Best eggnog has rivals that are easy to swallow

December 17, 2003|By ROB KASPER

IT IS PRIME time for eggnog. As readers of this column know, every December I dust off my recipe for eggnog, a concoction I have not so modestly dubbed "the world's greatest."

It is determinedly sinful, laced with the kind of ingredients - raw egg yolks, bourbon, sugar and heavy cream - that make the virtuous squirm.

Its saving grace, and the reason I presume that readers request it every year, is that it tastes heavenly. Sin rarely feels so good as when this elixir slides down your throat.

The nog has cemented marriages, led to children and inspired more than a few long winter's naps. Loaded with cream and booze, it immobilizes its recipients, in a pleasant sort of way, and for that reason it has also been called "the eggnog for people going nowhere."

Rarely have I met any rival nogs that merited more than a few polite sips. Then last week I met two. One called White Wave Silk Nog is made - hold onto your udders - with soy milk. The other, Pumpkin Nogg, is made with pumpkin.

Before tasting them, I was highly skeptical of these rival nogs. I thought the only reasons anyone would drink milk made from soybeans was either because he was allergic to the good stuff that comes from cows or because he was making reparations for some harm inflicted to the planet. Likewise, with the exception of pie, most pumpkin products seem to have a flavor best described as "punitive," something you push down your gullet to punish yourself for a weekend of behaving badly.

Yet last week, as I stood in my kitchen after tasting a cup of Silk Nog poured straight from the carton and a cup of Pumpkin Nogg made by swirling three teaspoons of the pumpkin mixture into a cup of whole (cow) milk, I was impressed. "This stuff," I told my wife, "represents some real competition."

Pumpkin Nogg is the creation of Michael Roach, a Howard County firefighter. It is a mixture of ground pumpkin, cane sugar, brown sugar, spices and lemon juice and is sold in a 17.5-ounce glass jar. This is the first year the mixture has been available in stores - I found a $4 jar at the end of an aisle in the Mars supermarket on York Road in Lutherville - but the recipe has been around for a decade, Roach said.

"We cooked it up in our kitchen about 10 years ago," Roach told me. "My wife, Shirley, and my son, Michael, and I have been making it, putting it in Mason jars and giving it to friends." It has been a hit at family holiday gatherings, Roach said, as well as at the Columbia firehouse, Station7, where he works.

Roach now has the nog packed by a commercial kitchen and has started selling it over the Internet (www.pumkinnogg.com) and in Mars grocery stores, where, he said, it is often placed near the toppings for ice cream. The cup I sampled was slightly sweet but satisfying. There was a hint of pumpkin-pie spice, but it was not overpowering.

I had a hard time tracking down the soybean nog. Clerks at both the Mars and Giant grocery stores in Lutherville told me during a visit last week that earlier supplies of the Silk Nog had sold out and that they were waiting for more.

Eventually I found a quart, selling for $2.49, at what I regard as the temple of tofu, the Whole Foods Market in Mount Washington.

Silk Nog sells out every year at grocery stores all around the country, said Steve Demos, owner of White Wave, the Boulder, Colo., enterprise that makes the nog. This year, production of Silk Nog was increased 40 percent, flooding the country with about 2 million quarts of soybean nog. But Demos said he won't be distressed if stores run out of Silk Nog.

When you are dealing with a product with a short seasonal appeal, he said, you don't want any leftovers. "We do about seven weeks of business with the Silk Nog," he said. But after New Year's Day, nobody wants it, he said.

Demos said the bright brains at his company, which sells soybean products, came up with idea for the nog about four years ago as a way to stay busy during the holidays. The notion of eating and drinking soybean products, which are low in fat and calories, is not yet a big part of America's holiday tradition, Demos said.

"We do a lot of business after Christmas, when people are feeling guilty," Demos said. "But we had to have something to do during the Christmas season, so we came up with nog, as a survival attempt."

It seems to have worked.

The label says that Silk Nog is made with "organic soy milk, naturally milled evaporated cane juice, sea salt, carrageenan, annatto and natural flavors" and that a half cup contains 90 calories and 2 grams of fat. The word carrageenan looked familiar and, sure enough, it turns out to be a thickener extracted from various red algae that is often found in one of my favorite foods, ice cream.

The cup of Silk Nog I tasted had a full, rounded flavor that reminded me of melted Haagen-Dazs vanilla. It was surprisingly good. All it and the Pumpkin Nog needed were a couple of shots of bourbon, and they could qualify as being downright bad for you, which, in true eggnog circles, is considered a plus.

World's Greatest Eggnog

Makes 8 to 10 cups

2 cups bourbon

1 1/8 cups sugar

6 egg yolks, beaten

4 cups whipping cream

Blend bourbon and sugar in large mixing bowl. Let sit overnight. Beat egg yolks until they turn dark yellow. Add to bourbon mixture. Mix well.

Cover and let sit in refrigerator at least 2 hours. Whip cream and add to bourbon mixture.

Nog starts off very creamy and becomes soupy the longer it survives.

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