Thursday, December 22, 2011

mulled wine for winter cheer

Recently, a dear friend came into town for a visit. We had put the date on our calendars over a month ago, but hadn't yet decided how we were going to spend our evening together. On the day of our long-anticipated date, we got on the phone and decided to go shopping for snacks and bevvies together. After conferring with each other, we decided on mulled wine, cranberry-cinnamon goat cheese, and chili chocolate.

Using the recipe in Joy of Cooking as a rough guide, we had delicious mulled wine that evening, just the two of us. But then, I decided to revamp the recipe for a party I was hosting. And, I scaled it up from two servings to 20.

The mulled wine (and the party) were a hit! I added some white grape juice, because I found the taste of straight simmered wine a bit too potent and slightly bitter for my taste. This is eminently drinkable, and very warming. I hope you enjoy lifting a cup of this with some loved ones this Christmas season.

Mulled Wine (with props to Mama Rombauer)

1.5 litres of dry red wine (ask your wine merchant for a recommendation - they'll direct you straight to a "value" red wine, which gets dressed up beautifully for the occasion)
1 litre of white grape juice
1/3 cup white granulated sugar
1/3 cup Cointreau orange liqueur
3 - 4 cinnamon sticks
1 orange, sliced into 1/2" thick slices, and studded with whole cloves

Pour all ingredients into a pot. Stir to mix until sugar is dissolved. Bring up just to a simmer, and then keep warm to serve. You can also prep and serve this in a crock pot if you have time.

Makes about 20 servings.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

In my last post,  I promised to share recipes I received via the recipe exchange I just sent out. Granted, this is NOT a recipe from a kind culinary stranger-cum-friend, but it was so fuss-less and easy I couldn't resist sharing it. In fact, it was so fuss-less to make that I started baking at 9 o'clock last night! 10 minutes later it was in the oven, and Jordan and I were curled up watching an old episode of The Sing-Off on PVR. The bread was baked before the show was over, and it smelled so delicious we had to try just one slice. Well, half a loaf later, and it had received Jordan's stamp of approval: after finishing his second slice, he flashed me a big grin and said nothing but "Mmm!"

This recipe has not changed since the 1970s, and once you taste it, you'll believe why. I am pretty sure that this recipe will quickly find its way into my memory, and will appear regularly whenever a surplus of pumpkin puree is lying around. The loaf is tender and moist, very fluffy, and the pecans add just the right amount of earthiness and crunch. It is nearly sweet enough to be considered cake, and makes an excellent accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee. I halved the recipe, and still came out with two 8 inch loaves.


Pumpkin Bread
adapted from The Wednesday Chef
who adapted it from the Monastery of Angels

Heat your oven to 350˚ F. Butter and flour two 8-inch loaf pans.

In a large bowl, whisk or sift together:
1 3/4 cups of all-purpose flour1 1/3 cups sugar1 teaspoon baking soda1 teaspoon ground cinnamon1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg1/4 teaspoon ground cloves1/2 teaspoon salt
Set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together until well mixed:
2 large eggs1/2 cup vegetable oil1/3 cup water1 cup cooked and puréed pumpkin
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just mixed. Add to the batter:
1/2 cup pecans, chopped if you like (I left mine whole)
and stir until incorporated.

Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans, and bake for 50 minutes. Insert a toothpick into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean, the loaf is done. Let rest for 5 minutes before removing from loaf pans, and set on a wire rack to cool. Use a sharp knife to cut the loaf, because it can crumble easily.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

recipe exchanges

I love recipe exchanges. You never know where the recipes are going to come from - they're always vastly different from my own cooking style, and provide great inspiration for the kitchen. I received the initial email from my friend Rebecca, and this was the recipe I thought to send off. I posted it a couple years ago, but it's such a good standby soup that I thought I'd repost it for your enjoyment and delight. And, as the recipes come in from the exchange (I'm supposed to get 36!), I'll see about posting some of those here to share with you as well. Enjoy! 

Leeky Dill Italian Sausage Soup

1 package (about 5 large sausages) of hot italian sausage, removed from casings
2-3 medium leeks, cleaned and diced (white and light green parts only)
2 large russet potatoes (scrubbed and peeled)
1 large can diced tomatoes
water or vegetable broth
1 bunch of fresh dill (fresh is best!)
salt and pepper

In a large cast-iron skillet, sauté the sausage meat until browned and cooked through. Break up any large chunks of meat. Drain off the fat, reserving it in a bowl to use for caramelizing the leeks. Move the sausage to a large stock pot. In the skillet again, use about a tablespoon of the sausage fat to caramelize the leeks. They should be just browned on the edges and still a vibrant green. Put that into the stock pot with the sausage. Add the potatoes, roughly chopped, to the stockpot, along with the can of diced tomatoes. Add enough water or vegetable broth to cover all the ingredients, and bring it to a boil. (At this point you could even warm the water/veggie broth in the skillet, and scrape up any caramelized goodness and pour that into your stockpot as well.) Simmer until the potatoes are tender.

10 minutes before serving, remove any stalks from the fresh dill and roughly chop it, so there are no large "bunches" of dill, just small sprigs. Stir that into the soup and let the dill flavor become vibrant. Season to taste. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and lots of crusty bread. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Colors at Home

This year, the 40 days of Lent seemed to drag on for me. I had more on my plate than ever before, and at times it felt as if I didn't even have time for the things that bring me life and sustenance.  Cooking, tending my home, spending time with close friends over copious cups of tea, and getting outdoors - all these things got waylaid in favor of long workdays and nights watching some of my favorite TV shows on the PVR. 

