Friday, December 30, 2011

Xmas Eve at Casa del Unicorn

Happy (insert appropriate holy day here)!

It's the holiday season and out cometh some of the year's best feastings. I've partook of the traditional Christmas turkey feast most years and this was no exception. But this is also the first year where I celebrated the holidays with my favourite lady-friend Kari and we took the opportunity of having nothing going on Christmas Eve to have our own little celebration à deux.

But really the fun began on the 23rd. Kari still had some shopping to finish up at the mall, so I was in charge of picking up the food. Now, because it was Christmas Eve eve, we needed a couple of days worth of meals. I decided that I wanted to make one of them something stew-like, but was in the mood for something in the Spanish vein. Basically I wanted chorizo. So, I went to Saslove's Meats and picked up some chorizo as well as a duck breast (I made the duck for dinner that night to much excitement, having never cooked duck before - more on that in a subsequent post). We also decided that our Xmas Eve celebration needed a wine and cheese course, so that was next from the International Cheese and Deli, where I grabbed some Goat Brie, a Danish Blue and an aged Manchego.

Next came a quick trip to the Byward Fruit Market for veggies and such and a pop in to Aux Délices Bakery for the baguette (olive baguette to boot! SCORE!) and some dessert (which we never ate - oops). Then, a quick beer at the Dominion and it was off to LCBO for a booze stock-up. 150 bucks and a box full of bottles of wine and beer later, it was off home!

Skip ahead to the next evening. After working til 7 pm, I booted it home to get ready for the feasting!

First off, we made a quick appetizer of wild boar sausage slices on crostini with a smidge of Dijon mustard. Taaaaasty!

Next came the stew:

Spanish "Chili"


- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 chorizo sausage, casing removed and divided into small bits of meat
- 1 Spanish or Vidalia onion, roughly chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 small eggplant, chopped in 1 cm thick pieces
- 1 zucchini, sliced into quarters length-wise and cut into 1 cm thick pieces
- 2-3 tomatoes, chopped (with their juice)
- 3/4 cup dry red wine (I used a Spanish Rioja, which was perfect)
- 1-2 tbsp tomato paste (they sell tomato paste in squeeze tubes now, which is really practical)
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- pinch cayenne pepper or other ground pepper (I used guajillo powder for this one)
- 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)
- 1/2 tsp black pepper (or to taste)
- pinch saffron (in this case, we had no saffron, so we used a Saffron Pepper Rub we'd gotten at a farmer's market. Close enough!)
- juice of half a lemon
- capers (for garnish)
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (for garnish)


- In a large pot, heat olive oil on medium-high heat
- Sauté sausage meat, onions, garlic and eggplant for about 5 minutes
- Reduce heat to medium and add zucchini, tomatoes, tomato paste, wine and seasonings. Stir everything together. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 50 minutes.
- Stir in lemon juice and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Serve in bowls topped with a few capers and lots of parsley. Serve with baguette, preferably olive baguette.

Now, the recipe presented here is not exactly what I made, but rather the way I'd do it next time. First off, the 'eggplant' part was actually a leftover eggplant side dish from the night before that was basically eggplant baked with croutons, oil and balsamic vinegar. But, if I was doing it from scratch, I'd toss in fresh eggplant for sure.

Second, I added the capers to the pot while cooking. This didn't really ruin anything, but when I had a bowl for leftovers a couple of days later, all the salt had leeched out of the capers and basically oversalted the whole thing. So, only add your capers per order. Trust me.

Otherwise, I recommend this one highly. It was super tasty, super easy and had a really bright flavour profile that stews often lack.

 Ain't it pretty?

Spanish 'Chili' with Olive Baguette - photo by kira_generika
Now, this was Christmas Eve and really our only "alone" celebration time as the next day would be filled with screaming kids, work, slot machines, turkey, and the fairly recent tradition of closing the Dominion with a whackton of our friends. So, yeah, a romantic after-dinner treat of wine and cheese and present opening was pretty much perfect.

I kind of took my inspiration from the Wine Flight we took at Play a month back (the epic tale of which can be read here) in pairing 3 cheeses with 3 different wines. The difference is that I'm a rank amateur and don't always get it right. In this case, 2 out of 3 (which ain't bad).
So here's what I came up with:

Wine and Cheese Flight Selections - photo by kira_generika
First Pairing - Goat's Milk Brie (Quebec) with Toasted Head Chardonnay (California, 2010)

Toasted Head Chardonnay is one of those "go-to" wines. It's a Vintages Essential at the LCBO and you can usually find it at any location. It's got a very rich, smoky yet buttery flavour to it. The Brie was more subtly flavoured than expected, but still quite tasty and I think it went beautifully with wine, but I could see someone more critical complaining that the wine might overpower the cheese.

Second Pairing - Aged Manchego (Spain) with Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva (Spain, 2006)

This was a perfect pairing. The Campo Viejo Rioja was very dry but assertive, and offset the crumbly texture and heavy-duty saltiness of the Manchego (which is a bit similar to Parmesan, but not quite as salty or pungent). The two came together to make a wonderful burst of juicy and salty. I really think the cheese brought out an extra dimension of flavour from the wine. I'd go with this pairing any day of the week.

Third Pairing - Danish Blue Cheese (Denmark, assumedly!) with Bombing Range Red (McKinley Springs, Washington State, 2007)

Aaaaaand insert sad trombone noise... I blew it with this one. I'd been so impressed by Washington State wines after having Velvet Devil Merlot paired with a Blue cheese at my first visit to Play, that I thought (like an idiot), that they'd all pair well. I was totally wrong. While the Bombing Range Red was assertive and bursting with flavour, it was torpedoed by the Danish Blue. Yes, it was a fairly mild Blue, but not that mild. Oh well... next time I'll know to avoid Blue cheese with all but the most kick-in-the-teeth reds. Or whiskey...

But, I was still feeling clever and threw in some extra elements to our wine flight. Just to be cute, I threw in some extra flavours to go on top of the cheese. I topped the Manchego with cumin seeds (WIN!), the Blue with Sriracha salt (DOUBLE WIN!), and the Brie with brown sugar (ok, not so much win... too sweet). I also tried playing with the leftover parsley from dinner, but it didn't pair well with anything except the Chardonnay. Can't learn without experimenting, right? We also made little toast squares out of some 12-grain bread to serve the cheese on, but that too was not well matched with the wine and cheese.

Ready to enjoy wine and cheese and more! - photo by kira_generika
Then it was present opening time where a good time was had by all!

So, that was our foodie Christmas Eve chez Casa del Unicorn. I hope all of you had fantastic and delicious holidays!

Happy New Year! See you in 2012.


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