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The Best Revenge! (January 8, 2009)

These days you're not taking calls from the bank manager, but you are taking the subway. Your portfolio is limp and oozing south, the case of Lafite is on hold, that month in the Bahamas may just become a last-minute week in Cuba. The social life has dwindled to the occasional early-bird movie, and there is a moratorium on manicures! But don't hock the Royce yet, darlings, take a deep breath and look back to those good times for some great ideas for opulent dinner parties! With planning, and very good friends, we can do it again this season! Ta Da!

Enter that mainstay of yore, the pot luck dinner. No tuna casserole on this menu! We've moved upmarket with a dab of caviar here, a touch of truffle there, and – oh, yes – foie gras and lobster!

Why not? Mutual Funds, mutual dinner parties. Share the load, enjoy the profits! Eating well is the best revenge, so here's a collection of our all-time best special event recipes from our favourite classic cookbooks. Put on the Ritz, and get out the glitz... one more time!

"Eloise, do have an oyster! You hoo, Ron, is there more champagne?"

On today's menu:

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Sweet Potato Chips with American-Caviar Dip

What a delightful, amusing conceit: that comforting old party standby now upgraded with handmade chips and a caviar dip! This starts the evening off on the right note; the combination of crisp and creamy, sweet and salty go perfectly with the first sip. For a more colourful spread, use a combination of black, red or white roe. If using black whitefish or lumpfish roe, don't skip the step of rinsing the eggs before combining them in the dip. From Caviar, Truffles, and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence by Katherine Alford.

Makes about 1 cup, serves 4 to 6

  • 4 cups vegetable oil for deep-frying
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled (and 1½ pounds)
  • Wondra flour for dredging
  • Fine sea salt
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • ¾ cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp minced scallions
  • ¾ cup American whitefish or lumpfish roe, well rinsed and drained if roe is black
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Pour 2 to 3 inches of oil into a large, heavy saucepan. The oil should fill the pan no more than one-third full. This will prevent the oil from bubbling over when frying the potatoes. Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 340°F. Lay out 3 layers of paper towel on a baking sheet or large pan.
  2. While the oil is heating, make the chips: Using a mandoline, slice a third of the sweet potato very thin, about 1/16 inch thick. Toss the sweet potato slices with the flour. Place a large handful of the slices in a medium-mesh sieve and shake off the excess flour. Hold the sieve over the hot oil and carefully drop the slices into the oil. (Do not look into the pot after dropping the slices, because there will be an initial blast of hot steam.) Stir the slices a couple of times as they fry. When the oil has stopped bubbling and the slices are light brown and crisp, use a skimmer to transfer them to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining slices. Season with sea salt to taste. (The chips can be made 1 day ahead and stored at room temperature in an airtight container.)
  3. To make the dip: In a medium bowl, whisk the sour cream and cream cheese together until completely smooth. Fold in the scallions and roe. Season with pepper. Serve with the chips. (To make ahead, refrigerate for up to 1 hour.)

Tony's wine recommendation:
Brut champagne or (budget considerations) Crémant de Bourgogne or d'Alsace or a very dry Spanish Cava or Ontario dry sparkling wine


Huîtres Glacées en Sabayon

We adore oysters any way we can get them, and when they're dressed in Champagne Sauce we know it's a celebration! This dish from Saveur Cooks Authentic French is adapted from their version from À Sousceyrac restaurant in Paris. Life is looking up. Open the champagne! Buy a lottery ticket! And have an oyster!

