FRESH MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP ICE CREAM

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And just like that, it’s springtime. Even though in my last post I was craving summer and all the flavors and desserts that come with it, I of course wasn’t going to brush over spring! It’s a time when everything is blooming and coming back to life, and I’ll never get over how beautiful it is. Living in an apartment, I so look forward to the day when I’ll have my own house with a huge backyard (a girl can dream, ok?) where I’ll harvest my own fruits and veggies, and have flowers everywhere. Until that day, I’ll settle on having little flower pots dedicated to certain herbs and random house plants in my living room that brighten up the place.

One herb plant that I keep in my kitchen window is mint, which if you’re a gardener, you know is a plant that is nearly impossible to kill. It thrives in sun and shade perennially and has the tendency to spread and conquer as much territory as it can. To combat this weed-like herb, you must pick and trim it, and what better way to use up that mint than making homemade ice cream!

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I’ve always been a huge fan of mint chocolate chip ice cream, but over the years, I’ve honed in on what to me “mint ice cream” means. When I was younger, store-bought neon colored and artificially flavored mint versions reigned supreme in my house. It’s what most people in America are used to when they think of mint ice cream - the color has to be that greenish blue. When I got a little older, I remember my mom coming home with a tub of Breyers mint chip and I was seriously skeptical of it because it wasn’t a green color, but rather a creamy white. The moment I took a bite, I was blown away and vouched to never touch any brand that added dyes to their ice cream. FYI, to this day, if I’m ever too lazy to make my own, Breyers ice cream is still the winner for me in that department.

And then once again, a couple years later, I had another epiphany with mint ice cream. My dad and I went to Sweet Rose Creamery at the Brentwood Country Mart in LA for the first time because we both share a love of ice cream and wanted to check out the shop. My dad ordered a brownie ice cream sundae with vanilla ice cream and I opted to try a scoop of their “fresh” mint ice cream. I was completely taken aback by the taste of it - after years of artificially flavored mint ice cream and added dyes, I could not believe that I had been missing out on the real thing for so long. Fresh mint ice cream is truly a different experience than what you can find at the grocery store and really tastes light, fresh, and worlds better than the fake stuff.

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So when I eventually got an ice cream maker for Christmas later that year (2012), I chose to make mint chocolate chip ice cream for my first ever homemade batch. And let me tell you: it was a struggle. I of course chose a recipe (the one below!) that probably wasn’t best for a beginner and I remember having my mom help me along every step of the way. To be clear, this was not only marking the beginning of me making ice cream, but also when I was just getting into baking and was less than an amateur. So for example, I had no idea how to temper eggs when making the custard-based ice cream, whereas today, it’s something that doesn't even phase me. Anyway, somehow my mom and I figured out how to make the mint ice cream and I’m pretty sure I cried tears of joy after my first bite. I think I’ve said this before, but making homemade ice cream is quite the accomplishment and something to be proud of. I still get giddy with excitement after every batch I make.

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This recipe requires a little more than 2 cups of fresh mint, which is a lot, so chances are that your garden may not have enough for this recipe. And that’s fine! You can use a mixture of store bought fresh mint and some of your own (or all store bought if you don’t have a garden, of course). Trader Joe’s sells organic fresh mint for a great price. As for the “chocolate chip” aspect of this ice cream, I’m finally able to give my trick for getting those evenly distributed chocolate flecks that you see in my pictures. Instead of chopping up a chocolate bar or adding chocolate chips to the finished ice cream, I melt my chocolate and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker while it’s churning, but almost done. This allows the chocolate to break up into tiny pieces and therefore gives a creamier texture without having bites with big pieces of chocolate in it. If you’re familiar with Thrifty’s chocolate chip and mint chip ice creams, the texture is most similar to theirs (aka the best!).

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Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

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Yields about 1 quart

Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar

  • Pinch of salt

  • 2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves

  • 5 large egg yolks

  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (in chip or bar form)

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, warm up the milk, 1 cup of the heavy cream, granulated sugar and salt over medium heat. Do not let it come to a simmer. Add the mint leaves to the pan and stir until every leaf is immersed in the liquid. Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a lid, and let it sit at room temperature for an hour.

  2. Place a strainer over a medium/large saucepan, and pour the mint/milk mixture through (the mint leaves will be left in the strainer). Using a spatula, press down firmly on the mint leaves, making sure to get any and all liquid out of them. In a large bowl, add the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  3. Over medium-low heat, rewarm the mint-infused mixture. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Just as the milk mixture is beginning to simmer, gradually add some of it to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking constantly as to not scramble the eggs (this is called tempering). Once the egg yolk mixture temperature has raised, pour the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spatula or spoon.

  4. Pour the mixture over the strainer-lined bowl and stir the mint-custard in with the heavy cream that is already in the bowl. Let the ice cream base sit over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  5. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. When the ice cream is almost finished churning, melt the chocolate in a microwave and slowly pour it into the ice cream maker (while it’s still on). This will create tiny chocolate flecks all through out the ice cream. If big globs are created, simply use a spatula to help break it up. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze until solid.

