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The Surreal Gourmet (December 1, 2004)

For starts, he really can cook, and hey, he's also delightfully dishy! And that toaster Airstream kitchen is a scream! No wonder Bob Blumer is such a hit as the Surreal Gourmet on Food Network.

A couple of weeks ago we met Bob, ogled the Airstream and sampled dishes from his latest cookbook, Surreal Gourmet Bites: Showstoppers and Conversation Starters. What a party it was, too... his food was witty and delicious, the wine flowed freely, and – a barometer of any good party – the animated crowd just wouldn't go home! We know, we didn't either! It was simply toooooo cool!

Party season is upon us, and why serve the SOS? Let Bob Blumer make your next gathering a huge hit; pass the Chinese Snow Cones and end up with S'more Shooters... Warning: you'll be up for the night!

Surreal Gourmet Bites: Showstoppers and Conversation Starters is not only fun but practical and helpful. Alongside each recipe is a list that includes "uncommon goods" or unusual ingredients with an explanation, level of difficulty, active prep time, cooking time, shortcuts, advance work and even music to cook by, plus liquid assets – a.k.a. what to serve with!

The photographs are terrific, and we love the footnote by the photographer Suzi Q. Varun, who "gave up a promising career as a Zamboni driver to pursue her passion for photography!"

You're going to love this book!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (80 KB)


Cocktail Dates

Oh, Bob, nothing surreal about this recipe; these rich, sweet and smoky little morsels are just plain divine! Of course it's a variation on an old theme, and this one works a treat. Dried Medjool dates are intense candy bombs that explode in the mouth with sweetness and richness. Wait, there's more... when stuffed with the nuttiness of Parmigiano-Reggiano, then wrapped in the smoky saltiness of bacon and baked, these dates turn into molten balls of decadence!

Yield: 12 bites

  • 12 large dried Medjool dates
  • 4-ounce chunk Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 6 slices bacon, cut in half widthwise

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Insert a bamboo skewer or a facsimile in the bottom of the date until the pointy tip rests on the bottom of the pit. Push the pit out of the stem side. Reserve dates.

Using your sharpest knife, cut Parmigiano-Reggiano into ¼-inch slices. Cut those slices into ¼" × 1" pieces (the resulting 1-inch pieces should be approximately the same diameter as a pencil). Cut the tip of each piece at a 45-degree angle.

Leading with the pointy end, stuff a stick of Parmigiano-Reggiano into the pit hole of each date.

Wrap each date with a slice of bacon. Set dates on a baking sheet, seam sides down, and skewer each with a toothpick to hold bacon in place.

Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until bacon is crispy. Caution: These flavour bombs are like molten lava when they come out of the oven. Let cool for a few minutes before serving.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
You’ll need a wine that has some sweetness and good acidity – Spätlese Riesling from the Rheingau, Off-Dry or Semi-Dry Riesling from Ontario, off-dry Vouvray.


Cauliflower Popcorn

What to do with that slowly softening head of cauliflower in the fridge. We had that problem just this morning, and to the rescue came Bob Blumer with Cauliflower Popcorn.

It's delicious, it's easy, it gets you one more vegetable today, and hey, it used up the cauliflower. The simple high-temperature roasting process caramelizes the cauliflower, transforming this plain Jane into sweet, tasty, crisp little bites you can't stop eating. Clearing the fridge was never so delicious. Just imagine the hit this recipe will be later tonight!

Yield: 12 bites

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Cut out and discard cauliflower core and thick stem. Trim remaining cauliflower into florets the size of golf balls. In a large bowl, add cauliflower, olive oil, and salt. Toss thoroughly.

Spread cauliflower on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper, if available, for easy cleanup). Roast for 1 hour, or until much of each floret has become golden brown. (That's the caramelization process converting the dormant natural sugars into sweetness. The browner the florets, the sweeter they will taste.) Turn 3 or 4 times during roasting.

Use crumpled up aluminum foil or paper towels to create a false bottom in your popcorn container, fill it with cauliflower and serve immediately.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or California.


Chinese Snow Cones

Bob tells us that Chinese chicken salad is an Asian-inspired California creation consisting of grilled chicken, crisp lettuce, deep-fried wonton strips and nuts, all tossed in a tangy ginger vinaigrette. Everybody's version is different. With most, you can eat the wontons out of the crispy, crunchy salad. Bob's is reengineered so that you can eat the salad out of the crispy, crunchy wonton.

We say yum yum!

Yield: 12 bites

  • 1 large single boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • Salt
  • 1½ cups peanut oil
  • Sixteen 3½-inch square wonton wrappers (4 are backups)
  • 1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp peeled and finely grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 cups sliced and finely diced Napa cabbage (about ½ head)
  • 1 cup sliced and finely diced radicchio (about ½ head)
  • ½ cup coarsely copped roasted unsalted cashews
  • 1/3 cup canned mandarin slices chopped
  • ¼ cup stemmed and finely sliced fresh cilantro
  • 2 green onions, finely sliced
  • Red pepper flakes

Season chicken breast with salt. In a small sauté pan over medium-high heat, add 1 Tbsp peanut oil. Cover and cook chicken for 6 minutes per side, or until no pink remains. Reserve.

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a small bowl, set out 1 cup peanut oil along with a small pastry brush. On a baking sheet, set out 12 paper cones and double them up (one on top of the other) with an additional 12 cones.

Trim 12 wonton wrappers according to diagram. Brush both sides of each wrapper with peanut oil. Wrap one wrapper around each cone (see diagram) and press seams together. Twist the bottom to a point. Bake for 7 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. When cones cool, twist them off the cups and reserve.

Dice chicken finely. Reserve.

In a large bowl, whisk together remaining 3 Tbsp peanut oil, lime juice, ginger, honey, mustard, soy sauce and vinegar. Just before serving, add chicken along with cabbage, radicchio, cashews, mandarins, cilantro and green onions. Toss thoroughly and season to taste with salt and red pepper flakes. Serve in wonton cones.

Accompanying wine? Tony recommends...
Alsace Gewurztraminer or dry Muscat, Ontario or German Riesling (Kabinett or QbA level).


S'more Shooters

Our campfire evenings weren't this good! Here we have everyone's childhood fave, and the first best part is that the marshmallows don't drop into the coals! S'mores now updated to a decadent finish to the evening. Or perhaps beginning... oh, Bob, got any more, please?

Yield: 12 shooters

  • 12 large marshmallows
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 8 ounces best available quality bittersweet chocolate chopped into teeny-weeny bits
  • 1½ cups milk
  • ¾ cup amaretto
  • ½ cup graham cracker crumbs

Toast marshmallows over a campfire or stovetop until golden brown. Let cool and reserve.

In a small pot, bring half and half to a boil. In a medium bowl, add chocolate. Pour cream over chocolate and stir until chocolate has fully melted.

Return chocolate ganache to the pot and whisk in mild. Over medium heat, bring to a simmer and stir in ½ cup amaretto.

Pour remaining amaretto into a small bowl so that it is ¼ inch deep and place graham cracker crumbs on a small saucer ¼ inch deep. To assemble, dip the rims of the shot glasses in amaretto, then in the graham cracker crumbs. Fill glasses with hot chocolate and top each with a toasted marshmallow (make your life easier by transferring the hot chocolate first to a measuring cup with a spout).


We wish to thank Whitecap Books Canada and Chronicle Books San Francisco for permission to publish material and photographs from Surreal Gourmet Bites: Showstoppers and Conversation Starters by Bob Blumer. Text © 2004 by Bob Blumer. Photographs © Suzi Q. Varin.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (80 KB)




More Gourmet Recipes