Handmade Holiday #2 [DIY Mulled Wine Kit]

It’s that time again! 

Handmade Holiday #2!

This week, I’m letting you off real easy. This one is pretty much as simple as it gets. Mix a few things, put them in a bag. Arrange together and Bob’s your uncle! (It’s a long standing joke in my family that Bob really is our [great] uncle. We’re pretty hilarious. I know.)

If you’ve ever had mulled wine, I don’t have to tell you much to convince you that it’s a lovely gift. If you haven’t, let me explain. Mulled wine is red wine simmered with aromatics like cloves, allspice, nutmeg, star anise and cinnamon. It’s a touch sweet, and it warms your belly like nothing else.  There’s nothing quite like it while playing a long game of scrabble, or as I’m accustomed to, Balderdash with a few close friends and family on a snowy Christmas eve. This little DIY kit will provide your giftee with everything they need to brew up a small batch to enjoy this Holiday season. 

DIY Mulled Wine Kit

I put my kit together in a pot, which you can get for pretty cheap in any Zellers/Walmart/Homewares Store, but feel free to use a basket or whatever you have on hand. 

It should also be said that my creativity is nothing too imaginative. I am no Martha Stewart, unfortunately. But please, feel free to use YOUR imagination to make this prettier. 

1 bottle of red wine, something affordable is a-ok
2 glass mugs or wine tumblers
1 medium sized pot
2 small plastic baggies
1 small sachet (for the mulling spices)
3 whole star-anise
3-4 cardamom pods
4-5 allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1/4 tsp nutmeg (or 1 whole nutmeg)
1/4 tsp cloves (or a few whole cloves)
a few big strips orange zest
1/4 cup turbinado or demerara sugar

 In one small plastic bag, add the sugar and any ground spices you might be using. Secure it.

In the other, add all the whole spices, and orange zest. Again, secure it. Tuck both baggies into the sachet and tie with a bow or decorative ribbon. 

In the pot/basket, place the bottle of wine, mugs and sachet of spices. 

Either wrap the whole thing in cellophane and secure with some ribbon, or leave as-is. 



Cringingly Delicious [Rioja Steamed Mussels with Caramelized Onions and Chorizo]

Remember when you were a kid and you used to sit at the adult table, looking on in disgust as your parents and their friends drank their smelly beer/wine, eating their odd looking food, and thinking to yourself “Ewwww, I will never eat or drink that stuff.”

That was me. I wouldn’ say I was picky, but every so often I would see or smell something that I wanted nothing to do with. Oysters, liver, kidneys, blood sausage, veal… those sorts of things. Things that typical hot-dog and chicken finger eating children are not exactly comfortable around. 

Two of those things in particular are oysters and mussels. I remember watching my dad eat a big bowl of mussels once, my eyes wide as he pried them open, loosening the tiny muscusy creature inside. I’m not sure I even knew they were living until much later in life. What did I think they were? I have no idea. I never thought about it long enough to ask the question. I just wrinkled my nose, made a gagging face to my sister and took another bite of my Kraft Dinner.

It wasn’t until recently that I gave some of my most feared foods a second glance. I’ve only been really adventuous food-wise in the past couple years. So as I sat at The Whalesbone Oyster House last year, staring directly into a selection of chef-selected oysters, my mouth was not exactly watering. But, much to my delight, they were no where near what I thought they would be. They weren’t as slimy as I thought, they tasted completely different than I had imagined, and I actually, gasp, enjoyed them! I guess this means I owe my dad apologies for years and years of turned up noses.

I figured recently, that if I liked oysters, how much could I really hate mussels? It was about time I gave them a shot. So I invited my best friend over for a dinner of food I didn’t know if I would like, from an ingredient I had never cooked. Obviously, I didn’t let her in on that information until she was already over with a glass of wine in her hand.

This recipes features mussels in a broth of caramelized onions, chorizo and a Spanish wine called Rioja. The chorizo and onions pack a punch of flavour on their own, but when the wine is added, it takes it somewhere completely different. And I strongly urge you have some crusty bread at the ready to sop up all the broth at the bottom of your bowl.

I should also mention that the mussels from T&T Superstore were delicious. If you’re looking for seafood in the Ottawa area, these guys are tops.  

Rioja Steamed Mussels with Caramelized Onions and Chorizo
adapted from Claire Robinson’s recipe.

Claire’s recipe calls to add the wine and mussels at the same time, but I wanted to be sure all the alcohol cooked off so you didn’t get hit with that smell or taste before anything else.

Note: while you’re cleaning the mussels, be sure to discard any that are already open. As well as any that haven’t opened in the cooking process.

2 large Chorizo links, about a pound
1 large or two medium Spanish onions, sliced or diced thin
Salt and pepper
2 lbs black mussels, cleaned and bearded
1 bottle Rioja (LCBO carries a few nice ones)
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, loosely chopped

Remove the chorizo from the casings and add to a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Cook until the fat has rendered and the meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onions and let cook, stirring occasionally, until they are deep golden brown. About 10-15 minutes. Add the chorizo back to the pan and pour in the bottle of wine. Bring to a boil and let it cook for a minute or two or until the alcohol taste/smell has disappeared. Add the mussels, cover with a lid and cook until the mussels have opened, 4-5 minutes.

