Grown-Up Holiday Treats

Dear Friends,

When the children are nestled all snug in their beds, break out the mugs for a grown-up treat. Have a Gingerbread Latte or Skinny Eggnog Latte. Or opt for Hot Buttered Rum or Peppermint Mocha.

The flavored lattes and Hot Buttered Rum recipes I’m sharing are for my favorite warm drinks, each created years ago to satisfy a craving. The Peppermint Mocha, a copycat of Starbucks’ holiday drink, is from

Back in the days when I ate sugar and butter with abandon, I would make a batch of my hot buttered rum mix at the beginning of winter and keep it in the refrigerator for warm-ups all season long. The butter-molasses-brown sugar mix, dolloped into a mug with rum and hot water, makes a truly luscious drink.

Unless you buy some gingerbread syrup, you’ll have to plan ahead to enjoy a homemade gingerbread latte. It must steep with spices for several hours or overnight. I  made my own syrup before I realized it was available in stores. Now I see no reason to shell out cash for something I can make at home. Plus, I can enjoy a spicy latte long after the seasonal drink is removed from Starbucks’ menu.

After I gave up sugar (kind of) several years ago, I yearned for an eggnog latte each November when autumn rains turned to snow. In desperation I created my own with equal amounts of skim milk and strong coffee or espresso sweetened with Splenda and flavored with rum extract, vanilla extract and fresh-grated nutmeg. Recently I improved the recipe by stirring in two teaspoons of instant vanilla pudding mix to give the drink a richer, creamier mouth feel. It still isn’t the real thing, but it has no sugar and a heckuva lot fewer calories than Starbucks’ 460-calorie extravaganza. And that’s for the SMALL (grande) size.


  • 1 stick (8 tbsp.) butter, softened
  • 6 tbs. packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup molasses or dark corn syrup
  • Rum
  • Boiling water
  • Whipped cream

With the back of a spoon, mash together butter, brown sugar and molasses in a small bowl until thoroughly mixed. Place 1 or 2 rounded teaspoons of mixture (or to taste) in a mug. Add 1 ounce of rum. Fill with boiling water, stirring until butter mixture has melted. Top with whipped cream. Serves 1.


  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. molasses
  • 3 sticks (3 inches each) cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh ginger
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Strong, hot coffee
  • Warm foamy milk

Combine the water, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly to dissolve sugar. When mixture starts to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes without stirring. Cover, remove from heat and let steep for 4 hours or overnight. Strain and discard spices.

Pour 3 tablespoons syrup into a cup. Fill with strong, hot coffee. Add warm foamed milk to taste.

Note: Foam warm milk in a blender or with a whisk (see Help U Cook) if you lack a foamer.


  • 1/2 cup espresso or strong, fresh-brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cup fat-free milk, warmed and frothed, if desired
  • 1 tsp. rum extract or flavoring
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp. Splenda granular (not Splenda for Baking)
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. instant vanilla pudding powder

Combine all ingredients in a mug in order given, stirring to dissolve pudding powder. Makes 1 serving.


  • 3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp. warm water
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. peppermint syrup (NOT extract) or crème de menthe liqueur
  • 1.2 cup espresso or strong coffee
  • 12 oz. (3/4 cup) fat-free warm steamed or frothed milk
  • Whipped cream
  • Red sugar crystals

Combine the cocoa powder with the warm water to make a rich syrup. Pour into a 16-ounce mug. Add espresso and peppermint syrup and stir well. Add steamed milk. Garnish with whipped cream and sugar crystals.



Think you know everything about making hot cocoa? Even something as simple as cocoa can be made simpler with the proper techniques. The milk should be warmed before adding the cocoa powder. Cocoa stirred into cold milk will lump and refuse to blend into the liquid.

But if, like me, you forget and spoon cocoa into a mug of cold milk, grab your thinnest full-sized whisk and put the business end in the mug. Then rapidly roll the wire handle between your palms, like a Boy Scout trying to start a fire with two sticks. The whisk will not only dissolve the cocoa, it will froth the milk.

If you don’t have a milk frother (a plunger gizmo in a narrow glass carafe), use the wire whisk method to foam milk for lattes. Use fat-free milk if possible because it froths better than cream or whole milk.


From C.J. Crawford:
As a fellow hunter-widow, this is the BEST time of year for a pot of tea and yummy smells coming from the oven…  enjoy your alone time. Have a wonderful holiday!

Dear C.J.: Yes, having the house to myself is peaceful. Plus, I don’t have to watch the Outdoor Channel. Merry Christmas to you, friend.

From Sue, Plano, Texas:
I just discovered miso paste and have fallen in love with it.  I tried the Marukome Boy that is smooth and contains dashi stock and I just add the hot water and some green onions and it tastes just like (miso soup) at restaurants.  I also made a yummy salad dressing with garlic and ginger.

Now I am looking for a dip recipe using the miso. Can you help me?  I would like something simple to whip up for the kiddos to get them eating their veggies!  Thank you and miss you all in Akron dearly.

Dear Sue: Here’s a good recipe from Food and Wine magazine. It originally was intended  as a dressing for coleslaw, but it makes a great dip for raw vegetables, too. If you would like a thicker texture, reduce the oil by one-fourth cup and add more mayonnaise.


  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp. white (shiro) miso
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine rice vinegar, miso, mayonnaise, lemon juice, ginger and sugar in a food processor and process until completely smooth. With the motor on, pour oil through the feed tube in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper. Store in refrigerator. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.

From Judy:
Years ago Mr. Martel at Maison Martel restaurant (in Akron) served a dish he called “Poulet Moutard.”  The chicken was sort of a French version of chicken nuggets which he served with a wonderful mustard dipping sauce.  Do you or anyone else have a recollection of that, and if so,  any idea how to duplicate the sauce?

Dear Judy: I do not recall the dish. Pat is gone now and his son and daughter live in California. The last time I talked to Paul, the son who was chef at the restaurant for a while, he was a private chef to the rich and famous. Sadly, I didn’t get his address. Maybe someone else can help with the recipe or at least describe the mustard sauce.

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