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progressive dinner group on the patio
July 7, 2016 | By

Perfectly pairing dinner with friends: Part 4

Time does fly these days. We started planning a progressive dinner party, including deciding on which RJS Craft Winemaking wines we would make, back in January.  First we planned the menu and selected the best wines to accompany the food; then we visited an RJS Craft Winemaking Academy store where we made our wines; six weeks later we returned to bottle them.  And finally, after more than three months of cellaring our wines, the day of our special ‘Southern California’ dinner had finally arrived, when we could finally uncork our craft wines and enjoy the fruits of our labour.


Beyond trying our wines, we were also excited about our adventures in cooking! We had chosen the recipes in advance so we were well prepared.  We began our neighbourhood journey with Tom and Iona who put together a delightful feast of Mediterranean tapas including artichokes in olive oil, black olives, grilled asparagus, zucchini and carrots with some of the most delicious crusty bread ever! We moved outdoors because it was a beautiful day. The heat made our Cru International California Chardonnay refreshing in the summer weather and perfectly paired with our light appetizer dish.

Hallibut with CashewPestoThe main course was at our home, and we chose to make broiled halibut with cashew pesto and grilled asparagus on a bed of creamy polenta made with our Chardonnay, and a drizzle of basil oil. The dish came together very easily and the creamy polenta celebrated the subtle nuances of the Chardonnay. It was delicious— and you can bet I’ll be making it again this summer.



Broiled Halibut with Cashew Pesto on Creamy Polenta

Serves 6


  • 600 g Halibut or a firm white fish (Monkfish or Haddock are also good) without skin or bones
  • 1 bunch basil, washed and leaves separated from stems, reserve stems
  • 1 ½ cups cashew, chopped
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced finely
  • 60 g freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup divided, Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 18 asparagus spears
  • Sea salt

Ingredients for Creamy Polenta:

  • 650 mL chicken or vegetable stock
  • 350 mL Cru International California Chardonnay
  • 2 cups yellow cornmeal
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Handful of chopped parsley


    1. Pre-heat the oven on low broil.
    2. In the bowl of a small food processor (Magic or Nutri-Bullet also work well), add the basil leaves, chopped cashews, garlic and freshly grated Parmesan. Pulse repeatedly drizzling in the olive oil until a firm paste is achieved. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
    3. Prepare fish by washing and drying and cutting into 6 x 100 gram portions. Lay a piece of parchment on the base of an oven-safe pan. Position each fish portion onto the pan and spread 1 tbsp of the pesto mixture over the top of each portion. Reserve remaining pesto in the refrigerator for one month for future use or place 1 tbsp into each portion of an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen remove each pesto cube and reserve in a zip lock bag in the freezer for future use.
    4. Broil on low until it is no longer translucent and has reached an internal temperature of 158° F (70° C), timing will depend on the thickness of your fish. You may wish to rotate the pan once or twice.
    5. To prepare the asparagus, wash and break off any woody bits. Drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Broil in a separate pan beside the fish (it should only take about 10 minutes or less). Set aside when done (should still have some stiffness).
    6. In the meantime, pour wine and stock into medium stockpot and heat until gently boiling. Reduce to a simmer and slowly pour in the cornmeal, stirring vigorously. Stir until thickened and fully cooked (should not feel grainy). Add the butter and Parmesan cheese and stir until melted. Season to taste. Polenta may thicken as it cools, so you may wish to add a bit more stock to loosen it. Stir in the parsley just before serving.
    7. To plate, spoon a generous serving of polenta in the centre of the plate, add the boiled fish on top and garnish with three broiled asparagus. Drizzle with basil oil. Enjoy!

*To make the basil oil, add ¼ cup extra virgin olive (EVOO) oil to a mortar (or a metal bowl), chop up the basil stems and add them to the mortar. Using a Pestle (or muddler), gently grind the stems into the EVOO to release their delicious basil oils. Press through a fine sieve and season with coarsely ground sea salt. *to save time, use traditional store bought pesto instead. *Use any mildly flavoured EVOO instead of the basil oil.


PoachedPearsDessert at John and Nancy’s was equally divine. John poached some pears in our En Primeur Winery Series Italy Zinfandel and served them at room temperature with slightly sweetened ricotta, drizzled with a balsamic and fig reduction. The rich colour of this classic dessert was enhanced through poaching the pears in advance and chilling them in the wine-sugar syrup. John and Nancy saved themselves some time and effort by buying a delicious store bought balsamic and fig reduction, which they plan to use again as an ice cream topping.



Poached Pears in Red Wine with Sweetened Ricotta

Serves 3 to 6


Ingredients for Sweetened Ricotta:

  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • The zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup fig balsamic reduction


  1. Peel pears, slice in half length-wise, core each half with a melon baller. Place pears in a large skillet so that they do not overlap.
  2. Combine your Zinfandel, water and sugar and pour over the pears so that they are entirely immersed in the wine mixture (add a bit more water if necessary).
  3. Add the cinnamon stick, smashed cardamom pods and clovers to the poaching liquid and simmer until pears are fork tender (our pears took about 45 minutes). Remove from heat and allow to cool in the poaching liquid. Store pears in the poaching liquid in the refrigerator until needed.
  4. Combine ricotta, ½ of the lemon zest, icing sugar and vanilla and mix well. Refrigerate until required.
  5. One hour before serving, remove pears from the poaching liquid and strain liquid, reserve for enjoying over ice cream or flavouring adult beverages.
  6. Plate 1-2 pear halves on a large plate and serve with a scoop of sweetened ricotta and garnish with the reserved lemon zest and a drizzle of fig balsamic reduction. Enjoy.


The final result of our RJS Craft Winemaking Progressive Dinner was a unanimous 100% SUCCESS! The wines tasted fabulous, the food was delightful, and we had the benefit of spending time together and enjoying one another’s company! We will definitely be repeating this activity again soon.

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