Mulled Wine


Mulled wine is lovely, warming, and festive. I first made it for a Christmas party my husband and I were having the year we moved in together. None of our friends were familiar so I described it as warm sangria. Feel free to spike it with rum or brandy, and if it’s for a party, I recommend doubling the recipe and floating a clove-studded orange for effect. I didn’t do either this time; I didn’t have any rum, and I made this for a regular old Friday night in December.

Mulled Wine

1 bottle cheap red wine
generous splash of juice (such as apple, apple cider, or orange. I used apricot nectar since I still had some in the fridge)
1 cinnamon stick
1 black cardamom
1 star anise pod
several each of: cardamom pods, allspice berries, cloves, black peppercorns
honey to taste
peel of one orange, tangerine, or clementine

Combine everything in a sauce pan, stirring to dissolve honey, and heat on low (don’t allow to boil!) for an hour and a half to two hours.

Note: if you don’t have all these spices, don’t despair! Use what you have, even a pinch of powdered spices.

Spiced Thyme Chicken and Green Beans with Coconut Rice


Yesterday evening I was puttering around in the kitchen, wondering what to make for dinner, and came up with this little weeknight one-pot meal. Well, two pots if you count the coconut rice, but I had that leftover from the weekend barbecue. I’m a little smug about my invented method of steaming green beans on a bed of Jamaican-inspired chicken. Also a bit smug about using homegrown thyme from my windowsill.

These spices are nice, but if you are not cooking for little ones, I encourage you to turn up the heat.

Spiced Thyme Chicken and Green Beans with Coconut Rice

For chicken and green beans:
1 lb chicken legs and thighs, skinned
olive oil
4 allspice berries
4 cloves
salt & pepper
ground thyme
cayenne (optional – I skipped it)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, sliced
1 1/2 c chicken broth
1 lb green beans, trimmed
1 tbsp butter
a few sprigs fresh thyme

Heat olive oil with allspice berries and cloves. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper and a generous dusting of paprika, thyme, and cayenne. Brown chicken on both sides and remove to a plate. Saute garlic and shallots for a couple of minutes and add chicken broth, plus a cup of water. Scrape brown bits off the bottom of the pan, add back the chicken pieces. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through. Add a splash more water if necessary and toss green beans on top of chicken. Cover and steam until green beans are cooked al dente.

Arrange green beans and chicken on top of rice. Stir up and reduce pan liquid to a quarter cup or less. Stir in pat of butter, and pour over chicken and green beans. Garnish with fresh thyme.

For coconut rice:
1 c basmati rice
1 c coconut milk
1 c water
1 cinnamon stick

Soak and rinse rice. Combine rice, coconut milk, water, cinnamon stick and salt in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to a low simmer until rice is cooked, about 15 to 20 min.

Note: I serve this rice with everything. It’s easy and it goes with all kinds of food.

I chose this as my best recipe in July!

Vidalia Onion Marmalade


I cook food from all over the place, but sometimes I just want to make something nice and homey and southern. Vidalia onions are naturally sweet, and sweeten the more you cook them. This could be a faulty memory, but they remind me of my grandmother because she always had some hanging in a basket in her laundry room. This is a slow-cooked, sweet and savory marmalade that would be delicious on grilled meat, a chicken or cheese sandwich, or just spread over a slice of bread.

Vidalia Onion Marmalade

3 vidalia onions, sliced medium (not too thin)
2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
2 tbsp butter
4 allspice berries
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp molasses

Heat butter on medium heat and add allspice berries, onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for, oh, forever. At least half an hour, probably closer to 45 min. Take care not to let the mixture burn. If you need to add a small splash of water somewhere along the way, that’s fine. Cook until the onions are golden. Mix sugar and molasses, and stir into the onions. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Balti Zafrani Chicken

Even as a non-Muslim, I love Ramadan, and as I’ve been celebrating it with Shan for the last five years I’m starting to feel that it’s my tradition as well. I feel that believers and non-believers alike can appreciate the sentiment of the holy month: to reflect, to be thankful, to avoid negativity. I enjoy the peaceful days and the fun evenings with friends. During this month the evening meal, Iftar, is kind of a big deal, so all month I am cooking exclusively Pakistani.

The meal: It is traditional to open the fast with a date as did the prophet (Shan is very picky and does not like dates, and so opens with salt, also acceptable). Then we have pakoras, which are potatoes or other vegetables battered in besam (chickpea flour) and fried, and watermelon. We have delicious sweet drinks like Rooh Afza or some concoction of peaches, Fanta and milk that our friend Mansoor has been mixing up. Then round two – whatever entree we’ve got going – and finishing up with milk tea.

I have a handful of Pakistani dishes already in my repertoire, but ventured to to learn something new. They have lots of recipes in English, so I chose Balti Zafrani Chicken.

Balti Zafrani Chicken

This is a spiced, rich and stewy chicken dish. It had me at Zafrani – saffron – which I love although I don’t cook with it often ($$$). “Balti” means bucket, and refers to the type of pot that this dish is traditionally cooked in. It’s apparently quite popular in the UK although I have not heard of it here in the US, but Shan and Mansoor seemed to know what it was so I took that as a sign.

I’ll go ahead and rewrite the recipe since I have a couple of different “western” techniques – I don’t know that they are western in particular, but just things I like to do differently. Namely, I salt the onions in the beginning so they sweat as well as adding salt later if I need to (but probably less in the end than your average Pakistani, at least the ones I know). I realize the onions brown better if you don’t salt them, but they also take longer, and I’ve never really noticed much of a difference so really I think you can do whichever you prefer. Also, instead of paste I like to use fresh garlic and ginger, and add the garlic at the same time as the onions so it can cook. Finally, none of the recipes I’ve seen have put an emphasis on browning the meat, but I think by carmelizing it a bit you really get a better flavor than by essentially just boiling the meat.

Recipe: Balti Zafrani Chicken

2 tbsp butter
1/4 c oil – by this point you realize this is not diet food
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
One whole chicken, cut into 1-2 inch pieces – the original recipes calls for one lb of boneless cubes, but we usually get the bone-in variety and this is fine
One inch piece of ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp red pepper – add more to taste
2 tbsp ground almonds – what a lovely way to thicken the sauce!
3/4 c yogurt
1/2 tsp saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 tsp allspice – a nice alternative to cinnamon!
2 tbsp cream
2 tbsp lemon juice

On high heat, melt the butter in the oil, and fry the onion until translucent and starting to turn golden brown. When the onion is almost done, toss in the garlic so that it can cook and not burn. Add chicken, ginger, black and red pepper, and fry for 5 minutes or so.

Stir it up, cover, and simmer on medium heat until chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally and especially not letting it stick. In the meantime, warm the cream and combine with the saffron and allspice. When the chicken is cooked through (it should be very tender, almost falling off the bone), add the cream mixture and the lemon juice.

Cook a minute longer, garnish with cilantro and serve.

This turned out delicate and fragrant, really delicious. You can serve it with warm naan or as I did with pulao (lightly spiced rice and onions). I roasted some carrots with cumin as well and we had a very nice Iftar.