Tag Archives: spiced

Hot Mulled Apple Wine

19 Dec

Nothing says ‘Merry Christmas’ more than the aroma of hot, mulled wine simmering away. Wafting through the house, whilst the colorful lights of an ornately decorated tree dance across the ceiling and the ‘Yule Log’ DVD is playing in the background the fire in your hearth is crackling in perfect harmony. Mulled wine is a scent that permeates Belgium in the Winter too. From the many cozy Kristkindl markets near the German border to various booths (‘kraampjes’) across cobblestoned city squares, there is no escape from it.. and let’s face it, with single digit frost blowing in your face, hot spiced wine is just about the ticket to Winter heaven. Nothing warms your congealed fingers better during the midnight mass on Christmas eve, than wrapping them around a Styrofoam cup of hot liquid deliciousness, whilst listening to the choir belt out Handel’s Messiah on a make-shift stage outside the church.

I remember the first time I tried mulled wine as a child. The assault on my young taste buds was so violent, that I spat it out on the church floor, which yielded protest from my mom for desecration and for not having “swallowed out of respect & politeness”. Nowadays, I swallow. Get your mind out of the gutter, please. Don’t be alarmed by the notion that European children grow up with things like mulled wine. While most Americans will condemn European parents for feeding their children… shudder… ALCOHOL, it is actually a fairly normal thing in Belgium to expose your 12+ year old to things like beer & wine. Within limitation, of course. And with parental supervision at all times. Especially ‘mulled’ wine is fairly harmless, as some of the alcohol in the wine evaporates during the cooking process, and mostly the robust flavors of the spices and full-bodied wine remain. It’s definitely a grown-up taste though, if you ask me.

I confess that I hated mulled wine as child. So much so, that I didn’t touch wine ever again until I was well into my college years, even though the legal drinking age for beer & wine is 16 in Belgium (which is rarely enforced in the presence of adults). In attempt to be ‘cool’ and ‘holiday hip’, my first attempt at making mulled wine resulted in a traumatic childhood flashback. It went mostly down the drain, in a semi-violent fashion. Mind you, I didn’t have access to Pinterest and thus no recipe, as this occurred in the Jurassic before the Internet was invented. ** If your tween child is reading this with you, please pick him/her up from the floor and start CPR now.** At the time, I thought that mulled wine was just red wine that was simmered with spices. Whoops.

There’s plenty of recipes for red mulled wine available online, so I decided to post the white version of hot spiced wine… I based the recipe on a concoction I found at the ‘De Ketel & De Kurk’ tavern in Belgium. This white mulled wine has a gentle apple flavor, similar to apple cider, and gets its kick from the lemon peel and the warm spices from traditional red mulled wine. Enjoy!

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Hot Mulled Apple Wine
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘De Ketel & De Kurk’ tavern)
– 2 bottles of dry white wine, the cheapest one you like drinking is fine (makes approx. 8 large mugs)
– 4 cups of clear apple juice
– 1/2 cup of Grand Marnier
– Peel of 1 lemon + juice
– 5oz of brown sugar
– 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, roughly chopped or crushed
– 3 sticks of cinnamon + more for decorating the mugs
– 2 whole vanilla beans, sliced open (do not remove seeds)
– 2 whole cloves
– 2 star anise + more for decorating the mugs
– A small pinch of ground nutmeg

Rule #1: do not boil the wine! Try to keep the wine below boiling point, and let it gently heat through without ever cracking a boil. Bringing it to a rolling boil will make the wine very bitter.

Peel lemon so that only the oily zest comes off (not the white rind underneath), juice the peeled lemon.

In a large Dutch oven, combine everything except for the wine. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes in a covered pot. Add wine and bring to nary a boil. When you notice the wine is about ready to boil, turn the heat to low and allow it to heat through and steep for 2-3 hours without ever boiling. Pour the whole pot through a sieve to sift the impurities and spices out of the wine.

Serve hot and decorate each much with a stick of cinnamon and a star anise.

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Bourbon Spiced Nuts

11 Dec

A few years ago, it was wasabi peas. Last year, it was pumpkin butter. Nowadays, it seems my stepdad’s survival & emotional well-being depends on teriyaki beef jerky. He’s presently engaged in an illicit cross-Atlantic love affair with dehydrated beef, and since my mother aims to please, I have been instructed asked to pick up 10 packages and ship them to Belgium. Pronto! Preferably yesterday, really.

