Not many things inspire stronger opinions than eggnog. Some faithfully reproduce their family's traditional recipe every year or loiter like coffeeshop vultures waiting for the seasonal latte’s appearance, like me. Others, like my husband, feel eggnog is utterly repellent, a combination of the worst possible beverage texture (thick) with the worst possible way to serve an egg (raw).
What could usher these opposing groups into harmonious agreement? I'll bet that if you gathered all the most passionate eggnog lovers and haters into a single room and asked them whether you could improve upon it by adding various things from the average kitchen, ginger or maple syrup or cocoa, you'd get all kinds of varied responses, but when you got to ranch dressing, there'd be a unified, thundering answer:
"Ewww! Did you say ranch?!”
And yes, Hidden Valley did indeed say ranch. Not only did they say it, they partnered with mixologists from Whiskey and Rosemary to develop a real cocktail called RanchNog. They've packaged it up for holiday giving in a fancy box, with a pretty little jigger, special glasses and a glossy recipe card. I think they might be serious.
I was very excited to open this because I was dying to see the recipe. I had tried to imagine how in the world they had approached this. Would there be a limited edition ranchy eggnog package inside — add either rum for a hideous drink or mayo for an inedible dip? Would it be "inspired by" ranch, a lookalike with a gesture toward dill or buttermilk, but no actual dressing? My best guess was that it was a joke, just regular ranch dressing served in a glass with a nutmeg sprinkle. My husband and I turned over the card and read it with increasing alarm.
REAL RANCH DRESSING MIX???
It also has an ounce and a half of maple syrup. That amount is ludicrous, more than I have ever consumed in one sitting. I felt a wave of horror. But I take my role as a shock food reviewer seriously. I gathered the ingredients, muddled them as directed, and double-strained them into the cute little glasses. I paused. How could these ingredients add up to eggnog? Surely they were eggnot.
Well, before I lay out my reaction, let me give you some context for it. Healthier eating is my business, and I make almost everything from scratch so I can control the ingredients. In general, I regard maltodextrin and polysorbates with disdain. I haven't had a packet of dressing mix in my house for at least 15 years, even going so far as to develop my own from-scratch version of that viral ranch dressing roast from a few years back. And, if you saw my review of Bud Light's Fall Flannel Hard Seltzer Pack recently or happened upon my Twitter magnum opus on Brach's Turkey Dinner Candy Corn, you know that the only thing I love more than a hilarious and nostalgic terror food mashup is a scathing review of it. I hope you keep that in mind, dear reader, when I tell you that Hidden Valley RanchNog is … delicious.
Look, no one expected this to be an essay on the prank comedy stylings of Hidden Valley more than I did. But I pride myself on being open-minded, so I set my sense of impending doom aside and went about this tasting in that spirit. I am dumbfounded to tell you it has a lovely and soft gingerbread aroma. The mouthfeel isn't too thick, and incredibly, it's not too sweet.
Whiskey and Rosemary told me they were aiming for that familiar holiday feel and chose mezcal for its smoky qualities, reminiscent of a wintertime campfire. It surprised me, but it’s a great instinct — the right choice given the herbal flavors of the rosemary and ginger. The maple and cream tame the brightness of the rest of it, lending that cozy depth that I hope for in a comforting nog experience. And, although I'm relieved to report that it only has a little bit of ranch mix in it, the slight salty tang is important. It enhances the other flavors just the way salt on the rim of a margarita glass does. My husband, the eggnog-hater, legitimately liked the flavor and finished (most of) his glass.
I took a look at Whiskey and Rosemary’s gorgeous Instagram (Tajín cocktails! jerk pasta! Groovy fashion!) and found a great tutorial video. So, I actually mixed it a second time, more carefully. I made sure I had the full quarter ounce of freshly pressed ginger juice, put some elbow grease into crushing the rosemary and — hold onto your hats, folks — I went off-script by doubling the ranch powder. I love rosemary, maple and ginger, but each is a strong flavor. By bringing them out, I was worried they might re-enact the 1981 version of "Clash of the Titans": Rosemary as the swaggering hero Perseus, Maple as the woodland sap Calibos, Ginger screaming her lungs out as Andromeda and Raw Egg as the Harryhausen Kraken. Instead, the proportions here are properly balanced. It's excellent — perhaps even if you don't like eggnog.
At some point, I will probably serve this to a few intrepid guests, because it's hilarious to see people freak out about the name, but also because it's a solid cocktail as well as dessert. I also tried a couple of variations so people with certain dietary needs can partake. Although it can't be made vegan because the mix itself contains dairy, you can replace the mezcal and/or egg white with the non-dairy milk of your choice, and it's still an interesting and tasty winter beverage. If you're opting for the mocktail version, I think it tastes best if you cut the maple syrup down to an ounce, but feel it out for yourself. Part of the experience is making your own little tweaks.
The gift box would make a fun present for certain kinds of people — ranchitarians, jokesters and adventurous foodies. It seems as though they're sold out for the year, but never fear — the Hidden Valley Shop has other giftables, and they’ve graciously agreed to let me share the recipe, shown above, so you can make it at home. I hope it brings you holiday joy and surprise, but do be sure to use pasteurized eggs so it doesn't also bring you salmonella.