Frozen Mango Margaritas

5 05 2009


Happy Cinco de Mayo!

Cinco de Mayo (“Fifth of May”) is a day for celebrating Mexican heritage. For those of us who are not Mexican, it’s still a great excuse to whip up some margaritas and break out the chips and salsa.  We happen to be in the middle of mango season right now so why not celebrate with some mango margaritas?  They are simple to make and quite delicious, especially when paired with your favourite Mexican snacks like guacamole.

There are a number of different types of mangoes available at the supermarket, including hadens, altaulfos and alphonsoes. Hadens are a popular choice but you can choose whichever kind looks ripest.  To learn how to easily peel and dice mango, check out these helpful step-by-step instructions: How to Cut a Mango.

Frozen Mango Margaritas

Makes 4 servings

  • Fruit from 3 ripe mangoes (about 2 cups of fruit)
  • Juice from one small lime, about 1 oz.
  • 2 cups ice cubes
  • 4 ounces tequila
  • 2 ounces Cointreau or Triple Sec
  • Sea salt or other coarse salt for the rim of the glasses (optional)
  • Orange or lime slices for garnish (optional)
  1. Put mango, lime juice, ice, tequila and triple sec into a blender.  Puree on high for about one minute or until all ice is broken up and the margarita is smooth.
  2. If using salt for the glass rims, place salt on a small plate.  Moisten the rim of each glass and dip the edge into the salt, turning the glass until the rim is evenly coated.  
  3. Pour drinks into margarita glasses, martini glasses or tumblers and garnish with fruit slices if desired.


A Valentine’s Day Menu

12 02 2009

istock_000002801671xsmallValentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year which is great for enjoying the evening with a loved one (or a group of friends if you are feeling sociable or are unattached). However, going to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth.  Struggling to get a reservation at your favourite place then dealing with the crowds and overworked staff makes entertaining at home look like an attractive option.  Save the restaurant visit for the following week, when the crowds have died down and you can really enjoy yourself.  A home cooked meal is also a great idea if you’re watching your budget.  The following dishes can be made for a fraction of what a restaurant would charge.

If you’re staying in, an elegant menu is in order.  The main dish (ribs or osso buco), potato and pudding recipes are designed to make four servings so you can either invite some friends to join you, cut the recipes in half or enjoy leftovers the next day. Half bottles of sparkling wines and red wines are usually available if you’re serving two people and don’t want to go overboard.


A Valentine’s Day Menu for 2 or 4 people

Champagne or sparkling wine

Smoked Salmon Spread with crackers OR a Selection of Freshly Shucked Oysters

Scallop Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette

Braised Short Ribs  OR  Osso Buco with Tomato Sauce

Mashed Potatoes

A bold red wine, such as Sangiovese, Barolo or Cabernet Sauvignon to accompany the main course

Individual Chocolate Puddings

Ice Wine Cocktails with a selection of cheeses

Chocolate Truffles (purchased from a good chocolate shop)


Bon Appétit and Happy Valentine’s Day!



Scallop Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette makes an elegant starter course for a romantic Valentine's Day meal

Scallop Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette makes an elegant starter course for a romantic Valentine's Day meal


28 01 2009


A sample of ice wine at Peller Estates

A sample of icewine at Peller Estates



The expression “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” may be a bit of a cliché but when it comes to Canadians and winter weather, it’s an apt metaphor for what we do.  Except instead of lemonade, we’re making icewine.

Icewine was first made in Germany, where it is known as ‘eiswein’.  It involves leaving grapes on the vines to freeze which concentrates the sugars.  When pressed, the grapes yield a sweet, viscous nectar that is reminiscent of fruit and honey.  While Germany may lay claim to icewine’s roots, Canada has become a top producer with Canadian wineries regularly winning awards at international competitions.  To learn more about how Ontario icewines are made, visit

Each winter, the Niagara wine region in Southern Ontario holds an icewine festival and this year I had the pleasure of attending some of the events.  A number of wineries hosted special tastings with activities and entertainment.  The main street of Niagara-on-the-Lake was blocked off to make way for a number of booths featuring samples from local winemakers and small bites from area restauranteurs.  

An outdoor ice bar

An outdoor ice bar


Our day got off to a late start but it’s only a short drive to the Niagara region from Toronto (just over an hour, if traffic is good). We stopped at Flat Rock Cellars and sampled a couple of their vintages.  They were also selling icewine marshmallows for toasting over the outdoor fire and their pond had been cleared for skating but unfortunately the ice conditions were poor so no one was out.  We moved on to Peller Estates who were hosting their tastings at an outdoor ice bar.  They featured icewines made from three different grapes: cabernet franc, vidal and riesling.  Like Flat Rock, Peller was also offering icewine marshmallows on sticks for toasting over fire pits. The toasted marshmallows were certainly better than anything you can buy in a bag but they were extremely sweet!  To finish off, Chef Jason Parsons was offering his signature icewine infused white hot chocolate.  It was the perfect drink to warm up with on a cold day.

