Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Battle of the Sexes

Appetizers, Hors d’Oeuvres, Tapas, Small Plates… all of these expressions describe experiences of multiple flavours, textures and sensations, in bite-size portions. Regardless of who you are, we all love the possibility of trying new flavour combinations without having to commit to the full-meal deal. This is probably why this “mix ‘n mingle” type of finger food has been viewed by so many as an aphrodisiac for both men and women, and the perfect cocktail party pleaser. 

I recently completed my Food & Wine Pairing course, and the final culminating task was to find the best wine pairing with a food of my choice – to be judged by a panel of chefs and sommeliers. My choice in food? An appetizer. But not just any old appetizer… the “perfect aphrodisiac” appetizer, aimed to please both men and women. A daunting task… maybe. Fortunately, one of my friends took the course with me and helped shape this final task.

Pre-Battle Considerations
Many men will say that that if they had to choose an aphrodisiac food, they would pick the more savory and meaty dishes as their first choice, while historically sweeter foods, such as chocolate have been deemed the love-boosting choice for women. Other natural aphrodisiac choices for both men and women have included avocados, figs, cranberries, oysters, basil, pistachios, bacon, and red wine (of course!).

On a mission to find the coveted aphrodisiac appetizer, and to pair it with the best matched wine, (and in an effort to satisfy both sexes!), we wanted to test a number of appetizers and wines that highlighted the very best of both the savoury and sweet characteristics in our menu items.

Unsure as to which dish would work best, we decided to host a party with our meat & potato-lovin’ husbands where we experimented with a number of appetizers. We then chose three wines based on some of what we had learned with food and wine pairing (let me inject the 2 golden rules of wine pairing here: 1) always ensure that your wine is sweeter than your food, and 2) choose wines that compliment the strongest flavour on the plate).

See what we served!

The Line-up
We prepared five appetizer dishes:

 Gorgonzola & Pear Foccacia
 Mozzarella with Italian Picadillo
 Caramelized Onion & Gruyère Crostini
 Cranberry & Brie Kobe Beef Sliders
 Gorgonzola Stuffed Figs
 Chocolate Covered Bacon

And uncorked three wines to try with each:
• Prosecco (La Spinee, sparkling white Italian, Veneto, Italy)
• Late Autumn Riesling (Inniskillin, Niagara, Canada)
• Late Bottled Vintage Port (Taylor-Fladgate, Douro, Portugal)

The Battle
In a true battle of the sexes, who better to experiment with these wines and dishes than our husbands? With much food and wine on the menu, we needed little convincing to gather our men for this task. The bigger job, however was getting their agreement to eat slowly, savour eat bite, sip their wine, and take notes on what the wine did to the food and what the food did to the wine. Again, alcohol was involved, so we were able to get past that hurdle fairly quickly.

The Final Verdict
At the end of the evening, both men and women voted the Chocolate Covered Bacon and the Late Autumn Riesling as the winning pair. Truthfully, I was kind of surprised that I actually liked the odd combination of chocolate and bacon, and I was even more surprised that we all chose the sweeter white wine (instead of a sweet red wine) to go with these “muddy pigs” - yes, that's what folks in the south refer to this menu item. When we first discovered this recipe and began telling friends and family about our endeavour, we received such strong reactions to the bacon and chocolate concoction. In essence, this menu item started to become the conversation piece of the evening – even before the party got started. Now that’s some serious party planning!

I guess my key learning out of this course was that certain food and wine pairings – and even the opposite sex – can still surprise me from time to time.

Try it for yourself!
Recipe for Chocolate Dipped Bacon

1 16 -ounce package of bacon, thick sliced, cut crosswise into thirds
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
4 ounces dark chocolate (72%) or more, chopped
¼ cup finely chopped pistachio nuts

1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line two baking pans with parchment paper. Arrange bacon pieces in a single layer in the prepared pans. Sprinkle lightly with brown sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until crisp. Transfer bacon to wire racks; cool (up to 2 hours).

2. Line a large baking sheet with waxed paper; set aside. In a small double boiler, cook and stir chocolate over low heat until melted. Dip bacon pieces halfway into the chocolate, letting excess drip off. Place on the prepared baking sheet. While still warm, sprinkle with the pistachio nuts.

3. Chill until chocolate is set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.