- Associated Press - Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back during my days at Gourmet magazine, my many duties included teaching cooking classes. I used to tell my students — especially the cooking-impaired ones — that if they made sure to greet dinner-party guests with a special homemade drink, they would always win, no matter what else happened that evening.

The holiday season boasts any number of festive libations. My favorite is eggnog. After all, if you’re trying to crystallize holiday excess in liquid form, how better to do it than to combine sweet cream with strong rum or brandy?

But what if — just this once — you don’t want to overdo it? How do you cut down the fat and calories in eggnog without losing the drink’s signature richness? My daughter Ruthie suggested losing the nonfat milk in favor of 2 percent milk, which is still much lighter than cream. That did the trick. Then I added Chai spices, which contributed their own luxurious and exotic notes that work very nicely with the more traditional nutmeg.

CHAI EGGNOG

Start to finish: 2 hours 35 minutes (20 minutes active)

Servings: 4

2 cups 2 percent milk, divided

3½-inch stick cinnamon, smashed using the side of a knife

½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise

10 whole cloves

½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns, coarsely crushed

½ teaspoon ground ginger

4 cardamom pods, crushed (or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom)

Kosher salt

2 large eggs

¼ cup sugar

Brandy or rum for flavoring (optional)

Grated nutmeg to garnish

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1½ cups of the milk with the cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, cardamom pods and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then turn off the heat and let it stand for 15 minutes.

Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding all of the solids except for the vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk; discard the vanilla pod. Wipe out the saucepan and return the milk to the pan over medium heat.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl beat the eggs with the sugar for 2 minutes, or until they are light and lemon colored. Add the heated milk in a stream, whisking gently. Return the egg-milk mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens and coats the back of the spoon, about 4 to 6 minutes. Do not let the mixture come to a simmer, or the eggs will scramble.

Quickly add the remaining ½ cup of milk to the pan to stop the cooking. Transfer the mixture to a pitcher and chill for at least 2 hours or until very cold.

To serve, divide the eggnog among 4 chilled glasses, stir in a dash of brandy or rum, if desired, and top with a sprinkle of freshly grated nutmeg.