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I’d like to dedicate this post to my dog niece, Dolce. This beautiful girl had to be put down on Wednesday (the first day of spring), and to say that I’m devastated is a severe understatement. I have a million pictures of her goofy, expressive face and it was hard to choose just one. Here she is with her bone looking crazy happy, and sitting on her mom and dad’s bed.

I love you babygirl and I’ll miss giving you tons of kisses, which you always let me do. You made a lot of people smile, but made your mom and dad the happiest.

BLUEBERRY LEMON MUFFINS

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Since this past Sunday, aka Daylight saving time, I’ve been craving summer-y dishes like strawberry ice cream and peach pie. Yes, we’re only in the middle of March, but the moment it stays lighter later and we get to enjoy sunshine for a couple more hours, my mind immediately goes into summer mode. I know that I don’t live in an area where there will be winter-y weather for about 1-2 more months, but after record low temperatures and rainfall in Southern California, I’ve never been more excited for warmer weather.

On top of beautiful weather, we’ve been enjoying wildflower super blooms as well as the annual migration of butterflies from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest (the painted ladies). Walking outside and seeing hundreds upon hundreds of butterflies is quite honestly one of the most beautiful sights and it’s amazing to see how it’s positively affecting everyone’s mood. I sometimes forget how lucky I am to live in such a awe-inspiring area and I’m trying to take full advantage of my surroundings. More hikes are in my future!

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So, today I wanted to work with a produce that is best in the summertime, but can actually be utilized all year long. Blueberries. Even though blueberries are at their peak in California from May to July/August, I eat them every single day with my breakfast. Blueberry is the one fruit that I just can’t seem to enjoy for a limited amount of months; I’d rather have a mediocre blueberry than no blueberry at all. When it comes to blueberries in dishes, I’ve always been a major fan of perfectly simple blueberry muffins. The recipe I’m giving you today is that and so much more.

I really wanted to use wild blueberries for this recipe because I find that they’re SO delicious and bursting with flavor, but since it’s still wintertime, the only wild blueberries available are frozen. I attempted to use the frozen wild blueberries that I found at Trader Joe’s but they completely stained my dough - literally, I was left with blue muffins. Although the flavor was still there, I couldn’t accept the color and decided to go with plain fresh blueberries. My advice is using fresh berries is much easier even though berries aren’t at their peak of ripeness at the moment. I promise that the berries that I bought at the grocery store still made the muffins amazing, and just think how much better it’ll turn out when you make these again in the summertime.

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Below in the recipe, I give the optional step to make an easy glaze for the muffins. The glaze, which is simply confectioners’ sugar and fresh lemon juice whisked together, is optional because I personally think the muffins are perfect as is, especially since there’s the crunchy topping, thanks to a heavy sprinkling of turbinado sugar. But, I did make a couple of batches with the glaze and the few people I gave them to went crazy over it and thought it was mandatory that I include it in this post. So whether you’re a muffin purist like me or if you fall into the category of “more is more”, you have the option to glaze or not. Glaze half of the batch if you want!

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Blueberry Lemon Muffins

Yields 12 standard muffins

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • Zest of 1 large lemon

  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

  • 3/4 cup sour cream or yogurt (plain or Greek)

  • 1 large egg

  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda

  • 1/4 tsp. salt

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 1/4 cups fresh blueberries (see my note above regarding frozen)

  • 1 1/2 - 2 tbsp. turbinado sugar

    Optional: Lemon Glaze

  • 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

  • 3-4 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Grease a 12-count muffin tin with cooking spray or butter, or line with cupcakes wrappers.

  2. In a large bowl, using your hands or a whisk, massage/mix the granulated sugar and lemon zest together until fragrant (this helps release the oils in the zest). Add the melted butter, sour cream/yogurt and egg, and whisk until well incorporated.

  3. Using a spatula, carefully fold in the flour and blueberries until you can no longer see any dry ingredients. Do not over mix!

  4. Using a spoon or an ice cream scoop, fill each muffin cavity to the brim with batter. Evenly sprinkle a heaping 1/2 tsp. of turbinado sugar over each muffin.

  5. Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F, and then turn the oven down to 350°F and bake for another 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. The blast of initial heat helps the muffins get their height.

  6. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for a couple of minutes before taking them out. Drizzle each muffin with the lemon glaze (optional, recipe below). Muffins are best eaten on the day they are baked, but can be enjoyed for 1-2 days after if covered and left at room temperature.

Lemon Glaze

  1. In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar and the fresh lemon juice with a whisk. Start with 3 tbsp. of fresh lemon juice, and add more only to reach your desired consistency.

