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The Winter of Our Contentment (November 8, 2002)


If winter hasn't hit your block, it's just up the street. Last night the temperature dropped, and this morning all – and we mean ALL – the leaves were off the chestnut tree and in the front garden. We weren't ready for this. The garden furniture was still out, and the geraniums still blooming on the deck...

We went to work fast putting the outdoors to bed for the season, raking leaves, draining pipes, stacking cushions and chairs, then collapsed in front of the season's first fire with a Manhattan in hand. Ahhhh, that's more like it.

Happily, an easy supper had been planned for later, and out it came. Ron put together some elegant finger food, dishes easily picked up and enjoyed in this cozy setting. We started with an absolutely decadent Figs Stuffed with Foie Gras Mousse, from Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence, by Katherine Alford, and went on to the best blue cheese dip in the world, a recipe we found in The Flavors of Bon Appétit 2002.

An old favourite, Caramelized Onion Tart with Sweet Curry Crust from our much-loved Gourmet Cooking for Dummies, by Charlie Trotter with Judi Carle and Sari Zermich, followed, and while we didn't think dessert was possible, our friend Jill Snider's Caramel Pecan Bars from Cake Mix Magic just happened to be on hand, making a perfect finish with the espresso.

Come on, winter – with meals like this, we're ready now!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (93 KB)


Figs Stuffed with Foie Gras Mousse

This may be the once-in-a-lifetime treat, but it's worth it all round. It's the perfect start to the perfect meal, a seduction dinner indeed. If your purse just won't allow the real thing, go ahead and substitute a good chicken liver mousse.

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 pound fresh Black Mission or green figs (500 g)
  • 2 ounces foie gras mousse (60 g)
  • 2 tsp verjus (10 mL) or
    1 tsp (5 mL) white wine vinegar diluted with 1 tsp (5 mL) water
  • 1 Tbsp sliced almonds, toasted and finely chopped (15 mL)
  1. Trim the stem end of the figs. With the tip of an apple corer, cut a small round out of the bottom of each fig and reserve. Carefully scoop about one-third of the flesh from the center of each fig and reserve.
  2. In a mixer, beat the foie gras mousse until it is light, like a buttercream icing. Put the mousse in a pastry bag* and pipe it into the figs. Plug each fig with a reserved round piece of fig. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or until the mousse is firm.
  3. In a small pan, heat the reserved fig flesh with the verjus or vinegar mixture until liquefied. Press through a fine meshed sieve to remove the seeds.
  4. To serve, cut each fig in half lengthwise and brush the cut side with the glaze. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds and serve.

*Note: a small, heavy duty plastic storage bag with the corner cut out makes a good, one use pastry bag.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
A sweet dessert wine such as Sauternes or Ontario Icewine. Or you could try a chilled glass of Malmsey Madeira.


Blue Cheese and Caramelized Shallot Dip

This is surely the ultimate, updated onion dip! After this, you'll never look back!

Make it several hours in advance so that the flavours have a chance to blend, and as a general rule allow one-quarter to one-third of a cup per person.

Makes about 2 cups

  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil (15 mL)
  • 1¼ cups thinly sliced shallots
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • ¾ cup sour cream
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, room temperature

Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots. Cover, cook until shallots are brown, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Cool.

Whisk mayonnaise and sour cream in medium bowl. Add cheese. Using rubber spatula, mash mixture until smooth. Stir in shallots. Season dip to taste with salt and pepper. Cover dip and chill until flavours blend, about 2 hours.

Can be prepared 2 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Serve chilled.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
Port is the perfect winter drink, not only by itself but served with a blue cheese. The sweetness of the port is a delicious counterpoint to the salty, savoury taste of the cheese. I recommend Graham's Late Bottled Vintage Port.


Caramelized Onion Tart with Sweet Curry Crust

Baby, it's cold outside, so we'll have supper by the fire. Charlie Trotter created this rich, sweet onion tart, and we'll be reaching for the second slice before you know it! Thanks, Charlie!

