Nothing beats spending an evening in your favourite pub, sampling various varieties of single-malt scotch whisky. Except for maybe sharing the experience with twenty or so other like-minded individuals.
The owner of my local pub, The Feathers, holds a Whisky Challenge event every month or so between October and April. The Feathers boasts the largest selection of single-malt scotch whiskies in the province of Ontario at over 450, and I've been doing my best to try them all.
The Challenge works like this: Each event has a theme to which all the malts adhere. Last night's theme was "Malts found at the LCBO", indicating that the malts being served are available at the local liquor store. Ian Innes, the owner, privately imports most of his stock, so a lot of the time the only place you will be able to find a certain whisky that you sampled at The Feathers, will be - at The Feathers. Upon arriving at the event, each participant is presented with a list of ten malts, including the name of each malt, the region the malt is from, (Highland, Lowland or Island) and a brief description about the nose, body, colour, etc. Everyone is then served eight of the malts from the list, in random order, and your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to guess what it is you're tasting, based on the descriptions on the page, and your own experience. Three points are awarded for a correct guess, one point is awarded for an incorrect guess but from the correct region, and zero points for a completely incorrect guess.
The person with the most points at the end of the evening is declared the winner, and wins themself a bottle from Ian's Private Stock. However, no-one really loses, as everyone gets to sample eight very fine whiskies.
I normally go to these events with a group of friends, but due to a combination of short notice and scheduling conflicts, I was flying solo last night.
Here is what we tasted, the description provided, and my impressions. I am not by any means an expert on the subject, but I am an enthusiast.
*NOTE* C.S. indicates 'Cask Strength'. This means that it was bottled straight from the maturing cask without chill filtering or the addition of water - generally, a fuller tasting and stronger dram.
1) Glenkinchie 10yr. - "A charming wee distillery just east of Edinburgh. Aromatic nose of cut grass, sweet lemon and melon, a somewhat light body with gentle spices, cinnamon and a short, bry fragrant finish."
Muscular and very tasty. I didn't get any cut grass or lemon, but I definitely tasted licorice and toffee. I was very impressed, and I will definitely be picking up a bottle of this. I give it an 8.
2) Auchentoshan 3 Wood - "A triple distilled whisky in the classic Lowland style. Deep chestnut in colour with a rish orange zest nose, oil and marshmallow, with some perfume and cashews. A creamy finish of raisins and fresh oak."
Full flavoured, yet a gentle finish. Quite sweet. I liked this one a lot. I guessed it wrong, but I liked it a lot. A solid 8.
3) Glengoyne C.S. - "Only a few miles from Glasgow but regarded as a Highland malt. Soft and sweet on the nose, some vanilla and cream, very smooth and a total absence of peat. This malt offends no-one and may be a pleasant surprise."
Bright, flowery nose. Intense body with a lingering finish. An OK malt. I give it a 6.
4) Glenfarclas 105 - "This distillery has the biggest stills on Speyside. Pleasant note of butterscotch and raisins, a robust body with rich nectar, some sweetness and honey dryness. A muscular, long, rounded finish."
This was my favourite of the evening. Big, fruity full taste. Perhaps not as muscular as I was expecting from the 105, but quite acceptable for all that. Warms on the way down. 9
5) Aberlour C.S. - "A wonderful dram, also from Speyside. Rich and pungent in character with dried fruits, citrus rind, Oloroso casks, camp fires and molasses, all in a magical Highland wedding!"
And the hits just keep on coming! Though technically a Highland malt, I guessed this as the Bowmore, below, which is an Island malt. Lots of yummy smoke and peat. This malt possesses definite kaboomatism. 8 1/2
6) Bruichladdich 20yr. (pronounced BROO-ICK-LAD-ICK) - "An Islay distillery brought back from the dead. (You should have seen it before!). Nose of melons and honey, exceptionally smooth with sweet oak, apricots and just a hint of Islay's fresh sea air."
For sure an Island malt, but also for sure not a cask strength. A little spicy, but otherwise a nice, gentle rock on the ocean. Also, the first one I guessed correctly. rrrr. 7
7) Bowmore C.S. - "This Islay distillery is absolutely brilliant, a must visit for a whisky lover. A nose of chocolate, mild medicine cabinet, seaweed and brine, progressing to layers of dry grain, tobacco, smoke and mild iodine. A somewhat fiery, oaky, sweet finish."
