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A nod to egg nog
The holiday beverage has its share of haters, but most readers say they enjoy it, and some even wish it were available all year long.
Many eggnog drinkers enjoy spiking the drink with spirits.
Wednesday, December 19, 2012
The most commonly despised foods and drinks tend to share one characteristic: they are in some way overpowering to the senses.
Cilantro and liver, for example, are strongly flavored. Limburger cheese and durian fruit are an assault to the nasal passages. Oysters and okra? Well, they're a textural turn-off for many people.
The holiday season most assuredly has its share of foods that are disliked, if not despised. Chief among them, sitting right on the throne next to the fruitcake, is eggnog - that sweet, thick, creamy bastion of holiday happiness.
Or horror, if it's not your thing.
While I adore eggnog, I know it has its haters. I happen to live with one who declares the beverage too viscous, too sweet, and just plain "gross."
When I introduced this polarizing topic on my Fridge Magnet blog recently, I fully expected the ratio of haters to lovers to be 50-50. However, while I found that those who don't like it are pretty adamant, most readers who responded said they enjoy eggnog, and some even wish it were available all year long.
A recurring theme in our conversation was that quality counts when it comes to this particular beverage, and those who are familiar with homemade eggnog said no store-bought version can ever compare.
'Egg and grog'
Culinary history indicates that eggnog was a drink of the wealthy in 17th- century Europe, where ingredients such as eggs and cream were rare and expensive commodities. It is possible that the beverage got its name from an Old English word for beer, "nog."
However, it also became popular in Colonial America, where thick drinks were called "grog." Some believe the descriptive phrase "egg and grog" turned into "eggnog."
It seems eggnog drinkers have always enjoyed spiking the brew with spirits. In the New World, Caribbean rum was fairly affordable and easier to ship than European liquors, so rum was a favorite accompaniment to eggnog.
Europe and America aren't the only geographical areas where eggnog is consumed. In Puerto Rico, a similar drink is made with coconut milk or coconut juice. In Mexico, they like to season it with Mexican cinnamon and spike it with rum or grain alcohol. The Peruvian liquor pisco is a favorite addition in that country.
I'm baffled by the number of people who dislike eggnog, partly because it is made up of so many likable ingredients: Milk, eggs, cream, spices and vanilla are among them. What could be offensive about that?
Part of the revulsion, I'm sure, comes from the belief that all eggnog is made with raw eggs. Traditionally, that is true. Some families still use raw-egg recipes, while others cook the yolks but then fold in whipped raw egg whites to make the drink lighter and creamier.
Chances are a raw-egg version would not make anybody sick but Christmas is not a time when I choose to roll the dice. I've had food poisoning and nothing would ruin the holiday faster than a bout with salmonella.
The elderly, children and pregnant women should stick to commercially produced eggnog, which is made with pasteurized eggs, or use one of the many existing recipes that call for cooking the eggs to a safe temperature.
Make your own
Cooked eggnog has a Southern cousin called boiled custard, or "drinking custard," as some old-timers call it.
Both fall on the custard spectrum, which ranges from the thinner consistency of creme anglaise to the thick, pudding like filling of a Boston cream pie or the delicious Hispanic dessert specialty, flan.
Any custard is made by gently cooking eggs, milk and sweetener until it reaches the desired consistency, and that consistency is determined by the number of eggs or thickeners used in the recipe.
The only difference between boiled custard and eggnog is in the flavoring. Boiled custard is flavored with vanilla and tastes a whole lot like melted vanilla ice cream, while eggnog is also spiced with cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and booze.
When comparing the two, it occurred to me that maybe some folks don't like eggnog because they don't care for the flavor of those spices, or because they have only ever tasted it with liquor when they might enjoy it more without. In that case, a recipe can be tweaked until it produces the desired result.
The thickness is clearly another deterrent, which is why homemade eggnog is so nice. When I tested a recipe, mine turned out much thinner than store-bought eggnog - more the consistency of heavy cream than melted ice cream.
If you make your own 'nog or try a good store-bought version such as Homestead Creamery (made in Franklin County) and you still are not a fan, consider using it as an ingredient instead of drinking it straight-up.
One reader said she loves to use eggnog as a coffee creamer, while another said she made a dynamite rice pudding with eggnog instead of milk. Another popular use for eggnog is in French toast, which happens to be a great way to use up the last of the 'nog.
I've also seen recipes for eggnog ice cream, pancakes, cheesecake, mousse and much more. Martha Stewart's website includes recipes for chocolate eggnog and peppermint eggnog.
If you can't get behind eggnog even when it's been spiked with chocolate or turned into cheesecake, then perhaps it just wasn't meant to be. And it's OK, because that leaves more eggnog for the rest of us.
Perhaps we'll drink it with our fruitcake.
On the blog
To see a recipe for eggnog French toast, go to blogs.roanoke.com/fridgemagnet.
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