014When the wind is howling outside the windows as the sun sinks into the blackness of night you can often find me curled up under my favorite quilt (which my mother made me!) either reading or watching a movie…And if it’s cold enough you can bet I’ll be sipping on chai-spiced milk. “Why not chai tea?” you may wonder. Well, honestly at night I don’t need the caffeine. And I’m afraid I’m more than a bit of a food snob — I won’t use decaf!

In order to make this warm, spicy and delicious drink, you may have to seek out a few exotic sounding ingredients…But it will be worth your while. You’ll need peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, star anise and cardamom seeds. You can see the last three spices in my picture to the left. The peppercorns were already in the peppermill and I forgot to take them out to include them in the picture. (Since most people have seen pepper before, I wasn’t too worried.)

At any rate, I found a local Indian grocer in my area back in 2010 where I obtained my spices for a very reasonable (a/k/a “cheap”) price. I’ve seen them other places where I thought I’d have to sell one of my children. Seriously. And while I do love great chai, I actually love my children more than food!!! At any rate, the packages I ended up buying were larger, so I got more for my dollar. Plus I had enough that I was able to share some with my sister. And I still have some left. From a purchase I probably last made in late spring of 2012 — I know, time to refresh my stash….I do use these things in my baking too, but not as often as I use them in this particular recipe.

This chai recipe, by the way, was inspired one day while I was standing in the grocery store. I actually took the time to read the label on the back of a box of chai tea and a box of powdered chai tea mix , and I thought I could probably come up with something similar by myself without a mix and without the flavoring already added to the tea…I have experimented with adding other spices, such as fresh ginger, white pepper or whole allspice and even whole cloves. But this combination of spices is my favorite go-to recipe, though I will add the above-mentioned things from time to time just to change things up a bit (I know, I live on the wild side, right?) Well — the chai spiced milk part came from just omitting the tea one evening out of necessity…because one of my children used the last – gasp! – teabag without telling me! And discovering that I had no tea after I was already through the majority of the recipe gave me this heavenly-scented, body-warming, exotic creation that is now almost a nightly ritual during the harsh winter months.

So here’s what I do:

* Place about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds in a small saucepan and crush slightly with the back of a spoon.

* Add 2-3 whole anise stars to the pan and crush lightly

[NOTE: You don’t want to pulverize your spices into a powder – you merely want to crush them enough to release their scent and flavor.]

* Break off a 1″ piece of cinnamon stick and add to the saucepan.

* Next, add about 1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper. I use whole peppercorns in a peppermill and just measure out what I want after I grind it.

* Add sugar — this will depend on how sweet you like your spiced milk.  I probably add up to 1/3 cup, and my recipe serves about two people — unless, like me, you have very large cups!

* Finally, add your milk. Again, this will depend largely on how much you want. I usually eyeball it, but the last time I measured, it was about 3/4 cup per serving. So in other words, for the two servings in this recipe, I used 1 1/2 cups. I have made this with regular whole milk, but I have also used coconut milk (not the canned kind, the one in the dairy case) and almond milk to make it vegetarian/vegan friendly. I have not tried it with soy, so if you happen to try it out, please comment to let me know what you think.

* Heat the milk til it’s as hot as you like — I like mine cooked just under scalding, where bubbles are just barely starting to pop up around the edges of the pan.

* Strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve and pour into a cup.

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* Enjoy!

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