(ARA) - Hand off a hot beverage -- to dinner guests, neighbors who drop by or kids during story time -- and you instantly warm both tummies and hearts. Make sure you treat yourself too; wrapping your hands around a warm mug in the midst of a cold day can help you unwind!
Traditional favorites include hot cider, cocoa, teas and coffees, all so good there's no need to look for replacements. But by adding just a few of the right spices, you can transform these everyday winter drinks into extraordinary festive fare.
Tips for Spicing Up a Variety of Hot Drinks
* Mull to be merry. Mulling a beverage simply means heating and spicing it. Sometimes sweeteners and/or other beverages are added, too. Mulled apple juice or cider is classic, but why not mull other favorites, like cherry, raspberry, white grape and cranberry juices, as well as red and white wines? Just be careful not to boil the wine or you'll ruin the taste and evaporate the alcohol. Good mulling spices include allspice, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, lemon peel, nutmeg, orange peel and star anise. Have fun experimenting -- or streamline your routine by stocking up on a mulling spice mix.
* Give the crock a workout. Fill your crock pot with an aromatic and warm spiced beverage and keep it on low throughout the day. You'll have a ready-to-serve treat at any time, and your home will be scented, too.
* Make an impression with homemade gifts. For simple but lovely homemade gifting, combine the dry ingredients for a special hot drink in a small jar or canister and tie with a festive ribbon. Punch a hole in a recipe card with mixing directions and attach to the ribbon. For even easier gifting, simply place a package of beverage mix -- like those mulling spices -- in a festive mug and tie with a ribbon. Or choose a special tea and deliver it in a pretty cup and saucer.
* Stock up on cinnamon sticks. Indispensable for mulling, cinnamon sticks also spruce up hot party drinks when used as swizzlers.
* Spruce up your black teas. Add cinnamon sticks, orange peel and/or lemon peel to any black tea. Sweeten, if you like, with honey or brown sugar. To richen the flavor even further, add a tablespoon or two of cognac.
* Enliven green teas with crystallized ginger and sliced fruit (like pears).
* Think ethnic. For Spanish flair, add black pepper and chilies or cinnamon to hot chocolate. For French influence, thicken cocoas with cornstarch or arrowroot and stir in some Grand Marnier and vanilla extract. Top with a pinch of freshly ground nutmeg.
* For a mocha drink, simply use strongly brewed coffee in place of some of the liquid in your favorite hot cocoa recipe.
* Add quality flavorings or extracts for an instant flavor boost. Enjoy every option from almond to walnut for any hot beverage -- including milk, cocoa, tea and coffee.
Here's the recipe for a deliciously rich toddy that adds delight to any gathering:
Visions of Sugarplums Toddy
4 cups milk, divided in half (dairy, rice, or soy)
2 Tbsp. honey
1/8 tsp. cardamom powder
4 oz. white baking chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. nutmeg powder
4 6-inch cinnamon sticks
Directions: Warm 2 cups of the milk, honey, cardamom, and baking chocolate in a saucepan until chocolate is melted. Add remaining milk and heat until warm. Stir in vanilla. Pour into cups, sprinkle with nutmeg and add cinnamon stick stirrers. Substitute almond extract (or another flavoring, like peppermint extract) for the vanilla now and then. At a toddler's tuck-in time, serve without the chocolate to induce slumber. Makes about 4 servings. Courtesy of ARAcontent