Meet Lars. You may not know his name, but I'm sure you all know him.
He's the Swedish Chef, usually seen burbling incomprehensively (but enthusiastically) around The Muppet Show kitchen, often with a chicken looking on in horror.
I don't really know his name, but after 18 years of working for a company with Swedish management, he is definitely a Lars to me.
When Becca and CheffyDaddy announced Cinnamon & Wine as the theme(s) for December's "Oui Chef!" ( http://www.beckicklesie.com/2010/12/oui-chef-table-3-cinnamon-and-wine.html ) I just knew that it was time to let my Swedish Chef out to play and introduce you to a peculiarly Scandiniavian way of beating the winter chill and welcoming the Festive Season.
I first came across it as an innocent 28-year-old, as I approached my first Christmas in my new job. Though based in Greece, many of the managers were Swedes - and they were keen as mustard to bring a little taste of the Baltic to the Eastern Mediterranean. I had already reluctantly sampled reindeer (I know, I know - but actually Rudolph and his ilk are surprisingly tasty) and had managed to avoid Rotten Herring (don't ask - it IS what it sounds like), but the smells coming from the lunchroom that December morning were infinitely more enouraging.
Curiosity got the better of me and I was soon to found hanging my head over a gently seething cauldron of ruby red liquor bubbling with almonds, orange peel and sultanas, with my boss stirring away merrily. It smelt orgasmic. (The booze, not my boss!).
Before I knew it, I had a little glass of the stuff in my hand and was taking my first tentative sip. Then a bolder slurp. Then another glass or two - or four.
I don't remember much after that... except a mental note that this Yuletide concoction was lethal enough to fell a whole longship of Vikings. And that I got the bus home that evening. I think.
So, if you're feeling bold, here is a recipe, including the extras my boss liked to throw into the mix. It will certainly keep the cold at bay - but you may not feel your nose after a glass or two.
You will need:
3 sticks cinnamon
2-3 pieces dried Seville orange peel (use fresh if dried not available
2-3 pieces dried or fresh ginger (not ground)
some 10 cardamom seeds (whole)
some 10 cloves (whole)
1 cup (2.5dl) water
1 bottle of red wine
(added extras: a few good slugs of vodka or brandy, or both!)
Blanched almonds and sultanas for serving
What to do:
- Put the spices and water in a small pan and bring to the boil. Then turn off heat and let it stand overnight
- Pass the mixture through a sieve to filter out the 'bits' from the spices
- Pour in the wine and gently heat (don't boil!)
- Add sugar to taste (about half a cup) and stir til it dissolves
- Heat but do not bring it to the boil. Alcohol evaporates when boiled and that sort of defeats the object!
- If you're feeling naughty, spike the whole thing with a splash or three of vodka or brandy
- Serve hot with raisins and blanched almonds (dropped into the cups after serving).