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Category Archives: Crianza

Oh the Zen! The Zen of it All!

There is a Zen-like composure that comes over you when you are cooking the only meal of the week in which you are allowed to indulge your less healthy desires.  You pay more attention to the little details.  You prepare in advance more, not wanting something to be spoiled because of bad timing.  The process of cooking takes on a life of its own, sucking you in and down into its delicious, swirling vortex, the anticipation of the meal to come, ripping out all impatience, and replacing it with a sense of oneness with your kitchen.

I have just completed my second week of body modification.  There will be no cutting, piercing, or inking going on.  None of my modifications will be permanent; all will require maintenance for the rest of my life.  Yet I find myself embracing these changes in lifestyle for the ecstasy they bring, once a week, on Sunday nights.

Anything, when only permitted once a week, takes on a new level of importance.  It becomes a quest.  The week spent in the gym – the labyrinths and catacombs and dungeons and caves.  The weights and treadmills and reps and sets – my dragons and Cyclopes and minotaurs – all to be defeated for my maiden fair Meal.  “I see thee, fair maiden, and I shall deserve thee.”

The challenge, now, is not undoing all of the work I have put in at the gym all week by loading up on carbs and fat.  (Challenge failed.)

On the Menu: Citrus Twist Coleslaw, Three Lettuce Salad, Tri-Colour Baked Beans, Seasoned Potato Wedges, Butter-Flashed Asparagus with Rosemary, Oven-Baked Steak Medallions, Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

On the surface, I know, it looks like a healthy enough dinner.  The reality is, that anything that gets cooked in that much butter cannot be healthy.  Well, not lean, anyway.

I have found that if you marinade beef in butter for thirty minutes prior to cooking, it tastes like awesome.  (The marinade also included salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary.)

The steaks get seared on each side for about two minutes, with a little olive oil in the pan to keep them from sticking, then the whole skillet goes into a 230 degree oven for 8 minutes.  This should give you a medium-rare to medium result.

Joseph handled the salads again, and his introduction of citrus to the coleslaw blew everyone’s minds.

Megan’s poppy seed cake was an exercise in elegance and exquisite balance of flavour and texture.  At the end of a long day and night, it was just what everyone needed, whether they knew it or not.

And we had two additions to the table this week.  Megan’s aunt Judith is visiting us from Toronto, and Cara and Rene’s cousin, Lada, is visiting from the Czech Republic.  TSB goes global, y’all …

Judith was kind enough to bring a bottle of wine from Canada.  Well, from France, but the bottle was in Canada for awhile.

Wine: Les Hauts de Castellas Vacqueyras, Red Blend (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre), Rhône Valley, France, 2009, $19.95 CAD
Rating: Two Bottles

Since we detected hints of rosemary in this wine, it went very well with this week’s meal, the harmonizing herb of this week’s dinner.  In their tasting notes, the LCBO mentions, “Ideal for homemade gourmet hamburgers or rich meat-based pastas.”  Funny, that.

Earthy, herby, and floral, this wine is on the light-ish side, but with tannins that more than make up for it – a little too up front for most of our liking.  We were a divided bunch on this wine.  The vintners recommend shelving this wine for five to seven years, so we were two years short.  We agreed with their estimates.  Given a little more time, this wine would probably round out a bit more and lose a lot of its bitey-ness.

Being that there were nine of us, wine didn’t stand on ceremony this week, so neither will we.

Wine: Pagos del Moncayo, Grenache/Syrah, Campo de Borja, Spain, 2010, $150 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

I got this wine from Demian at Cava Veinte33.  One of his new wines, his enthusiasm for it was contagious, so I bought it.  (Never refuse an excited sommelier.  It’s kind of like turning down a bower.)

With dark fruit and apple flavours, this woody wine is light but complex.  Sandalwood plays off peppery notes, while chocolate and figs bring up the bottom.

Amazing value for the price.

Wine: Viña Pomal, Rioja Crianza, Spain, 2009, $145 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

All of the wines this week went very well with red meat.  This very typical Rioja – earthy, oaky, and leathery – was no exception.  Although, if pressed, I would have to say that it didn’t have as much character as the other two.  Also, we were tired.  It just felt a little flat.  It was fine, don’t get me wrong, just not much to write home about.

And with our plates clean and our bellies full, we bid each other a good night.

And I toddled off to bed, to sleep, eagerly awaiting my work-outs to come, knowing that each bench I press (?) brings me that much closer to the next Sunday Bottles.

