It strikes me as very odd that I’ve never written about ice cream here. This is because it’s my very favorite food of all time. I won’t admit how frequently I eat ice cream each week–hopefully family members will practice restraint with their comments on this particular post. But really, ice cream makes me very happy. Growing up, Bon Boniere was our little local ice cream shop downtown. Sometimes when I’d get home from school, my mom would promise that if I was lucky, maybe my dad would feel like going out for a cone later. Then the obsessing would begin: M & M or Bubblegum? It was like my mantra as the Brady Bunch wrapped up and dinner time grew near. I’d hear my dad pull up the driveway and know that I should give him a few minutes to put down his briefcase before I bombarded him with the all-important question of the evening: can we go?
Then there were my teenage years when I ate Kristin Hook’s family out of house and home. I’d like to take this moment to apologize to Kristin’s mom: you kept buying that Rocky Road and I kept eating it all. You never said a word although I’m sure you had many to say. And then off to college where Black Jack Pizza decided it’d be a great idea to deliver pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to hungry college kids. For free. The kicker? There was a $5 minimum so you had to order at least two pints. Thank you Black Jack Pizza for my freshman 15. You’re solely to blame.
So I’ll cut through a few years (or, er, a decade) and tell you about the last week at my place. The beautiful thing about my building is there is this little corner store right below me that is open virtually 24 hours a day. Feel like grapefruit juice first thing in the morning? No problem. Out of toilet paper? Done. Hunkering for some late night ice cream? Hassan’s got you taken care of. Now the thing about Hassan is he doesn’t let you remain anonymous as just another customer and he has a miraculous memory. He always comments on what I’m buying and asks how I liked whatever I bought the day (or week) before. Hassan has noticed that I love ice cream, he remembers what kind I buy, and he’s started ordering more of those flavors. I started to realize this very recently when I walk in and he greets me with “Oh hi, Miss. No more Mission to Marzipan tonight,” he chuckles. “I’m so sorry. But I have your Mint Oreo Cookie. I ordered extra this week!” He chuckles again and I start to think maybe, just maybe, Hassan is mocking my eating habits. Even if he’s not, it becomes clear I’m spending a bit too much time at the corner store. So I vow to give up ice cream. And that lasts about 18 hours. Then I vow to start making my own. And here we are. Hassan and I need some space. And you need this recipe.
I’ve experimented with making ice cream before, but it’s turned out more like ice milk: just a mixed up frozen combination of milk and sugar. But this is my first foray into custard-based ice cream and it was incredibly easy and turned out beautifully. I did adapt the recipe after reading some of David Lebovitz’s advice on ensuring your homemade ice cream remains soft like the store-bought kind. He encourages adding alcohol. It doesn’t take much to sell me on that one. So here we are: homemade ice cream with a little splash of vodka. You won’t taste it–but it makes for a softer consistency. You can read the rest of David’s tips here if you’d like. So I’m starting to look ahead to my next flavor already–any favorites you like to make at home?
Use any berries you’d like for this ice cream. Just make sure to cut up the pieces quite small–nothing good about big frozen, icy chunks of berries in your ice cream. Also, while I call for vodka here, you could also use kirsh or a liquor that would bring out the taste of the berries. I chose vodka because it has a neutral flavor and I always have some around the house, but play around with whatever inspires you–it’s not enough to make a big difference flavor-wise.
Adapted slightly from: Rustic Fruit Desserts
Combine the milk, 1/2 cup of the cream, and 1/3 cup of the sugar in a 3-quart sauce pan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally until just warm.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yolks, 1/3 cup of the remaining sugar, and the salt and whisk until slightly lighter in color. Very slowly pour half of the warmed liquid into the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Next, pour the yolk mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Do not allow for it to get hot enough to boil. Heat slowly and watch for thickening.
Once thickened, take saucepan off of heat source. Set a bowl over an ice bath, then strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve set over the bowl. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup cream and the vanilla and continue stirring until cool. Cover and chill in refrigerator 1.5 – 2 hours. Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar to chopped berries and put in the refrigerator in separate little bowl.
Once the custard has chilled, stir in the berries and vodka and freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Place the churned ice cream in a dry plastic container and cover with plastic wrap directly on top of the ice cream. Chill for at least 2 hours or until set up.