Serve in a big bowl, topped with parlsey and served with a hunk of bread.

And just you try not to love them. I dare you.


The Smells of Fall

It’s obvious that certain smells can trigger nostalgia. They can bring you back to a  house party in the 10th grade (not that I would attend such things…), to an afternoon spent with family, or an avocado farm in Guatemala (Ahh, memories). But have you ever felt like a specific smell can embody a whole season?

There are a very specific few scents that can take me from one season, into the next. The smell of hot pavement and chlorine smells like a hot summer day, the smell of pine or wet wool makes me miss winter, and two of my favourite spices, cloves and cinnamon, couldn’t possibly remind me of anything but a sunny fall afternoon. Around 4pm. With a hot mug of cider. Maybe a little whiskey. And a fire, if you’re so lucky.

The only thing better than cloves and cinnamon, are cloves and cinnamon that have been simmering in red wine. And the only thing better than those three things, is when you poach a few perfectly ripe pears in them. The pears turn into ruby red jewels in the poaching liquid, emerging with succulently sweet and spicy flesh. These make for a perfectly elegant dessert, served with a dollop of whipped cream, served on top of vanilla bean ice cream, or drizzled with the spicy red wine redction and eaten simply on their own. They also make a great topper for a salad of spicy greens, walnuts and blue cheese.

The next time you’re having friends, or even a friend over for dinner and need a simple, quick dessert that’s sure to impress, try these little dears on for size.

Red Wine Poached Pears

You’ll need to find firm, ripe pears for this recipe. The best ones to use, in my opinion, are bosc, seckle if you can find them, conference or winter nellis. Anjou or Bartlett tend to fall apart during poaching so try to avoid them. 

3 cups dry red wine
1 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 star anise
2 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
4-5 pears (see headnote!), peeled with stems attached

In a large saucepan, combine wine, water, sugar, star anise, cinnamon stick, and cloves. Bring to a boil. Once sugar is dissolved, add pears. Reduce to a simmer. Cook until pears are knife tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Carefully strain the pears, reserving the cooking liquid. Remove spices and discard. Add poaching liquid back to the saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until syrupy and reduced to 1 cup, about 30 minutes.

If you’re doing dessert, serve the pears with ice cream and drizzle with red wine reduction.

And don’t forget to take a big whiff of fall before you chow down!  


Heat Wave Relief

Todays entry is brought to you by the letter M for MELTING! Like everything around me is melting into pools.

It’s 40 degrees in Ottawa. I’m not going to complain by saying something like.. oh…. I don’t know… it’s so hot that I can’t leave my butter out at room temp because it just melts…or ummm… I haven’t slept through the night in 4 days now and I’m frighteningly cranky and sour faced all day. No no, no complaining happening here. I AM JUST TOTALLY TICKLED PINK ABOUT IT!

So anyways. Moving on from not complaining, I’ve come up with a fool proof way to (almost) beat the heat. It involves cold showers, a spray bottle with cold water, a fan, and plenty of fluids. Oh… so this is common knowledge, is it? Well… let me tell you something you don’t know. I make really good sangria. Did you know that? I bet you didn’t. I only make it for my best friend and she’s the only one who’s told me it’s SO good. And maybe it’s only because she wants me to make it for her…. but I’m going to go ahead and trust her judgement and claim that I make the best sangria in all the land. Or at least on my street… or at least in my apartment.

Really, though - it’s a pretty basic recipe. So if you don’t have your own fool-proof recipe - give this a go. You can always make it your own by adding whatever extras you want! I’ve given exact measurements but I’ll be honest with you.. I usually just add a bit of this, a splash of that and a handful of this and it comes out well every time. The most important part is making it in advance so the fruits and wine can sit and mingle and become close friends.

Fruity Sangria for 40 Degree Weather*

1 Bottle of Red Wine (I used Rocamar, a well priced [cheap] Spanish red with good acidity)
1 pint fresh (or frozen) strawberries, sliced
1 pint raspberries, whole
1 pint blackberries, whole
1 red apple, slice into rounds (I didn’t worry about coring it)
1 bunch of red grapes, sliced in half
2 peaches, cut into slices
1 orange, sliced into rounds
1 lemon, sliced into rounds
1 lime, slice into rounds
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (or the best quality orange juice you can find)
1 cup club soda (optional - I just like a little carbonation)
a few good glugs of Triple Sec (or whatever orange liquer you prefer)

Add everything together in a big bowl or a few pitchers. Let sit for at least an hour. Pour over ice, sit back, spray yourself down with some cold water, and enjoy. (Body spraying is, of course, optional)

This is up drinking our sangria in the heat. Maybe (most definitely) a bad combination after 3 or 4 glasses.

*or any weather…I guess