La Dolce Vita: Cheering up the holidays

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I awoke last Friday to a dreary, chilly day, one that felt damp, too. It reminded me of how it feels in Great Britain, where the chill seems to get right into the bones. A nice stew seemed to be the remedy, something to look forward to through the day. A nice Irish stew, I thought, as the vision became clearer.

Irish stew came to mind because it is coming up to the first anniversary of our oldest son’s wedding. On the eve of that celebration, Angela and I had exited the wedding rehearsal and wandered over to the James Joyce Pub in downtown Calgary. We were lucky to get a table — the place was buzzing with the usual Friday night crowd. On the table was a promotional card for Café Culture, a South African Pinotage that promised notes of coffee and chocolate. We ordered a bottle and I had the Irish stew. The wine delivered exactly as promised and it has been a favourite ever since.

My stew was simple enough. A kilo of chuck roast was cut into bite-size pieces, dredged in flour and browned, then onions, carrots and potatoes were sauteed. I deglazed the pan with a bottle of Guinness beer, added some beef stock, tomato paste and spices, then put the works into the oven for a couple of hours. Fifteen minutes before dinner time, I quickly made a dumpling mix — flour, baking powder, a bit of sugar and salt, butter and milk, all mixed for a few seconds, then dropped by tablespoonfuls onto the top of the bubbling stew.

While we waited for the dumplings to cook, I opened not a bottle of Café Culture, but of 1884 Reservado (the wine’s name, not its vintage), a Malbec from the Mendoza region in Argentina. It was on an end display at the liquor store, along with promo cards that quoted Vancouver wine writer Anthony Gismondi as saying it was a “crazy value”. It must be really good, the liquor store clerk observed. Or really bad, I countered.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that Gismondi is right. Smooth and full of dark fruit aromas, it also offered the same coffee and chocolate notes that made the Café Culture a favourite. We sipped from our glasses before serving the stew and had no doubt that it would go perfectly with the meal. Guinness stout, after all, also has coffee and chocolate flavours. The meal was a delight. (Hint: when I make stew or chili or other meals with a tomato sauce, I often add a teaspoon of powdered cocoa — it adds a subtle complexity to the taste and gives the sauce a dark, rich colour.)

The next night we opened a bottle of Café Culture to eat with our leftover Irish stew. It really did take us back to that night at the James Joyce, and reminded us of what a beautiful wedding our son and daughter-in-law had, and of what a great couple they make.

Last week, in a moment of weakness, I bought a carton of eggnog, something I always regret. Somehow, large producers find a need to add more than we want to the recipe. How hard is to mix egg and nog, I wonder. Disillusioned and disappointed, I sought out a recipe to make the real stuff. The answer I was looking for was called Extreme Eggnog, which can be found at Allrecipes.com.

I bought some local eggs, which I knew would be fresh, then separated a half dozen (thankfully, I halved the recipe). The yolks were mixed with a cup of icing sugar (regular sugar works, too) and a half bottle of Irish whisky, a compromise because Angela doesn’t like rum). The mixture was covered and refrigerated for 24 hours, as were the egg whites.

To finish the recipe, I added a half litre of half-and-half cream to the egg yolk mixture. Then I whipped the egg whites with another half cup of sugar until they were stiff. A half litre of whipping cream was then whipped with a splash of vanilla and folded into the egg whites. The result was then folded into the egg yolk mixture. A very thick nog was then ready to taste. It had to be ladled, not poured, into glasses, and a sprinkle of nutmeg topped it off. We sat down to watch a video (we are making our way through the British Doc Martin series) and spooned the eggnog into our mouths. Wow! The recipe says the eggnog will keep for a week in the fridge — just mix it well before each serving. It will lose some of its body over time, but not flavour.

I would like to wish readers of La Dolce Vita and safe and happy holiday season. Please don’t drink and drive.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.