|Spiced Baked Apples with Maple Caramel Sauce|
To continue my celebration of wine for the Okanagan Wine Festival and now our Canadian Thanksgiving I will continue to take you on a little journey of cooking with wine in celebration of the harvest and my newly discovered passion for cuisine du terroir. Each day this week I have made wine the star of my dishes or at the very least cooked with glass in hand. Today I am starting with dessert!
A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to revisit the Naramata Bench with Jennifer Cockrall-King when I attended the Food and Wine Writers Workshop. You can read all about our first day of adventure here. The second day started out with several workshops at the Wine Country Visitor Centre in Penticton. The first session was with Dianne Jacob a California-based writing coach, editor, and author of Will Write for Food. She took us through writing with the senses and other food writing fundamentals. You will also find Dianne on line at her blog of the same name. Lunch was courtesy of the Bench Market followed by a seminar by Liane Faulder, a food columnist at the Edmonton Journal and on CBC Radio Active. With some entertaining stories and anecdotes she spoke on how "Writing Can Change Your Life." It was a pleasure to spend the weekend with both of these ladies.
After a short break we were shuttled like celebrities to Naramata wine country. The Naramata Bench is a place of great beauty and personality. The town of Naramata is a sleepy little hollow with beautiful beaches, cafes and restaurants with a lavender farm and a spa thrown in for good measure. Twenty two boutique wineries at last count have sprouted up on this prime agricultural land either situated on the picturesque rolling hillsides of the Naramata Bench or perched at the edge of cliffs that fall perilously towards Okanagan Lake. It is truly a breathtaking setting!!!
Living in the Okanagan Valley for 15+ years I have many opportunities to tour a well healed cross-section of the over 100 wineries in this area. But to meet the actual wine makers who are so passionate about the land and what they do was a real honour!
Howling Bluff Estate Winery was our first stop along the route. This small family-owned estate winery is the culmination of winemaker Luke Smith’s life long passion for great wines. With his son Daniel, Luke has been producing award-winning wines since their first vintage in 2006. As it says on their web site, "Dedicated to producing small lots of fine wines, Luke and Daniel are building a legacy, a family winery for their future generations."
At Howling Bluff Estate Vineyards we had the opportunity to taste test their signature Pinot Noir and witness what the terroir does for a series of four vintages from year to year from 2006 - 2009. The difference in taste was remarkable and every nuance noted. I have never had the opportunity to taste a series of wines from grapes that are grown on the same plot of land, the same soil, the same care and attention to detail...just a change in weather from year to year. Memorable! The deep cut formed by Three Mile Creek, allows cool evening air to flow over the vines at night while the rolling hills leave no room for mild frost to pool and harm the grapes in the fall. That is terrior at it's finest. We had the privilege of testing the very first opened bottle, along with the winemaker, of 2009 Pinot Noir which minutes earlier had won a prestigious award.
Our next stop was a vineyard walk and talk with Naramatian orchardist and winemaker Rob Van Westen and his wife Tammi. According to their web site Van Westen Vineyards has evolved from over 50 years of family tradition, cultivating the soils of The Naramata Bench and producing some of the best wines in British Columbia. We were treated to a lovely lunch of Raincoast Crisps, goat cheese and brie when only minutes ago I thought I couldn't hold another bite of food after lunch supplied by the Bench Market. The down-to-earth couple took us through the history of their family owned business while sampling some of their premium wines and their decision to plant vineyards. It really is a labour of love and a family affair!
Next we had a short visit with passionate winemaker Ross Hackworth at Nichol Vineyard. The vineyards are perfectly situated on a pocket of land tucked against steep, heat-radiating red granite cliffs under the former Kettle Valley Railway and above the deep blue Okanagan Lake. This site offers the ideal place to grow grapes that produce wines with intense fruit and bright acidity and is home to Canada's first and oldest Syrah Vineyard. Since 1993 Nichol has been creating wines exclusively from grapes grown in Naramata.
