Mulled Wine

Mulled Wine for two with honey spoons, orange wedges, and cinnamon sticks.

Close up of star anise floating on top of mulled wine

Portrait shot of mulled wine for two people.

Overhead shot of a warm glass of spiced wine.

Welcome to Friday happy hour! On Fridays we’re going to post about adult beverages of all stripes, colors, flavors, potencies, and combinations. Wine. Beer. Spirits. Liqueurs. Bitters. Everything from A to Z, from absinthe to Zucca–and we’re going to start heady, hot, and old-school with mulled wine.

Messing around with drinks has long been a hobby of mine. This mulled wine is pretty much a potent warm sangria, potent spice-wise and booze-wise. When the polar winds blow or the flakes start to fall, put on this nice wine blanket.

Here’s what you need:

750 ml cheap Pinot Noir (Pinot is good for its smoke, but any red will work)

4 cinnamon sticks

Juice of one orange

Juice of one lemon

2 shots brandy

1 shot honey (1.5 shots if you’ve got a sharp sweet tooth like Allie!)

Pinch of nutmeg

3-4 Star Anise (optional; adds a baroque fennel-like spice)

What to do: Combine in a pot. Stir. For 15 minutes, simmer so low and slow that only an occasional lazy bubble is barely able to straggle up and break the surface. (We don’t want the alcohol to evaporate!) That’s all she wrote. Makes 4 awesome drinks.

Chestnut Pasta

Fresh chestnut pasta with butternut squash.

Pasta is made from flour, water, and sometimes eggs. What is flour? Flour is wheat ground to powder. Flour can be ground from things other than wheat. Corn flour gives us the tortillas from below Northern Mexico (wheat-flour tortillas are bigger near the U.S.-Mexico border), and rice-flour noodles swim in soups from Southeast Asia to Japan. Back to pasta. Messing around with different flours is one way to flavor pasta. And that is how we arrive at the chestnut pappardelle in the picture above.

This pasta was made from chestnut flour mixed with wheat flour. That makes the pasta taste a little wild and sweet. The pappardelle comes from Raffetto’s, a shop that has been selling fresh pasta in New York since 1906. (I wrote an article about this place!) The place has an ancient dough-cutting machine that clatters and creaks as you wait, watching your lemon or saffron or squid-ink or chocolate noodles sliced to order.

One of the best things about living near New York is the access to a galaxy of food markets where you can find anything. To me, the city’s markets are more of a lure than its world-class restaurants.

I can get still-hot corn tortillas. I can choose from 20 kinds of rice noodle. I can walk away with chestnut pasta for $4 a pound.

If you ever have a chance to try chestnut pasta, don’t think twice. Last week I pulled a pound from my freezer, cooked the stuff, and then mixed it with pre-roasted squash, Parmesan, thyme, almonds I smashed in a bag with a wooden spoon, and a shower of good olive oil. That cost me less than $8 for a surreal meal that could serve 4 people–and would cost more than $20 a person at a restaurant in New York.

So if you’re headed to NYC soon or live in the city now, I recommend a trip to Raffetto’s with a cooler and a wide-open mind. You’ll thank me when you’ve got a freezer filled with the good stuff.   -Chris

Mint Falafel

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Chris and I love to pack lunch. After you’ve had so many lunches it can be hard to think of new ideas for what to eat. For him, most of the time it has been a prosciutto sandwich, and lately we’ve both been wanting to switch things up.

This weekend I was excited to experiment with cooking falafeI as a new lunch option. We have always enjoyed Middle Eastern cuisine, and recently our taste for it has grown thanks to the amazing Ottolenghi cookbooks. They’re filled with great recipes for his fresh, bright version of modern Middle Eastern.

Making the falafel was simple. You pretty much coarsely blend chickpeas with your choice of flavorings. I added mint to enhance the falafel, providing a fresh taste and a vibrant green color. After blending together the chickpeas and herbs, you shape the falafel and bake for about 10 minutes, until golden brown.

When ready to serve, Chris and I made a yogurt sauce for dipping and pickled some red onions for garnishing. While Chris stuffed his in a pita, I ate mine over salad. Hope you enjoy.   -Allie

Cod by way of A16

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A few years ago I bought a cookbook called A16. The book is named after an autostrada in Italy, A16, a road that starts on the west coast at Naples and slaloms east across the country to the Adriatic Sea. The authors take inspiration from this rustic strip of the country, calling up rose-colored memories of the region’s people and simple food right before pulling back and slinging recipes for char-kissed Neapolitan pizza, chestnut polenta, and octopus soup (which we once made).

