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Hot mulled cider has been a fall/winter staple for Chelsea and me since our first year at McGill.  While we were living in university residence, Chelsea’s mom used to send her care packs nearly twice a month. One of the care packs in November had a box of RW Knudsen “mulling spices” in little single serving tea bags. So simple. So yummy and homey. All we had to do was heat up some apple juice and steep the tea bag for bit and we had hot mulled cider to go with our homework.

In second year, the cold weather started and we started making cider again and it didn’t take long for us to use up all of our mulling spice tea bags! Chels said her mum could send us some more, but I wasn’t willing to wait for that. I looked at the ingredients of the Knudsen spice bags, and then began looking into recipes for mulled cider. The result: A very rough, thrown-together recipe for hot mulled cider. It never comes out exactly the same. It is always delicious and delivers the same warm, happy holiday feelings that I want from my cider.

Hot Mulled Cider, roughly, thrown-together, always good:

2 litres of apple juice (eye ball half of the 4 litre jug if you go through as much cider as we do)
Not the super sweet sunripe kind, but the kind that has some sediment, is probably organic, and maybe not pasteurized. It has a more rich apply flavour. It’s less like candy, and more like juice.

A 1 inch hunk of fresh ginger
Sliced very thin, or grated even. The idea to maximize the surface area and get that ginger juice in there.

A navel orange
Again, sliced thin, and put in the pot with the juice and ginger

2 cinnamon sticks

Some cloves
To taste! I like my cider really clovey and put at least 10 whole cloves. Some people don’t really like cloves. It’s a personal preference thing.

A few dried bay leaves
Broken up and put in the pot.

And brandy!
I put a shot of brandy in my mug before filling it up with cider. I got mixed reviews on how strong the cider was at last year’s Christmas party, so of course this is another “to taste” item.

I think that’s it. Put everything, minus the brandy, in a big pot and heat it up just to a simmer, but don’t boil it. Take it off heat and serve with some brandy. You can garnish the glass with a cinnamon stick and an orange. In my experience, it just gets taken out, but it does look nice!


If you like mulled cider and you like red wine, I strongly suggest you make mulled wine. It’s basically the same stuff, but with some cranberry juice and maybe a little sugar.

What I have learned about these hot holiday drinks is that they are always tasty, but rarely a precise recipe. Experiment and find your personal favourite way of doing things!

Happy Cider Season!



Stewed Curry Lamb Shanks

There were soooo many choices for today!  I was really stumped.  I love hot and spicy food.  I love hot and spicy drinks.  I love hot and spicy.

Once upon a time, there used to be this store in Victoria called “From There to Here” which specialized in importing spices and, in particular, hot sauces from all over the world.  They had an entire wall of hot sauces on display.  On Saturdays, you could go down to the store and have hot sauce tastings; much like wine tastings.  I took my dad and big brother there once for my dad’s birthday.  They started us off with the mildest sauces – giving us little tiny samples on crackers – and then working up to the hottest ones.  Kind of like one would start with the delicate whites and eventually work one’s way to the big, bold, earthy reds.  It was a really fun day.  By the time we were on to the craziest hot – the scotch bonnets and the habeneros – my brother and I had dispensed with the crackers and were happily dripping hot sauce on the heels of our hands and licking off the delicious liquid fire.  Yummy!

Okay – we had a little heartburn later.

I am married to a Canadian-Trinidadian.  It used to be that on every trip to Trinidad, his parents and siblings would return with vats of the most delicious pepper sauce in the world.  The first time I had dinner with his family, I globbed a largish dollop of the stuff on the side of my plate and then happened to glance up to see the entire clan, all 500 of them (slight exaggeration), staring at me with a variety of expressions including shock, anticipation, dismay, gloating and amusement.  I must say, I felt somewhat self conscious as I delicately touched my finger to the sauce and then to my mouth.  WOOT! It was crazy hot!  But also delicious.  I ate all of it with my Trinidadian stewed chicken and rice.  I was a bit flushed, I’ll admit.  My nose ran a bit.  I may have been sweating.  But sooooo worth it.  Unfortunately, the stupidly stringent new airport rules have pretty much precluded anyone’s ability to bring back homemade pepper sauce from Trinidad.  It is a tragedy.  We have the tiniest bit left from a trip last year and we hoard it jealously.

