Friday, January 18, 2013

Arugula and Brie Pasta

I was an unusual kid. I never liked salads with greens, I guess that's not unusual, but I loved my vegetables and I absolutely loved broccoli. Like most kids, though, I also really loved pasta. As my tastes matured and I started to learn the beauty of a leafy salad I discovered the deliciousness of arugula. It has a peppery bite that adds to a salad rather than acting as a watery filler like some lettuces.

In 2011 I found this video from a Mark Bittman podcast for an arugula pasta. I was exuberant! A way to take a delicious peppery green and make it into a really heart meal. Out of convenience and ease I left out of the anchovies, but no matter what I did the dish never seemed to work out. The pepperiness just overpowered the dish and I couldn't achieve a balance.

Similarly I keep trying to use leftover amounts of brie to make a pasta, but it's too rich and often times the brie no matter how small I cut it and whatever else I tried the brie would all clump together. Finally this last week I had a stroke of inspiration: arugula, brie and mushrooms with pasta!

The brie provides cheesy richness while the arugula balances it with its pepperiness with the mushrooms sauteed in garlic give it the entire dish a nice earthiness. What you're left with is a cross between a salad and a cheesy pasta. If you like brie, mushrooms and arugula than I'm confident you'll like this dish.

Note: The key to this recipe is to save some of the pasta water. Lots of recipes call for this and I often ignore  it, but it really does help marry the pasta to the sauce. By tossing the brie with the pasta and the pasta water some of it melts and creating a sauce where no sauce existed.

Pasta with Arugula, Brie and Mushrooms

by Leran Minc
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients (4-6 servings)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 pound mushrooms, sliced and cut in half
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pound of pasta (I used penne)
  • 4 ounces of brie (cut into 1/8" cubes)
  • 5 ounces of baby arugula
  • 2 tablespoons of good olive oil (extra virgin works, but if you have something fancy use it!)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice (or a few good squeezes of a lemon)
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2. Saute mushrooms for 5 minutes until they begin to brown lightly and soften.
3. Add garlic and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Stirring often to avoid burning garlic.
4. Meanwhile cook pasta. Drain, but save pasta water.
5. Toss pasta with mushrooms, garlic, brie and 1/4 cup of the pasta water until brie begins to melt.
6. Add arugula, lemon juice, salt, pepper and additional olive oil and toss until arugula wilts slightly.
7. Serve with bread to make 6 servings or 4 servings alone.
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Seasonality of this dish: Arugula is a heartier green that while it isn't seasonal, it preserves its flavor much better out of season and transports better. If you're going to make a compromise to get some freshness in the middle of winter, arugula is a good way to go. Domestic mushrooms are always seasonal and are often produced locally. So anytime you can get arugula this dish works.

Approximate Cost of this Dish

1/3 pound of mushrooms $0.75
1 pound of pasta $1.99 (or less)
4 oz of brie $2.25
5 oz of baby arugula $2.99
1 lemon $0.50
Total= $8.48
Add the cost of olive oil, salt and garlic....~$10.00 or $2.00 per serving

Friday, January 11, 2013

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies (and a dog video!)

Happy 2013! It has been far too long since my last blog adventures and to those who read this, I am so sorry! Since my last post I started a new job as kitchen manager at Pleasant Pops Farmhouse Market and Cafe. As the name implies it is an amazing store that is part cafe, part coffee shop, part local market and all delicious. Part of my job running the kitchen has been coming up with recipes for our lunch and dinner menu. As much as I have wanted to share all the amazing soups, salads and sandwiches I have come up with the pesky business of business has prevented me from doing so! I have loved my job, but there is also something about cooking all day that makes cooking for fun (or for a blog) less appealing at the end of the day.

No more! 2013 is a return of a great many things I hold near and dear to my heart. I will cook more, share more and most importantly blog more! In a few days I will be returning to grad school to complete my degree in international development which means I will be part time at my job giving me more mental space to cook for fun and blog about it. With that said, I still hope any of you that are local will come check out Pleasant Pops. Your taste buds will thank you.

January 1st, 2013 wasn't just the start of this year, but also the "birthday" of a somewhat recent friend of mine. Her name is Coco. I could try to describe her, but why tell when I can show, right?

I stole this picture of her from the
dictionary definition of adorable.
Coco entered my life about six months ago at the same time as her absolutely beautiful, amazing, funny and smart owner who happens to be my girlfriend: Caitlin. How lucky can a boy get! A girlfriend and a dog...2012 was pretty wonderful.

