Cooking with Spirits

When I was 15, my family moved into a house full of ghosts. Many of my Stepfather's family members had died in the house over the years, but sharing the space with their past never really spooked me. I liked exploring the stacks of musty books and clothes, the decades-old magazines and 8-tracks. One particularly good find was a weird little cookbook in the basement amongst the National Geographics and motorcycle parts. Cooking With Spirits has traveled with me to 14 different apartments and homes over the years, but I've never once opened it. It sits on a shelf in the kitchen, providing me with enough inspiration just from the title.

My earliest cooking memory is of my mom basting a whole chicken tipsy with white wine and dancing it around the kitchen to the Go Gos. For deglazing pans and making sauces, wine is an obvious choice. I put Grand Marnier in my cranberries at Thanksgiving and good beer in my chili. Last week, I made a peppercorn infused vodka to go in tomato soup. I like to drink while I cook, and cook with whatever I'm drinking...which is usually hard cider. This (paired with a rather frugal period during college) led me to experiment by adding cider to my Thanksgiving cranberries instead of the usual liqueur. Pear cider + orange juice and zest worked out just fine.

Ace is my favorite, but I also enjoy a Magners or a Strongbow. Hornsby's or Woodchuck will do in a pinch. I've used cider for everything from butternut squash soup to salad dressing. When I needed to make an apple-based accompaniment for a pork loin last weekend, cider was on the counter, so it ended up in the chutney.

Apple Shallot Chutney

3/4 cup pickled shallots or onions*, small dice
2 apples, small dice
3/4 bottle hard cider
1/2 cup pickling liquid or red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 cup sugar

Add diced apples and onions to medium saucepan along with the hard cider, pickling liquid and spices. Bring to a boil over high heat and stir in sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 20 to 30 minutes. The liquid should reduce and form a light syrup - this may require adding more sugar or cooking for a longer period of time. Can be served warm, cold, or room temperature.

*If you don't already have a jar of pickled shallots or onions in the door of your fridge, you have options. Make a quick pickle (I like Molly Wizenberg's with a teaspoon of pickling spices added) or just cook some onions in equal parts sugar and vinegar with a teaball infuser/sachet filled with a teaspoon of pickling spices (this will prevent chunks of cloves and bay leaves from invading your otherwise smooth chutney).