Icewine marshmallows, ready for toasting over the fire

Icewine marshmallows, ready for toasting over the fire


Finally we went into town for the main event.   At the Fallsview Casino Icewine Lounge local restaurants were offering up small plates of their fare and icewine was flowing freely.   Tokens were for sale at the entrance and samples typically cost between one and three tokens.  There was entertainment and ice sculptors were wielding their chainsaws, producing temporary works of art.  The most popular booth was the 20 Bees martini bar, which featured icewine martinis poured down an ice chute, ensuring the drinks were ice cold by the time they hit your glass (see recipe for the cocktail below).   The food offered was very hearty including pork and beans, squash soup and a Provençal duck stew. 

Icewine martinis are poured through an ice chute

Icewine martinis are poured through an ice chute


The festival is held each year and runs for two weekends.  For information on planning a trip next year, visit  It’s a unique way to experience wine country in the off-season.   A weekend of fine dining, great wine and perhaps a visit to the casino or a spa is the perfect way to chase away the mid-winter blues!



An ice sculptor at work

An ice sculptor at work


Entertainment at the festival

Entertainment at the festival


If you aren’t able to make it to the festival, you can still get into the spirit at home. Niagara icewine is available around the world (I once saw some in a wine shop in Rome), although it’s not cheap.  However, on occasion it’s an indulgent treat that’s worth the splurge.  For more icewine cocktails, click here: Peller Estates Icewine Cocktails.

Icewine Cocktail

As featured at the 20 Bees booth at the 2009 Niagara Icewine Festival

Makes 1 (strong) drink, can easily be doubled.

  • 2 ounces Skyy Vodka
  • 1 ounce 20 Bees Icewine

Chill a cocktail shaker in the freezer.  Combine a scoop of ice cubes, the vodka and icewine.  Shake well and strain into a chilled wineglass or martini glass.

An ice wine martini

An icewine martini


Icewine Jelly

This makes a great accompaniment to a cheese plate.  

Makes approximately 3/4 cup of jelly

  • 1 cup icewine
  • 1 package Certo pectin
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine icewine and pectin.  Stir to combine and bring to a boil on high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 15 minutes, until jelly begins to thicken.  Pour into a container and refrigerate until jelly cools and sets, at least 1 hour.
  3. Serve with cheeses, foie gras, etc.


Ice wine jelly with Comfort Cream cheese and crackers

Icewine jelly with Comfort Cream cheese and crackers


Bon Appétit and Enjoy!

Spooky Snacks and Cocktails

30 10 2008

Halloween can be just as much fun for adults as it is for the little ones.  It falls on a weekend this year, which means it’s a great excuse to get everyone together to celebrate.  Why not whip up some cocktails and hors d’oeuvres to celebrate the season?

Here are some simple ideas that are quick to pull together:

Fill bowls with brown and orange M&Ms or orange and black jellybeans for people to munch on.

Use Halloween themed cookie cutters to cut up slices of bread.  Fill with your favourite cheese, butter the outside and make miniature grilled cheese sandwiches as finger food.

Make mini quesadillas: Cut flour tortillas into 4″ rounds.  Fill with salsa, cheese and any other favourite fillings (such as cooked chicken, diced peppers, onions, crabmeat, etc).  Fold over and brown in a skillet. Serve with sour cream and guacamole.

Tortilla chips and Goulish Guacamole

Creepy Crab and Avocado Stuffed Tomatoes

Haunted Herb and White Bean Dip is excellent with toasted pita breads or carrot and celery sticks

Morbid Mushroom Crostini

And of course, what’s a party without drinks?  Here are a couple of Halloween cocktails to get your party started:

Vampire Slayer

This is similar to a Bloody Caesar or Bloody Mary but of course contains garlic to keep vampires at bay.  To make a Virgin Vampire Slayer, leave out the vodka.  For a Spicy Vampire Slayer, increase the tabasco sauce. Warning: it’s for garlic lovers only!

Makes 1 drink (can easily be doubled)


  • 1 Tablespoon celery salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder


  • 1-1/2 oz. vodka
  • 1/2 clove garlic, very finely minced
  • 1-1/2 cups clamato OR tomato juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, or to taste
  • A handful of ice cubes
  • Celery stalk or lemon wedge for garnish
  1. Mix celery salt and garlic powder until combined on a small plate.  Moisten the rim of a highball glass with a lemon wedge or water and dip into celery salt mix until the entire rim is coated.
  2. Place ice, vodka, garlic, juice, tabasco and worchestershire sauce in a cocktail shaker.  Shake well and strain into glass.  Garnish with a celery stalk or lemon wedge.
Vampire Slayer

Vampire Slayer

Witch’s Kiss

Melon liqueur can be found quite easily at most liquor stores.  Midori is a common brand name and McGuinness makes one called ‘Melon’.  It’s bright green and has a refreshing melon flavour.

Makes 1 drink  (can easily be doubled)

  • 2 oz. Melon liqueur
  • 1 oz. vodka
  • 1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • A handful of ice cubes
  • Sparkling wine OR club soda
  1. In cocktail shaker, add melon liqueur, vodka, lemon juice and ice cubes.  Shake until well combined.  Strain into a martini glass and top with sparkling wine or club soda.
Witch's Kiss

Witch's Kiss

Bon Appetit and Happy Halloween!