So why am I talking about Coco on my cooking blog? Well for her birthday I decided to bring back a recipe I've been working on throughout 2012 and bake her some peanut butter bacon cookies for her birthday. If you don't have a dog in your life I urge you to keep reading! You see, even though I made these cookies with dogs in mind, I can't stop eating them myself. I mean what's not to like?

Peanut butter? yum!
Bacon? delicious!
Cookies? Yes please!

My inspiration was a basic peanut butter cookie. After some research I found out dogs are naturally gluten intolerant, dairy sensitive and even more sensitive to excessive sugar than humans are. With that in mind I replaced the butter with bacon fat, cut out some sugar and turned the cookies gluten free by using oat flour and adding xanthum gum.

What I was left with was a delicious peanut butter cookie with a hint of bacon flavor that was irresistible to all the dogs who tried it and alluring to all the bacon loving humans out there too.

If you're wondering how Coco like her cookies, see for yourself:

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies (a.k.a. Coco Cookies)

by Leran Minc
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert dog treat gluten-free bacon peanut butter cookie

Ingredients (Approximately 15 cookies)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup bacon fat, melted (see below for instructions)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup oat flour or gluten-free flour (see below for instructions)
  • 1/2 teaspoon xanthum gum
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
For cookies
1. Whisk together sugar, bacon fat and eggs until creamy. Mix in vanilla extract
2. Mix together dry ingredients
3. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet. Since you're not using glutenous flour over mixing is less of a concern.
4. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. This step will allow the moisture in the cookie dough to redistribute more evenly. You can skip this step, but I think it's worth the wait.
5. Preheat oven to 375°F.
6. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Measure about 2 tablespoons worth of cookie dough and using either a disher or a spoon and your hands roll out balls. Press the balls down to form cookie shapes. These cookies won't collapse and like some cookies so you need to help them out. They will spread though so make sure to keep a few inches between cookies.
7. Bake on 375°F for 9 to 10 minutes. Transfer cookies to a cooling rack. They may be extremely soft at first so be careful, but don't be fooled! They will harden as they cool so don't make my mistake and over bake them.

You can also freeze these. I would suggest rolling out the balls and placing them on a cookie sheet on parchment paper in the freezer. Give enough space for air to flow between them. Once frozen you can transfer them to a container or a freezer bag. Just let them thaw enough to press into cookie shapes before baking.
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Saturday, June 16, 2012

Real Tomatoes!

Last week I had the first tomato of the season and it was absolutely delicious. The best part was not the incredible marriage of natural sugars, acidity and juiciness bundled up in a gorgeous red fruit, but that I
shared this tomato with ten 2nd and 3rd graders. I'm sure that I'll never forget hearing one excitedly say, “I didn’t like tomatoes, but now I think I might.”

This was at the Brookland Farmers Market. When I say first tomato of the season, I mean the first real tomato. Grown by Licking Creek BendFarm in Pennsylvania and trucked in by the farm workers to the folks of DC. The kids were students at DC Prep and part of the Cooking Matters program designed by Share Our Strength and locally organized by the Capital Area Food Bank. I was the culinary instructor for their six week crash course on basic cooking and nutrition. While it was always exciting introducing them to cooking techniques and new flavors, during this class and the one I previous volunteered with I always felt like something was wrong. We were asking the students to try new things or to give old items like tomatoes a second chance, but the produce we were using was the bland varieties sold at the grocery store. These tomatoes were grown by large scale farms and bred for shelf life and transportation, but not for nutrition and certainly not for flavor. The tomatoes we desperately wanted them to like were flavorless, watery and more times than not just plain sad.

I hope those who know me and those who read this blog know that I would far prefer folks eat tomatoes, strawberries, eggs and more from wherever they can get them. Eating whole foods and cooking them should be the first goal, but for some products like those I just named the flavor and quality of local versus conventional is drastic. The little girl last week was just the starkest example yet, but I’ve had many friends who have said they didn’t like tomatoes until trying a “real tomato”.

