Sunday, December 27, 2009

Winter Comfort Mulled Wine

The holidays are all about people, the cards, the letters, the photos, remembering those not with us and maybe those far away. It’s the coming and going of friends in the home and the spirit of hospitality, the warmth, the welcome, the memories, and the love! Living in Georgia, so far away from my childhood home, my family and my traditions it seems important to me to fan the flame of memory and extend this comfort to others, and one way to do this is with the offering of a hot cup of ‘mulled’ wine.

This tradition of greeting visitors to the home with mulled wine has been a delight to my American friends and I’ve been asked so many times for the recipe that I have decided to post it on my blog for all to enjoy and cheer the soul in these winter nights.

There’s no better comfort on a cold winter’s night than sitting down with a pot of mulled wine drank by a blazing fire. When I make this at home the aromatic warm and pungent spices with orange overtones fills the kitchen and even in Georgia I can close my eyes and am transported back to my mother’s kitchen in Ireland. The term ‘mulled’ simply refers to the adding of spices and juices to the wine, which are all blended and heated together to make a wonderful aromatic delight.

In my particular recipe I use an English Mulled spice called ‘Allspice berries’, and unlike the name suggests they are in fact a single berry and not a mixture of spices. The berry actually takes its name because its aroma is reminiscent of the combination of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. These amazing little berries are mainly grown in Jamaica and are harvested from the Bayberry Tree; but the evergreen tree is actually indigenous to the rainforests of South and Central American where it grows wild. The scent is so good that it’s no wonder it’s found in men’s colognes! You can pick up ‘mulling’ spices in various places, and I enjoy Williams-Sonoma’s version, simply called ‘Mulling Spices’, which can be found in their stores in a copper & green can.

Serve the mulled wine with spiced nuts, cheeses and mince pies for an authentic Irish winter holiday greeting and to give it an American Southern twist make sure the nuts are pecans!

Just the trick for your New Years party, or any winter gathering with friends…

Mourne Comfort Mulled Wine:

1 (750ml) bottle of red wine (merlot, shiraz or cabernet sauvignon)
1 cup simple syrup
1 cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is best)
2 small oranges (thinly sliced)
6 whole cloves
2 3’ cinnamon sticks
2 tsp whole allspice berries (English spice)
¼ cup brandy

Basic Simple syrup:

1 cup sugar
2 cups water

(Bring sugar and water to a boil. Refrigerate and store.)

Prepare sugar syrup and set aside (ready for the next pot).

Place cloves, allspice berries and cinnamon or 2 Tbsp store bought mulling spices in a large tea leaf filter bag or tie in a small piece of cheesecloth. Slice oranges.

Heat the wine in a medium saucepan but do not allow it to boil. Add the orange juice, simple sugar syrup, thinly sliced oranges and spices and infuse for 20 minutes.

Add the brandy and taste to see if it needs a little more simple syrup.

Ladel in to punch cups and serve.

(*Remember, if you wish to print this recipe out for your own kitchen, I suggest you copy and paste it into Word. If you print this blog you will deforest Sweden, Norway and Lapland and we'll have no Christmas trees next year!)

J the I F

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Irish Butter Vanilla Fudge

‘Tis the season for our favorite sweet treat!

Oh yes, it’s chilly outside (even in Georgia!) and it’s that time of year for our Christmas traditions. The kinds of things that conjure up childhood memories and make the holidays ‘bright’, such as sharing community, being with family and eating together (eating lots together!). And of course, it’s a time for indulging just a little more with sweet treats to be eaten around the Christmas tree and drinking yummy hot chocolate, right? (We’ll go back to broccoli in January, along with the new Gym membership!)

Everyone seems to have that special secret sweet treat they make once a year, and for me that means getting out my saucepan, wooden spoon, candy thermometer, and reaching in to my pantry for those three simple ingredients, butter, sugar and milk. Oh yes, ‘Irish Butter Fudge’, nothing like it! My kids get excited now when they smell the browned boiling butter and sugar, and begin to count the hours until it’s ready to cut and eat. And As a child I remember taking turns with my mother to beat the fudge in to perfect submission after it had reached the soft ball stage. Oh yes, it’s worth it just for the wonderful aromas that will fill your home when you prepare this. Very ‘Christmassy’

When I moved to the South the common love of both fried foods and sweets between the Irish and Southern diets made it easy to discover an endless availability in country stores of home made fudge, and we enjoy the American fudge. However, it’s very different from the Irish variety. In my experience American fudge recipes generally have marshmallow cream and come like ice cream in many flavors like rocky road, peanut butter, pumpkin or filled with nuts. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that when it comes to fudge the Irish are purists and feel you should not add to or change a good thing. I suppose, the closest thing I have tasted in the American South to Irish Fudge is New Orleans Praline.

My fudge was debuted at my Holiday Open House recently and I could not make it fast enough to sell to my friends and loyal customers. I have also incorporated the fudge in to an Oatmeal banana scone recipe for my cook book which could be best described like buttered banana bread with of course a totally Irish twist.

So loosen the belt and enjoy the season!
Merry Christmas!

Irish Butter Vanilla Fudge

· 10 oz unsalted butter
· 1 large tin (396g) sweetened condensed milk
· 7 fluid oz (200 g) whole milk
· 40 oz (5 cups) sugar
· 1 tsp vanilla


1. Grease a 11x7x1.5’ pan.
2. In a medium saucepan combine butter, milk, sweetened condensed milk and sugar and bring to a boil.
3. When fudge reaches 115 degrees C on a candy thermometer begin to stir fudge constantly for the next 15 minutes until fudge reaches the soft ball stage. (to test fudge is ready drop a little mixture in to a glass of ice water and it should form a soft fudge ball when ready).
4. Remove from heat and begin to beat by hand. Add vanilla and continue to beat for about 5 minutes or until mixture becomes fudge like.
5. Quickly pour in to prepared pan. Mark pieces with a knife after about one hour and cut when set after 2 hours total.
6. Store in a dry air tight container (best not refrigerated).
(Remember...if you want to print this recipe for your own use I suggest cutting and pasting it into a new doc. Don't print this page unless you wish to deforest the planet!)