Serves 6

  • 2 cups flour (500 mL)
  • 1 tsp salt (5 mL)
  • 1 Tbsp sweet curry powder (15 mL)
  • 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp cold butter, cubed (275 mL)
  • 2/3 cup cold water (150 mL)
  • 3 large Spanish onions, julienned
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ½ cup heavy cream (125 mL)
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Place the flour, salt, sweet curry powder, and 1 cup (250 mL) of the butter in a mixing bowl. Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer (or by hand, using a dough cutter), mix on low until all the ingredients are combined and the texture is coarse. Add the water all at once and mix on low until the dough just starts to come together.
  2. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and work into a ball on a floured surface. Wrap the dough in plastic and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or until you're ready to use it.
  3. Sauté the onions in a large sauté pan with the remaining 2 Tbsp (25 mL) of butter, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes or until the onions are golden-brown and caramelized. Season with salt and pepper. Cool the onions to room temperature.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface until it's about ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. Lay the dough in an 8-inch (20 cm) tart pan, smooth it out, and cut away the excess dough.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and heavy cream. Place the cooled onions on top of the dough, pour in the cream mixture, and top with freshly ground black pepper.
  6. Bake at 375°F (190°C) for 40 to 45 minutes or until just firm to the touch and slightly golden brown. Cool slightly before cutting and serving.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
The moment you use curry in a recipe you have to think a touch of sweetness in the wine to counter balance the gentle heat and spiciness of the dish. Cave Spring Off-Dry Riesling 2000 (Ontario); Fetzer Gewurztraminer 2001 (California).


Caramel Pecan Bars

Sinful yet simple – what could be better! This decadent dessert is so easy to make, and it's your secret that you've used a cake mix to speed things up. Try walnuts instead of pecans; they make an equally wonderful topping!

Go on, you've earned it!

Makes about 5 dozen bars


  • 1 pkg. (18.25 oz [515 g]) white cake mix
  • ¾ cup butter, melted (175 mL)


  • 3½ cups pecan or walnut halves (875 mL)
  • ¾ cup butter (175 mL)
  • ½ cup liquid honey (125 mL)
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar (175 mL)
  • ¼ cup whipping (35%) cream (50 mL)
  1. Crust: combine cake mix and melted butter, mixing until well blended. Press firmly into 17½" × 11½" (3 L) greased jelly roll pan. Bake 15 minutes or until light golden. Cool 5 minutes on a wire rack.
  2. Topping: Scatter nuts evenly over crust. For the most attractive appearance, turn the nuts rounded-side up. In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter and honey. Add brown sugar. Boil 5 to 7 minutes, stirring constantly until mixture is thickened and a rich caramel colour. Remove from heat. Carefully stir in cream. Mix well and pour evenly over nuts. Bake 15 minutes longer or just until topping is bubbling around sides of pan. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Cut into bars.

Note: Do not substitute margarine for butter.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
With all that sugar, this is a tough one, but if you are an incurable wine drinker, go for Cream Sherry or 10-year-old Tawny Port.


We wish to thank:

Chronicle Books for permission to publish the Figs Stuffed with Foie Gras Mousse recipe and photograph from Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras: Recipes for Divine Indulgence by Katherine Alford. Photographs by Ellen Silverman.

Clarkson Potter for permission to publish the Blue Cheese and Caramelized Shallot Dip Recipe and photograph from The Flavors of Bon Appetit 2002, by the Editors of Bon Appetit.

IDG Books for permission to publish the Caramelized Onion Tart with Sweet Curry Crust recipe and photograph from Gourmet Cooking for Dummies by Charlie Trotter with Judi Carle and Sari Zermich. Photography by Tim Turner.

Robert Rose Inc. for permission to publish the Caramel Pecan Bars recipe and photograph from Cake Mix Magic by Jill Snider. Photograph by Mark T. Shapiro.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (93 KB)




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