Serves 4–6

  • ¾ lb fresh spinach, trimmed and washed
  • Salt
  • 24 large oysters (about 3" in length) such as bluepoint
  • Rock salt
  • ¾ cup French champagne
  • ¾ cup fish stock
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • Optional: caviar (your budget defines the choice!)
  1. Plunge spinach in a pot of boiling salted water for about 30 seconds. Drain, squeeze dry and set aside.
  2. Shuck oysters, reserving liquor and half the shells and discarding the rest. Put oysters in a medium saucepan with oyster liquor, cover and simmer over medium-low heat until oysters are opaque and slightly firm, 1–3 minutes. Remove oysters with a slotted spoon. Strain liquor through a fine sieve, return to pan and set aside. Wash and dry oyster shells. Make a ½" bed of rock salt on 4–6 ovenproof plates and divide shells between, arranging them in a circle in the salt.
  3. Bring champagne to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes, then set aside to cool.
  4. Add fish stock to reserved oyster liquor. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until almost syrupy, 12–15 minutes then add cream and cook, stirring until reduced by two-thirds, 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. Transfer reduced champagne to the top of a double boiler over simmering water on medium-low heat. Whisk in egg yolks and cook until thick and shiny, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in fish stock mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Preheat broiler. Spread a thin layer of spinach in each shell and top with 1 oyster. Soon 1–2 Tbsp sauce over each, and broil for 3–5 minutes. Optional obscene extra: top each with a scant teaspoon of caviar. Serve hot.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Brut champagne or (budget considerations) Crémant de Bourgogne or d'Alsace or a very dry Spanish Cava or Ontario dry sparkling wine


Lord Selkirk's Lobster Benedict

This dish, from the Prince Edward Hotel in Canada's smallest province, was named for the fifth Earl of Selkirk, Thomas Douglas, who brought 800 Scottish Highlanders to PEI in 1803 to settle on his tract of land near Charlottetown. It's a far cry from haggis...

Lobster turns any dish into royalty. It's usually a luxury, but right now, there's a glut on the market, so the price is more than right. Get a few, and stretch the treasure by combining steamed lobster bits with poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. It's an elegant dish perfect for an exceptional meal, from brunch to a candlelight supper. This wicked recipe is from Great Canadian Cuisine: The Contemporary Flavours of Canadian Pacific Hotels by Anita Stewart.

Serves 4

    Orange Hollandaise Sauce
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 Tbsp orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp grated orange zest
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp dry mustard
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
    Lobster Benedict
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup diced lobster meat
  • ½ cup (10 oz – 300 g package) fresh spinach, rinsed, dried and coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 English muffins
  • 1 Tbsp minced chives

To prepare Hollandaise:
In a food processor or blender, combine egg yolks, orange juice, lemon juice, orange zest, salt and mustard. Process for 10 to 15 seconds, or until thoroughly combined.

In a small saucepan, melt butter till bubbling but not browned. With the food processor running, add hot butter in a thin, steady stream to egg mixture. Keep hollandaise warm over simmering water. Makes 1 cup.

To prepare Lobster Benedict:
In a small skillet, melt butter. Over medium-low heat, gently sauté shallot and garlic until tender, about 3 minutes. Add lobster meat and spinach, stirring and cooking just till spinach begins to wilt, about 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in white wine and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm.

Poach eggs in a pot of simmering salted water. Split and toast muffins.

To serve, place two muffin halves on each warmed plate and spoon lobster mixture onto them. Top each muffin half with a poached egg. Spoon on Orange Hollandaise Sauce. Sprinkle with chives.

Tony's wine recommendation:
white Burgundy, Alsace Pinot Gris, white Rhône, Grüner Veltliner


Tournedos Rossini

This is Ron's favourite dish in the entire food universe – we make it for special, very special occasions. The story of the name is that the composer Rossini, a devoted fan of truffles, asked a chef to prepare this dish. The chef balked, suggesting that it was ill-conceived. The maestro said that if the chef was offended, the maestro himself could prepare the dish quickly while the chef's back was turned. (Other stories have it that the chef said he could not present such a dish, so the maestro said very well, they would turn their backs while he served it.) The word tournedos thus supposedly comes from the French phrase tourner le dos, to turn one's back.

