Mulling things over

I first encountered mulled wine over a decade ago, at a Christmas market in tiny Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany. I say ‘encountered’ because I honestly can’t remember if I tasted any – I was on a trip with my school orchestra at the time and was a bit of a goody-two-shoes, so I doubt I had the guts to sneak even a sip of alcohol in front of teachers. That said, I definitely remember the smell – boozy, vaguely sweet, spicy with cloves and anise. Inhaling that scent while wandering in the shadows of buildings that looked like gingerbread houses, browsing through stalls of handmade wooden ornaments, candied nuts, and nutcrackers was like walking through a Christmas story. I eventually needed something warm to hold so badly that I settled for hot chocolate. They use the good stuff over in Germany – real  chocolate melted down into hot milk, poured into plastic red cups so flimsy that I wondered if they would melt from the heat.

These days, I still have the wooden ornaments I brought back from Rothenburg, and I am more than old enough to trim the tree with a mug full of mulled wine in hand.  This year marks our first married Christmas, and the first year we’ve spent the actual holiday together, so we’ve been test-driving some new holiday recipes, evaluating for tradition-potential. Our families had very different holiday culinary traditions – my parents have always done a Thanksgiving redux – a roast turkey complete with all the trimmings – while Dennis grew up toasting over a giant hot-pot feast. This year we ate ourselves under the table with a giant portion of prime rib, but I suspect we may trial something different next year. Regardless of what main dish we eventually settle on, I suspect that mulled wine, in some iteration, will be a keeper.

Since you end up adding sugar, citrus, and handfulls of spices, we recommend choosing a cheaper bottle for mulling, though still one you would be willing to drink on its own – we opted for a bottle of 3-buck chuck (love being back in the land of Trader Joe’s). Also, while you can let this simmer away for hours, be aware that some of the alcohol might boil off while cooking. We suspect that we mostly had spicy grape juice by the end of our simmer, as we polished off an entire bottle with nary a buzz between us, and we really don’t drink often enough to be able to pull that off.

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Mulled wine

  • 1 750ml bottle of red wine
  • 1/3 – 1/2 C demerara sugar, to taste
  • 3T mixed whole cloves, allspice, cardamom pods, star anise
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 orange or grapefruit, quartered

Pour the wine into a crock pot or large stock pot and put on low heat. Tie whole spices in muslin or cheesecloth and add to the wine. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add citrus quarters. Heat until fragrant and spiced to taste (sample as you go!)

-S

 

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Braised Beef Noodle Soup (紅燒牛肉麵) and the Common Cold

Today was the first day I have ever had to use an ice scraper to chip the nice sheen of ice that had encased my entire car overnight. Quite the right of passage for a west coast boy.

With the cold weather inevitably come colds, flu, URIs. Although medical science would say that there is no cure for the common cold, if you grew up in my household, you would beg to differ.

I was a fairly sickly kid growing up. I had my share of upper respiratory infections, bronchitis, asthma. I’ve choked down Chinese traditional medicine concoctions, copious quantities of orange juice and grapefruit juice, taken multiple Vitamin C and Zinc tablets. Every family has some cocktail of juices, pills, foods, soups, and medicine that they swear by.  For me, I must have my beef noodle soup, and that sentiment is shared by many.

Spicy beef noodle soup has existed since the Tang Dynasty (618 to 906 AD) and was popularized by a Chinese Muslim ethnic group (who also made some bad ass hand-pulled noodles). Many Asians today still consider this dish prophylaxis against cold and flu.  I can’t comment about the the actual research behind any of these claims, but believe it or not, there’s really no harm in treating yourself to a delicious and warm meal.

Hong Shao Niu Rou Mian (紅燒牛肉麵)

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Ingredients:

  • Beef shank                                     2  lb, cut into chunks
  • Oil                                                     2 T
  • Garlic                                               8 cloves, chopped
  • Ginger                                             2 T, minced
  • Star Anise                                      3
  • Sichuan peppercorns                 1 T
  • Chili black bean sauce               2 T
  • Dark soy sauce                             4 T
  • Light soy sauce                            2 T
  • Five spice powder                        1 T
  • Tomato                                            1 large, cut into segments
  • Water                                               6 cups
  • Bok choy                                         6, halved
  • Noodles
  • Salt
  • Green onion                                  chopped

Begin by heating up a wok on high heat and season your chunks of beef with salt. In the meantime, add garlic, ginger, five spice, sichuan peppercorns, chili black bean sauce, dark and light soy sauce to a small bowl and mix well. Once the wok is hot, add oil and beef, making sure the beef is nicely seared. Add contents from the small bowl, tomato, and water. Add star anise. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and let simmer for at least 1.5-2 hours. The longer you simmer, the more tender the beef will be and the better the flavor. In the meantime, cook your noodles and bok choy in separate pots of water. Place noodles, bok choy, and desired beef in a bowl. Pour broth through a sieve over it. Garnish with green onions and enjoy.

Stay warm!

D

 

Eggsalent Breakfast Sandwich

Growing up, I always favored sweet breakfasts over savory. Weekday breakfasts usually meant one brand or another of packaged breakfast cereal, and either pancakes or waffles generously doused in Aunt Jemima syrup typically made an appearance on either Saturday or Sunday. As I grew up, I slowly became more health conscious and progressively made an effort to reign in the unconscious sugar consumption. Old habits die hard though, and I still tend to favor a stack of fluffy pancakes over omelets at brunch. That said, there is a tiny restaurant in Cambridge called City Girl Cafe whose savory brunch options always trumped sweet in my book.

