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Cooking with Les Girls! (March 2, 2010)

What if you could invite Alice Waters, M.F.K. Fisher, Marcella Hazan and Joanne Weir into your kitchen as you make dinner – and they showed up? And here comes Julia Child, sweeping through the door followed by Dorie Greenspan and Florence Fabricant! Next in come a talented mother and daughter: entrepreneur Linda Haynes and Devin Connell... best described as two cooks, two lifestyles and two takes on food! Then, just to keep us honest, they're followed by an organic farmer, a registered dietitian and a professional home economist!

Well, OK, I'd faint, too, if this crowd showed up in person, but we have a collection of their best recipes in Cooking with Les Dames d'Escoffier, which has taken this dream team of culinary stars and their most essential dishes and put them into a book. Why, they're practically beside you all the way!

This must-have collection of more than 120 recipes also contains eclectic and informed information sprinkled throughout; the best way to shell fresh fava beans, easy phyllo dough, avoiding potluck panic and much, much more. Who better to get you all this information?

Les Dames d'Escoffier is the premier association of women culinary professionals, started in 1973 in response to the all-male Les Amis d'Escoffier. The Dames are responsible for many of the culinary trends so beloved in North America today. Julia Child and Anne Willan encouraged our love of French food; Alice Waters and Judy Rogers taught us about local and sustainable ingredients; Flo Braker and Leslie Mackie have introduced us to artisan baked goods. These women have literally shaped the way we eat and drink. "Another glass of wine, ladies?"

Here in Toronto, Linda Haynes, after a successful career in journalism and television, founded ACE Bakery in 1993, at last providing the city with widely available superior artisan breads. Her best-selling ACE Bakery Cookbook followed, and – no surprise – daughter Devin Connell who absorbed much of the pleasures of food and cooking in the kitchen of her mother, is co-author of their latest cookbook, Two Dishes: Mother and Daughter: Two Cooks, Two Lifestyles, Two Takes. The book is a great read, with exciting, inviting recipes from each; Mother uses timeless techniques, daughter embraces an improvisational, budget-conscious approach. They play off each other with loving comments and delicious anecdotes; you'll cherish them as much as their book!

They don't stop in the kitchen, either. Linda has garnered awards from the International Association of Culinary Professionals, was named Entrepreneur of the Year Ernst & Young, and in 2006 was awarded the Order of Canada in the field of philanthropy. Devin's professional path started with graphic design, studying and working in New York, Paris, London and Toronto, and today she owns Delica Kitchen, a gourmet soup and sandwich bar in Toronto. What a pair!

But wait, there's more! Two more Canadians, Mairlyn Smith and Liz Pearson, have produced a terrific best-seller, Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health (And Don't Forget the Chocolate!), which gives us the latest research on everything from flax to pomegranate juice, green tea to red wine, grains to nuts! The book contains great-tasting seven-day meal plans with delicious recipes that fight disease, and, and, perhaps best of all, good news about chocolate.

Smith, a Professional Home Economist today, has a colourful past including drama teacher, actress, and cooking show host... and for sure, the only home economist who is an alumnus of The Second City Comedy Troupe. Pearson is a Registered Dietitian, author of When in Doubt, Eat Broccoli, magazine columnist and consultant. We know them personally, and can tell you they are wickedly funny women!

This book is also a great read, with the latest health information in chapters ranging from How to Eat Healthy in an Unhealthy World, Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions to Recipes Packed with Super Nutritious, Disease Fighting Foods! You'll learn and laugh at the same time as you're cooking up all these great dishes!

Myra Goodman, with Linda Holland and Pamela McKinstry, has done the Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook: Food to Live By. The 260 recipes make a deliciously persuasive case for using flavorful, fresh, organic foods as often as possible. Goodman, with her husband Drew, founded Earthbound Farm in 1984, and she's been creating her own recipes and cooking with their organic food ever since their first raspberry crop. You'll love this collection; our sauce-stained copy is right next to Julia's books! All great women in the kitchen, for sure!

On today's menu:

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Fresh Okra Cakes

These are almost quirky, as who uses okra? You'll be hooked on this odd vegetable when you try this recipe! In Cooking with Les Dames d'Escoffier, Atlanta Dame Gloria Smiley makes these tasty little morsels at the height of the okra season, late summer to early fall, and we can tell you that if you haven't tasted okra, then it's time! The trick to cooking okra, Southern Dames agree, is to cook it minimally, as in the fritter-like cakes. The result is a clean, green vegetal taste. Don't skimp on salting the cooked rice used to make the batter, and use the stronger seasoning option if the cakes will be served at room temperature. Make no effort to keep the spoonfuls of batter in a uniform shape. Let them spread about, showing off the intriguing star shape of the sliced okra and its lacy interior.

Smiley, a veteran food stylist who worked frequently with Julia Child, serves the cakes hot off the stove as a cocktail nibble or a vegetable side dish.