Storage: Stored in an airtight container in the freezer, the ice cream will be good for two weeks.
It turns out that returning from a sunny honeymoon to a rather rainy, dark stretch of Seattle fall hasn't been the easiest transition. Sam and I have been struggling a little to find our groove with work projects and even simple routines like cooking meals for one another and getting out of the easy daily ruts that can happen to us all. When we were traveling, we made some new vows to each other -- ways we can keep the fall and winter from feeling a bit gloomy, as tends to happen at a certain point living in the Pacific Northwest (for me, at least): from weekly wine tastings at our neighborhood wine shop to going on more lake walks. And I suppose that's one of the most energizing and invigorating parts about travel, isn't it? The opposite of the daily rut: the constant newness and discovery around every corner. One of my favorite small moments in Italy took place at a cafe in Naples when I accidentally ordered the wrong pastry and, instead, was brought this funny looking cousin of a croissant. We had a wonderfully sunny little table with strong cappuccino, and, disappointed by my lack of ordering prowess, I tried the ugly pastry only to discover my new favorite treat of all time (and the only one I can't pronounce): the sfogliatelle. I couldn't stop talking about this pastry, its thick flaky layers wrapped around a light, citrus-flecked sweet ricotta filling. It was like nothing I'd ever tried -- the perfect marriage of interesting textures and flavors. I became a woman obsessed. I began to see them displayed on every street corner; I researched their origin back at the hotel room, and started to look up recipes for how to recreate them at home. And the reason for the fascination was obviously that they were delicious. But even more: I'm so immersed in the food writing world that I rarely get a chance to discover a dish or a restaurant on my own without hearing tell of it first. And while a long way away from that Italian cafe, I had a similar feeling this week as I scanned the pages of Alice Medrich's new book, Flavor Flours, and baked up a loaf of her beautiful fall pumpkin loaf: Discovery, newness, delight!
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
This time last week I was up in the Skagit River Valley sitting in the early fall sun eating wood-fired bagels and chatting with farmers, millers and bakers at the Kneading Conference West. I made homemade soba noodles, learned the ins and outs of sourdough starters, and sat in on a session where we tasted crackers baked with single varietal wheats. It was like wine tasting, but with wheat and the whole time I kept pinching myself, thinking: THESE ARE MY PEOPLE! I don't get the opportunity to be a student much these days -- usually on the other side of things teaching cooking classes or educating people at the farmers markets about whole grains and natural sugars. So to just sit and listen with a fresh (red!) notebook and a new pen was surprisingly refreshing. I miss it already. Thankfully, this cookie recipe has come back as a memorable souvenir, and one that is sure to be in high rotation in our house in the coming months.
Strolling New York City streets during the height of fall when all the leaves are changing and golden light glints off the brownstone windows. This is what I envisioned when I bought tickets to attend my cousin's September wedding earlier this month: Sam and I would extend the trip for a good day or two so we could experience a little bit of fall in the city. We'd finally eat at Prune and have scones and coffee at Buvette, as we always do. Sam wanted to take me to Russ and Daughters, and we'd try to sneak in a new bakery or ice cream shop for good measure. Well, as some of you likely know, my thinking on the weather was premature. New York City fall had yet to descend and, instead, we ambled around the city in a mix of humidity and rain. When we returned home I found myself excited about the crisp evening air, and the fact that the tree across the street had turned a rusty shade of amber. It was time to do a little baking.
I am writing this on Saturday afternoon on a day when we had big plans to conquer pre-baby chore lists, but Sam's not feeling great and my energy's a little low so it hasn't been quite what we'd envisioned. My goals for the morning were to repot a house plant and make some soup and I've done neither. I will say that the sweet potato and fennel are still sitting on the counter eagerly awaiting their Big Moment -- it just hasn't come about quite yet. Sam and I were both going to attempt to install the carseat, but it started to look really daunting so we abandoned ship; it's now sitting proudly in the basement, also eagerly awaiting its Big Moment. So it's been one of those weekends -- the kind you look back on and wonder what it is you actually accomplished. At the very least, I get the chance to tell you about this hearty cranberry cornbread. I know maybe it feels premature in the season for cranberry recipes, but hang with me here: slathered with a little soft butter and runny honey, there's nothing I'd rather eat right now on the cool, crisp Seattle mornings we've been having lately.