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Ho Ho Holidays! (December 14, 2016)

Holiday season is here and entertaining is such fun... and sometimes so much work! We pulled together some quick and easy party hors d'oeuvres that you can you can do ahead, pop out when needed and enjoy your own party! Merry on, everyone!

Tiny Party Food: Bite-size recipes for miniature meals is an old favorite that we pull out for party menus. Co-author Teri Lyn Fisher is a photographer whose work has appeared in Rue, Anthology and HGTV Magazine. A graduate of le Cordon Bleu, co-author Jenny Park is a food stylist, recipe writer and professional eater whose clients include the California Wine Board and Clearly, they know food and have created a stylish collection that is just this side of adorable... and all of it utterly yummy. Talk about grazing – each of these recipes is one sensational mouthful... snarf is the operative word here!

One of the best entertaining books we've seen in a long time comes from sisters Donna Kelly and Sandra Hoopes, authors of 200 Appetizers, a new cookbook with ideas and recipes on how to throw a cocktail party with ease. Interestingly, these gals are not chefs; Donna Kelly is a prosecutor in the Utah Attorney General's office, and Sandra Hoopes is a college mentor living in Phoenix who attended culinary school. They know what it means to be busy, but that hasn't kept these sisters from regularly entertaining family and friends. What a pair! Bet their parties are a ball!

Stonewall Kitchens is one of our favourites! Jonathan King and Jim Stott began in a small way at a farmers' market in 1991; today Stonewall Kitchen in York, Maine, sells their delicious jams, sauces and baking mixes world wide, all the while running 9 retail stores plus a restaurant and cooking school. Whew. One of the latest cookbooks is the must-have Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers. Who better to give us ideas for the best holiday party going?

Amazing Food Hacks is truly one of the most fun and utterly readable little cookbooks we've seen lately! The founding editor of Buzzfeed, Peggy Wang, has pulled together 75 crazy-brilliant recipes to immediately eat "stuff that tastes good" even if you're not sure how to turn on your oven! We stopped laughing long enough to try Sriracha popcorn and Melt in your Mouth Yogurt Drops and we're hooked. Wang has terrific food and kitchen tips too; whether you're a gourmet cook or in the kitchen on your own for the first time, this book is for you... and what a great, fun gift!

On today's menu:

Tony's wine recommendation:
There is no one table wine that will match these six delicious recipes, and rather than recommending six different wines to match each dish, I'd opt for a dry sparkling wine. Champagne (French – there is no other!) would be best, but if that stretches your holiday budget, go for a Spanish Cava or a Prosecco.

Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF 429 kB)



Caprese Skewers

From Tiny Party Food these pop-in-your-mouth cherry tomato versions of caprese salad are the perfect way to enjoy the flavors of Italy! Do ahead; pull out of the fridge for instant gratification!

Makes 24

    Balsamic Glaze
  • 2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 24 heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 24 small mozzarella balls
  • 3 spring basil
  • 24 cocktail picks
  1. For the glaze, place vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir and simmer for about 45 minutes, until the mixture reduces by half and thickens slightly. Let cool. Tip: the Glaze will continue to thicken as it cools.
  2. Using a sharp knife, cut tomatoes in half and mozzarella balls in thirds. Sandwich a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf between each tomato half. Skewer with a cocktail pick, drizzle with glaze and serve.



Smoked Salmon Bites

It's not a cocktail party without smoked salmon, and this is one great way to serve it! It's pretty, easy and fast to assemble. From 200 Appetizers.

Makes 16

  • 8 large thin slices whole grain bread
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp minced fresh dill, divided
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 8 ounces thinly sliced smoked salmon
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Cut bread into 2½-inch circles. Drizzle with oil. Bake for 4–5 minutes per side. Rub toasts with garlic.
  3. In a small bowl, beat cream cheese and lemon juice until fluffy. Mix in half of dill, all salt and pepper. Spoon a dollop on each toast. Cut salmon into 1½×3-inch strips. Roll up, forming a short rose shape. Stick rose onto each dollop of cream cheese. Garnish with remaining dill and lemon zest.



Corn Dogs

Ok, these take a bit of work, but they're such fun and so tasty that we had to add them! These are not you ordinary state fair corn dogs; the fragrant buttermilk-cornmeal batter is laced with a hint of honey, spices and delicious crumbles of bacon... better make a double batch, as they'll go fast! From Tiny Party Food.

  • 1 quart vegetable oil, for frying
  • 24 toothpicks or cocktail sticks
    Corn Dogs
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 cup crumbled cooked bacon (about 9 strips)
  • 24 cocktail wieners (such as Lit'l Smokies) or 6 hot dogs cut into 4 pieces each
  1. In a medium pot, preheat oil to 365°F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, cayenne pepper, chili powder, salt, white pepper, baking powder and baking soda. Stir in buttermilk, egg and honey and gently whisk until no lumps remain. Fold in bacon.
  3. Skewer 1 cocktail wiener on each toothpick. Working in small batches, dip and roll wieners in batter until fully coated and then quickly and carefully drop the, toothpick and all, into the hot oil. Fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with a side of ketchup, stone ground mustard and hot sauce or a selection of your favorite condiments! Yum!