Until then,


Good-Bye, Carbs … Good-bye, Happiness …

I don’t even remember what we ate this week.

I seriously don’t.  It seems like forever ago.  I just finished my first day with a personal trainer, you see, and let me tell you, if you are thinking of doing it, hiring a personal trainer, be prepared to feel very awkward about how you see yourself.  The trainer won’t say anything, but when someone who is in perfect shape is advising you how to get in shape and there are mirrors … (fucking) everywhere, you start to feel pretty pudgy.

Anyway, we did have a good Sunday.  In anticipation for this new lifestyle change that I am putting myself through (why???), I made a dinner that would be a sort of send-off to carbs.  Not that I had committed to any kind of diet in advance, but I just figured the trainer would look at me and say something to the effect of, “Okay … so we’re going to be laying off the carbs for awhile, okay?”  (Which he did, but in a much nicer way.  He’s actually a really good guy.  Very supportive.)

On the Menu: Creamed Soup Florentine, Spinach and Hydroponic Lettuce Salad with Spring Onions, Radishes, and Hard Boiled Eggs, Garlic Bread with Basil and Mozzarella, Fettuccini Alfredo with Pan Seared Asparagus

Megan, Rene, and the gang went off to the Cozumel Air Show for the day and so I was alone in the kitchen.  Oh, except for Joseph.  (Who used to own and operate his own high-end restaurant.)  Except for him, I was completely alone.  I tackled the Alfredo sauce, while Joseph handled the soup.  The salad, Joseph also prepared, and the garlic bread was a team effort.

The soup was awesome.  Just the right balance to make it warming without being too heavy.  The salad was light and fresh and played off the spinach in the soup nicely.  The garlic bread went with both perfectly, the basil and the garlic complimenting the two appetizers well.

The fettuccini, I hate to admit, was a little on the disappointing side.  I had thought that we had parmesan at home, but we did not.  Alfredo without parmesan in the preparation is not really Alfredo and my sauce was judged to be lacking.  It was still good, but was missing that certain something that would have put it over the top.  (As evidenced by the tiny piles of noodles left scattered on various plates.

Alfredo should be something that you eat even when you know you should stop.  It should compel you to eat it.  You should get to the point where you feel full, your instincts are pulling you back, but your desire to finish what’s in front of you is like a pack of ravenous dogs, breaking their master’s chain, ignoring his commands, and gorging themselves on their helpless prey.  Without all of the ingredients, however, it just doesn’t do that.  Without all of the ingredients, it makes you feel a little like you are eating papiermâché.

The wine, on the other hand, was fantastic.  Let’s talk about that!

The Wine: Sancinos, Crianza Rioja, Spain, 2008, $230 MXN

Rating: Three Bottles

This wine was awesome.  Oaky, earthy tones mixed with plums and chocolate-covered cherries.  Peppery and deep, this wine immediately wakes up your taste buds on the first sip.

There is a slight harshness to this wine, but kind of in a warming way, like ginger, or port.  Megan and I got a little silly off this wine.  We’ve had rain for the past week or so, and the wine was kind of like a feeling in a bottle.  The rain be dammed, it seemed to say once uncorked.  Bring us your rain, for we car not!  Let’s sing a chantey, what!

And Megan’s mom is visiting!  She brought a bottle down from British Columbia, so we’ll tell you all about that next week.  (Wink!)

All right: that’s enough.  My body is screaming at me and my trainer promised me that my calves would cramp up excruciatingly at some point in the night, so I want to be all tucked into bed so I can enjoy that to the fullest.

Until next week,


A Good Time Was Had By All

This week, we decided to switch things up a bit.  Instead of our usual evening of fine wine and a family dinner, we thought it would be fun to invite some friends over, drink some wine and eat some snacks, and try a wider swath of wines all at once.

We were not wrong; a good time was had by all.

Six wines, lots of cheese, some prosciutto, and mini-hangovers the next day.

We invited four of our dearest friends to join our family for a fun little set-to.  We would decant each wine, one by one, so that people were unable to prejudge the wines they were drinking based on either the vineyard or the varietal.  My thought was this: if I tell you that you are enjoying a merlot, you immediately dig into your memory vault of merlots you’ve tried in the past, but also into your emotional vault of how you generally feel about merlot.  In general.  If you are unaware of what wine you are sampling, you have to try the wine and really taste it.  Your only preconception is that it’s red.

Each guest brought a bottle.  With Megan and I, that made six wines, and a loose price range of $300 to $500 pesos per bottle.  (Roughly, $20 – $40, FYI.)  We weren’t looking for snobbery, just a blanket, approximate, assurance of quality.