Allie and I have been cooking from the book for years. I don’t mess around with the whole-animal butchering or the esoteric wine pairings, but the book is a good one when we want to test our technical skills, learn something, and eat like the penniless kings who work the sun-blasted fields of the Italian South.

We also wanted to eat this way when we went to San Francisco. And we did, because that’s where the folks at A16 have a brick-and-mortar restaurant, right in the Marina district. It was pretty cool to go to A16 after cooking from the restaurant’s cookbook for so long. Easily, EASILY… best pizza this side of Vesuvius.

On to the fish, adapted from the book:

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This cookbook recipe is for halibut topped with pistachios and preserved lemon. Cod is half the price of halibut, and Allie baked all of our preserved lemons into a crazy quinoa bread the night before. Ah, the drive to improvise!

I smothered the fish with toasted pistachios, roasted tomatoes, thyme, lemon rind, a tablespoon of capers, and an aggressive shake of red pepper flakes. Then I filled the pan with water so that the water came halfway up the fish (which the book specifies precisely, and which cooks the fish perfectly). Finally: into the oven.

400 degrees. 12 minutes. This one was molto bene.   -Chris

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Sprouts on Cast Iron

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“What are you getting?” Allie asks me. We’re out to dinner, or maybe we’re out to lunch, and we could be in New York, Hoboken, my hometown (outside Philly), the Southwest, the West Coast, or maybe even (ahhhh….) the beach in summer. We’ve just sat down together. Our menus have been cracked open a few seconds, for enough time for a nice pocket of silence to form around us. Allie’s eyes, I know, have darted through items of interest–and are now back on mine.

“Not sure,” I respond, still reading. “You?”

“Hmm…” she says. “Want to split the brussels sprouts?”

“Yeah. Sure. I’d do that….”

Like plenty of eaters and eateries today, we’re pretty into brussels sprouts. They’re good. They’re good for you. They’re hard to mess up. They’re a safe bet for ordering out or cooking in, a bet we make often.

We made the bet last Sunday night (out). The following Monday we did the same (in). To start, I seasoned and then sizzled the sprouts in an oil-slick cast iron pan for 10 minutes, as this New York Times recipe advises. Next I blasted the sprouts in the oven for another 10. And then, once some of them had browned, once some had blackened, and once they had perfectly crisped and finally cooled, we split them.   -Chris

Miso Hungry

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Miso soup makes you feel like you’ve run, slept well, eaten healthy, and worked hard for days, even when you haven’t. There’s magic in miso. Miso is fermented soy beans, and fermentation does great things. (See wine!) A few sips in and you can feel the faint euphoric feeling sliding over you. It’s like a runner’s high. It’s like sitting by the fire on a snowy day. No wonder they slurp miso soup for breakfast in Japan.

One of the things I try to pay attention to is how food makes me feel. If it makes me feel good, I’m going all in. If it makes me feel anything but good, I usually hold back. This is a style of eating I learned while living in Italy–in Todi the summer Allie and I met, and working on farms and vineyards across the country two years later.

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To make miso soup, as we have once a week since winter dropped out of the skies like a meteor, start with miso. I use a tablespoon for every cup of water, and about six cups of water for a pot of soup. Start with one cup. Fork-stir the miso in until a paste forms. Add the rest of the water (or dashi). Set the heat to medium.

Don’t let your miso reach anything more than a languid simmer. You don’t want to kill off all the miso’s heady microbial life, which contributes to the magic. Spike with ‘shrooms, tofu, carrots, radishes, scallions, or whatever you want.

And when everything is cooked, breakfast is ready.   -Chris

Winter Citrus

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Orange salad: a weird concept, a great excuse for putting olive oil on fruit, and one of my favorite things to eat! My maternal grandmother’s family (from not that far south of Rome) has been making this stuff for generations. So has my maternal grandfather’s (from Sicily). More and more I’ve been seeing it on restaurant menus in New York. Why? Easy. It’s awesome.

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Lunch: Simple Pasta for Two

A plate of pasta with tomato sauce made using flavored olive oil

Pasta. Pasta pasta pasta. Pasta is my favorite thing to eat for lunch, for dinner, for a snack, for a pick-me-up, for a burst of energy, for a saucy post-bar nightcap, with friends, with family, with Allie, or with nobody in the universe but me. Here’s a nice simple pasta that’s one of my favorites.

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