Basically like the description says. It's so smoky, it's like you're drinking it from a sweaty leather shoe, while sitting in the middle of a campfire and being beaten about the head and neck with seaweed. So you know it has to be good. 8
8) Talisker 20yr. C.S. - "From Skye's only distillery but what a distillery! Gold in colour with a distinct coastal nose, very peppery and slightly sour with a heat that slowly gains in intensity - goes down with all the horns blowing!"
What can I say about this peaty monster? It slapped me around from the inside on it's way down. This malt is a cure for the common cold. 9
And now... here are the descriptions of the two malts from the list that were not served.
Dalwhinnie 1980 Dbl. Wood. - "This distillery is perched up in the Cairngorm Mountains, just the place to get high! A very complex malt with licorice and sherry on the nose, sweet with toffee, honey, and cut grass. A lovely, balanced finish with just a hint of peat and smoke.
I guessed this one for the first two selections, which turned out to be the Glenkinchie and the Auchentoshan. I swear I tasted licorice.
Highland Park 18yr. - "From the Orkneys and Scotland's most northerly distillery. Fragrant smoke and oak on the nose, remarkably smooth with a body of heather, honey and garden bonfires and a beautiful dry, spicy finish. I feel this is a dram with everything!"
I thought that the Bowmore was this one. They're really very similar, and it's a shame that this wasn't served, as it is truly a top-notch malt.
This was a bit of an off-night for me, as I scored 9 out of a possible 24 points. The winning score for the evening was a scintillating 22 out of 24. I don't know what the prize was, as I was concentrating on getting a pound of spicy wings into me at that point.
Just as a bit of an indication of the Single Malt inventory at The Feathers, here's a picture of a part of one wall of the pub. Happy happy. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend that you check this place out.
Tuesday, February 28, 2006
Nothing beats spending an evening in your favourite pub, sampling various varieties of single-malt scotch whisky. Except for maybe sharing the experience with twenty or so other like-minded individuals.
Friday, February 24, 2006
Well, crap. On Wednesday, the Canadian Men's Hockey Team was eliminated from medal contention at the Turin Olympics by a far superior Russian squad. I'm not going to go into my thoughts on this disaster, as it would take pages and pages to properly express my feelings.
Soooo..... I decided instead to go home and cry into my beer. However, when I got home, I realized that I didn't have any beer on hand, so it was off to the LCBO (the liquor store). Since I was buying some beer anyway, I thought that it was a good time to resurrect a tradition I started this past September - The Weird Beer Tour of the World.
Perhaps I should explain. My birthday falls in September, so this past year I declared the entire month of September to be "Ianpalooza". On each Friday night during Ianpalooza, I went to the LCBO, and selected three or four interesting-looking beers from a specific country. I then brought them to my friend Joe's place, and we would each sample them. We were fortunate, as September 2005 contained five Fridays, so we toured fairly extensively.
Getting back to last night - I decided that the most appropriate first stop for the tour this time would be - Canada. And more specifically - Ontario. Since I had to work this morning, I only selected three beers. Two of the beers I had not previously tried, and the other one I hadn't had in a while. The three beers on the menu were -
Hockley Dark Traditional English Ale - Hockley Village, ON
Dark and Dirty. Very tasty with a full flavour. Meat & potatoes in a bottle.
Hockley Village is located about 30 minutes NW of Toronto. I actually had to look it up, as I had never heard of the place.
Headstrong Pale Ale - Guelph, ON
A bit lighter tasting the the Dark, but with a nice crisp bite to it. Also, at 5.7% ABV, a serious bottle of beer. I would have included a link with this, but oddly, I couldn't find one.
Creemore Springs Premium Lager - Creemore, ON
I wasn't impressed with this one at all. It had kind of a funky taste to it. I know several people who swear by this beer, but I don't get it.
Well, two out of three ain't bad.
More installments to follow.
Posted by Ian at 9:23 AM
Monday, February 20, 2006
I recently volunteered to provide the munchies for the upcoming annual Oscar Party at a friends' place. More on the party in a future post. One of the dishes that I plan to make is Sweet Potato, Rosemary & Cheese Pierogi, adapted from a recipe from Je Mange La Ville. I have included the recipe below.
