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Crockpot 'crocktails' on standby for the holidays

Eggnog Lattes are a festive way to start or end your day. (Forum News Service photo by Jessica Karley Rerick) 1 / 2
The spices for Crockpot Chai Tea Lattes are bundled into a sachet so they can be removed easily from the beverage once it has simmered. (Forum News Service photo by Jessica Karley Rerick) 2 / 2

Many of us use our crockpots on a weekly basis to get through the mad rush of the week or the bustle of weekend activities. For those of you who don't use it that often, I am going to give you a reason to dust off your slow cooker and put it to good use in these chillier months: It's time for crocktails!

Crocktails are warm and cozy beverages that are simmered in and served from your crockpot. They are perfect for your next party or lazy Saturday and are excellent both with or without the added alcohol. When I make them on a weekend for our family, I often just leave the alcohol out, and those who want it are free to add it.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when making crocktails:

— Place any spices in a sachet. A sachet is a fancy word for cheesecloth pouch. Simply lay out a piece of cheesecloth, place your spices in the middle, fold the corners in and tie the pouch with butcher's twine or any natural string. Remove the sachet before serving.

— Know your crowd. If you think there will be guests who might not appreciate the added kick from the alcohol, leave it out. You always can add it later, but you can't remove it.

— Think low and slow, especially on creamy beverages. I know this might seem silly since we are making them in a slow cooker, but trust me — after two rushed attempts at making my eggnog lattes and thinking I could make them on high — I learned the cream will separate, and the finished product is not nearly as pretty.

— Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for up to five days. Eggnog lattes ready on demand? Chai tea without breaking the bank and heading to the coffeehouse? Sign me up.

Crock Pot Eggnog Lattes

1 quart eggnog

3 cups milk

3-4 packets instant coffee, such as single-serve Tasters Choice or Starbucks Via

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Alcohol option: Add 1 cup bourbon (more or less to taste)

Directions: Add all ingredients to crockpot and cook on low 2-3 hours or until hot. Stir occasionally so sugar and coffee dissolve. Reduce temperature to warm for holding. Makes 8 1-cup servings.

Crockpot Chai Lattes

1 gallon water

3 teaspoons grated fresh ginger. (I use the cubes found in the grocer's freezer section)

1 can sweetened condensed milk

30 whole cloves

20 green cardamom pods, smashed open

4 cinnamon sticks

10 whole black peppercorns

12 black tea bags

Alcohol option: Add 2 cups Rum Chata

Directions: In an 8-by-8 cheesecloth square, place cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and peppercorns. Fold corners in and tie into a sachet. Place water, ginger and sweetened condensed milk in crockpot and add sachet. Turn temperature to low and simmer for 8 hours. Steep tea in crockpot by hanging each tea bag over the edge of the crockpot. Let steep for 10 minutes. Remove tea bags and sachet. Add Rum Chata if desired. Reduce heat to warm for holding. Serves 16 1-cup servings.

Crockpot Caramel Apple Cider

1 gallon apple cider

1 cup brown sugar

8 cinnamon sticks

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 cup caramel sauce, plus additional for serving

Whipped cream

Alcohol option: Add 2 cups bourbon

Directions: In an 8-by-8 cheesecloth square, place the cinnamon sticks. Fold corners in and tie into a sachet. Place apple cider, brown sugar, vanilla, caramel and sachet into a crockpot. Turn temperature to low and let simmer for 3 hours. Stir occasionally. Remove the cinnamon sticks and add bourbon if desired. Reduce heat to warm for holding. Serve with whipped cream and caramel sauce. Serves 16 1-cup servings.