Ah New England, the region of the country where you go from the sweet sun of summer to the golden leaves of fall. Soft snow falls on Christmas Eve and crisp rains and green plants welcome the Spring. I am so fortunate to live in a place where we get all four seasons.....(insert record screech sound).....yeah right. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that we get all four seasons, but it's not like they are all given equal dispersement across the months. The reality is that we have winter for about half the year, and then the other three seasons split the remaining half. What this means is that most of my existence is spent in colder weather. It's fine when you get crisp fall nights to roast marshmallows on the fire pit, but it's not so great when it's pitch black at 4:30 pm every night. The desire to eat comfort foods increases significantly. I am always on the hunt for good, hearty, yet modern recipes for the cold weather, you can only eat so much meatloaf and beef stew.
It was because of this that I was super excited to have come across Sarah Leah Chase's Cold Weather Cooking at a used book store. It was on the list of Ina's recommended cookbooks (of course). I got home that night and read it cover to cover. She covers everything from early fall's harvest through the rainy March season and all the holidays and snowy Sundays in between. It is truly one of the best cookbook's I've read. She has not only main courses and sides, but recommended menus, cocktails, and tips for many cold weather events. Her anecdotes are charming, and she's a New Englander as well, so she gets automatic cold weather street cred. I can't wait to dive into some of the recipes (I'm looking at you Maple Roasted Brussel Sprouts), but since the cocktails looked so yummy for a cold night, I thought I'd start with one of those.
I'm almost strictly a red wine girl (save for rose in the summer, but you know only the kind made from red grapes) and ever since a chilly stroll down the Champs Elysee, a mulled wine fanatic. I adore it, and have it throughout the fall and winter. I prefer to add brandy to mine, though I know other people use different liquors. When I came across this recipe that used white wine, I initially thought, it was strange. Who serves hot WHITE wine? I was going to sub it out for red, but I've learned to trust the process and those that are the experts, and I'm so glad I did.
This mulled wine is sweet and delicate, yet has a nice spicy finish. The lemon gives it a little zip, and the honey gives it a Toddy quality. It's like a hug in a glass, but not a big overwhelming bear hug...like a good hug from a friend you haven't seen in a while. Firm, warm, and comforting. It's very quick to make, and would be great to serve at a party as well as a quiet night at home. I'll admit that my attempts at flambeing didn't quite go as planned, but you have to start somewhere, right?
Here's what you do, gather the following:
2 bottles of dry white wine (make sure it's dry otherwise the resulting beverage will be too sweet); I used Chardonay
1/2 cup honey
Zest of a lemon (Chase recommends peeling it in one long strip, but I couldn't get that to happen, oh well)
1 cinnamon stick
8 whole cloves
3/4 cup of Pear Brandy
Thin pear slices for garnish
Add everything but the brandy into a medium sized pot and bring to a simmer for about 15 minutes. I actually halved the recipe since I was making it for two, otherwise I used the ingredients exactly as written. While that's simmering, bring the brandy (in a separate pot) until its hot to the touch (okay fine I used a whole cup of brandy so I didn't fall it exactly).
Once the brandy is hot and the mixture is simmered, add the brandy to the pot. Now, here's the fun part. Light a match, toss it in, step back, and flambe away! Okay, in all seriousness I didn't get the big beautiful flame I was hoping for, but I did get some clear flames, so I'll take it. I'll be honest, it took me three attempts, so by the time I got it right, the brandy may have cooled to much to give me the ignition that I really wanted. I think bf was happy that I didn't light the kitchen on fire so it's all good.
Ladle the wine into mugs and garnish with pear slices. I also added another cinnamon stick to each mug, cause I'm crazy like that.
I think next time I may add a tea strainer with some mulling spices to the original simmering pot. I think I may also experiment with add a spring of thyme as a garnish, I think the flavor would compliment the lemon and pear.
All in all this was a great addition to the winter beverage rotation and I will definitely be serving it at some future holiday fetes. The original recipe can be found in Chase's book, Cold Weather Cooking on page 187. The entire book is great, I highly suggest it.
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