Beverages, whether hot or cold, can provide lots of color and be full of food value. Unfortunately, they can also be high in sugar and fat.
One of my favorite drinks for fall and winter is hot or mulled cider; it’s great for breakfast or when you come in from the cold. It’s usually made with a mixture of cinnamon, cloves and maybe allspice. The ingredients are often tied in cheesecloth or placed in a metal tea ball to steep in hot cider. A quick modern version is to simply add some cinnamon candies, about ¼ cup, to 1 gallon of apple cider.
I have experimented with making a cinnamon syrup to have ready any time. It makes a nice addition to hot cocoa, and can also be used to flavor fried apples or as a syrup for waffles or pancakes. To make the syrup, I use a 2-cup measuring cup and melt cinnamon candies in the microwave, stirring every few minutes. Once the syrup is cooled, I place it in a glass jar and then into the refrigerator. This cinnamon syrup is a nice addition to hot cocoa, as well as to flavor fried apples, or as a syrup for waffles or pancakes.
Another holiday tradition in my family, cranberry glogg, is made with equal amounts of cranberry juice, cider or apple juice, and pineapple juice. To this combination add ¼ cup of raisins and an orange peel that has been studded with whole cloves. You can heat the mixture so the flavors blend together. The glogg can be served cold or warm.
The clove flavor will become stronger the longer the studded peel is in the glogg. You can remove the orange peel and raisins when you’ve got the taste you like. The soaked raisins are wonderful with your morning oatmeal, added to pancakes or muffins, or just eaten as a snack.
I also enjoy eggnog — that rich, creamy texture and flavor. If you make eggnog from scratch, please make sure it is safe. The egg mixture needs to be cooked in a double boiler or in the microwave until it reaches 160 degrees— it should be thick enough to coat a spoon. Then you can use pasteurized milk and flavoring and refrigerate. If you cook more than one batch of eggnog at a time, divide it into several shallow containers so it will cool quickly.
Another winter beverage that I really like is hot cocoa. Making your own mix has advantages. It is much more economical, and you can control the amount of sugar and the amount of cocoa you add.
I use a large box of powdered milk (yes, it costs a lot, but all those little packages of cocoa mix cost more and there is very little milk in them), a large powdered creamer and a container of chocolate milk mix or can of cocoa. Stir it all together, then place in containers.
Plan to use ⅓ cup of the mix to one cup hot water; I will be honest and tell you I like it rich, so I use ⅔ cup of the mix to a cup of water.
Last but not least, add some flair
A fun way to heighten the charm of cold beverages is to spruce them up with decorative ice cubes. I like to use fruit juice for the cubes so they don’t dilute the beverages. If using water, draw the water from the tap and stir it four or five times during a 10- or 15-minute period to remove the air bubbles so you will have clear cubes.
Fill an ice tray with water or punch and add a maraschino cherry, a piece of lemon or pineapple, then freeze.
You can also create attractive ice rings. Select a decorative mold or go for a tubular ring shape. A word from my experience: Avoid containers that are too deep — that will make your final product top-heavy and it will turn upside down in the punch bowl.