It all started when she came to visit last October and we strolled a dozen or so local farmers markets, some as far North as Hollywood. On one of these markets, her eye fell on a booth with home-made grass-fed beef jerky. “What’s jerky?”, she asked slightly bewildered, already clutching a package in her hand. Smelling a sale, the vendor tipped his cowboy hat and launched into a passionate sales pitch about his family’s decades’ old ranch, his small business endeavors and the quality of his beef… all of which was efficiently halted at 0.5 seconds by mom’s brusque hand gesture and the mentioning in poor English that he needn’t bother because she doesn’t speak English. Cecile: 1 – Jerky Jim: 0
I whipped out my best apologetic smile and explained to my mom in Dutch that jerky is dehydrated beef and a common snack item in America. Jerky Jim understands. He’s not fazed by international language barriers and – whilst patiently waiting for me to finish my explanation – he kicks up the charm and proceeds with handing out a sample to my mom with a beckoning smile and a wink, as though to say “please accept my peace offering, oh Great Lady of the Comfortable Stretch Pants”. She is clearly charmed. And so it began…

Eight odd weeks later, I get a call from mom – out of the blue – asking me to please mail her 10 packages of ‘that jerky’ we bought ‘somewhere’. Why, of course! “Do you remember where we bought those, mom?” Personally, I would consider this a normal question considering we’ve been to a dozen odd markets, but this seemed to have caught my mother by surprise because, you know, I am a walking inventory of all things grocery in the greater Los Angeles area. “No, but YOU should because your brain is younger than mine and besides, YOU live there, not me?!”. I surrender. To aid me in my quest, she states she has mailed me the wrapping (?!). She could have scanned and emailed me the label, but she’s technologically challenged and her proficiency with electronics stops at kitchen gadgets and her television set she bought in 2001 or so. I respect that. I get lost in translation reading my stepsons’ Facebook statuses, and I’m only 43 21!

So, at my mom’s house, the latest episode of ‘F.C. De Kampioenen’ is enjoyed over the gregarious chewing of teriyaki jerky. I’m not much of a TV snacker myself, but I like nuts. I vaguely remember my mom’s addiction with nuts when I was younger, and her tête-a-tête with wasabi peas she discovered here a few years ago. Maybe she’ll fall in love with these nuts as well… Nuts are crazy-good in Belgium, anyway, but to rock them out of the house, I’m adding bacon, fat & sugar. What’s not to love?!

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BOURBON SPICED NUTS WITH BACON
(based on several recipes I found for spiced nuts. I kid you not, Pinterest alone is a haven of spiced nut recipes. I changed a few things and took the best of all recipes I found. These are heavenly!)
– 2 ½ cups of mixed pecans, almonds and cashews. (Or any combination you like, really)
– 1 large egg white
– 1/2 cup of maple syrup (or honey)
– 3 Tbsp of Bourbon
– 1 tsp of cinnamon
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 tsp of sea salt
– 1/4 tsp of ground nutmeg
– 1/4 tsp of ground ginger
– 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper (I use Piment d’Espelette)
– 6 slices of crisped cooked bacon, crumbled into large pieces (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Mix all the spices together in a small bowl. Beat egg whites with a whisk until foamy, then add the Bourbon & maple syrup and whisk a few minutes more to combine thoroughly.
Add nuts to the bowl with the frothy egg whites and coat well, then add all of the spices and mix until well-combined.

Pour nut mixture onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, in a single layer. Bake at 350F for approx. 15 min, stirring every 5 min to turn the nuts and roast all sides. After 15 min, add the crisped bacon pieces and bake for an additional 5 minutes (bacon is optional, but oh so yummy!) The nuts should be nice and toasted now, but if not, give them another 2-3 minutes.

As soon as they’re done, remove them from the oven and spoon them onto a new sheet of parchment or waxed paper. Allow them to cool. If some pieces stick together break them apart once they’re cooled.

Speculaas Cookies

20 Aug

Another blissful childhood memory of mine is ‘Sinterklaas’ day and the traditional ‘speculaas’ that comes with it. A typical Belgian holiday favorite, this spiced dark brown cookie is the star behind the ‘Biscoff’ speculoos cookie butter (or Trader Joe’s cookie butter) you see appearing on more & more American grocery shelves nowadays.

‘Speculaas’, or speculoos with double ‘o’, is readily available in Belgian grocery stores year-round, but its national primetime is definitely on ‘Sinterklaas’ day! Many bakeries press this deliciously spiced cookie dough in special wooden ‘speculaas’ molds, to create various imprints and shapes of the cookie, often with depictions of Sinterklaas.

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Top of the line pastry boutiques and fine bakeries even create toddler life-size Sinterklaas statuettes, that adorn their elaborately decorated & animated store windows and are admired by passers-by for their artistry with a sense of wonder.

‘Sinterklaas’ day, celebrated on 06th December, is deeply rooted in Catholicism since the Middle Ages. It is traditionally a celebration of Saint Nikolaus, patron saint of sailors, among others. Legend has it that Saint Nikolaus, a Greek bishop from the city of Myrna in present day Turkey, would roam the lands alongside the Mediterranean Sea, to remind folks of their religious duties. It is said he would preach about good moral values and spread cheer among the sailors’ families & children.