(I had actually toyed with the idea of buying a couple of really cheap bottles to see if anyone noticed the difference, but people had to drive, so …)

Our guests included Marcelo and Alejandra, good friends of ours (and of our family) for several years; Demian and Maria José, just back from their recent nuptials and honeymoon; Megan and Rene, of course; Cara and Caia (until bedtime); Marilyn and Joseph, the in-laws.

Oh: and me.

With snacks out, we decanted our first bottle of the afternoon.

Wine: Emevé, Tempranillo, 2009, Mexico, $350 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a really fantastic wine.  For the price, very hard to beat.  If you want to impress the crap out of people at your next dinner party or whatever, this is the wine to bring.  Fruity and soft, the flavours expand gently, not overpowering your senses, but being ever-present.  The perfect wine to start with, since it’s complexities complimented the varied fare we had laid on our table.

Wine: Inédito, Crianza, Rioja, 2006, Spain, $540 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

Starting out with a wine like Emevé kind of ruins the next wine you try.  That being said, Inédito is not a bad wine.  Being a Crianza, it must meet certain requirements for its appellation, and we noted them well.  Leathery, peppery … a distinct odour of feet.  Yep.  Feet.  Unfair, I know, since New World tempranillos don’t have the same restrictions that Old World vineyards have placed on them, but still: feet.

Here’s the thing with buying wine in Mexico, and I would imagine anywhere: cost does not dictate quality or enjoyability.  It merely denotes what the rough cost of importation was for the product that you are drinking.  (Don’t get me started on the LCBO … ahem.)

Really, this wine was fine.  It had some very nice qualities and an eye-catching bottle.  For the price, however, I wouldn’t say it would be a repeat.  If we had tried it first, instead of the Emevé we would have most assuredly enjoyed it more.  It’s just the foot smell, you know?

Wine: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Jacques Charlet, 2009, France, $490 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

Loved this wine.  Sharp and clean, a welcome addition to the afternoon.  Strong berry flavours.  A good companion to the garlic bread.  Another benefit was watching our friends try to figure out which wine they were drinking as it is not a commonly available (or served) wine here in Playa del Carmen.  One thing you notice this particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape is it’s strength.  Compared to many New World wines, this is a powerhouse – strong, present flavours, with tannins equal to the task but without being pushy.

On the Menu: Assorted Cheeses, Prosciutto, Olives, Assorted Jams, Tomato Garlic Bread, Dark Chocolate, Quiche Lorraine

Megan and I wanted to keep things simple.  She picked up a couple of cheeses and whatnots, as did I, and we put some basic amuse bouches out.  Joseph, our father-in-law, made his Quiche Lorraine, which was a treat for our Mexican friends who had not been indoctrinated into the world of egg tarts.

The nice thing about finger foods is that everyone gets to eat whenever and however they like and we don’t have to spend eternity in the kitchen.  It frees us up to host and serve and entertain.  Megan was able to freely take as many photos as she wanted, or not, and I was free to talk my face off.  (Yeah, on that one, there is no “or not.”  Seriously: I don’t stop.  It’s a problem.)

Wine: Fratelli Pasini, Nebbiolo, 2010, Mexico, $310 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

We’ve reviewed a Fratelli Pasini back in August.  We were impressed then; we are impressed now.  The wonderful berry flavours come screaming through this wine in such subtle, yet powerful, ways.  I will warn you, however: this is a very dangerous wine.  It would be easy to turn your back on this wine, thinking that it means no harm.  That would be folly.  This wine will wait for you to drop your guard and suckerpunch you with its awesome.  Fratelli Pasini makes dangerous wines because they are so smooth, so delicious, that without realising it, you have finished a bottle and opening another.

Which is exactly what we did.

Wine: Fratelli Pasini, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2009, Mexico, $310 MXN
Rating: Two Bottles

A young, fresh wine, the Cabernet Sauvignon had a sharpness to it that the Nebbiolo did not.  Unlike the fuller, rounder, blueberry and cherry flavours of the Nebbiolo, the Cabernet snuck in some cranberries and black currant through the back door.  Where the Nebiolo was sweet and playful, the Cabernet is a little more pronounced, a little greener.

This really is a vineyard that you should try to find anywhere you can.  We have never been disappointed with their wines and Demian sells a lot of it at Cava.