Due to the fact that I have never actually made pierogi before, let alone completely from scratch, I decided that I should attempt the recipe at least once before serving them to my friends. I really had no idea what I was in for.
First of all, I needed to buy some equipment, namely a rolling pin. So, off to Zeller's to peruse their not-too-expensive kitchen stuff. Now, I fully intended to buy only a rolling pin, but since I was there, I ended up buying a new colander, a pastry blender (which ended up helping immensely), a spiffy new 8" chef knife and a McFarlane figurine of Grant Fuhr in the 1987 Team Canada uniform. Hee hee.
But I digress. Here's the recipe.
Sweet Potato, Rosemary & Cheese Pierogi
This recipe makes about 50 peirogi
Add cubed sweet potato to a pot of hot water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender, about 10-15 minutes. While the potato is cooking, combine all other ingredients in a large bowl. When the potato is cooked, drain and return to the hot pot and stir a little over medium heat to dry out a bit. Add potato to cheese mixture, and mash to combine. Add salt & pepper to taste. Set aside until needed to fill pierogi.
*NOTE* The original recipe called for feta cheese instead of ricotta cheese. Normally, I attempt recipes for the first time exactly as written, but in this case I had to make the substitution, as I absolutely despise feta cheese. I affectionately refer to it as "Satan's toejam". But enough about that, on to the....
Place flour in large bowl. Add salt. In a separate bowl, combine the sour cream, the melted butter, the oil and the eggs. Mix all wet ingredients together, then add to dry ingredients. Combine using a (brand-new spiffy) pastry blender. Turn out dough onto a floured surface, and knead for 5 minutes until it's soft and pliable.
Divide dough in half, wrap in plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes.
Roll dough out on a floured surface until about 1/4 inch thick. I used a 2-inch circular pastry cutter to cut the dough into circles, but a large drinking glass will work just as well. After cutting out the first batch of circles, re-roll and cut more circles from the scraps. You should be able to get 50 circles.
Place one rounded teaspoon, or thereabouts, on each dough circle. Moisten the edges with water, and fold over to make a half-moon shape. Crimp with a fork to seal the edges.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and boil pierogies in batches for about ten minutes, or until the pierogies float to the top. I found it was a good idea to stir every couple of minutes to make sure nothing was stuck to the bottom.
Since the pot I was using could only handle about 12 pierogies at a time, and assembling them was time-consuming, I put one batch in the water while assembling the next batch.
When the pierogies are ready remove from the water, and drain in a (darn spiffy-looking, brand new) colander.
At this point, some would call them done. I tried one at this stage, and they were certianly tasty, but there was a certain je ne sais quoi that was missing. Of course - more grease!
I finished these in a frying pan with a little oil and some nice pancetta. They crisp up really quickly, so turn often to make sure they haven't burned. Serve with sour cream.
I took them over to my friend Joe's place so we could both "test" them to see if they met our high standards. They disappeared in record time. The mixture of the sweet potato with the two cheeses was really nice, and the lemon zest really cut through and added an extra hit of flavour.
I really enjoyed making these, but they're not something that I would make on a regular basis as they're time-consuming and SO MESSY. I've made messes before while cooking, but as soon as you add flour to the equation it adds a whole new dimension of mayhem. Because, as everyone knows, as soon as any moisture is added to flour, that's right, you get paste. It was everywhere. The next time I make these, I'm going to quadruple the recipe, make a couple of hundred, and put the extras in the freezer. It never hurts to have a huge pile of incredibly tasty pierogies on hand, should unexpected company arrive, or if you just don't feel like cooking.
Posted by Ian at 5:23 PM
The Gallumphing One was feeling kinda cheesy over the weekend, and with all this 'cheese-sandwich blogging' hoo-ha going on, I decided to weigh in with my own take on the cheese sandwich.
Now, normally I'm not particularly fond of cheese sandwiches, as I'm really not very fond of most kinds of cheese, but here's a little something that my mother used to make for my brother and I when we were kids. They're called Cinnamon Cottage Cheese Toasties.
The recipe is simplicity itself, and I found that it's easiest to make this in a toaster oven. You need: one piece of bread, some cottage cheese and some cinnamon.
