Warm Vanilla Apple Cider

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When we were on vacation at the Landmark Inn in Cooperstown, they had warm apple cider from the Fly Creek Cider Mill simmering in a crock pot in the dining room all afternoon and it was heaven to come back to at the end of the day. Why not do it at home too? I modified this from a Martha Stewart recipe and it’s so easy I wonder why I don’t do it all the freaking time.

Warm Vanilla Apple Cider 1

I doubled the recipe to accommodate my massive family so don’t let the pictures scare you. Start with some apple cider of your choice. This stuff from Farm Boy doesn’t QUITE match up to the Fly Creek stuff but it’s pretty darned good. Tip about 6 cups apple cider into the bowl of your slow cooker and put it on low heat. You have the option to add some brown sugar to the mix, about 2 tablespoons. This cider is pretty sweet as it is, so I didn’t bother.

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Grab 2 whole nutmeg seeds and a vanilla bean. Split and scrape the bean and dump all that goodness into the pot and give it a good stirring. Leave it be. Do this first thing in the morning before, say, a lunch party, and just let it do its thing all morning while you do other more important things.

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When you’re ready to imbibe, whip up some heavy cream in a chilled bowl. Add a bit of maple syrup for sweetness. Scoop out all the solids in the slow cooker with a mesh spoon and ladle the delicious cider into a heat-proof mug. Add a dollop of whipped cream and you’re all set for amazing!

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Roast Pork with Apple Cider Gravy

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This was the main attraction for Mrs. Nice’s birthday lunch and it was super good. I used a pork shoulder instead of a pork belly (because I couldn’t find one at the time) and made some drastic adjustments in cooking time, but the recipe is more or less the same as the one from Good Housekeeping.

Roast Pork with Apple Cider Gravy 1

Start by preheating your oven to 450°F and grab a large shallow roasting pan. Plop a 3lb pork shoulder right in the middle, so there’s lots of space on all sides. Rub it all over with olive oil and salt and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes.

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After 30 minutes, turn the heat down to 350°F and let it keep cooking, sizzling away, for another half hour. Then grab 6 small eating apples (these are giant Cortlands, which are neither small nor eating apples, but that’s neither here nor there), and coat them with oil and salt and pop them in the pan as well.

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Cook for another 45-60 minutes, until the apples have burst and are tender and the pork is registering at about 145°-160°F, depending on how well done you like your pork.

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Plop the roast on a cutting board and wrap it up in foil and a towel to rest and keep warm.

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Scoop out your apples and set them aside for a minute. Drain the contents of the pan into a small saucepan and let that come to a simmer. Whisk in 2 tablespoons flour and, when it starts to thicken, add in 2 cups apple cider, whisking until smooth.

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Reduce the heat and leave that for a bit to thicken. Stir it occasionally.

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Slice up your apples and lay them over a big serving plate.

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Carve the pork roast and arrange the slices on top of the apples, and dribble with gravy.

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Serve the extra gravy on the side for your Deadly Mashed Potatoes!

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Hot Drinks for Cold Nights

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We’re entering that long, dark stretch of winter here in Eastern Canada where we just want it to END but we know there’s at least another three months of it waiting for us.  So we come up with ways to keep ourselves from getting suicidal.  In Ottawa we have our Winterlude festival, in which we pretend that we actually LOVE winter for the benefit of the tourists.  And after we’ve spent all day freezing our toes off while traversing the world’s longest skating rink, we appreciate a hot beverage or two to help us thaw out.  So here are two ideas for you.

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HOT DR. PEPPER

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Don’t freak out — this isn’t one of those newfangled sugar drinks that “kids these days” are coming up with to get themselves all wired up.  The recipe for this odd potation comes from the 1960s, when the makers of Dr. Pepper came up with it as a way to keep their sales strong in the winter months when a cold soda pop wasn’t as appealing.  I’m not even kidding.

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So first you want to slice up a lemon.  Really thin.  You’ll need one slice for every serving.  Stick a slice in the bottom of a heatproof mug.

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I used Navy tankards, complete with glass bottoms to prevent someone from slipping you the King’s shilling.

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Then take your Dr. Pepper (if you can get it in your country), and pour it into a saucepan.  I used 3 355mL/12oz cans of the stuff because Trav was over and we were all curious.

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Heat it to precisely 180°F.  I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do with the stuff losing its carbonation.  It’ll fizz as the carbon dioxide escapes, so that will keep you entertained.

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Pour your hot Dr. Pepper over the lemon slice and add a shot of rum if you want to turn it into the adult version of the beverage (I personally think that it’s a little too sweet without the rum).  Enjoy!

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HOT APPLE CIDER

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While I’m not a fan of apple juice, I will always go for a refill of apple cider.  And not just in the fall — any time of year. Obviously there are a million ways to make hot spiced apple cider, but this one is what I felt like making today.

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In a medium sized saucepan, plop in 4 thin slices of lemon, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons brown sugar (you could also use maple syrup, or leave out the sugar altogether).

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Pour in 4 cups fresh unsweetened apple cider and 1 tablespoon vanilla.

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Whisking occasionally, bring that to a boil and let it foam up for a minute or two before removing from the heat and serving.

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Garnish it with a slice of apple and your cinnamon sticks.  This amount serves two generously with room for a small refill, or four if you’re not as greedy as I am.

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If you’d like to make a grown-up version of this with alcohol, a nice dark rum, bourbon, brandy, or cognac would work well.  I’ll leave it to you to decide how much will work for you to keep away the chill.

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Spiced Cider Gelee

Winter

Winter is a time for cooking comfort food.  Things are warm, spicy, and, usually, on the thick, rich, and heavy side.

Floating Holly Wreath

Why not try something a little different?  How about winter flavours with a lighter twist?

We served these gelled desserts after Christmas dinner, but they would be a great finish to any winter meal.  I don’t have too many pictures of the process, because, well, it was Christmas and I was busy doing other things.  But it’s a simple idea.  It comes from the Holiday 2011 issue of LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine.

In a small pot, pour 1/4 cup apple cider and sprinkle it with 1 envelope unflavoured gelatin. Cook that over low heat, stirring all the while, until the gelatin has completely liquefied.  Set that aside for a spell, and don’t fret if the gelatin starts to set while it’s waiting.

Apple Cider Gelatin

In a larger pot, stir together 2 3/4 cups apple cider, a cinnamon stick, one 1/4″ thick slice of fresh ginger, 10 black peppercorns, and 1/2 teaspoon corriander seeds.  Bring that mixture to a boil, then turn it down to medium and simmer it for 10 minutes or so, until the mixture is spiced and reduced down to 2 cups.

Apple Cider Gelatin

Pour the spiced cider mixture through a sieve into the pot with the gelatin and stir until it’s all combined.  Pour into four little cups (we used some demitasses we had in the basement), and stick a cinnamon stick into each one.  Chill for 2 hours, or until set.

Apple Cider Gelatin

To serve, garnish with whipped cream mixed with maple syrup and a dash of ground cardamom or garam masala.