Friday, October 14, 2011

Eating Omily: Spirited Offerings

I'm really enjoying feeling the air get more brisk, and watching the leaves change. I'm getting so excited for Halloween! On Thursday my friend Emily, two of her friends, and my husband all went on a walking tour of haunted spots in the Village area of Manhattan. It was a dark, damp, chilly, breeze night: just right for trying to spot ghosts! It was important to keep our bodies warm and our spirits up while looking for spirits, so I turned to the aid of some spirits!

Which brings me to my #1 Favourite Fall Recipe: Mulled Wine!*

Emily and I mulled two bottles of wine and brought it all with us in three thermoses and a pint glass...and the two of us and my husband polished it all off sometimes around the tale of Houdini possessing cats in McSorely's Pub. We remained toasty, and in high hopes we'd see a ghost until well after the tour ended! So how do you prepare this hauntingly Autumnal concoction?

First of all, find a source of cheap, but decent quality red wine. It should be fruit-forward, but not sweet, and good enough to drink alone, but in a basic way. Any subtleties will be lost in the mulling process.

I'm a fan of Trader Joe's Cabernet Sauvignon, which is $2.99 in these parts.

For each bottle of wine, I add a quarter cup of sugar. That subtle touch of sweetness draws out the flavors of the mulling spices; feel free to add more or less to taste, but know that I am not one to use any sweetener if I can help it, and I find it really makes a difference.

For the spices you can throw in whatever you have, if you keep whole spices around: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, ginger or peppercorns are sometimes used, get creative! Orange peel is a classic addition for a reason, but it'll be good without it, too.

Lately I've been cheating and using Trader Joe's mulling spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and orange peel all in a handy tin complete with suggested directions which my recipe is based off of.

Use roughly two heaping tablespoons of spices per bottle of wine. Put the wine, the sugar, and the spices in a pot over low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved, then put the lid on and let the wine just barely simmer (a couple bubbles every few seconds) for twenty minutes or so. You can leave the lid off if you want to let a significant amount of the alcohol cook off, resulting in a softer more fruity flavor, but less bang for your buck.

It's delicious warm in a mug or a thermos obviously, but any leftovers only get better if left to sit in the fridge with the spices: more flavorful and mellow, and equally awesome served over ice.
Nom! The recipe for the warm salad shown in the picture is in this post.

One more perfect Fall recipe; one of my hands down favorite meals in terms of comfort, nutrition, and ease of preparation (assuming you cook). This recipe is adapted from a recipe found in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver, my favorite eating local book ever.

To serve two, start with one small roundish squash, such as acorn or delicata, and between one and two cups of prepared beans, along with some basic soup ingredients and herbs, whatever you like is fine.

Cut the squash in half, rub with olive oil and salt, and roast at 375, cut side down, for about half an hour, or until very tender.

While the squash roasts, prepare the soup. My soup template is as follows (and is based off of the master soup recipe found in The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, a really amazing cookbook that focuses on ingredients and techniques instead of nit-picky recipes.):

Dice half an onion, and saute in plenty of olive oil, and maybe part of a bell pepper if I have one around, or some sliced carrots. Once it has a head start, I add a few thinly sliced garlic cloves, and salt liberally. Once that saute is smelling delicious enough to eat with a spoon, I add some dried herbs: I like a bay leaf, oregano, thyme, and let those heat up. Then I add the cooked beans, water to cover, and for this soup, I add allspice and ginger for some Autumnal warmth. I let it simmer for a bit, and then, Ta-Da! It's soup!

When the squash is roasted, use a big spoon to scoop out the seeds and the stringy bits. If it's an acorn squash, it will look like this (minus the picturesque platter and springs of thyme, unless you're into that sort of thing):
But any roundish squash is fine.

and then...here is the awesome part...

Ladle the soup into the squash halves, and serve. As you eat, scoop bites of tender, sweet squash up with the soup. It is perfect, delicious, beautiful, and fancy-looking without being hard. It's vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and impressive enough for a dinner party. Make this dish!!

Enjoy Autumn, it's a really special time of year!
~em

*Ok, I know, wine is not a spirit, but that was a perfect segue; don't judge me!

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