Wine: Casa Madero, 3V, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot/Tempranillo, 2009, Mexico, $250 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

In my opinion, however, we saved the best for last.  Casa Madero, another winery we have reviewed in the past, has blended three varietals together in such a way that what you have in your glass is a triumph.  What you may notice first is the bouquet, flowery and delicate, and very surprising.  Unlike many wines that give you that acrid, bitten nose feeling, the 3v greets your nose with lilacs and lavender.  Very soothing to breathe in.

Then, as if to trick you, your mouth picks up on black pepper, oak, and chocolate!  You feel duped, so you take a whiff … nope.  Nobody here but us lilacs.  Sip.  Pepper party!!

If this wine is a changeling – distracting your senses into believing one thing only to reveal its true nature to be another.

Having started the afternoon at three o’clock, we finished the evening at around eight.  Our guests happy (and tipsy), we made our farewells and promised to do it again soon.  And honestly, if we did this every Sunday, we wouldn’t mind at all.

Until then,


Celestial Wine, Earthly Bodies

Migraines blow.  I narrowly avoided one Sunday thanks to the quick work of Cara dashing off to the store and buying me all of the Advil in the land.  The red kind.  That has rocket fuel in it for faster absorption.  Then I laid resting in the darkest room with the coldest air conditioning, willing myself to remain calm so that I wouldn’t feel the vise that was crushing my head like a grape, while Megan busied herself in the kitchen and Rene watched videos on YouTube with Caia.

With this in mind, our topic of conversation (once I returned to the table) was, not surprisingly, more earthly in nature.  Namely, the frailty of life … how short our time on the Earth is … and so on.  (After dinner, Rene and I would watch videos of impossibly powerful guns to hammer the aforementioned point home.)

Megan and I saw a fun little recipe from Sophie Dahl this week for twice baked potatoes and roasted tomato soup.  Megan also found a fantastic wine that we can’t wait to tell you about.  But first, the food.

On the Menu: Twice Baked Potatoes, Roasted Tomato Soup with Rosemary

Megan altered Sophie’s recipe a little, skipping the Goat Cheese as not everyone likes Goat Cheese.  The magic of twice baked potatoes is the deliciousness of them, however, so if you are not a fan of Goat Cheese, you could swap it for parmesan or sharp cheddar.  Skipping it entirely, as we did, you miss the tanginess that Goat Cheese brings.  Delicious, however, all the same.

This soup is warming and fantastic.  Megan also substituted rosemary for thyme, as fresh thyme isn’t always available down here.  The trick: you need to let the vegetables break down and caramelize in the oven.  Don’t be afraid of overdoing them, as you can always scrape off the burnt parts.  I mean, don’t incinerate them or anything, but don’t worry too much about them being in there too long.  After all, you’re going to puree and emulsify the crap out of them after anyway, so you really can’t go wrong.

If you are finding the soup a little thick, or chunky, try adding olive oil and a little cream to thicken and dissipate the bits while pureeing.  Also, this is where a sieve really comes in handy.  If you do not have a quality food processor (but only a blender, say), forcing the juice from the veggies through a sieve will ensure that you have a truly creamy soup.

But, really, we can’t stress leaving the veggies in the oven long enough.  Really.

Wine: Celeste, Torres, Crianza, Ribera del Duero, Spain, 2007, $239 MXN
Rating: Three Bottles

This is a really, truly, unequivocally, fantastic wine.  The longer you take to drink this bottle, the more enjoyment you are going to get out of it.  Not to be rushed, this wine, would be the point.  Very smooth, with lots of dark chocolate, makes for a very strong bouquet that opens nicely, given time.  This time allows you to enjoy the deep garnet colours as you roll the wine slowly around in your glass.

The first glass gives off a lot of bitterness.  If you wait a half-an-hour, however, you’ll notice that the second glass is a lot softer.  Much more noticeably than in other wines we’ve tried.  If you can bring yourself to enjoy this wine at a leisurely pace, you’ll find yourself picking up on the softer berry flavours that hide underneath the bitterness of the dark chocolate ones.

Soon, you’ll find yourself watching videos of machine guns on YouTube, and remarking how the flavour lingers in a way that affords you the patience to wait between sips.  Video clips of rail guns will captivate you between quaffs, leading nicely to short films of homemade rockets.

If you have cigars, this would be the wine to smoke them along with.

Next week is Caia’s birthday party, so I’m not sure what we’ll do for TSB.

She’s turning two.

Question: Is it in poor taste to sample wine while watching your daughter play in a bouncy castle?  Is it uncouth to watch a piñata being smashed open while being openly smashed at a child’s party?

We look forward to your thoughts.


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