Baby it's cold outside! It's only a couple of weeks into winter, and we've already had a few good snow storms and some bitterly cold days here in Nova Scotia. Record low temperatures and blizzard like conditions today, so I'm curling up with a steaming glass of mulled wine and my new book Seasoned, by local spice purveyor Costas Halavrezos. It's an entertaining and informative read. So far, I've learned a bit more about the vanilla pods I've been raving about in my posts on Thomas Keller's Vanilla Ice Cream and Petits Pots de Creme, as well as why one should never offer an unsolicited recipe on a phone-in radio talk show. Who knew how much extra work it created for the host.
I'm making a little nibble of hard cheese with sweet chewy honeycomb and orange zest to accompany my hot beverage. Eating honeycomb always makes me feel nostalgic. We kept a few bee hives when I was a kid, so sticky little chunks of gooey honeycomb were frequent treats. Extracting the honey was a job my dad and I shared. We used a fancy device dad fashioned out of a big garbage can and a drill. Two frames of honeycomb (about 6" by 18" each) were attached to a center shaft which ran from the bottom of the garbage can through the lid. The drill was used to turn the shaft, the frames would spin around and honey would come flying out hit the sides and collect in the bottom. A hole drilled at the base of the garbage can with a little spigot was used to drain the honey into jars. Before the frames were placed in the extractor, we would use a big knife to slice the top surface of wax from the comb to allow the honey to flow freely. It was so much fun, I got to use a power tool and probably ate close to my own body weight in honeycomb on these occasions.
These days, since we no longer have hives of our own, I bought my honeycomb from the good folks at Cosman and Whidden Honey available at the Halifax Seaport Farmers Market. Serving honeycomb with cheese and orange zest was something I discovered in Parma, so I'm using Parmigiano Reggiano with local honeycomb and zest from my abundant supply of clementines. This idea works well with any number of sharp salty cheese, so don't limit yourself to Italian cheese, try it with your favorite hard cheese. It is so delicious and fun to eat.
To make my warm citrus spiced wine, I started with Jamie Oliver's recipe for Mulled Wine and made a few adjustments. First, I cut the recipe in half for just two of us. I substituted clementines for the lemon and lime in the original recipe, since I bought way too many. Also, in place of the Chianti Jamie recommends, I chose a nice, well priced, local red from Jost, their Cabernet Sauvignon Marechal Foch blend.
- 3 clementines
- 100 grams raw cane sugar
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 3 whole cloves
- 6 gratings of whole nutmeg
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 whole star anise
- 1 bottle red wine
Start by making a syrup base. Wash the clementines, and peel wide strips of the rind using a vegetable peeler or paring knife. Juice the clementines, and add juice to saucepan with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and bay leaf. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, and scrape the seeds into the saucepan with the pod. Add just a splash of wine at this point, over medium heat, stir until sugar is dissolved. You may need to add a touch more wine at his point, depending on how juicy your clementines were, there may be enough liquid. Once dissolved, increase heat a bit and bring to the boil. Keep a close eye on it, and continue to boil for 4-5 minutes, until thickened. Add the star anise and the rest of the bottle of wine, stir to distribute the syrup, and lower heat to it's lowest setting, you only want to heat the mixture through, barely a simmer. Allow the mixture to infuse for about 20 minutes. Strain the solids before serving, and garnish with slices of clementine and a cinnamon stick.
You can find all of the spices you will need to make this recipe by visiting Costas himself at The Historic Farmers Market on Saturdays.