If you have a slow cooker that’s been languishing in your basement since the 80s, it’s time to haul it out and put it to work this New Year’s Eve! Some of the season’s most party-friendly beverages can simmer happily in a slow cooker while guests enjoy a relaxing holiday evening. And while you’re at it, bring out that punch bowl, too—you can make a cranberry-themed, low-sugar punch that will likewise add to the holiday spirit. Particularly motivated hosts might want to try their hand at homemade eggnog…which also happens to make an amazing holiday ice cream. Just pour the cooled nog into an ice cream maker and serve! You’ll be The Holiday Host of 2015.
This is the ultimate nonalcoholic holiday drink: cider + classic spices like cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, allspice berries, and fresh ginger root. Fill your cooker about ¾ full with cider, then add the spices and let simmer on low for at least an hour before serving. You can let the spices float freely, or you can tie them into a tea bag to keep them contained. If you’re particularly short on time, try tossing a few bags of chai tea into the cider. For an especially English treat, have a bowl of whipped cream on the side and encourage guests to ladle their wassail over a spoonful of cream to make a traditional syllabub.
Anyone who’s been to a German-speaking country or a Nordic country during the holidays will recognize this holiday favorite: dry red wine + a dash of port + orange peel + coriander pods + whole cloves + vanilla beans. (Glühwein tends to feature port or fruit wine, while glögg tends to include a shot or two of vodka or aquavit.) As with wassail, let the wine and spices simmer for at least an hour on low before serving. And you might also want to put out a sign clearly labeling the Glühwein as being alcoholic.
Let your imagination go wild! Start with a base of unsweetened cranberry juice (read labels carefully—most cranberry juices are heavily sweetened) with a splash of cider or orange juice. Add plain sparkling water, citrus peels, fresh cranberries or pomegranate seeds, and/or whole spices. For extra zing, use a very clean garlic press to press the juice from a piece of fresh ginger root. Unsweetened pomegranate juice is another seasonally appropriate ingredient, and/or add thinly sliced apples or pears to the punch.
This is the ultimate holiday luxury. Sure, you can buy it, but commercially produced eggnogs typically have a ton of processed sugars and are far from fresh. You can make your own by starting with equal parts of milk and cream and adding 2 egg yolks for every ½ cup (each) of the milk and cream. Whisk the yolks with another drizzle of milk and cream plus maple syrup (about 1 tablespoon for every 1 cup total of milk and cream), a small splash of vanilla, and a pinch of nutmeg. Heat the milk and cream mixture over medium-low heat just until it steams. Pour into the yolk mixture (off the heat) in a slow trickle, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low, pour the nog back into the pot and very gently cook for a minute or two, whisking constantly, or just until the nog thickens and lightens in color. If you wind up with any lumps, you can pour the nog through a fine-meshed colander before serving it. Just be sure to pour the hot nog into cups promptly—if you leave it in the hot pot, it will overcook and be more likely to become lumpy. You can garnish each serving with a tiny dusting of additional nutmeg if you like. For spirited holiday spirit, perhaps add a snifter of rum.
Cheers to a very Happy New Year!