Sinterklaas festivities may seem insensitive to many Americans, but these traditional celebrations came long before they acquired any racial connotations later on in history. With the legend of Saint Nikolaus so deeply rooted in Catholicism and the religion’s pre-occupation with ‘good vs. evil’, the depiction of a ‘white’ holy man and his ‘black’ assistants has nothing to do with racial equality or differences… and everything to do with pitting good vs. evil. As such, Sinterklaas is depicted as a ‘good’ holy man, and his black assistants – Black Pete’s or ‘Zwarte Pieten’ – are meant to represent the ‘bad’ immoral influences we are tempted by. In that role, the ‘Zwarte Pieten’ are not meant to be depictions of actual humans, but rather portraited caricatures of frolicking, mischievous black devils that accompany the holy man to represent the evil influences that seemingly taunt us in our quest to be ‘good’. After all, if you were even remotely raised with deeply rooted religious beliefs, you have been warned a handful of times that the devil can take on any form to try and sway you from the ‘right’ path… Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet truly are considered equals in the story, with each their own role to shine in, and the Black Pete’s form of dress is merely an accurate depiction of what men would wear during the medieval times in Moorish Spain, and not intended as mockery.

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In present day Belgium, Sinterklaas still arrives by boat and many port cities will stage and broadcast his arrival over national & local media. In smaller towns, Sinterklaas rides the streets on a white horse and visits local schools, grocery stores and other public buildings. Just like Santa Claus, Sinterklaas makes house calls the night before, and parents urge their children to place a shoe by the hearth or the front door, so Sinterklaas can leave candy & goodies overnight. The importance of leaving a carrot or two for his beloved equine companion, is equally stressed! Throughout the year, parents cleverly use the whole Sinterklaas story to urge their children to be ‘good’, because being ‘naughty’ results in being whisked away to hell in Black Pete’s burlap sack. As a child, this was a credible threat that one could not take lightly!

‘Sinterklaas’ day was always fun. It broke the academic tediousness of school. You knew that anything could happen on this day, and you’d keep your eye out in giddy excitement for a glimpse of any of the Black Petes or a sign they were present. Many times, we’d hear the ruckus & screeching from a few classrooms down, and your heart would start racing with whirly anticipation of Sinterklaas’ arrival into your classroom. The first ones to arrive, were always the ‘Zwarte Pieten’. One would come barging through the door, throwing candy around and sending kids clambering all over their desks to get some, while another would mischievously start writing on the blackboard with blatant spelling errors and disregard for the scholarly establishment… Yet another would start emptying or rearranging book shelves or cabinets, or sit down next to you whilst mimicking your every move, much to the excitement of your peers. With Sinterklaas striding into class elegantly, almost royally, he’d immediately reprimand the shenanigans of his assistants, and inquire in class to spill the beans on what his assistants had been up to so far. Many children will eagerly blurt out everything from A-Z in hopes of pleasing Sinterklaas, much to the staged chagrin of the Pete in question, while others – like Teutonic little me – would feel there was no place for all of this frivolity until such time it was revealed who was on the ‘good’ list and who on the ‘naughty’ list. This was serious business, folks!

Other than ‘speculaas’ and chocolate, Sinterklaas – said to be hailing from Spain – also brings mandarins, marzipan and ‘lieve vrouwtjes’ as well.
(*) a marshmallow type candy in the shape of the Holy Mary

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SPECULAAS SPICES
(Adapted from Flemish celebrity chef Piet Huysentruyt)
– 4 Tbsp ground cinnamon
– 1 Tbsp ground cloves
– 1 Tbsp ground mace
– 1/3 Tbsp ground ginger
– 1/4 Tbsp ground cardamom seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground white pepper
– 1/4 Tbsp ground coriander seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground anis seed
– 1/4 Tbsp ground nutmeg

Put everything in a ziplock baggy and shake well! Store in a small glass jar, in a cool dark place.

SPECULAAS COOKIES
(Adapted from a recipe by Flemish celebrity chef Jeroen Meus)
– 1 lbs light brown/golden sugar
– 1 lbs of pastry flour, self-rising flower or all purpose flour, sifted
– 8 oz of good quality butter, room temperature
– 1 egg, yolk & white separated
– 1-2 Tbsp of speculoos spices (see above. Use 2 for a spicy flavor)
– 1 tsp of baking soda
– 1 tsp pinch of salt

Combine all ingredients into a large mixing bowl, and mix with a mixer or your hands until you get a smooth dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Wrap dough ball in plastic foil, and rest dough in the fridge overnight to allow spices to develop flavor and permeate the dough.

Preheat oven to 400F. Roll dough into a sausage, and slice into cookie slices. Alternatively, roll dough out on a floured surface, and use your cookie molds to cut out shapes.

Place cookie dough on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, and bake for approx. 25-30 min. Allow cookies to cool and crisp.

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