The Best Places to Kiss Cookbook: recipes from the most romantic restaurants, cafes, and inns of the pacific northwest

By Carol Frieberg

Balsamic Mushrooms & Brie Toast

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 (plated up nicely but tasted very ordinary)

THE TEST: Wild mushrooms reduced in the pan with balsamic vinegar, served on toast with a slice of melted Brie…how could I resist this recipe? I couldn’t and so I didn’t.

As suggested, I used a variety of mushrooms including shiitake, portobello and oyster mushrooms. In order to up the level of romantic undertones in the dish, I ended up using a cookie cutter to create heart-shaped pieces of toast. Super cute!

While preparing this recipe was a simple undertaking, I was skeptical as to a thick slice of Brie melting into the desired state of gooiness solely based on the heat from the mushroom mixture. Turns out I was right. In the end I quickly broiled the toast in the oven and the cheese melted perfectly.

THE RESULTS: The individual elements of this dish all smelled divine, but in the end it tasted simply like balsamic mushrooms on toast with Brie cheese. Now don’t get me wrong – I love each and every one of those flavours! But my palate was looking for something more exciting and unfortunately I was disappointed.

If I were to make this dish again I would opt for a smaller base using either a baguette or crostini, which would make for more of an appetizer presentation. Because I used heart cut-outs the overall size of each piece was not too overwhelming, but I could not imagine using an entire slice of bread as called for in the recipe – talk about much too much.

I would also use thinner slices of cheese and jazz up the mushroom mixture by adding some red wine, garlic, and peperoncino for heat.

NOTE: this recipe comes from Beaconsfield Inn located in Victoria, British Columbia.

Granola with Honey Mascarpone

RATING: 5 out of 5 (an incredibly indulgent & delicious way to start your day!)

THE TEST: This recipe comes from the Tuwanek Hotel where Mr. Spock and I enjoyed a fabulous stay. It is a guest favourite, and revolutionizes the concept of morning granola.

Basically you jazz up granola through the addition of nuts and a variety of fresh and dried fruit, and then top it with a honey mascarpone whipped cream instead of the usual milk. Everything is easy to throw together and before you know it you have a beautiful, extravagant start to the day!

THE RESULTS: I love the attention to detail in this recipe and found every ingredient to be well thought out. The fresh pears (yes I actually ate a pear…even I was surprised at my open mindedness) and red grapes were the perfect choices to add a juicy sweetness that complimented the suggested dried fruit (apricots, cranberries). The almonds added an extra crunch to the granola without being overpowering in flavour like walnuts, and I loved how the recipe calls for toasting the nuts first. Stale nuts are such a pet peeve of ours, and are completely unnecessary as they immediately freshen up via toasting.

This recipe would be perfect to serve to houseguests as it is simple, quick, and the presentation is impressive!

NOTE: this recipe comes from the Tuwanek Hotel located in Sechelt, British Columbia.

For a copy of the recipe for Granola with Honey Mascarpone, please click HERE

Venison Tenderloin with Parsnip Purée & Blackberry Balsamic Gastrique

RATING: 5 out of 5 (effortless preparation, 5 star fine dining results)

THE TEST: Don’t let this recipe trick you into thinking one needs to be a certified Red Seal Chef in order to even think about attempting to make this dish. Not the case! I cannot stress enough how quickly and easily I threw together a meal that looked like it should costs mega bucks in some stuffy fine dining spot where you need to make reservations months in advance. Honestly, it has got to be one of the easiest meals I have made in a long time!

Start by boiling the parsnips, reduce the sauce and leave it to simmer on the stove while you pan sear the meat, which finishes cooking in the oven leaving you time to purée the mash. Voilà! Dinner in 30 minutes (I kid you not).

THE RESULTS: Instead of venison I opted to use pork tenderloin, which tasted delicious with the spice rub of juniper berries, black peppercorns and fennel seeds. The blackberry balsamic reduction turned out lovely, although be warned that it is fairly sweet. However, I found the saltiness of the meat, the sweetness of the sauce and the creaminess of the parsnip purée all worked together in harmony.

NOTE: this recipe comes from the Freestone Inn located in Mazama, Washington.