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Egg-cellent nog 

If your definition of eggnog is derived from a refrigerated supermarket carton, you have my permission to run for the hills. To say that store-bought eggnog is one of the nastiest beverages available for purchase is an understatement. Cloyingly sweet with a chemical finish, commercial eggnog is almost viscous enough to chew. It's like drinking a Twinkie with a Jell-O pudding sauce.

Good news: You don't have to drink Twinkies anymore.

Homemade nog isn't just delicious, it actually tastes like it's supposed to. When prepared stovetop (my preferred method), eggnog actually is a crëme anglaise -- a cooked custard sauce that dresses desserts and serves as the base for ice cream before it gets thrown into an ice cream maker.

To minimize any chance of food-borne illness with 12 raw eggs, I choose to cook mine, slowly, in a saucepan with sugar and whole milk (no need to use cream). The recipe below is tried and true and works magic at holiday parties. Kick that carton habit and come along for some true Yule nog.

Silky cooked eggnog

Adapted from The Ultimate Party Drink Book by Bruce Weinstein

12 eggs, separated

1 cup sugar

4 cups whole milk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Grated nutmeg

4-12 ounces alcohol (optional, see below)

Combine egg yolks with sugar and mix well with a wooden spoon. The mixture will thicken and turn pale yellow. Set aside. Use egg whites for another purpose or beat them for eggnog garnish.

Pour milk in a saucepan over medium heat. As it comes to a simmer (tiny bubbles rising to the surface), spoon out between two to three ladle's worth of milk into the yolk mixture and stir constantly. Watch for the rise in temperature in the egg bowl; it should begin to feel warm. This process is called tempering, which helps prevent curdling of the eggs.

Return the yolk/milk mixture to the saucepan and stir over low heat. The mixture will begin to thicken as it rises in temperature. Shoot for a mixture thick enough for a visible finger streak on the back of wooden spoon (or approximately 160 degrees on an instant thermometer). Use a whisk, alternating with spoon, to aerate the mixture. Once the mixture is thickened, pour it over a strainer and let cool in a bowl that's sitting in an ice bath.

Add vanilla and nutmeg. Add the booze (brandy, rum or bourbon are all nice choices). Of course, this is optional, and virgin eggnog is just as delicious.

Cover and chill. Serve in small glasses (4 ounces is a good estimate, as it's so rich), either straight up or on the rocks.

Makes approximately 2 quarts.

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