I admit, it wasn't the best way to spend my evenings. But, I tell you, it's what I could handle in the midst of rehearsals, planning, concerts, more planning, meetings, more rehearsals, and finally, Easter services. 

So when I woke up yesterday morning, the Monday after Easter, I had high hopes for my day off. My houseplants were in desperate need of some TLC, so I was going to trim and repot the overgrown ones, nurturing new little shoots into full grown plants. My bathroom and kitchen floors needed scrubbing, my recital rep needed rehearsing, my friends needed phone calls and tea dates, my bookshelves needed organizing, and my laundry needed laundering. 

What I didn't realize was that I, personally, was leaping from the drudgery of my Lenten season right into the celebration of Easter resurrection without first allowing myself to stop, to rest, between the cross and the empty grave. 

Holy Saturday gets little "airtime" in the church year. Some churches host Holy Saturday vigils, but these can be elaborate affairs that tire out church workers rather than still and quiet the soul. Because here's the thing: on Holy Saturday, all we can do is wait.

On Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified, there was a flurry of activity. Crowds milled around to gawk at the spectacle.  There were people wailing in grief and anger. The soldiers tried to hurry on the gruesome process of death. But for Jesus, there was no need for that. He had already slipped into death. I imagine there was a brief moment of dumbfounded confusion when the soldiers realized he was dead. Then they might have shrugged their shoulders, and moved on.  But Jesus' death spurred on even more activity. A man named Joseph made arrangements for Jesus to be buried right away, before the sabbath began that very evening. Nicodemus brought what seemed to me an obscene amount of spices - 75 pounds of it! - to wrap up Jesus' body. Perhaps in his grief, he was a big spender. Perhaps, being a man during a time when burial rites may have primarily been the work of women, he just didn't know how much to buy. But, they were quick and efficient, and Jesus was buried before the sabbath began. 

In the gospel of Mark, the story skips directly from Jesus' burial the night before the sabbath to the morning after the sabbath. Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus' mother, watch as Jesus' body is laid in the tomb. The very next verse begins, "When the Sabbath was past..." (Mark 16:1). The flurry of activity begins yet again as three terrified, grief stricken, trembling women make their way back to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. You know what happens next. Instead of finding Jesus, they find a young man in brilliant clothes who tells them, absurdly, not to be alarmed that there is nothing in the open tomb except the cloth Jesus was wrapped in. The gospel of Mark ends with the women running away, and the other gospels describe even more astonishing events as the disciples wonder at and realize what has happened. 

But what about that Sabbath day, the single, holy day embedded between grief and surprise? 

It is a day to wait.

For Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus' mother, their waiting was motivated by the rhythm of resting and abstaining from all forms of work on the Sabbath day. It must have been an impatient waiting, which apparently could not end soon enough - "very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb." They did not anticipate the surprise they would receive there. They went seeking to embody their last expression of love and care for a man who had changed their lives, but found that even death could not keep the Lord of life.

We also are tempted to wait impatiently, to hurry through a day that cannot end soon enough, so that we can celebrate the victory of Easter morning. And - too often! - we hurry through the sure and measured steps of the season of Lent, sometimes skipping the grief and pain of Good Friday entirely. But the thing is, no matter how much - or how early! - we celebrate Easter, with trumpets and Easter lilies, chocolates and roast chicken, the only one capable of bringing about Jesus' resurrection life in us is the Lord of life himself. And He tends to do it in his own sweet timing.

But Holy Saturday, from a post-Easter perspective, teaches us to wait for God to bring about his resurrected life in us.

For me, as for many church workers around this time of year, getting through Easter season was a challenge. It requires stamina, hard work, lots of planning and attention to detail. (And a little bit of time for spiritual reflection, if you can manage it.) For me, the workload of Lent and Easter is not unlike a kind of death. It requires a sacrificial pouring out of my time and energy, in slow, measured steps. Likewise, the days after Easter promise a new sense of freedom, with more time and less work to fill it, allowing me to once again embrace those things that bring me life and joy - cooking, tending my home, spending time with close friends over copious cups of tea, and getting outdoors.

But even I had forgotten the patient waiting that needed to happen before that new life could spring up again. On Monday, I found that every attempt I made to return to "normal" life and activities was thwarted by my own exhaustion. On top of that, I found myself getting frustrated with my inability to embrace the new sense of freedom my newly lightened workload offered me. What I needed was the waiting of Holy Saturday.  I needed the stillness, and the quiet that can only be found between the effort and pain of Good Friday, and the glorious, surprising victory of Easter Sunday.

So my own Easter story goes like this: It was not until this morning that I had the desire or the joy to attempt decorating my apartment. But once I started, it was delightful. I replaced dark and tired winter decorations with fresh spring blooms and bright colors. Plants that were crowded in their pots now have room to grow and sprout.  Even a set of tulip bulbs that were stored away in the laundry room had audaciously and optimistically sprouted without my noticing! Now they are potted up and watered and awaiting the spring sunshine to coax out their blooms (in the purple pot below - they look a little like albino rhino horns).

But the best part of my own Easter story is this: The season of Easter lasts 7 weeks! Easter Sunday is only the beginning of new life. After all, it takes a full month for the little tulip buds to blossom after they've poked out of the ground. This blossoming of resurrection life is worth the wait.