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.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
We walked to the library last week and I had a strange realization standing in line watching Sam check out his usual massive stack of books: Will I ever have the time to read stacks of books again? I used to be much more of a reader than I am today -- a fact I'm not at all proud of. But when evening rolls around and the more formal workday ends, I find emails and other odds and ends creep in. Walking home from the library, I began obsessing over free time for reading, asking Sam if we'd ever be those two old people who study bird manuals and can recognize birds on walks. I want to have the time to read bird manuals someday. For now though, we're young and we're working a lot. We did sneak away on that one-night camping trip I told you about, and cooked some interesting, haphazard meals which I hope to share with you soon. For now though, for summer: a strawberry dessert recipe.
Much like friends, types of Sunday mornings, or books -- there are many different kinds of desserts. Sometimes you may be in the mood for a light French cake piled high with summer fruit. Other days, a thick slice of fragrant pound cake will do. And then there are those days when you crave a rich chocolate mousse that you share after a night of good conversation and a little too much wine. But let's be honest. When it comes right down to it, the most basic and unassuming dessert of all is sometimes the only one that will do. A good and simple affair. Vanilla ice cream. So I want to talk about that today--about a dessert that withstands the test of time, that will always be there for you. A dessert that is far from trendy, that doesn't play favorites or trick you into thinking it's something that it's not. It's a good foundation. A solid beginning.
[ Pie. if you've been around here much in the last few months, you know that I make pie. A lot of pie. And I'm particularly excited to share this pie with you today because it helped me break out of a rut. A pie rut. A baking rut. A Marge inspiration rut.