) heat.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A medium-bodied white with good acidity and a touch of sweetness – German Riesling Kabinett, Ontario off-dry Riesling, Alsace Pinot Gris


Melted Onions

Plan ahead with these melt-in-your mouth nuggets. You never knew onions could be so utterly delectable, and yes... they are. You'll need to stay tuned for the cooking, but on a nice day with good company and cool beverages, we can't think of a better use of time!

Prep time: 10 minutes
Grilling time: 1¼ to 1¾ hours
Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 6 medium yellow onions (skin on), 8 to 10 ounces each, about the size of a tennis ball
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh Italian parsley
  1. Prepare a two-zone fire for medium heat (see directions above).
  2. With the onions still in their skins, place them on the charcoal grate against the charcoal. Close the lid and cook the onions until very tender, 1 to 1½ hours. Occasionally swap the positions of the onions for even cooking and turn the blackened skins away from the charcoal. When very tender, the onions will be blackened in spots all over and a knife blade will slide in and out of each onion like it is a ripe peach. Some onions may take longer than others.
  3. At this point, to finish cooking the onions, you will need to add more charcoal to the fire for medium heat.
  4. Remove the onions from the grill and let cool completely. Carefully remove the skin from each onion, being careful to leave the root ends intact so they hold the layers of the onions together. Cut each onion lengthwise through the stem and root ends.
  5. When the fire is ready, put the cooking grate in place. In a 9×13-inch, heavy-duty foil pan over direct medium heat, melt the butter. Carefully add the onions in a single layer and season with the salt and pepper. Using tongs, turn the onions in the butter to coat them.
  6. Slide the pan over indirect medium heat and cook, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the onions are very tender and just beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes, carefully turning the onions once or twice. If desired, to keep the onions warm, cover the pan with foil and let the onions continue to cook over indirect heat for as long as 30 minutes. Using insulated mitts, remove the pan from the grill. Splash the vinegar and sprinkle the parsley over the onions. Serve warm.


Porcini Burgers with Tomato and Pesto

Surprise! Dried porcini mushrooms are the secret in these gourmet burgers. The intense flavour perfectly matches the whiff of charcoal and tangy pesto. You'll do this recipe again and again!

Prep time: 15 minutes
Grilling time: 8 to 10 minutes
Makes 4 servings

  • ½ cup dried porcini mushroom pieces, about ½ ounce total
  • 1½ pounds ground chuck (80% lean)
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp prepared basil pesto
  • 4 hamburger buns
  • 1 cup shaved (chiffonade) green or red lettuce
  • 1 ripe tomato, cut into ¼-inch slices
  1. In a small saucepan bring about 2 cups of water to a boil. Add the dried mushroom pieces, mix briefly, remove the saucepan from the heat, and let the mushrooms soak until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and gently squeeze out the excess water. Finely chop them, discarding any tough stems.
  2. In a medium bowl gently combine the ground chuck with the mushrooms, garlic, salt, pepper, and vinegar until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Gently shape the meat into 4 patties of equal size and thickness, about ¾ inch thick. With your fingertips or thumb, make a shallow depression about 1 inch wide in the center of each patty so the centers are about ½ inch thick. This will help the patties cook evenly and prevent them from puffing on the grill.
  3. In a small bowl mix the mayonnaise and pesto.
  4. Prepare a two-zone fire for high heat (see directions above).
  5. Brush the cooking grate clean. Grill the patties over direct high heat, with the lid closed as much as possible, until cooked to medium, 8 to 10 minutes, turning once when the patties release easily from the grate without sticking, and swapping their positions as needed for even cooking. Move the patties over indirect heat to keep them warm. With the lid open, grill the buns, cut sides down, over direct heat until toasted, 20 to 30 seconds.
  6. Lightly brush the bottom of each bun with some of the mayonnaise mixture. Place the lettuce and tomato slices on top. Put the patties on top of the tomatoes and spread the remaining mayonnaise on top. Crown the burgers with the tops of each bun and serve warm.

Tony's wine recommendation:
A medium-bodied Pinot Noir or Gamay – Oregon or New Zealand Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Villages or named village Beaujolais, Ontario Gamay


Caramelized Peaches with Lemon and Blueberries

Now really, can you think of a better way to eat more fresh fruit than this recipe? No, we couldn't either, and furthermore, it's a perfect ending to an al fresco summer meal. Feeling really decadent? A scoop of the best vanilla matches the lemon curd and elevates this dish to celestial heights!

Prep time: 10 minutes
Grilling time: 8 to 12 minutes
Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 4 large peaches, firm but ripe, halved and pitted
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2 Tbsp dark brown sugar
  • ½ tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 6 Tbsp store-bought lemon curd
  • 2–4 Tbsp heavy cream
  • 1½ cups fresh blueberries
  1. Using charcoal briquettes, prepare a two-zone fire for medium heat (see directions above).
  2. Arrange the peaches in a single layer, cut sides down, in a 9×13-inch, heavy-duty foil pan. Scatter the butter pieces and sugar between the peaches. Add the vanilla to the pan.
  3. In a small bowl whisk the lemon curd with enough heavy cream to create a smooth, spoonable sauce.
  4. Place the pan of peaches over direct medium heat and cook, with the lid closed as much as possible, until the peaches are tender, warm and glazed, 8 to 12 minutes (depending on the size and firmness of the peaches), rolling the peaches gently in the butter mixture once. To keep the peaches warm, slide the pan over indirect heat and remove the grill's lid. When ready to serve, slide the hot pan onto a baking sheet and move to a work surface.
  5. Cut the peaches into quarters or smaller slices. Arrange in bowls with the blueberries. Serve warm with the lemon curd spooned over the top.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Ontario Vidal Icewine, Sauternes, Barsac, Riesling Beerenauslese


Pomegranate Cooler

From the ATCO Hall of Flame recipe collection comes this tasty cooler for a hot afternoon! We love the new flavour combinations and gorgeous red colour. Hint: make a double batch... "Oh, Ron, isn't it time to freshen my drink?"

Serves 8

  • 2 bottles (473 mL each) pomegranate juice, chilled
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) vodka
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) orange liqueur
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 2½ cups (675 mL) club soda

Combine pomegranate juice, vodka, liqueur and lemon juice in a large pitcher. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Stir in club soda. Serve immediately over ice cubes.


We wish to thank:

Weber-Stephen Products Co for permission to publish material and photographs from Weber's Charcoal Grilling: The art of cooking with live fire by Jamie Purviance. © 2007 Weber-Stephen Products Co. Recipe from Weber's Charcoal Grilling™. Used with permission.


The ATCO The Blue Flame Kitchen for Hall of Flame. ©2007. For more information visit

Information on early use of fire from James Randerson, news service, 29 April 2004.

Red drink photograph courtesy Creative Stock Images. For more information, visit


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

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