On my way home, with the last tomato of the day (purchased after our class) safely stowed in my bag, I contemplated my own food journey toward seasonality. Growing up, despite my often picky tastes, I loved the plate of bell pepper, tomato and cucumber my mom would chop up for me at almost every dinner. Despite cooking a lot, it wasn’t until I moved out that I really began to understand the variety of prices and quality of produce when shopping. Even in mild Texas winters the peppers and tomatoes began to look so sad and the price I was paying for them just kept going up. As a poor college student who liked to cook I had to adapt or I’d be paying a lot of money in January to eat an extremely bland Israeli salad.
Thanks to a bargain hunting mom, some seasonality came natural. I eagerly consumed squashes in the fall and watermelon in the summer. Seeking my own bargains and quality produce I slowly learned when things where cheaper and better quality and by the time I moved into the Mount Pleasant neighborhood and began visiting the local farmers market, I had it well engrained in my head that seasonal meant better food at a better price.

And then I discovered heirloom tomatoes…but that’s a story for another time!

As for my precious tomato: you better believe I chopped it up and tossed it with mozzarella, sea salt, pepper and olive oil and ate up all the remaining liquid with some bread that very evening. Easy recipe, but I’ll post it below!

Tomato and Mozzarella Salad

by Leran Minc

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Keywords: raw salad appetizer vegetarian tomato mozzarella summer

Ingredients (Serves 2 (as a side) Serves 1)

  • 1 large Tomato, rough chopped into large pieces
  • 4 oz Mozzarella (any will do, I prefer the small balls aka Ciliegine)
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virigin Olive Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Sea salt (kosher salt will do)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Fresh ground black pepper


1. Combine ingredients in a bowl

2. Serve and enjoy (can't get any easier, right?)

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes

s I lamented in my last post, there is still a little bit of winter to slog through before we get to spring with its asparagus, strawberries and cucumbers followed by the incredible bounty of late spring and summer. So to get us through these last few weeks I decided to use the leftover Brussels sprouts from a recent dish and some incredible potatoes I found at the store to make an easy side dish. Ok ok, I actually ate the whole entire thing as my dinner one night, but I think most folks would agree this seems more fitting along a star like roast chicken or braised meat.

As you can find local Brussels sprouts through the start of spring and potatoes store exceptionally well, this is a great dish to bridge the transition in the seasons. I can easily see myself wrapping the dish in foil and tossing it on the grill next to other grilled vegetables or chicken later this month or early April.

Like most roast veggie dishes, you simply toss all the ingredients in a bowl with oil, spread it on a baking sheet, stick it in the oven and move onto other parts of dinner. Can't get easier than that!

Two small notes... when I first made this I used pine nuts. Don't! While I love pine nuts they really didn't add much to the dish and are among one of the most expensive nuts/seeds. Save yourself the cost and use those pine nuts in some pesto when basil is in season.

Secondly, I highly recommend using Parmesan in this dish. The nutty flavor of Parmesan really enhances the dish, but if you're strictly vegetarian, vegan or trying to keep kosher I will admit that you can still have a great side dish without it.

What are some of your favorite dishes that make use of produce in what Barbara Kingsolver calls "the hungriest month"?

Roasted Brussel Sprouts and Potatoes

by Leran

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Keywords: roast side vegetarian brussels sprouts parmesan potatoes fall winter

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, bottoms trimmed
  • 1/2 pound small potatoes, halved
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated (optional, but the nutty, cheesy flavor really makes the dish)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Additional salt and pepper to taste


1. Preheat oven to 400

2. Combine potatoes, Brussels sprouts, spices and half of Parmesan in a bowl.

3. Add olive oil, toss to coat.

4. Line a bottom of a deep baking pan with foil. Spread mixture out as evenly as possible on pan.

5. Cover in foil and bake for 30 minutes.

6. Remove foil. Sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese and bake uncovered for 10 more minutes.

7. Enjoy!

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

On Thursday a friend saw my status advertising the previous recipe as a good winter dish and told me it was time to update my blog, Spring had arrived! If you were in or near DC you may have agreed after our lovely high of 70s sunny day. I even caught myself dreaming of a salad with toasted sunflower seeds, spinach, strawberry vinaigrette and perhaps some early bell peppers. Others may dream of beaches, I dream of salad. Ok, ok, beaches sounds incredible too! How a beach picnic with salad?

Where was I? Oh, right, Spring.... I told her that sadly I don't consider it Spring in a culinary sense until local farms start to sell asparagus. Sadly I was right and this weekend the cold weather is back a vengeance. For being a buzz kill and to help fight us through the last few weeks of windy, cold weather I offer you brownies.

Unless you're the most zealous locavore, I think chocolate and peanut butter is an anytime food. Morning, afternoon, evening, night, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, apocalypse, rapture, etc. Give me chocolate with a little bit of peanut butter and I am happy. This recipe is also incredibly easy so if you're feeling the Winter blues here's your cure.