(Pumpkin clip art courtesy of Kaboose Free Clipart)

Welcome to Fall!

24 09 2008

In Canada, there are four very distinct seasons.  Almost everyone loves summer and winter has its charms but without a doubt, my favourite season is fall.  The crisp weather, colourful foliage and an excuse to shop for a new wardrobe are all great reasons to enjoy autumn but let’s not forget about the food!  Hearty soups, rich braises, spiced cider and pumpkin treats are only some of the culinary delights fall has to offer. Many of the farmer’s markets will be running for another month or so, their stalls overflowing with pumpkins, squash and apples.  Thanksgiving offers a chance to make your favourite autumn dishes such as pumpkin pie and juicy herb-roasted turkey. And of course, there’s Hallowe’en, which falls on a Friday this year so it’s a great excuse for the adults to get together and celebrate the season with spooky cocktails and snacks.  

So get ready for fall and check back for lots of great autumn recipes and techniques. To get things started for the season, here is a quick recipe for a cider spice mix so you can whip up a cup of hot apple cider to enjoy after a brisk autumn walk or an afternoon of raking leaves.  It can be used with apple cider or, as Christmas nears, hot cranberry juice.

Spiced Cider


Makes 4 cups of cider – can easily be doubled

Spice Packet:

  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half + 4 whole sticks for garnish
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 strip orange peel, about 1″ X 2″ – peel only, make sure white pith is cut off
  • 4 whole allspice 
  • Cheesecloth, doubled and cut into a 6″ X 6″ square
  • Kitchen string – about 3″ long


  • 4 cups (1 liter) non-alcoholic apple cider OR cranberry juice
  1. Lay cheesecloth flat on the counter and add all ingredients.  Fold up corners and tie tightly with kitchen string.
  2. In a large saucepan, add cider and spice packet.  Heat on medium-high until simmering then reduce to medium-low (do not boil).  Simmer for about 30 minutes, until spices permeate the cider.
  3. Remove spice packet and discard, pour cider into mugs and garnish with cinnamon sticks.
Bon Appetit and Enjoy!

Spring Cocktails

1 06 2008

Springtime typically brings a number of occasions for celebration – graduations, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, wedding showers, birthdays, etc.  What better way to toast your special occasion than with a cocktail inspired by the blossoming season?  Even if that occasion is just a Friday night with your friends!

A number of cocktails are made with a simple syrup (water and dissolved sugar) or sour mix as an ingredient.  I’ve taken that idea and developed a syrup made from fresh strawberries and rhubarb.  It’s both sweet and tart and provides a refreshing change from the usual cranberry juice mix. 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Syrup

Yields approximately 1 cup


  • 2 stalks rhubarb, diced (approx.  1-1/4 cup)
  • 1-1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Lower heat to medium-low and cover pot.
  2. Simmer on medium-low heat until fruit is softened, approximately 3 minutes.
  3. Mash cooked fruit with a potato masher until all solids resemble puree.  Place a mesh strainer over a large bowl and carefully pour fruit mixture into strainer.
  4. Stir the mixture in the strainer with a spoon until the liquid has all strained through leaving just pulp (it can take a while because the puree is quite thick).   Discard fruit solids.
  5. Return the liquid from the bowl to the saucepot and simmer on medium heat until it’s reduced by about half.   Remove from heat and cool.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

Canadian 75

Makes 1 drink


This is a variation on a classic cocktail called a French 75.  The original is made with simple syrup but the strawberry-rhubarb syrup adds a new dimension of flavour.  The night my husband proposed we were drinking French 75 cocktails so it is a drink that always makes me smile.  Don’t use expensive champagne for this – an inexpensive, dry sparkling wine will suffice.

  • 1 oz. gin
  • 1 oz strawberry-rhubarb syrup (see recipe above)
  • 1 oz fresh lemon juice
  • Dry sparkling wine

Combine gin, syrup, and lemon in a champagne flute.  Top with sparkling wine.


Le Printemps

Makes 1 drink


This martini-style cocktail is a refreshing alternative to the Cosmopolitan craze that has swept the drink scene over the past few years. 

  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/4 cup strawberry-rhubarb syrup (see recipe above)
  • 5 – 6 ice cubes
  • Dry sparkling wine
  1. In a cocktail shaker, combine vodka, strawberry-rhubarb syrup and ice.  Shake well until combined.
  2. Strain into a martini glass and top with sparkling wine.  Garnish with a strawberry slice.


Springtime Kir

Makes 1 drink


Kir Royale is an apertif often enjoyed before meals in France.  It’s made with cassis and champagne.  This is a new alternative to the classic drink.

  • 1/2 oz strawberry-rhubarb syrup
  • Dry sparkling wine

Pour strawberry-rhubarb syrup into the bottom of a champagne flute.  Top with sparkling wine.

Bon Appetit and Enjoy!