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TODAY

Saturday, July 20

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Ah, the holiday season. Some look forward to the gift getting, some the gift shopping, some the decorating, others the holiday cheer. This holiday cheer can either be the kind experienced when seeing people in cozy home who you realize you just don't see enough. Or it can be the kind you find in a small punch cup.

I really don't want gifts this year (moving over a year ago still has me scarred), I hate shopping for everything but fabric and books, and I love seeing all the friends I just don't see enough. But I really love that for about a month each year, it's socially acceptable to drink a cup full of heavy cream, sugar and raw eggs. Add to that a bit of whiskey and rum and I'm feeling warm and fuzzy inside and out.

For some people, the only place they get a seasonal warm beverage is when they go to a restaurant or pick up some mint-mocha-latte type thing at Starbucks. I think this is a shame, and I encourage everyone who has yet to throw a holiday party to consider making a lovely punch or cocktail, like the ones I'll list below.

Too often we rely on individual servings of refreshing adult beverages to serve our friends. Most of the time there is no harm in this, but I truly delight in making punch or some beverage to present to guests when I have a party. Whether it is alky or non-alky, I think it is just one more way of proving to your guests that their presence is appreciated. If for no other reason than so you don't have to finish the rest of the punch by yourself.

Eggnog is admittedly my favorite seasonal treat to drink. I adore its silken texture, its rummy kick, its thick deliciousness. But the lactose intolerant are likely to prefer some mulled wine or cider. And then there is the rarely made, but delicious, wassail. Which just might encourage your group of rowdy friends to go caroling through your neighborhood at the end of the party.

Uncooked Eggnog
6 pasteurized eggs (separate the whites from the yolk)
1/2 pound of powdered sugar
1 cup of rum (brandy, bourbon, or rye would work)
1/4-1/2 cup of whiskey (or another similar liquor)
4 cups of heavy cream
Sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg

Carefully separate the whites from the yolks and place the yolks in a very large bowl suitable for using with a hand-mixer. I recommend separating the egg over an empty bowl so in case the yolk busts it doesn't taint either your yolks or your whites. Use your hand mixer to beat the yolks until they are light in color. Now stir in the powdered sugar in 1/4-cup increments to prevent sugar from flying all over your kitchen. Next, add the rum slowly while mixing constantly. Cover this and let it stand for an hour. This will give the rum a chance to mellow and the egg flavor a chance to disappear. Now slowly add the whisky while mixing constantly and then add the heavy cream. Cover this and refrigerate it for at least two hours, or up to three.

After time has passed, put the egg whites into another bowl suitable for using with a hand mixer. Mix until the peaks are stiff, but not dry — once you can turn the mixer upside down and you have little mountain-top shaped globs of egg white on the end of your mixer you've achieved the right consistency. Use a rubber spatula to fold this into the egg mixture. Transfer to a pitcher or a punch bowl and serve with a garnish of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, or both. Keep this chilled or heat each mug just before it will be drunk. This will make about 2 1/2 quarts of eggnog, or about 20 small servings.

Note on eating raw eggs: I'd be a fool if I didn't tell you that eating raw eggs is a generally a bad idea. The incidence of salmonella poisoning from raw eggs is small, but statistics mean nothing if you're the one huddled in the bathroom. If you're going to make this to serve cold, please make sure to look for the word "pasteurized" on the egg carton. This means that the eggs have been heated high enough to kill the dastardly salmonella. If you're not serving it cold, or if you're not using pasteurized eggs, make sure to heat it in your microwave or on the stovetop as your guests desire it. The goal is to heat it high enough that it feels slightly warmer than extra-warm bathwater but not so high that it burns you.

Mulled wine or cider
1 gallon of apple cider, or 5 750 mL bottles of wine, or 11 (12 ounce) bottles of hard cider
2 cinnamon sticks
6 whole allspice seeds
1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 large orange cut into thick slices
2 teaspoons of cloves

Pour the cider or wine in a large non-reactive stockpot (stainless steel, not aluminum). Turn the heat to medium. Add the cinnamon sticks, allspice and nutmeg. Now take the cloves and poke them into the orange slices. (You can do this before you slice, but plan where you will cut the orange into slices so you don't cut through the cloves.) Float these on top of the cider. Once the cider has almost started to boil, reduce the heat to low. You could also add everything into a large slow cooker and keep at low for an hour or so until everything is brought up to temperature. Putting the cloves into orange slices means that your guests don't have to worry about swallowing cloves.

Wassail (As heard about in that song)
1 gallon of apple cider or 11 (12 ounce) bottles of stout, ale or hard cider
1/2 cup of brown sugar if the cider is unsweetened or if the ale is tart
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon (or 4 cinnamon sticks)
1 teaspoon of powdered ginger (or 3 large chunks of fresh ginger with the skin removed)
12 small apples with the core removed
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/8 cup of brown sugar
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
Ground cinnamon as a garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large non-reactive pot or slow cooker combine everything except for the apples, whipping cream and salt. Set heat at low and make sure it doesn't boil. Peel the apples and remove the core. Slice into chunks and sprinkle lightly with salt. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the apples are very soft and sprinkle the brown sugar on top. You can either mash the apples with a potato masher or you can put them into a blender or food processor and pulse until they are pulverized. Add in about 1 cup of the warm cider/ale mixture and pulse again until evenly mixed. Pour this back into the pot or slow cooker and stir until the apple mixture is well combined. Place the whipping cream into a bowl suitable for mixing with a hand mixer. Beat until you get soft peaks that form when you turn the mixer upside down. To serve, pour some of the cider/ale mixture into a mug, add a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon.

With just a little bit of forethought and a little bit of time, your contribution to the holiday party can be one that will be remembered for a long time to come. Or at least until a hearty breakfast of fried eggs and potatoes help you recover from the holiday cheer.

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