Category Archives: winter

Another DIY Gift Idea: Spice Bundles for Mulled Cider or Wine

Previously in DIY gift ideas: Chocolate buttercreams

I. The end of semester/holiday season is a busy time, so here’s a photo essay:

I used the softer, Ceylon or "true" cinnamon, primarily because it's easier to break into piecesFour smaller, one or two-serving satchets on the right, two larger whole-bottle packages on the leftunwaxed dental floss to tie--you could also tie a ribbon around each one, with instructions to remove the ribbon before usinga larger satchel + a bottle or two of wine (cheap, because it's meant to be spiced & sugared anyway) = a Mulled Wine Kita pint jar will hold four smaller satchels. I like to tape instructions to the lid with packing tape to sort of laminate them.

II. Briefly: what, why, and how

Mulled cider and wine is popular all over Europe and North America during the winter holiday season—in the Nordic countries it’s called glögg, in Germany it’s glühwein (glow wine), in France vin chaud (hot wine), in Poland grzane wino (heated wine), in Italy vin brulé (boiled wine) (Wikipedia can tell you all about these and more). In English, we also have “wassail,” which usually refers to mulled cider. However, the word is contraction of the Middle English wæs hæil, meaning “good health” or literally “be you healthy,” a toast and a testament to the inherently celebratory and social nature of drinking warm, spiced fruit juice (Wikipedia can tell you all about that, too).

The basic formula is fermented grape or apple juice + sugar or honey + cinnamon and/or peppercorns, feuerzangenbowlesimmered and served hot. There are lots of variations—the earliest versions of wassail were probably made with beer or mead instead of cider, glögg is sometimes made with pear juice, some versions involve adding some rum or a liqueur, spices vary from country to country and probably pot to pot. Other common additions are citrus fruits, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla. 

The most spectacular version I’ve ever had was called feuerzangenbowle, and involved suspending a cone of sugar over a pot of hot spiced wine on a piece of slotted metal vaguely like a cheese grater. You douse the sugar with rum and set it on fire, so the sugar caramelizes as it drips into the bowl. As you ladle out cups, the alcohol in the bowl of the ladle catches fire from the burning sugar, so you literally end up handing people little cups of flame.

If I could capture that in a little cheesecloth satchet to give to people for Christmas, I would. I guess this is like the next best thing:

Photo by Kore Nordmann

Recipe: Mulling Spice Bundles

For each 1-2 serving pouch:you can use storebought zest--I smelled the jar at the store and was disappointed, so I decided to dry my own

  • a quadruple-layer of cheesecloth about 6” square* 
  • a 8-10” piece of un-waxed dental floss
  • 1 t. whole cloves
  • 2 1” pieces of cinnamon stick
  • 1 t. dried orange or lemon zest
  • 1 T. brown sugar (optional, dark is better—more molasses flavor)
  • 1 t. whole all-spice berries (optional)
  • 1” piece of candied ginger (optional)
  • 1” piece of vanilla bean (optional—I used my spent beans, which I keep in a jar of sugar) 
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 1/2 t. whole peppercorns (optional)
  • 4-6 whole cardamom pods (optional)

For each 6-8 serving pouch (which will flavor 1-2 bottles of wine)fishing the spent vanilla beans out of the sugar, which is now also strongly perfumed with vanilla. this is what a year's worth of vanilla bean use in my kitchen looks like. a little extravagant.:

  • a quadruple-layer of cheesecloth about 9” square*
  • a 10-12” piece of un-waxed dental floss
  • 1 T. whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, broken into 1” pieces
  • 1 T. dried orange or lemon zest
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar (optional, dark is better—more molasses flavor)
  • 1 T. whole all-spice berries (optional)
  • 3-4 1” pieces of candied ginger (optional)
  • 1 vanilla bean (optional—I used my spent beans, which I keep in a jar of sugar) 
  • 2 whole nutmegs, lightly crushed (optional)
  • 2 t. whole peppercorns (optional)
  • a dozen or so whole cardamom pods (optional)

I used cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange zest, brown sugar, all-spice berries, candied ginger, and spent vanilla beans. I think cloves, cinnamon sticks, and citrus zest are the only essential things (and would be sufficient on their own) but you can use whatever else you like or can afford.