Well, we certainly won't, and neither will you. From Caviar, Truffles, and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence by Katherine Alford

Serves 4

  • 2/3 cup Rainwater Madeira
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 2 cups veal stock
  • 1½ tsp arrowroot mixed with 1¼ tsp water (optional)
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • ¾ tsp kosher salt, plus salt to taste
  • ½ tsp red wine vinegar
  • ½ to 1 ounce fresh or preserved black winter truffle
  • Four 4-ounce fillet of beef (tenderloin) medallions, about 1 ½ inches thick, at room temperature
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • Four 1-ounce grade-A or -B duck foie gras medallions
  1. To make the sauce: In a saucepan, combine the Madeira, shallot, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until the wine is reduced to a light syrup coating the shallots. (The wine may flame briefly).
  2. Pour the stock into the wine reduction and simmer until reduced by half. Skim off any impurities that rise to the surface. If the sauce is not thick enough to nap the meat, whisk the arrowroot mixture in the sauce and bring to a full boil to thicken. Lower heat and whisk in the butter. Season with the ¼ tsp salt, the pepper and vinegar. Slice the truffle paper-thin with a truffle slicer, mandoline or very sharp knife and add to the sauce. Set aside and keep warm in a double boiler over hot water for up to 1 hour. (You may need to adjust he consistency with a bit of warm water if the sauce thickens.)
  3. Meanwhile, pat the beef medallions dry with paper towels and season one side of the meat with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy skillet over low heat. Add the oil to the pan, increase the heat to high and place the met, seasoned-side down, in the pan. Sauté until the steaks are a rich burnished brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Season the remaining side with salt and pepper to taste, turn, reduce the heat slightly and brown the other side, 3 to 4 minutes. Brown the sides of the medallions by standing them on their sides. Transfer the meat to a plate while you sear the foie gras.
  4. Wipe out the skillet and heat it over high heat. Season the foie gras medallions with salt and pepper to taste. Add the medallions to the pan and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until a deep brown on the bottom. Drain off any excess fat. Turn the foie gras with a metal spatula and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until the foie gras softens but still has some resilience. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
  5. To serve, remove any strings from the medallions and place the medallions on warmed plates or a platter. Top with the foie gras and nap with the sauce, making sure that a couple of slices of truffles rest on each serving of foie gras. Serve immediately.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Red Burgundy, New Zealand or Oregon Pinot Noir


Mushroom and Haricot Vert Salad with Black-Truffled Vinaigrette

A touch of luxe elevates this tasty recipe to almost dizzying heights; suddenly salad is sublime. It's a great dish to do ahead for large groups and is an excellent accompaniment to the Tournedos Rossini! From Caviar, Truffles, and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence by Katherine Alford.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1½ Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1½ tsp minced fresh thyme
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 6 Tbsp black truffle olive oil
  • 12 ounces haricots verts or tender green bean, trimmed
  • 12 ounces cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbsp minced shallot
  • 1 small endive (preferably red)
  1. To make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, whisk the mustard, vinegar, thyme, salt and pepper together. Gradually whisk the truffle oil into the vinegar to make an emulsified sauce. Set aside.
  2. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the beans until crisp-tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Darin and plunge the beans into ice water to stop the cooking and set their color. Drain and pet dry.
  3. To serve, toss the beans, mushrooms, shallot, and vinaigrette together in a bowl. Remove 3 or 4 of the outer leaves of the endive. Cut them into diagonal slices and add to the salad. Line salad plates with the remaining endive leaves and place the salad in the center.

Tony's wine recommendation:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Pouilly-Fumé



From Savour Cooks Authentic French comes this magnificent finale; they tell us that the legendary French chef Marie-Antoine Carême (1784–1833) was noted for creating monumental pièces montées, or edible centerpieces. Among these was the croquembouche – whose name literally means "crunch in the mouth," for reasons that become obvious when you chomp down on one. Carême once proposed that confectionary was a branch of architecture; this extravagant dessert is a good illustration of what he meant!

