Brighten up your winter with food, drinks and friends

The holidays are over and we must now deal with the realities of winter: short days, cold weather and for many of us, no vacation in sight. So let’s create our own holiday by hosting small, intimate gatherings of friends and family. Let’s share laughs and forget about the weather, but let’s keep it simple: use your favourite comfort dish, dress it up with a great appetizer and finish off the meal with a delicious cheese platter.

Start off your first dinner party of the new year with a classic dish prepared with a fresh twist: French onion soup with mushrooms and blue cheese (see recipe below). I’m going to surprise you and suggest that you pair this wonderful soup with a cold and creamy Hockley Dark beer. Its full, round flavours will perfectly match the richness of the soup.

Next, treat your guests to your go-to dish, the one that you have mastered over the years and gets rave reviews every time. The idea is to make it a fun evening, not a complicated one. As for the wine, I’m sure you have one in mind that pairs perfectly with your signature dish.

For the third course, three cheeses spring to mind when I think “winter dinner party.” First is the gorgeous-looking, creamy Cendré des Près and its subtle flavour of hazelnuts. Next is the Bleu Bénédictin, a robust cheese with a creamy, salty taste. Make life easier by using the Bénédictin in your French onion soup. Last but not least is Scott Linkletter’s extra-aged Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar, with its tremendous tangy and earthy flavours.

We’re going to pair these wonderful cheeses with sweet wines. And I mean sweet. A late-harvest sweet wine (e.g., Coteaux du Layon) would work very well to balance out the cheeses’ powerful flavours. A refreshing Quebec ice cider would also work very well, with rich aromas of caramelized ripe apples. Finally, I would also recommend a late bottled vintage port (e.g., Ferreira Late Bottled Vintage Port 2000); there are delicious, great late bottled vintages available at a great value.

I sincerely hope that you follow my suggestions and break the post-holiday doldrums with a fun dose of food, wine and friends. Here’s to a great month of January!

French onion soup with croutons au gratin

2 servings

You’ll need:

 

2 tbsp (30 mL) butter
1 cup (250 mL) chopped mixed wild mushrooms (cremini, shiitake and oyster)
1 cup (250 mL) onion
1 tbsp (15 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp (30 mL) 35% whipping cream
2 cups (500 mL) reduced-sodium beef stock
Four 1/2-inch (1 cm) thick slices baguette
1/2 cup (125 mL) shredded Canadian Gruyère cheese
2 tbsp (30 mL) crumbled Canadian Blue cheese
1 tbsp (15 mL) finely chopped chives

 

Instructions:

In medium saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat; sauté mushrooms and onions for about 10 to 12 min. or until lightly caramelized. Stir in flour to absorb butter; slowly stir in cream. Increase heat to high, stir in stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 min. or until flavours are blended.

Lightly toast baguette slices in a toaster; set aside. Preheat broiler. Place ovenproof soup bowls on baking sheet and ladle soup into bowls. Top each bowl with two baguette slices and sprinkle with Canadian Gruyère and Blue cheese. Broil for about 2 min. or until cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.

Place bowls on serving plate and sprinkle with chopped chives. Be sure to warn your guest that the bowl is ultra hot.