1) Toast the bread.
2) Spread a generous amount of cottage cheese on the toast, so it's completely covered.
3) Sprinkle the cinnamon over the cottage cheese to taste.
4) Place the toast under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese starts to bubble.
5) Cut the toast into nine pieces, like a tic-tac-toe board, for easier handling by little fingers.
I made this dish for the first time in probably over twenty years, and it tastes just as good as I remember it.
Posted by Ian at 9:15 AM
Thursday, February 16, 2006
The verdict is in. Today, I had THE best food court meal ever. I'm talking about a new place in the TD Centre food court called MB Co. - La Boulangerie de Montreal. Now, I admit, I had intended to go to Quizno’s for a sub, but as always, the line-up was absolutely huge and I really didn’t feel like waiting twenty minutes for my food. As I walked past Quizno’s, I noticed this new place right at the back of the food court – MB Co. It’s a very bright, clean looking restaurant; all the walls and tables are white, and the menu was unusual for a food court restaurant. This is not a place I’d eat at every day, as my lunch came to just under $25, but it was certainly a breath of fresh air after countless burgers, rice-and-two-items combos, and slices of pizza.
I had the Lobster & Shrimp Quesadillas with Aged Cheddar and Caper Berry Salsa, a very nice White Chocolate Cheesecake and a bottle of iced tea. Lobster and Capers and Shrimp, oh my! Put simply, the food was excellent. The sandwich was made fresh when I ordered it, and was delivered to me in an attractive display box with the salsa and some herbed mayonnaise. The cheesecake was similarly packaged, and came with fresh berries and a tasty fruit sauce.
The service was pretty good. The place was packed, but the line seemed to move fairly quickly, and my food didn’t take that long to get to me. The staff were all very friendly, especially the big guy at the ‘to go’ counter. He asked me what I’d ordered, and when I told him, he assured me that I’d made an excellent choice, and said that I was “really gonna enjoy your sandwich”. Tasty food and service with a smile – that’s all that anyone can ask for.
I felt a little self-conscious taking pictures of my food while sitting in the middle of the food court, but if my friend Rob can do it while eating at Canoe, I can certainly handle the scrutiny while in the food court. Besides, the lighting is better than in my kitchen.
Later that day....
Above I mentioned the "big guy at the 'to go' counter" who was so friendly. Turns out this is Giovanni Prioriello, a partner in the company, and the proprietor of the TD Centre MB Co. Now I know where the rest of the staff get their friendly attitude. Cheers!
Posted by Ian at 2:59 PM
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
Over the past few days, I have been worrying that I haven't been cooking very many "blog-worthy" dishes lately. However, it's not every day that I feel like making risotto or coq au vin, or something similar that takes a long time to prepare.
Then it hit me. Why not do a post based on one of the easiest dishes I know how to prepare? I'm talking about a personal favourite of mine, which definitely falls into the realm of comfort food - Baked Chicken Leg with Minute Rice. Oh, and a nice green salad to go with it.
When I get home from work, unless I have something specific planned for dinner, most of the time I don't really feel like chopping and mixing and spending a lot of time worrying about what I'm going to eat. Don't get me wrong, sometimes I do enjoy doing just that, but last night was not one of those nights.
This dish can be as easy or as complex as you like. Here's what you need:
Ian's Baked Chicken Leg Casserole with Minute Rice
- 1 chicken quarter, thawed
- 2 Cups frozen vegetables OR 2 Cups fresh vegetables, chopped
- 1 10-oz can of Cream of Mushroom soup
- 1/2 Cup Cheddar or Mozzarella cheese, grated
- pepper, garlic powder, oregano, etc. to taste
Preheat oven to 375F. Place chicken in casserole dish or baking pan, and cover with vegetables. You can use any vegetables you like - last night I used 6 or 7 large mushrooms, half an onion and one plum tomato. I've indicated that you should use 2 cups of vegetables, but that's just a suggestion. The veggies should just about (but not quite) fill the casserole dish, leaving enough room for the soup and the cheese. Empty the can of mushroom soup over the vegetables, and spread so it covers the entire casserole. Season with pepper and garlic powder and sprinkle the grated cheese over the top. Bake for 45-60 minutes.
