Whatever your age, a mug of warm milk and a cozy place to sip it is one of the great pleasures of winter. Even better, hot milk is one of those drinks versatile enough to keep offering enticing variations.
You can warm milk gently on the stove top, although these days it's often easier to stick it in the microwave for a minute or so. But if you really want to treat yourself, try frothing your milk.
A number of cooking stores carry milk frothers. There are automatic machines that do the work for you, as well as the manual versions that help you turn warm milk into a bubbly treat.
My favorite device for this drink is a stove-top steamer, small but heavy enough to produce a good head of steam. I've found it works more efficiently than many home espresso machines.
These days, stove-top steamers are hard to find but worth the search if you're a big fan of hot-milk drinks. Check well-supplied coffee or cooking stores, or search the Web.
However, you can get the same effect from a microwave and a manual frother, or even a hand-cranked mixer. Just microwave cold milk for a couple of minutes - until the milk is scalding but not boiling. Then use the manual mixer or frother to agitate the milk, forcing air into it.
If you're using a machine or stove-top frother with a wand, you'll probably need a bit of practice. You can buy a frothing pitcher if you like. If not, you can practice with a mug. Just don't fill it full of milk; you'll need room for the froth. The goal is to force enough air into the milk to warm it thoroughly and to create foam on the top, leaving a layer of hot milk at the bottom.
Start with cold milk. When there is sufficient steam, put the tip of the wand just below the surface of the milk. You want to create a rich hissing sound, but not a screeching whine or a low rumble. The whine usually means there's not enough steam. A deep rumble means the wand is too deep and the bubbles will be too large to produce a good froth.
When you're finished, be sure to clean the wand. Wipe the outside with a damp cloth and open the vent for a few seconds to force out any milk particles caught on the inside.
Frothed milk can be good all by itself. But if you go to all that trouble, why not jazz it up a bit, even if only with a few shavings of fresh nutmeg or a dash of vanilla or caramel syrup?
If you're looking for something special for a family Valentine's Day treat, try milk frothed with chocolate and mint, one of several hot-milk suggestions from Susann Geiskopf-Hadler's A Cozy Book of Winter Drinks.
Do you have a favorite winter beverage? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Milk Frothed With Chocolate and Mint
Makes 2 servings
2 tablespoons chocolate syrup
2 tablespoons mint syrup
2 cups cold low-fat milk
unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder for garnish (optional)
Place 1 tablespoon each of the chocolate syrup and mint syrup in the bottom of each warm mug. Steam the milk with an espresso machine (or other wand device). Pour about 1/4 cup hot milk into each mug and stir to combine with the chocolate and mint syrups. Fill the mugs with the remaining milk and stir again. Top with the froth. Dust with powdered cocoa, if desired.
-"A Cozy Book of Winter Drinks: Rich and Delicious Recipes to Keep You Warm," by Susann Geiskopf-Hadler (Prima Publishing, 2002, $12.95)