*A 2-yard package of cheesecloth makes about 8 small bundles or 6 large bundles, or 4 small ones and 2 large ones.

Instructions:

1. If you’re zesting your own oranges, do that at least 12 hrs in advance and let the zest air dry on baking sheets lined with waxed paper.

2. Cut the cheesecloth into pieces and fold into squares.

3. Add the stuff, gather the ends together, and tie it up with the floss.

4. Package with instructions for use, like:

Mulling Spices

Instructions: Place one pouch in a mug of hot cider or wine and let steep for 3-5 minutes. Press to strain and remove. Add sugar to taste, if desired. May be used multiple times—press to remove liquid, let air dry, and store in an airtight container.

For an entire bottle of wine, empty the bottle into a saucepan, add two spice pouches, and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add ¼-½ cup sugar per bottle if desired.

Or, if you’re just giving someone one of the big pouches, perhaps along with a bottle of wine:

Mulling Spices

Instructions: Place pouch in a saucepan with one or two bottles of wine. Simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add ¼-½ cup sugar per bottle if desired. Serve warm.

Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote

I decided "Pruney Polenta Porridge" was a little too Precious

The Michigan weather gods have been teasing us with a premature Spring, which is glorious in the way that 50-degree sun can only be north of the 40th parallel. But I know it’s not going to last. Californians might be able to look forward to the first asparagus this month and fresh peas not long after, but here the only things “in season” for months to come are kale and cabbage and trucked-in citrus. So here’s one of my favorite winter porridges, adapted from World’s Healthiest Foods. The polenta offers a nice change of pace from oats and simmering the prunes in orange juice and cinnamon until the sugars begin to caramelize makes a tart, spiced topping that’s both sunny and comforting on cold winter mornings, which I’m sure we still have a few of to look forward to.

And no, before noon, I do not grate my own cinnamon. Don't let that stop you, though. It’s remarkably quick and easy to throw together, largely thanks to the instant polenta. I just toss the prunes, orange juice, and cinnamon in a small saucepan set on high heat and a minute or two after I’m done microwaving the polenta, the compote is ready. If you’re more ambitious than I usually am before noon, you could use regular polenta. Russ Parson wrote recently about a stir-and-bake method method that supposedly produces the “deep, toasted corn flavor of a true long-stirred polenta” without the long-stirring. But instant polenta is a far cry better than instant oatmeal, and for a simple, hot breakfast cereal, it does well enough for me.

The recipe is also endlessly adaptable—you can use different juices, spices, fruits, and/or nuts. The original recipe includes apricots, and I throw them in when I have them on hand. I love  cardamom and almonds in place of the cinnamon and walnuts. Dried blueberries and cherries with nutmeg would probably also be great. Milk of any kind—cow, soy, almond, coconut—can be used instead of the water to make a richer polenta. If you were really hurting for summer, you could make a tropical version by doing one or more of the following: cooking the polenta in coconut milk, topping it with pieces of dried mango and papaya simmered in guava juice with allspice and a piece of fresh (or pinch of powdered) ginger, sprinkling it with shredded coconut and macadamia nuts.

But this is how I usually do it:

Recipe: Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote

  • 4 T. instant polenta
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 5-6 prunes
  • generous pinch ground cinnamon
  • small handful of chopped walnuts
  • 1 T. honey (optional)

    a little blurry from the steam

1. In a saucepan, heat the orange juice, prunes, cinnamon, and honey over medium-high heat.

2. Combine the polenta, water, and salt in a bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until thickened (about 2 minutes).

3. When the juice has reduced to a sauce and is beginning to caramelize and the prunes are softened, pour it over the cooked polenta.

4. Scatter walnuts over the top.

April still can't come soon enough