Yield: 25 appetizer cakes or 10 side dish cakes

  • ½ pound fresh okra, tips and stems removed, cut into ¼-inch slices (about 2 cups)
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeño or Serrano chile pepper, seeded and minced
  • ½ cup cooked medium-grain rice, reasoned with 1 tsp salt or 1 tsp salt plus ¼ tsp cumin and ¼ cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ tsp Tabasco
  • 6 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine the okra, onion, garlic, jalapeño, rice, flour, eggs, and Tabasco in a large bowl.

Just before serving, preheat the oven to 200°F, and heat a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil, and when it shimmers and sizzles when a bit of batter hits it, drop spoonfuls of the okra-rice mixture into the pan. Do not crowd the pan. You can make the cakes to any size from 1 Tbsp to ½ cup, depending on who you plan to serve them. Sauté for 2 minutes or until the cake is nicely browned. Turn and cook the other side for 2 minutes. Remove the cakes as they are done to absorbent paper towels and keep them warm in the preheated oven until all are cooked. The cakes are best served piping hot – consume them within 30 minutes of frying.

Tony's wine recommendation:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or Viognier

Lemon-Scented Potato, Dill and Bacon Soup

Devin Connell loves her mom Linda Haynes's celery root soup with chestnuts and bacon, and told us that "My creamy soup has a similar end result but is easier and more accessible. Just potatoes, dill, lemon and bacon, all ingredients that you can find at your local grocery store!" She goes on to say that this soup is a perfect base for a hearty fish chowder! Devin, you're an artist on a lot of levels! Ron is over at the fishmonger's as we speak... From Two Dishes: Mother and Daughter: Two Cooks, Two Lifestyles, Two Takes.

Serves 6

  • 5 slices bacon, cut in ½ inch pieces
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, (about 1½ lbs/750 g), peeled and cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp lightly packed grated lemon zest, preferably organic (about 1 medium)
  • ½ cup 35% (whipping) cream
  • 2 tsp lightly packed chopped fresh dill
  • 1 lemon, cut in wedges, for garnish

Cook the bacon in a small skillet over medium-low heat for 5 to 7 minutes, or until browned and crisp. Drain on a paper towel and set aside.

Combine the stock, garlic, potatoes, celery, salt and pepper in a large pot and bring to a low boil. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Purée the soup until smooth.

Return the pot to the stove over medium heat and stir in the lemon zest and cream. Simmer for 5 minutes to incorporate all the flavors.

Just before serving, stir in the dill and garnish each serving with bacon. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Palo Cortado or dry Amontillado sherry

Devin's Fish Chowder

Serves 6 to 8

Bring the finished soup to a low boil. Add 8 oz (250 g) cleaned and deveined jumbo shrimp (about 12) and 8 oz (250 g) halibut cut in 1-inch cubes. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the shrimp and halibut are tender (Mom sometimes adds a dozen or so clams that she has cooked separately).

Kitchen Hint
Don't add fresh dill to a cooked dish until just before serving. Dill loses its flavour and colour in hot food if it sits for too long.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Chablis or dry, unoaked Chardonnay or Muscadet

Prosciutto-Wrapped Beef Kebabs

Decadent is the best description for these kebabs. The meltingly tender chunks of marinated fillet are wrapped in prosciutto and nestled up against sweet onions. Organic farmer and founder of Earthbound Farms (you've seen the produce in good grocery stores!) Myra Goodman says, "These are my first choice for a special occasion; Drew makes them for my birthday and Mother's Day."

The kebabs are simple to prepare, even at the last minute. The marinating time is brief and once the skewers are assembled, the grilling is fast.

We agree wholeheartedly! "Oh, Drew, are you available next Friday?"

From the Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook: Food to Live By.

Serves 4, 2 skewers per person

  • 2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1¼ pounds beef tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch cubes
  • 1 sweet yellow onion, such as Walla Walla or Vidalia
  • 8 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced
  1. Place the Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder and salt in a medium-size bowl and stir to blend. Add the beef cubes and stir until well coated. Let the meat marinate at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, set up a barbecue grill and preheat it to medium.
  3. Cut the onion into quarters lengthwise through the root end. Then slice each onion wedge in half crosswise to make eight chunks.
  4. Cut the slices of prosciutto in half, lengthwise. Wrap each beef cube with a half slice of prosciutto.
  5. Assemble the kebab by alternating pieces of onion (3 or 4 layers) with cubes of prosciutto-wrapped beef on 8 skewers.
  6. Grill the kabobs, turning occasionally, until cooked to taste, a total of 6 to 8 minutes for medium-rare.
  7. Transfer the kebabs to a platter and serve hot.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Valpolicella Ripasso, Zinfandel or Argentinean Malbec

Honey-Roasted Squash with Crumbled Feta and Walnuts

Talk about comfort food, this is on the top of the list! Linda Haynes comments, "This is a wonderful autumn salad that's a snap to put together. If I roast the squash a day ahead I can assemble the salad in 10 minutes; the time it takes to warm the squash in a 350°F oven." She goes on to say how perfect this dish is with Devin's grilled shrimp and an almond tart to finish! You'll have to get the book for those recipes, and many more just as wonderful. From Two Dishes: Mother and Daughter: Two Cooks, Two Lifestyles, Two Takes.