The Naparima Girls’ School Cookbook (the definitive source of all Trini cooking to which all good Trini cooks refer) has a recipe I keep meaning to try.  My sister-in-law grows very hot thai peppers, so maybe this summer I’ll try to make a good Trini pepper sauce!

For today’s blog, I intended to make a Trini curry of some sort from that cookbook.  But one thing lead to another and, cooking being the organic experience that it is, my Trini curry turned into an Indian curry – a modification of a recipe from Vij’s Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine (a cookbook of recipes from Vij’s restaurant being an Indian restaurant in Vancouver considered to be one of the world’s 10 best by no less an authority than the New York Times … and me).

I’ve made this recipe before and, if I dare say so, I may have out Vij’d Vij!  How?  Duh!  By adding booze to the recipe of course!  Sorry, it’s a long one, but totally worth it.

(B’s) Vij’s Stewed Cinnamon-Scented Lamb Curry (or goat – you can use goat – also delish)

1.  B’s Part: Marinate lamb shanks and/or chops overnight in: 1/2 bottle red wine, 1 diced onion, 4 cloves garlic, 6 sprigs fresh tarragon, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, 1 tbsp. cumin seeds, 2 anise stars, 1 tbsp masala curry powder, 2 tbsp. olive oil, s&p.

2. Vij’s Part (with some modifications by B in italics): Heat 4 tbsp ghee or canola oil on medium heat in large, heavy stockpot.  Add 1 tbsp cumin seeds, saute until sizzling (45 secs).  Add 2 large chopped onions (using the onion from the previous night’s marinade and supplementing with a fresh one), saute until golden brown (8-10 mins).  Add 7 chopped cloves garlic, saute until golden brown (2 – 3 mins).  Stir in 1-2 tbsp fresh chopped ginger. After 1 minute, add 2 tbsp ground cumin, 2 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp turmeric, 10 cloves (or 1 tsp ground cloves), 1 2″ long cinnamon stick (or a couple of anise stars because you don’t have any cinnamon sticks), 1 tsp cayenne and 1-2 tbsp salt (I use just 1).  Cook on medium heat, stirring regularly, for 5-10 mins until oil separates from spices.  Add another tbsp of oil or ghee if spices sticking.

(Add the liquid from the previous night’s marinade to deglaze the pan and cook down until liquid reduced by half). Add  5 chopped ripe tomatoes, cook 3-4 mins until oil separates again and glistens.  Stir in 1 cup plain yogourt, cook 1-2 minutes, then add 1 cup water.  Bring to boil and then remove from heat.

In another large frying pan, heat enough canola oil to cover the bottom of the pan and sear the lamb shanks, turning constantly until they are browned on all sides and there are small, thin lines of blood on the meat.  Remove from the heat and transfer to the stew.  Return stew to medium-low heat and cook covered, stirring occasionally until the meat is cooked through and falling from the bone.  Vij suggests 2 hours, but this is for cubes of meat.  I cooked my curry for about 5-6 hours. Add more water if the curry becomes dry (this has never happened to me with this recipe – I usually have to try to cook off the liquid).  This should be a moist, thick curry.

Before serving, remove cinnamon sticks (or anise stars) and cloves. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (or sprinkle on top if you prefer).  Serve with rice and/or naan and/or roti.

Trini Pepper Sauce, Mango Chutney, Mango Pickle, Cilantro

Also, various Indian condiments such as the mango pickle and chutney, plain yogourt or raita and, for the stout of heart, some Trini pepper sauce.

Vij’s cookbook suggests pairing this dish with a Zinfandel wine.  I concur!

xoxo B