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Gulf Coast Kitchens (July 23, 2003)


Well, I grew up in a Gulf Coast kitchen, and every so once in a while I yearn for the foods of my childhood – crab, shrimp and oysters and the freshest of vegetables and fruit. It almost seemed that food grew on trees in Florida; we had lemons, limes and orange trees in our yard, plus avocados and papayas. When it didn't freeze, the banana trees produced long stalks of delicious sweet little finger bananas... absolute heaven!

An Italian family next door owned shrimp boats and would often drop a bag of large shellfish on our back steps, while fishermen friends always had one too many large snappers or flounder to share.

It's a wonderful cuisine, and perfectly described in Gulf Coast Kitchens, by Constance Snow. Her new cookbook is a loving, long journey from Key West to the Yucatán peninsula, so it covers more than my early menus. Cuisines you'll find here include Caribbean, Vietnamese, Cajun, Mexican and New Florida cooking! It's a wonderful book and a great read, but you'll start trying these dishes immediately. We'll make it easy... start with these two below!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (50 KB)


Chilled Avocado and Crabmeat Soup

This is such a silky, wondrous soup; you don't need cream, as the avocado alone provides a smooth puree with a lovely pale-green hue. For the perfect smart little lunch, serve the soup with crusty, warm bread and follow with the Spinach and Fried Oyster Salad. Finish this splendid combo with fresh fruit!

Serves 4

  • 2 Florida avocados (or 3 Hass Avocados), peeled and seeded
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp dry sherry
  • 1 tsp finely grated ginger
  • ¼ tsp Tabasco sauce
  • ¼ tsp white pepper
  • 3 cups cool chicken stock or broth, plus more if needed
  • Salt
  • ¼ pound lump crabmeat, picked over to remove any bits of shell
  1. Puree the avocados with the lime juice in a food processor. Add all of the remaining ingredients expect the salt and crabmeat; process until smooth. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on the surface of the soup to seal. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.
  2. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Serve in chilled bowls, topped with lump crabmeat.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
I would tend towards a dry sherry to match the soup, lightly chilled for this dish – either Fino or Manzanilla. If you would prefer a wine, look for a Sauvignon Blanc, preferably from the Loire Valley.


Spinach and Fried Oyster Salad

You know how much we love oysters, and when combined with our favourite spinach salad, it's almost too much bliss. Take the time to do it right – it's worth every step!

Serves 4

    Piquant Honey Mustard Vinaigrette
  • 1 Tbsp cane vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
  • ¼ tsp salt, or to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
    Spinach and Fried Oyster Salad
  • Peanut or vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 6 to 8 cups fresh baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • 2 dozen shucked oysters
  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • Tabasco sauce
  1. For the vinaigrette: whisk together the vinegar, mustard, honey, Tabasco and salt in a large bowl until the salt is dissolved. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking to make a smooth emulsion. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavours to blend.
  2. To finish the salad: Pour oil to a depth of 5 or 6 inches in a cast-iron frying pot, heavy saucepan, or electric deep fryer; heat to 350°F. While the oil heats, toss the spinach with the prepared dressing. Taste and adjust the salt if needed, and add a few grinds of black pepper. Divide the spinach salad among four serving plates.
  3. When the oil reaches 350°F (and not before), remove the oysters from the refrigerator and drain off any liquid. (You'll need to fry the oysters in two or three batches, depending upon the size of your pot. Bread only as many as you intend to fry immediately, or the cornmeal will become soggy and fall off.) Roll oysters one at a time in the cornmeal to coat evenly, then place 8 to 12 in a fry basket and bang it sharply against the side of the sink to knock off excess cornmeal. Lower the basket into the hot oil and fry the oysters just until they float, 1 to 2 minutes. (Be very careful not to overcook them, or they'll be shriveled and tough.) Remove the oysters to a platter lined with paper towels to drain briefly, then quickly transfer six hot oysters onto the top of each salad. Shake a few drops of Tabasco onto each oyster. Serve immediately (and be sure to put the bottle of Tabasco on the table so everyone can season his own salad to taste).

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
You could go sparkling, such as an off-dry (Extra Dry) champagne or Spanish Cava or a Vouvray (Chenin Blanc) or Riesling Kabinett.


We wish to thank Clarkson Potter/Publishers, New York, a member of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. for permission to publish material and photographs from Gulf Coast Kitchens, by Constance Snow, © 2003 Constance Snow. Photographs © Tina Rupp.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (50 KB)




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