When I say easy, I mean easy because in my early days of baking December of 2008 to be precise, I attempted my first batch of brownies. Brownies that I think six year olds have managed to master, but a 22 year old Leran somehow over-baked into a charred mass of chocolate concrete. In 2012, though, I decided it was high time I overcame my shameful past. The big secret is when you test your brownies the toothpick won't come out clean like muffins, cookies or cakes, but rather it will come out clean-ish.

Also, make sure you have a brownie pan before your batter is ready unless you want to scramble to beg your neighbor to use theirs. This may or may not happened to a certain blogger you know. He may have had to toss out his pan because of an over frozen truffle mixture being impossible to clean. Moving on....


Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

by Leran
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Keywords: bake dessert vegetarian chocolate peanut butter brownie American
Ingredients (16 brownies)
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (natural)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon milk, half and half or heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, cold
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup Reese's Minis (frozen, the colder the better... keep in freezer until the last minute)
  • 1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
2. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, milk and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. It looks fairly gritty at this point, but don’t fret — it smooths out once the eggs and flour are added. (You can try to do this step with a microwave. I would suggest melting the butter and combining the rest of the ingredients and then heating for a little while long ensure they all mix together)
3. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in Reese's Minis. They will begin to melt as you stir, obviously we want them to melt as little as possible, but don't worry! Spread evenly in the lined pan.
4. Using a spatula or butter knife swirl peanut butter throughout the brownie batter. Do you best not to over mix. I did and it still tasted great, but it would've been better if the peanut butter and chocolate flavors stayed separate.
5. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter. This could take as little at 20 minutes, but it took me closer to 40 minutes so check every 5 minutes after 20. Let cool completely on a rack. (I highly suggest following Deb's advice and putting the entire pan in the freezer for 15-20 minutes to help you cut straight lines.)
6. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
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Friday, February 17, 2012

Brussels Sprouts Two Ways With Orzo

A few weeks ago I happened to be on my old grad school campus on a Wednesday, which happens to be the same day there is a small farmer's market on campus. Typically the market is breads, cookies and a few other items from Upper Crust Bakery and variety of produce, nuts, dried fruits and other products like honey and maple syrup from an Amish farm in Pennsylvania. A good rule of thumb for aspiring locavores out there is to never pass up a farmers market especially in winter. Fresh local foods are hard to come by and while the market was unsurprisingly dominated by root vegetables I did stumble across a recent addition to my repertoire: Brussels sprouts.

Early last year I embarked on what I called my foodie resolution. While I failed to systematically try or retry foods and post about them, I did grow a new fondness for many foods I previously never had or previously didn't like, blueberries being chief among the items I now love and previously was staunchly ambivalent about.

The two items that did make it onto this blog were Brussels sprouts and bacon and both happen to be in today's dish. Vegetarians, do not fret. I think this dish would be quite delicious without the bacon, but if you happen to be an omnivore and have some bacon in the fridge I would totally encourage it. Also please don't be daunted by the "two ways", I simply wanted to highlight the two things I like best about Brussels sprouts, but you could just pick one if you're crunched for time or wanting to keep things simple.

I "poached" half of the sprouts in butter and garlic until tender and soaked up the flavors. A friend made similar Brussels sprouts for me once and they tasted like a buttery vegetable version of a meatball.

The other half I shredded and roasted in the oven with bacon, olive oil and bacon fat until they turned crispy.

Finally I tossed it all with orzo, toasted pine nuts, sea salt, pepper, red chili flakes, oregano, basil, shaved Parmesan and fresh mozzarella. I particularly suggest fresh mozzarella because the flavor is killer, but the so is the contrast. The outside melts a little, but the inside retains its cool freshness. The best part, though, is that if you get the small balls of fresh mozzarella (ciliegine) they are roughly the same size as the whole Brussels sprouts!

