May 25, 2009

It’s been several days since I posted anything. Each day, I would think to myself – “this would make a good blog entry,” snap a couple of photos and then be unable to complete the task.

In short order, here are some highlights, including my negative thinking….:

Returning to my boarding school 35 years later for a small, but satisfying, reunion with dear friends. (really, who wants to hear about that – and what does it have to do with your garden?)

My sputtering artichoke plant and how it’s risen like Lazarus. (there is nothing more to say)

Amazing pizza with baby arugula from the garden. (OMG it was so delicious and I seem to have finally learned how to get the pizza from peel to stone – gotta love parchment paper – but the recipe is the same as focaccia, so nothing new to add)

Our search for, and possible location of, Our Dream House. The placing of an offer, the interminable wait to hear if the offer is accepted. (way too soon to post – no real information yet.)

Now, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and finally I have something to write about. Ice Cream.

For the last few days, friends from Florida have been staying with us while visiting their son, who has taken up residence in the Capitol City. These are the perfect houseguests. They are able to find their way around the kitchen should they need a glass of water; they are fearless about public transportation; have plans to visit, experience, and explore without the need for us to go with them (not that we don’t often enjoy the touring with guests, but our life is a little busy right now, so this worked out perfectly); and, finally, they love to cook and eat!

For their last evening in town, we planned an Indian feast. While I knew I could count on help with the cooking, I wanted to plan a dessert that would be memorable and appropriate – and entirely made in advance.

What else? Ice Cream!

The farmer’s markets are full of perfumed, intoxicating, ripe strawberries, so I knew one flavor had to be strawberry. And as I have a particular weakness for coffee ice cream, that was to be the second flavor.

Ice cream is an easy recipe. It’s milk, cream and some egg yolks. And then add in whatever flavors you like. The fun is in the riff. Butterscotch with smoky single malt. Thyme with lemon and pistachio. Rocky road with homemade marshmallow. The possibilities are endless and only limited by imagination.

I steeped the hot milk and cream with crushed coffee beans and a scraped vanilla bean, strained it, whipped it into egg yolks with a little sugar. Put it back on the flame and cooked it slowly until I had a nice thick custard. I stirred in a dark caramel I had going in another pot, then chilled the mix for a day before I froze it. I think the flavor intensifies if you allow it to sit for at least a few hours, if not a day or two, before freezing.

For the strawberries, I decided mint would be a nice counterpoint – I wanted that cool, crisp mint as an accent – something that would taste like good hard candy. (Unfortunately, I had only a big bunch of spearmint from the market. Peppermint would have been much better.) So, again, I steeped the milk and cream with mint, then stirred in a pureed jar of strawberry/mint jam I had made in February.

I really wanted a ribbon of caramel. Or a ribbon of strawberry. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet – more experimentation is definitely in order.

The following day I froze both custards in my ice cream maker, then popped them in the freezer to await the unveiling. We had “make-your-own-sundae” bar with maraschino cherries and bittersweet chocolate sauce. There were some bananas and some cream that could be whipped up, but we were all so stuffed from biryani and tikka masala and grilled flatbreads with nigella seed, I limited the ice cream bar offerings. The cherries really were a silly addition, but almost everyone took part. Next time, I’ll open the jar of brandied sour cherries made last summer as that would have been even more amazing.

In fact, those sour cherries might be a really nice addition to almond ice cream. And how about caramel ice cream with salted peanuts and a ribbon of fudge? Or peaches in cinnamon ice cream?

I took photos of the steeping milk/cream/coffee mix, the caramel, and (at the top) my set up ready to make the custard. I expect we’ll be screaming for ice cream all summer.

Basic Ice Cream Base

1.5 c whole milk
1.5 c heavy cream
4-5 egg yolks
3/4-1.5 c sugar (depending on what you are adding – when I added jam, I cut way back on the sugar)

Flavor milk and cream: For coffee, I crushed 1/4 c of coffee beans. For the mint, I added about six stalks of mint. Heat the milk & cream to just below boiling point. Cover and steep for about an hour. Strain.

Beat egg yolks with sugar until lightened. Dribble milk mixture slowly into eggs while whisking to combine well.

Put back in a saucepan and stir with a wooden spoon while gently heating to 170•, or until the custard coats the back of the spoon and a line drawn through the custard on the spoon remains.

Remove from the flame, stir in any other additions (this is when I added the caramel, and when I added the pureed jam). Let this mixture develop in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

Freeze per the instructions on your ice cream maker.

Happy Summer!

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