I always thought that City Girl (as we affectionately called it) was exactly the sort of place I would like to open if I ever entered the restaurant business. The place seated about 20 people, max, and even that was only accomplished by packing the tables so closely together that you had to turn sideways to walk between them. Three of the walls were painted a gray-ish navy and covered with eclectic vintage art; the fourth was painted with chalkboard paint and was covered with hand-written lists of drinks and specials. Baskets bearing large plants hung near the windows. Because space was at a premium, there was no room for customers to wait inside, so eager brunch-goers would leave their name on a list and head back outside to bide their time. Amazingly, even on the bitterest of Boston winter mornings, there was always a line.

The menu was a tightly curated list of City Girl twists on brunch classics. Though I probably tried most of the menu during my two years in Cambridge, I always came back to the egg sandwich. The traditional iteration of the egg sandwich – slightly greasy and oozy with American cheese – never really did it for me. Though the City Girl egg sandwich technically contains the same elements – bread, cheese, egg, bacon – it is a different thing entirely. City Girl takes the unfussy egg sandwich and fusses over it, in the best way possible. If you are looking for a quick brunch, look elsewhere, as this sandwich takes a bit of time to be made properly. If, however, you are looking for an egg sandwich worthy of holiday breakfasts, read on.

-S

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Goat Cheese and Egg Breakfast Sandwich

  • French baguette
  • Scrambled eggs (see notes, below)
  • Goat cheese
  • Yellow onion, julienned
  • Thick-cut bacon

Heat a medium-size skillet over high heat. Add bacon, cook until done, and remove from skillet, reserving ~2T of bacon grease. Add the onions to the reserved bacon grease and turn heat down to medium. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until caramelized, ideally almost jammy (note – this is the step that really requires patience. Though you can serve the sandwich with onions that have not been fully caramelized, as seen above, you will be richly rewarded if you wait. The onions play off the goat cheese best when they have been allowed to reach peak sweetness). While onions are cooking, scramble your eggs according to method listed below. Once either the eggs or onions are finished, whichever comes first, dump them out and wipe out the pan. Cut baguette in half, hollow out each half a bit, and place cut side down on your cleaned pan. Return pan to heat and warm bread until lightly toasted (you could, of course, also just toast the baguettes – either way works). To assemble sandwich, spread one half of the baguette with 1-2T of goat cheese. Top with scrambled eggs, 2 slices of the cooked bacon, and as many caramelized onions as you can pile on. Enjoy!

Egg instructions:

Crack eggs into a cold skillet. Add about 1T of butter for every 2 eggs. Transfer skillet to medium-low heat and begin to stir, slowly breaking up the yolks as you go. As soon as swirls of lightly cooked egg begin to form, remove the skillet from the heat and stir thoroughly for a few seconds. Return the mixture to the heat and continue cooking. Continue like this, removing the eggs from the heat about every 30 seconds to one minute for stirring. Eggs should be stirred continuously, on and off the heat. Stop cooking when the eggs are barely set, ideally still a bit runny, as they will continue cooking from the heat of the pan. Using this method, the eggs will take several minutes to cook, but will also be superlatively creamy.

I Yam a Sweet Potato

“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” -R+J

Sarah stole my thunder and already talked about our Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving, but I figure for a holiday filled with food, it warrants at least one more post…plus I have all the pictures.

Growing up, Thanksgiving was the epitome of Asian fusion cuisine. Our stuffing was composed of glutinous rice, Chinese sausage, mushrooms, peanuts, lotus seeds, and dates instead of the typical breadcrumbs. We had no need for gravy as our turkey was basted with a teriyaki sauce that permeated the bird and created a lovely dark brown/black-colored skin. Instead of the typical sides, we’d have an assortment of my mother’s amazing Chinese dishes. The following day, the leftover turkey transformed itself into an amazing rice porridge that I still dream about.

As years went on, I brought the typical garlic mashed potatos and green beans into the mix and started spending some Thanksgivings away from home. The smells that I typically associated with Thanksgiving began to morph and evolve as did my friendships and relationships.

Ultimately, I find myself in a blissfully confusing amalgam of food and people from all aspects of my life. Delineations between friends, family, and home have blurred, and each of the people pictured and mentioned have played some pivotal role in my life and molded who I have become. I feel truly fortunate to be surrounded by these people.

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This year Sarah and I were lucky enough to be able to celebrate with my co-interns and our friends in NOLA and my sister. I’m really not a fan of the traditional candied yams so thought I would try to create something with a nice blend of savory and sweet while still paying homage to some of the classic smells and seasonings of the holiday. Ultimately, I came up with this mashed sweet potato recipe that I brought to both celebrations.

Ginger and Garlic Mashed Sweet Potatoes

  • Sweet potatoes                  4-5, peeled and cut into chunks
  • Garlic                                    5 cloves, minced
  • Ginger                                  3 Tbsp, minced
  • Butter                                   4 Tbsp
  • Milk                                       1/4 cup or less
  • Cinnamon                           1/2 Tbsp
  • Cloves                                   1 tsp
  • Nutmeg                                1/2 Tbsp
  • Salt                                        To taste

In a large pot, add chunks of sweet potato and cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook until pieces of sweet potato are easily pierced with a fork. As sweet potatoes are boiling, in a small pan, saute garlic and ginger until lightly golden brown and set aside. After sweet potatoes are done, drain all water and place back in pot. Add butter, sauteed garlic and ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, and begin mashing. Add milk a little at a time until reaching desired consistency. Add salt as needed.

-D

Oh yeah, yams vs sweet potatoes.

Yams and sweet potatoes are actually not related at all. They are also not related to potatos. Confused yet? Sweet potatoes hail from Central and South America while yams come from Africa, Asia, and tropical regions. Chances are that whatever you picked up for Thanksgiving is actually a sweet potato. It also doesn’t help that many grocery stores label an orange-colored sweet potato a yam.