Spanakopita Out of the Box

Well of course you can buy it frozen anywhere, but why not make up a fresh batch; this Greek classic is usually wrapped in phyllo pastry, but the guys at Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers instead filled premade phyllo pastry cups (in the freezer section of most supermarkets) with a delicious creamy spinach mixture. Best, the dish can be made ahead of time and popped into the oven ten minutes before serving!

  • 1½ Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cups garlic, minced
  • 6 ounces baby spinach
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup packed grated Parmesan cheese or finely crumbled feta cheese

12 mini phyllo pastry cups, thawed if frozen.

  1. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, stirring. Add the spinach in handfuls and stir to cook it down, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and finely chop the spinach. Place it back in the skillet over medium heat. Add the cream, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste; cook for 4 minutes, or until the cream thickens slightly. Remove from the heat add half the cheese and taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper or nutmeg as needed.
  2. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325°F.
  3. Place the phyllo cups on a baking sheet. Just before baking, divide the spinach mixture between the cups and top each one with some of the remaining cheese. (The cups can be assembled up to 2 months ahead of time; cover tightly with foil and plastic wrap and freeze.) Bake the cups for 10 minutes (or 12 to 15 if using frozen) or until the cheese is melted and the spinach mixture is hot and bubbling. Serve hot or at room temperature.



Goat Cheese Yule Log

This pretty do-ahead log is such a crowd pleaser; at the last minute remove from fridge, drizzle with honey, serve up and watch it disappear! From 200 Appetizers.

Makes 1

  • 1 (10 to 12 ounce) goat cheese log, at room temperature
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup diced pistachios
  • 1/2 cup diced sweetened dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup honey

In a medium bowl, mix cheeses together and roll into a 4–5-inch-long log. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour or until firm.

Mix together the pistachios, cranberries, and parsley and spread on a plate. Roll cheese log into mixture, pressing down so that mixture adheres to cheese.

Place on a serving plate and drizzle with honey. Serve with crackers, toasted bread slices or toasted pita triangles.



And Finally... Popcorn and More!

photo credit: Tim Sackton

Yes, popcorn. Talk about a no-brainer for parties! Cheap, easy and everyone loves the stuff. Perfect to put in front of those starving guests who otherwise are going to Hoover up all the smoked salmon!

Go gourmet with an assortment of flavour, and just remember to vacuum tomorrow morning.


White Truffle Popcorn

From Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers.

Oh my, need we say more? Our humble grain goes gourmet!

Make about 6 cups; serves 6 to 8

  • 1½ Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/2 cup white or yellow popcorn kernels
  • Sea salt or garlic salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a large pot, heat the oil over low heat for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the popcorn kernels in a single layer on the bottom of the pot, stir well can cover. Cook until the corn starts popping. Once the corn is popping, shake the pan back and forth so that the kernels are evenly distributed. Cook until the kernels stop popping.
  2. Remove the popcorn from the pot and place in a large bowl. Add 1/2 to 1 Tbsp white truffle oil, and 1 Tbsp olive oil while the popcorn is still hot and put the lid from the pot over the bowl; toss well to incorporate the flavoring throughout all the popcorn. Season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.


"Better than Crack" Crackers

The delightful read, Amazing Food Hacks, gives us some terrific, instant gratification and immediately eatable food ideas. This one is so perfect and so easy you'll want to be making it all the time.

Author Peggy Wang says these crackers are one of the most intensely flavored things she's ever eaten, and try to stop at just one!

  • 1 9-ounce package oyster crackers
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 (1-ounce) package ranch dressing mix
  • 2/3 Tbsp (2 tsp) cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 250°F.

Dump everything into a bowl and mix really well.

Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet. Bake, stirring halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely.
Note: for a less extreme cracker, use only half of the ranch dressing mix.


Savory Herbed Popcorn

This recipe from 200 Appetizers is another perfect cocktail party food; fast and easy and cheap, plus the bonus of happily partnering with any beverage!

Serves 4 to 6

Need more? Just double the recipe!

  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp finely ground parmesan cheese
  • 12 cups popped corn
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp each minced thyme and parsley
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic powder, lemon pepper, paprika, salt and Parmesan.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the popcorn evenly with the butter, herbs and dry seasoning mixture.

That's all, folks!



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

Quirk Books, Philadelphia, and Random House for Tiny Food Party by Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park. © 2012 Teri Lyn Fisher and Jenny Park.

Gibbs Smith, Layton, Utah, and Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, for 200 Appetizers by Donna Kelly and Sandra Hoopes. Text © 2012 Donna Kelly and Sandra Hoopes, and Paul Fraughton (Yule log photograph) and Kathy Stephenson (story) from The Salt Lake Tribune.

Chronicle Books, San Francisco, and Raincoast Publishing, Vancouver, for Stonewall Kitchen Appetizers, by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst. Text © 2010 by Jonathan King, Jim Stott and Kathy Gunst. Photographs © 2010 by Jim Stott.

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 Amazing Food Hacks, by Peggy Wang. © 2014 Peggy Wang. Photographs © 2014 Davide Luciano.

Tim Sackton, for the popcorn photograph, Creative Commons license CC BY-SA 2.0.


Download this article in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF 429 kB)

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Happily enjoyed by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Helen Hatton and Ron Morris at Le Caveau des Gourmets in Gigondas




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