December 23, 2014

Dear friends,

This is for all of my eggnog-deprived kindred who have sworn off that velvety-rich, nutmeg-scented cup ‘o cellulite we crave this time of year.

Remember those halcyon days before you found out the stuff has about 350 calories per cup? Remember those devil-may-care years when you knew but drank it anyway because calories slid right off your hips? And remember the January you swore off eggnog when the waistband of your pants threatened to bob you like the tail of a dog?

Me, too. That’s why, like an alchemist trying to turn lead into gold, I’ve spent years trying to turn skim milk into silky, rich eggnog. I actually succeeded once in making a decent skim-milk version of Starbucks’ eggnog latte but lost the recipe. I’ve printed several recipes for skim-milk eggnog and some were OK, but no cigar.

Last week I tried again and produced an eggnog that may put the merry back in Christmas. As in the past I used sugar-free instant pudding to create a thick, rich texture, and lots of vanilla extract and rum flavoring to make up for the eggs I omitted. I also was free with fresh-ground nutmeg, a spice I love.

A new ingredient in this year’s version is a drop of yellow food coloring. Don’t judge. It gave the eggnog a golden ivory color that helped trick my mind into thinking I was sipping the hi-cal stuff.

I think this is my final, perfected version of sugar-free, low-fat eggnog. With its luxurious texture, copy-cat flavor and just 115 calories a cup – not much more than skim milk by itself – I’ll be drinking a lot of this. Ho, ho, ho.

•    4 cups nonfat milk
•    1 box (1 oz.) sugar-free white chocolate instant pudding mix
•    1 tbsp. vanilla extract
•    2 tbsp. rum flavoring
•    1/2 tsp. fresh-grated nutmeg plus more for garnish
•    2 tbsp. Splenda Granulated or other sweetener to taste
•    1 scant drop of yellow food coloring
Combine all ingredients in deep bowl or pitcher and whisk for about 2 minutes to dissolve pudding mix and sweetener. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 30 minutes or until flavors have developed and mixture is slightly thickened. Stir again before pouring into glasses or mugs. Top each portion with a spoonful of sugar-free whipped topping, if desired, and a pinch of nutmeg. Makes 4 servings.

Per 1-cup serving: 115 calories.

Here’s an eggnog recipe for those who are still in their calories-be-damned years, or who can drink just a smidgen of eggnog and be satisfied, or who have simply given up. The eggnog base is cooked to eliminate potential salmonella bacteria present in some uncooked eggs.

•    6 eggs
•    1/4 cup sugar
•    Pinch of nutmeg
•    4 cups milk
•    Rum (optional)

In a saucepan combine the eggs, sugar, nutmeg and 2 cups of the milk. Stir over medium-low heat until the mixture registers 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Do not boil or the eggs will scramble. Chill, then stir in 2 cups cold milk and rum, if desired. Ladle into cups and top with a pinch of nutmeg. Makes 6 servings.

Here are three recipes to help you put Christmas Eve or Christmas dinner on the table.
How to cook a ham:

Most hams sold in supermarkets are labeled “fully cooked” and in theory may be eaten directly from the wrapper. But you’ll want to cook it anyway to bring out the flavor and kill any lingering bacteria. First, cut off any tough skin. If the ham has a thick layer of fat, cut off all but 1/4 inch. Bake it in an uncovered pan (add a small amount of ginger ale or other liquid if desired) at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes per pound, to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

Glaze, if used, should be brushed on the ham in the last 30 minutes of cooking. Otherwise, the sugar in the glaze may burn.
How to cook a standing rib roast:

1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated onion
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 beef rib roast, 4 to 6 lbs.
1 (3-lb.) box Morton Coarse Kosher Salt
1  1/4 cups water

Combine oil, onion, garlic salt, basil, marjoram, thyme and pepper in a heavy plastic bag. Mix well. Add roast; coat well with marinade. Marinate in refrigerator 2 hours or overnight. (Marinating is optional; if desired, eliminate this step, along with the marinade ingredients). Line a roasting pan with foil. Combine coarse kosher salt and water to form a thick slush. Pat 1 cup of mixture into a 1/2-inch-thick rectangle in pan. Pat roast dry with paper towels. Insert meat thermometer.

Place roast on salt layer. Sprinkle roast with a thin layer of the salt mixture, then pack remaining salt mixture around meat. Some of the salt may fall off the ends; this won’t affect the final product. Place roast in a 425-degree oven and roast 16 to 18 minutes per pound for rare (140 degrees), 20 to 22 minutes per pound for medium (160 degrees) or 25 to 30 minutes for well done (170 degrees). Remove roast when thermometer registers 5 degrees below desired doneness.

Let roast stand 5 to 10 minutes in salt crust. To remove crust, you may need to use a hammer. After removing crust, whisk away any remaining salt crystals on roast with a pastry brush. Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Note: Use a roast that is at least 4 pounds. Smaller roasts will overcook before the crust hardens. For larger roasts, cooking time will not be much longer than for smaller roasts. Use a meat thermometer. Use only coarse kosher salt, not table salt or rock salt.

My favorite cold-weather vegetable dish:

•    1 small celery root, 3/4 lb. (2 3/4 cups diced)
•    1 large turnip, 1/2 lb. (1 3/4 cup diced)
•    1 lb. parsnips (3 1/2 cups diced)
•    2 medium carrots (1 1/4 cups diced)
•    1 medium potato (1 cup diced)
•    2 cloves minced garlic
•    1/2 cup chopped onion
•    3 tbsp. olive oil
•    Sea salt
•    1 tsp. dried thyme
•    1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
•    1/4 cup white wine vinegar

With a good-quality vegetable peeler, peel vegetables. Cut into 1/4- to 1/2-inch cubes. Combine in a large bowl with garlic and onion and mix well.

Heat olive oil in a large, deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add diced vegetables and sauté for 15 minutes, turning occasionally with a spatula. Stir in salt, thyme and rosemary. Add vinegar and toss with the vegetables, turning rapidly with a spatula until vinegar has evaporated.

Place pan of vegetables in an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Roast for 45 minutes, or until vegetables are soft and top begins to brown. Serves 6 to 8.


The Mailbag will return next week, but I want to use the space this week to wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah. Tony and I have had a happy and peaceful year and that’s what I wish for you, along with joy to balance the rough spots. Thank you for your continued interest in this newsletter.

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