- 1 Cup Minute Rice
- 1 egg
- 1 Cup water or chicken stock
- 1/2 tsp pepper
You can make as much or as little rice as you like, as long as you use an equal amount of liquid.
Bring the water or chicken stock to a boil. Add the rice, the egg and the pepper, and stir for a couple of seconds so everything is mixed. Cover and remove from heat. Let stand for at least five to ten minutes so all the liquid has been absorbed.
There you go - dinner in less than an hour with about five minutes prep time.
If you happen to be feeling ambitious, a salad might be a nice addition to the meal. Now, I know what you're saying - "But Ian, doesn't that involve a lot of chopping and mixing and stuff?" Well, yes, but not too much. Again, salad can be as simple or as complex as you like, or based on what you have in your fridge. I used one romaine heart, a handful of baby spinach, a half-dozen chopped mushrooms (I really like mushrooms), a chopped plum tomato, two diced shallots, some fresh grated parmesan cheese and a little light Caesar dressing. Tasty and moderately healthy.
Dinner doesn't have to be fancy, but it should be tasty.
Posted by Ian at 9:29 AM
Wednesday, February 08, 2006
I'm very excited right now. Let me explain. About a month ago, I decided that I wanted to get my hands on a copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. However, despite being an incredibly popular book, none of the book stores I checked had one in stock.
After several fruitless forays, it was now time to check out "The World's Biggest Bookstore" in downtown Toronto. Yes, that's the name of the store. My friend Dave and I went there on our lunch hour yesterday, and had a look at the cookbook section - all twelve racks of it. Man. We browsed through their stock, and couldn't find it. Oh, we found some Julia Child cookbooks, but not THAT one. Just as I was about to give up, Dave says, "Is this the one you're looking for?", and lo and behold THERE IT IS!! I start to flip through it, getting more excited by the minute, until I check the price. Sixty bucks!! I put it back on the shelf, muttering something not nice under my breath.
I got back to the office feeling dejected, and on a whim I decided to check eBay for the book. I entered "julia child cookbook" in the search bar, and at the top of the list - there it was again! The very book. But wait, the auction had less than a minute left, so I clicked on the link and, joy - SIX BUCKS!! And no other bids. I can't believe my luck. I'm all over that like a seagull on a hotdog. Even with the exchange to Canadian dollars and the shipping charges, it still ends up being less than twenty dollars.
I was going to wait until it actually arrived before I wrote this, but I figured that this book alone is worth multiple posts, so here it is.
To be continued.....
Posted by Ian at 9:15 AM
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
I love risotto. Loooove it. I was introduced to this Italian ambrosia by a friend of mine a year or so ago, but I hadn't attempted to make it myself until just last week. I found a tasty-looking recipe for Mushroom Risotto, ventured to the local Grocery Palace to attain the needed ingredients, and had a go. Now, the recipe called for SEVEN cups of chicken stock for 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. This seemed a little excessive to me, so I checked with my aforementioned friend. He assured me that four cups of stock should be enough, but that it was really not such a big deal, as I could just use water if more liquid was needed after I ran out of stock.
This particular recipe calls for the mushrooms to be sauted in cognac and heavy cream, and boy, does that ever make for some tasty mushrooms.
I had been informed that this is not a difficult dish to make, it's just time-consuming and involves a LOT of stirring. Yes, well, I thought I was getting carpal-tunnel syndrome from working at a computer all day, but that's got nothing on stirring rice for 25 minutes straight.
Happily, my hand didn't fall off, and I ended up with a big pile of rather tasty, and very creamy risotto.
Thanks to Elise at Simply Recipes! for the recipe.
Posted by Ian at 9:25 AM
Monday, February 06, 2006
You may have noticed that I haven't been making regular posts lately. This is due to the fact that most of what I have posted so far has been utter crap, and I was really getting tired of looking at it.
I've now deleted most of the former posts, but I've left some of them as I detect small nuggets of possible brilliance in among the felgercarb.
Having said that, I will now say this:
I have spent quite a bit of time lately doing some cooking and experimenting with new recipes. I think that my time would be better served by relating my culinary experiences and exploits to you, my Devoted Readers, than to continue posting drivel.
Well, we'll see how it goes anyway.
"The Desk Beckons" now becomes "The Gallumphing Gourmand".
Posted by Ian at 11:01 AM