Serves 6

  • 1 lb (500g) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in ½-inch slices (about 12 oz/375 g after seeding and peeling)
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp liquid honey, warm, divided
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp walnut oil
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 oz (175 to 250 g) mâche or baby mixed greens (about 6 cups lightly packed)
  • ½ cup crumbled feta (about 3 oz/90 g)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the squash and olive oil in a large bowl. Spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet and lightly brush with half the honey. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn and brush with the remaining honey. Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the squash is cooked through.

While the squash is baking, place the walnuts in a small ovenproof dish and bake for about 5 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

Whisk together the lemon juice, walnut oil, salt and pepper in a small bowl.

Toss the mâche with the vinaigrette in a large bowl and place on serving plates. Top with 3 to 5 slices of squash. Sprinkle with walnuts and feta and a touch more salt and pepper. Serve while the squash is still warm.

Kitchen Hint
Walnut oil is more expensive than vegetable oils and olive oils because of the difficulty of extracting oil from the nut. It also has a shorter shelf life and should be stored in the refrigerator once opened. It is not suitable for cooking at high temperatures, and is usually used to add flavor to cooked foods and salad dressings.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Off-dry Riesling or off-dry Vouvray

Don't Forget to Leave Room for Chocolate Cake

Oh, Liz and Mairlyn, thanks so much. We always knew chocolate was good for us, and it took Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health (And Don't Forget the Chocolate!) to prove it. This dessert fulfills all our desires, rich, chocolatey, and satisfying, so much so that Pearson and Smith say "If this cake had been around when Marie Antoinette shrieked her famous 'Let them eat cake!' chances are the French Revolution would have been rewritten, thus depriving future musical theatre lovers of the Les Miserables experience."

Well, there's a thought...

Serves 30, based on each being one 2×2-inch or 5×5 cm. Or two, depending!

  • 1 cup (250 mL) whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) all purpose flour
  • 1½ cups (375 mL) granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup natural cocoa powder
  • 1½ tsp (7 mL) baking soda
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) canola oil
  • 1 cup (250 mL) chocolate soy milk
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 omega-3 egg
  • One 4.5 oz (128 mL) baby food strained prunes, no added sugar or starch
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) pure vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) unsalted non-hydrogenated margarine
  • 1 oz (30 g) unsweetened chocolate
  • 6 Tbsp (90 mL) chocolate soy milk
  • 2½ cups (675 mL) icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup (75 mL) natural cocoa powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line a 9×13-inch (3.5 L) metal cake pan with parchment paper, or lightly spray with a canola oil cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, granulated sugar, cocoa powder, and baking soda.
  3. Add the oil, chocolate, soy milk, lemon juice, egg, prunes and vanilla.
  4. Blend the ingredients together for 1 minute using a hand held mixer or wire whisk. Scrape the bowl often.
  5. Turn the speed up to medium or whisk like your life depends on it, and mix for another 2 minutes.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
  7. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and continue cooling on the rack.
  8. Prepare icing. Put the margarine, unsweetened chocolate and chocolate soy mild in a microwavable dish. Heat on medium-low for 1 minute. Stir. Repeat until almost melted. Remove from the microwave and stir until completely melted. Alternately, melt the ingredients over the stove. The key is to under-do it. Scorched chocolate is ruined chocolate. In some countries this is considered a sin.
  9. Pour this melted chocolate mixture into a medium bowl. Don't lick this yet – it's unsweetened. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder. Beat until smooth. If it's too thick, add a little bit of chocolate soy milk until you reach your desired spreading consistency. Now you can lick the beaters.
  10. Spread the icing on the cooled cake. Lick the bowl. The cake can be served immediately or the next day. Remember that tomorrow it will taste better. Your choice!

Tony's wine recommendation:
10-Year-Old Tawny Port, Late Bottle Vintage Port or Cream Sherry

For permission to publish material and photographs, we wish to thank the following:

Publishers Group West, Toronto, and Sasquach Books, Seattle, for Cooking with Les Dames d'Escoffier, edited by Marcella Rosene with Pat Mozersky. © 2008 by Les Dames d'Escoffier International. For more information, contact Les Dames d'Escoffier International,

McClelland & Stewart, Toronto, for Two Dishes: Mother and Daughter: Two Cooks, Two Lifestyles, Two Takes, by Linda Haynes and Devin Connell. © 2009 by Linda Haynes and Devin Connell.

Thomas Allen and Sons, Toronto, and Workman Publishing Company, New York, for Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook: Food to Live By, by Myra Goodman, with Linda Holland and Pamela McKinstry. © 2006 by Myra Goodman. Food photography © by Patrick Tregenza.

Whitecap Books for Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health (And Don't Forget the Chocolate!), © 2007 by Liz Pearson and Mairlyn Smith. For more information, contact and www.mairlynsmith .com

Chocolate cake photograph courtesy Virtual Chocolate, Free chocolate and flower wallpapers for your computer screen.

Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (122 KB)




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