In the end you get a fairly healthy dish dominated by the different flavor profiles of the Brussels sprouts with a little crunch, lots of cheese and lots of flavor.
Brussel Sprouts Two Ways With Orzo

by Leran
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients (Serves 6)
  • 1 pound brussel sprouts
  • 1 small white onion, diced
  • 4 strips bacon (optional)
  • 1 pound orza (or other preferred pasta)
  • 2 oz pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (if you're using bacon you can replace some of this with bacon fat)
  • 1 cup butter
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppered
  • 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
For garnish (all to taste)
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Red chili flakes
  • Parmesan cheese (shaved or shredded)
  • Small balls of mozzarella (technically called ciliegine)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Toast pine nuts while the oven warms up.
3. If using bacon, cook diced bacon in heavy skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. The bacon won't be fully cooked, but it will be in the oven for awhile. This initial cooking will ensure it gets crispy.
4. Trim bottom, yellow leaves and discolored leaves from sprouts. Wash well. Use half a pound if adding the butter poached sprouts, use full pound if made alone.
5. Using a food processor, grater or mandoline, shred the sprouts until they're individual leaves or Brussels sprout "confetti".
6. Toss sprouts with bacon, bacon fat, olive oil, chili flakes, sea salt, pepper and a bay leaf.
7. Roast until leaves brown and the mixture has a crunch to it. About 30-35 minutes.
For Butter Poached Brussels Sprouts
1. Trim bottom, yellow leaves and discolored leaves from sprouts. Wash well. Careful while trimming and washing to keep sprouts hole. Use half a pound if adding the roasted Brussels sprouts, use full pound if made alone.
2. Melt butter in the tallest, but smallest pot you own.
3. Add garlic and sprouts. Reduce to a simmer and cook until sprouts are tender, about 5 minutes, but no more than 10.
4. Remove from heat. Drain sprouts from butter. You can save the butter to use for garlic bread.
1. Prepare orzo (or pasta of choice) regularly.
2. Meanwhile saute onion in olive oil, bacon fat or combination over medium heat until clear.
3. Mix pasta, onion and above recipes together in a large bowl with oregano and basil.
4. When serving add additional seasoning and Parmesan. Add mozzarella last.
5. Serve and enjoy alone or with bread.
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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Update, Excuses, Apologies and Cider!

I'm sorry dear readers for neglecting my treasured blog for so long. Many reasons have contributed to this (read on to discover some of them),  but overall I'll admit laziness was a large part of the equation. I know many of the folks who regularly read this blog have worked on blogs of their own so you know how it can be, but please please PLEASE don't mistake my laziness for apathy or lack of love for my fellow foodies. If it helps here is a cute puppy picture to show there is still lots of love:

I want a puppy! Though I'll take a watermelon, yum.
Everyone feeling good? Ready for the semi-legitimate excuses and exciting updates? Let's get it started!

Brunch Farm: I am excited to announce I have launched a little side project/business called Brunch Farm. The idea was originally to make it an eventual food truck, now I'm not sure what the end goal is except to bake some unique muffins and serve them alongside other brunch type foods using local and seasonal ingredients and sell them to incredible people at Grey DC and other similar events. Check out the link or follow us on Twitter @BrunchFarm for updates and future places to try our food.

Eating Mount Pleasant: Another exciting side project that launched this week is Eating Mount Pleasant. I live in an incredible little neighborhood tucked away in northwest DC with a wide range of food including Korean, amazing pizza and a wide variety of Latin American cuisines. My goal for the next year or two is to visit each of the 20+ eateries and write a review. I am going to revisit many of them to review their brunch/breakfast menus and other specialty menus. If  you're in DC or just curious, please check it out. Let me know if you want to come along, I'm always looking for dining companions!

RECIpage: I'm trying something new on the blog and using a service called RECIpage to better organize recipes, make them easier to share and print. Please let me know what you think of this, I hope it makes this blog more useful to y'all. There is also now a "Recipes" page on the navigation bar at the top of this site, all future recipes will be listed there for easy reference. Speaking of which it's cold outside so I think it's time for cider!

I'm not much of an alcohol fan. No particular reason except for taste, but I do like wine and absolutely love hot apple cider. This recipe is perfect for a party or for a long night in with a special someone. Just a little  red wine for flavor and, um, we'll call it winter cheer! You can make this in a slow cooker if you want to free up the stove or keep it warm for hours during a party, but I use a stock pot and it works just as well.

Hot Apple Cider Sangria

by Leran Minc
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Keywords: beverage vegetarian apple cider red wine Christmas Hanukkah Halloween Thanksgiving fall winter

Ingredients (serves 20)
  • 1 750ml bottle of Red wine
  • 1 gallon Apple cider
  • 6 Cinnamon sticks
  • 2 pounds Apple peeled and diced finely (optional)
1. Combine wine, apple cider and cinnamon sticks in a stock pot on medium heat. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer.
2. Add apples and cook until apples have softened. (optional)
3. Keep on lowest heat possible until ready to serve.
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