By: Andrea Kaiser

Cream coloured ponies and crisp apple strudels, doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles. Mmm…schnitzel with noodles. Schnitzel, a mainstay dish of our Austrian heritage, is definitely one of my favourite things and a traditional holiday meal in our family, perfected over time and often served with my grandmothers world-famous or at least Niagara-famous potato salad. The secret? Boil potatoes with skins on and after peeling sprinkle salt and vinegar over the potatoes while still hot, divine!

And each year as the holidays approach our family starts to think about all of their favourite things. Growing up in a European household where Christmas Day was not traditionally celebrated – our custom revolved around Christmas Eve ‘sans turkey’ when each member of the family requested one of their favoured fare to add to the menu.

It is always a plethora of food and over the years, traditions and our favourite foods have varied slightly but of course we have our all-time favourites. The holiday would not be the same without Auntie Jane’s sour cream and raspberry torte – a favourite of my brother’s, my father’s house cured gravlax with his special mustard dill sauce and my grandmother’s herring salad to name a few. And for the kids, that’s what we say anyways, Auntie Colleen’s world famous mac and cheese topped with lots of bacon, of course.

Along the way new recipes have been added to the mix. A classic caviar recipe from the Russian Tea House in New York was shared years ago by Ruth and Scott Aspinall, owners of the Epicurean, very simple but delicious. Spread cream cheese at bottom of a dish and then chopped onion followed by egg salad. Chill and then turn upside down – top with black caviar. Amazing on fresh baked baguette and paired with a Niagara sparkling wine.

I am also a big fan of pork or duck terrine over the holidays, always wonderful paired with Icewine or mini cornichon that I discovered while on a French exchange in Paris in my teens. It’s always great fun to plan the menu and think about all those favourite flavours, often enjoyed only once a year, but I am also always on the hunt for new recipes and wine pairings to liven things up.

This is what makes the Wineries of Niagara-on-the-Lake ‘Taste the Season’ touring pass event in November such a great prelude to the holidays. It showcases amazing Ontario wines paired with old favourites, prepared classically and with new twists as well as incredible culinary creations not thought of before.

This year the line-up looks as tantalizing as years past and I am sure to find some new favourites in the mix. It might be Southbrook’s 2012 Triomphe Cabernet Franc paired with duck confit, pear and brie phyllo tart or Lailey’s 2013 Cabernet Merlot matched with rustic pork terrine with maple smoked bacon and cranberry compote – hard to say, so many great pairings to choose from.

The classics however always seem to also call me home, Konzelmann’s 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon paired with slow cooked Black Angus Alberta beef topped with P.E.I. Lobster or maybe the 2012 Ravine Chardonnay with Chicken and Biscuits: Farm Chicken Stew with Foraged Mushrooms, Autumn Vegetables and Ravine Puff Pastry Biscuits – who could resist?

Whatever the new favourite they will be invited to join the holiday table along with our classic family recipes. Not sure however if anything will ever replace my grandmother’s schnitzel and potato salad, but it sure will be fun trying!