We have a terrific "cheat" on this one: Costco sells buckets of fabulous frozen, cream-filled profiteroles... and yes, you can keep them frozen until the last moment. See note below.

Serves 16

    Pâte À Choux
  • 12 Tbsp butter
  • Salt
  • 2 cups flour
  • 9 eggs
  • 1½ cups milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 16 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups sugar
  1. For pâte à choux, preheat oven to 425°F. Combine 1½ cups water, butter and ¼ tsp salt in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove pan from heat, add flour all at once, and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until mixture forms a thick dough and pulls away from sides of pan, 1–2 minutes. Return pan to heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 1–2 minutes. Remove pan from heat, allow dough to cool 5 minutes, then vigorously beat in 8 eggs, one at a time, making sure each egg is completely incorporated. Dough will come together and be thick, shiny and smooth, and pull away from sides of pan. Dip two spoons in water, shake off excess water, and scoop a walnut-size piece of dough with one spoon. Use other spoon to push dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of dough, setting pieces 1-inch apart on baking sheet. Lightly beat remaining egg with a pinch of salt and brush each piece of dough with it. Bake until puffed and light brown, about 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350°F and continue to bake until well browned, about 15 minutes. Allow puffs to cool.
  2. For filling, bring 1 cup of the milk and the sugar just to a boil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk remaining ½ cup milk, egg yolks, and cornstarch together in a large bowl. Slowly pour half the hot milk into yolk mixture. Whisking constantly, then return mixture gradually to milk in pan, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until it thickens and just returns to a boil. Stir in vanilla and transfer to a bowl; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until cold. In a large bowl, beat butter until plate and fluffy. Add cold filling and beat until smooth, 3–4 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. Spoon filling into pastry bag fitted with a plain ½" tip (or spoon into heavy sealable plastic food bag, and cut off one of the corners). Using a chopstick, gently poke a hole in the flat side of each baked and cooked puff. Fill each puff with filling.
  3. For caramel, put 2 cups sugar and ½ cup water in each of two shallow saucepans and stir to mix. Cover and cook over medium heat until sugar turns amber, 15–20 minutes. (Lift covers to check color of caramel after 7 minutes. Sugar will be come thick and bubbly and then begin to turn amber. Swirl saucepans to distribute color. Do not stir.) Remove from heat. Reheat caramel when it becomes too thick. (Making caramel in two saucepans will allow you to re-warm half of the caramel, keeping it fluid, while you work with the other half.)
  4. To assemble, dip top of 1 filled puff at a time in hot caramel using tongs or a chocolate-dipping fork. As you dip, place puffs glazed side up on a tray lined with plastic wrap. Form base of Croquembouche with 12–14 glazed and cooled puffs, sticking them together with additional dabs of caramel. Add puffs layer by layer, using fewer at each level as if building a pyramid, to form a hollow cone. Allow caramel to cool slightly, until it is the consistency of honey. With a spoon, drizzle thin strings of caramel around cone.

NOTE: If using frozen commercial profiteroles, start with Step 3. Pluck each frozen pastry out of the container, and follow instructions in Step 4. Not as wonderful as those from scratch, but you do save hours of work.

Tony's wine recommendation:
10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Cream Sherry, Commandaria from Cyprus


We wish to thank the following for permission to publish photographs and material:

Raincoast Books, Vancouver, BC and Chronicle Books, San Francisco for Caviar, Truffles, and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence, by Katherine Alford, photographs by Ellen Silverman. Text © 2001 by Katherine Alford. Photographs © 2001 by Ellen Silverman.

Raincoast Books, Vancouver, BC and Chronicle Books, San Francisco for Saveur Cooks Authentic French, by the editors of Saveur Magazine. © 1999 by Meigher L.P.

Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver/Toronto for Great Canadian Cuisine: The Contemporary Flavours of Canadian Pacific Hotels, by Anita Stewart. © 1999 by Canadian Pacific Hotels.


Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

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