JUMBO SALTED TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

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Since last Monday, I’ve been out of commission due to pulling my lower back while I was working out. I was in the middle of a fitness class and pushed myself a little too hard and wound up severely hurting my back. I left the gym so upset with myself for allowing that to happen and the worst part is that I didn’t even feel like going to class that day! You know those inspirational posters in gyms that say something along the lines that no one ever regrets a work out after they’re done… that’s a lie! I should have listened to my body and stayed home and went for a walk instead.

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Anyway, I took healing my back seriously and spent the next couple of days icing it properly and relied on Aleve to alleviate the pain. Simply walking was just about the hardest task to accomplish and every step I took was painful. BUT here I am 9 days later, and I’m just about good as new. I haven’t gone back to my normal routine of exercises, but I instead have been doing low-impact cardio (walking, elliptical, recumbent bike) and I’ve actually been enjoying the low intensity.

I’m telling you guys all of this because I didn’t mean to take a week off from the blog! I attempted baking and photographing these cookies last week when I could finally walk around with less pain, but the act of hunching over to take pictures was not helping out my situation in any way. This led to all of my photos coming out subpar and there was no way I was going to post them without liking them. I waited til Monday when I was feeling much better, baked and reshot the cookies, and now I’m much happier with the outcome.

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Recently, it had occurred to me that I haven’t posted a “standard” chocolate chip cookie recipe yet. And I’ve given much thought as to why I haven’t done this and it could be because all of my personal favorite cookies are a step-up from the original cookie that everyone loves. Whether it’s adding toasted pistachios, or a big sprinkling of flaky sea salt, or using olive oil in place of butter, my taste for cookies aren’t what’s usually found at a local bakery. Of the six total cookie recipes that The Vivid Kitchen has to offer - including olive oil brownie cookies, toffee brown sugar cookies, and ginger molasses cookies - it apears that I’ve been focusing on giving cookie recipes that are not only amazingly delicious, but a little unique.

So once again, I’m giving another cookie recipe that has one aspect to it that sets it apart from other chocolate chip cookies. This comes from the addition of tahini: a paste made from ground sesame seeds that is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine. In America, we’re mostly accustomed to eating tahini via hummus, where tahini is a vital ingredient. Because of this, the idea of putting tahini in sweets is a bit mind-boggling to most, but tahini is actually a very popular component in an array of desserts like tarts, ice cream, and cookies.

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When I first tried tahini on its own, I wasn’t in love with the taste or texture and of course, this made me hesitant to add it to my cookie dough. The texture is akin to a natural nut butter in that you have to stir it well before eating it in order to incorporate the oils. As for the taste, it’s pretty unique with a roasted and bitter flavor, and just something you wouldn’t think would work well in desserts. BUT IT TOTALLY DOES. The tahini isn’t exactly prominent in the cookies but gives it a bit of a nutty flavor and even accentuates the chocolate. Seriously, these are up there as one of my favorite chocolate chip cookies. Ever.

If you want your cookies to have pools of chocolate much like the ones you see in my photos, this is done by roughly chopping up bars of chocolate and then sifting the chocolate in order to discard the powder that is created from chopping. You’ll be left with a variety of chocolate chunk sizes, which is key to getting those pockets of chocolate-y goodness. And to further the savory/sweet relationship that we have going on with adding tahini to the cookie dough, finishing the baked cookies with a healthy sprinkling of flaky sea salt is a must.

One last thing: I decided to make these cookies huuuuge, which is something I normally opt not to do. I wanted them to be bakery-style aka big, and in the end I was super happy with the results. If you want to make normal-sized cookies, just make sure to adjust the baking time by about 5 minutes, or keep a good eye on them around the 8 minute mark.

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Jumbo Salted Tahini Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yields about a dozen large cookies

Recipe slightly adapted from David Lebovitz

Ingredients

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  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour

  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda

  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

  • 4 oz. (8 tbsp., 1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

  • 1/2 cup tahini, well stirred

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

  • 1 large egg, room temperature

  • 1 large egg yolk, room temperature

  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

  • 10 oz. (about 2 cups) bittersweet/dark or semisweet chocolate chunks or chips

  • flaky sea salt

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl large enough for a hand mixer, beat the butter, tahini and both sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.

  3. Add in the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla extract. Mix until well incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. All at once, add in the flour mixture and carefully mix on low speed for about 10 seconds before turning the speed up to medium until everything is just combined. Do not over mix. Using a spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks or chips. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 hours. Note: if you cannot simply wait that long, wait at least 1 hour before baking off the cookies.

  5. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, and using a spoon or an ice cream scoop, scoop out 4-5 tablespoons of dough for each cookie (about 2.5oz each). Bake 6 cookies at a time because they will spread significantly. Allow the cookies to bake for 14-15 minutes or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and slightly pale in the center.

  6. Once out of the oven, immediately sprinkle each cookie with flaky sea salt. Allow the cookies to sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Enjoy!