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For some, the holidays are a time to get fancy. You wear your best dress or tuxedo to the corporate holiday party, you set out your grandmother’s fine china, and you actually use that dining room table as a place to eat rather than a place to store all of life’s daily belongings. It’s also a time to serve fancier food. Flan, creme brulee and creme anglaise  are three examples of a custard that simply spells “fancy.”

A custard is made with either milk or cream and eggs. It differs from pudding in that pudding is thickened with starch, while custard is thickened with eggs. The proteins in the egg coagulate when gently heated, thereby thickening the mixture. “Gently heated” is the key since cooking custard too quickly will cause the egg proteins to curdle, leaving you with lumpy custard rather than smooth custard. Bake in the oven using a bain-marie (custard dish is placed in a larger baking dish surrounded with hot water) to produce steam or use a double boiler to gently cook over the stove.

Custards vary in consistency depending on the type. Cheesecake, creme brulee, and custard pies, such as pumpkin pie, are thicker than creme anglaise, which is more of a thin sauce. Custards may be high in calories and saturated fat. Use fat-free milk or evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream or whole milk. Top custards with fruit or blend with vegetables, like winter squash to offer more nutrients. Don’t forget to refrigerate your custard, including that pumpkin pie, to keep food-borne bacteria at bay.

Sweet Potato Custard

1 cup cooked sweet potato, mashed

½ cup banana, mashed

1 cup evaporated skim milk

2 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 egg yolks, beaten

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup raisins

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Nonstick cooking spray

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a medium bowl, stir together sweet potato and banana. Add milk and blend well. Add brown sugar, egg yolk, and salt. Mix thoroughly. Spray 1 quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place sweet potato mixture in casserole dish. Combine raisins, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle over top of potato mixture. Bake in oven for 45-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Yield: 6 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 160 calories, 1.5 grams fat, 270 milligrams sodium, 31 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 5 grams protein

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Smith is nutrition and wellness educator for the University of Illinois Extension, McLean County. Contact her at 309-663-8306. 

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