If you greet dinner party guests with a special homemade drink, you always win.
Buy take-out food, rearrange it artfully on platters, then claim it as your own. Nobody will think twice as long as they were handed a special drink on their way in the door. Festive drinks scream, "Party!"
Among the most festive libations is eggnog. How better to liquify holiday excess than to combine sweet cream with strong rum or brandy?
But you don't want to overdo it. How do you cut down the fat and calories without losing the drink's signature richness? Is there a way to keep it creamy without cream?
I tried making eggnog using nonfat milk, both regular and condensed. I even tried thickening the mixture with cornstarch.
Non-fat milk made the drink too watery. Cornstarch successfully thickened the drink, but in a way that recalled a loose pudding, not eggnog.
Two percent milk, which is still much lighter than cream, did the trick. Then I added Chai spices, which contribute their own luxurious and exotic notes that work so nicely with the more traditional nutmeg.
Christmas sangria required less experimentation, maybe because traditional sangria is a fairly healthy punch to begin with.
All I did was swap the drink's usual summertime fruits for their wintertime counterparts - pomegranates, clementines and apples. Reformatted, a warm weather stalwart suddenly looks and tastes just right for the holidays.
•2 cups 2 percent milk,
•3 1/2-inch stick cinnamon
•1/2 vanilla bean, split
•10 whole cloves
•1/2 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
•1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
•4 cardamom pods, crushed
•2 large eggs
•1/4 cup sugar
•Brandy or rum, for flavor
•Grated nutmeg, to garnish
In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 1/2 cups milk with cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves, peppercorns, ginger, cardamom pods and a hefty pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, turn off and let it stand for 15 minutes.
Strain the mixture through a sieve, discarding solids except the vanilla bean. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the milk; discard vanilla pod.
Return the milk to the pan over medium heat. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the sugar for 2 minutes. Add the heated milk in a stream, whisking gently. Return to saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens, 4 to 6 minutes.
Quickly add the remaining 1/2 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.
Nutrition information per serving: 140 calories; 40 calories from fat (29 percent of total calories); 4.5 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 100 mg cholesterol; 16 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 16 g sugar; 7 g protein; 210 mg sodium.