With expertise and emphasis on sustainable, cool climate viticulture practices, these winemakers continue to grow quality vinifera grapes and make premium wines for us to enjoy!!!! Long established as Canada's premier grape growing region, the wines of Naramata Bench share a fine pedigree of superb craftsmanship and heritage. Naramata Bench wine country is a must visit destination for wine connoisseurs and those seeking vistas of unparalleled beauty.
Then on to dinner at the historic Naramata Heritage Inn and Spa. Jennifer says, " Sommelier of the Year (and blogger and wine writer for various Canadian wine publications), Kurtis Kolt, looked after our dining and drinking. Our group was joined by Ian Sutherland, winemaker at Poplar Grove winery and Val Tait, viticulturist at Poplar Grove. Despite being in the middle of crush, winemaker at Therapy Vineyard Steven Latchford, even popped in to talk to the group." Our outstanding meal began with "an out of control" heirloom tomato salad with bocconcini, crispy Cortland onions and sweet mammoth basil paired with a 2009 Lake Breeze Sauvignon Blanc. This was followed by an unexpectedly chilled organic sorrel, leek and fingerling potato soup with creme fraiche and Dungeness crab paired with a 2009 Kettle Valley Pinot Gris. The piece de resistance was the Thiessen Farms Muscovy duck breast with rock-oven roasted delicata squash, Italian prune plums and vanilla potato puree paired with a 2006 Poplar Grove Merlot. The finale was a Naramata pear and almond tart with vanilla bean ice cream paired with a 2009 Therapy Pink Freud. No "wine wankers" or "flabby wines" here!!!!
Since we are celebrating the end of the season I decided to continue my exploration of cooking with wine with this Spicy Baked Apple dish. Baked apples satisfy the craving for apple pie without the commitment. This recipe is based on one from Melissa Clark in an old issue of the New York Times. It made wonderful yielding, tender apples with complex spices. Depending on the type of apples you decide to use please watch the cooking time or they will collapse. Mine were on the verge. As the finale to our Thanksgiving meal these baked apples were soul- and belly-warming in their flavour and simplicity. I topped each with wine-spiked whipped cream and a shard of Pecan Brittle. The spiced nut brittle adds a caramelized crunch reminiscent which will take you back to your childhood and remind you of candied apples. You will find all the recipes below.
To all my Canadian friends and family I hope you are having a joyous Thanksgiving celebration full of food and tender memories with your family and friends.
**Spiced Baked Apples with Maple Caramel Sauce**
4 teaspoons unsalted butter, more for pan
4 tart baking apples, like Royal Gala or Empire
1/3 cup plus 4 teaspoons maple syrup
4 teaspoons brown sugar
4 teaspoons chopped pecans
4 teaspoons chopped raisins
1/4 cup dry white wine or water
3 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
1 1/4-inch-thick slice fresh ginger root
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a small cake or baking pan. Use a vegetable peeler to peel a strip of skin from around stem of each apple. Use a melon baller or grapefruit spoon to scoop out core of each apple, leaving at least 1/4 inch at base.
Place 1 teaspoon butter and 1 teaspoon maple syrup into cavity of each apple. Mix together brown sugar, pecans and raisins, and stuff 1/4 of this mixture into each apple. Pour remaining maple syrup and the wine into bottom of pan, and add cardamom, cloves, ginger and cinnamon.
Bake apples, basting with liquid in pan every 5 to 7 minutes, until tender yet not collapsed, 45 minutes to an hour (or less depending on the type of apple used). Serve warm or at room temperature, with French Vanilla Ice-Cream or Whipped Cream.
Yield: 4 servings.
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the brittle, coarsely chop and toasted pecans.. Finely chop remaining nuts and set those aside for the apples.
The best way to approach brittle is not to rush and to keep the heat moderate. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a thick-bottomed medium sauce pan, stir sugar with water, honey and salt over low heat until dissolved. Increase heat to medium and let boil and bubble until light amber. Occasionally (and carefully) swirl pan to prevent any dark spots. This will take about 4 to 5 minutes. Immediately pour onto parchment. Tilt baking sheet to spread out as thin as possible and sprinkle with chopped nuts. Let cool completely. Break into shards.
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