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.

MAPLE PECAN ICE CREAM

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I’ll never forget the first time I was in charge of desserts for a Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, it’s not like I’m a grandma and it was over 50 years ago, but like I’ve mentioned before, I didn't fully get into baking until after college. In 2013, my Thanksgiving was very low-key that year and only consisted of me, my mom, my sister and her now-husband for dinner; a small get together but we had a really fun time nevertheless. Even though I knew it was going to be just the four of us, I went completely over the top with planning the desserts since it was my first time and ended up serving 4 (!!!) dishes.

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The 4 dishes - a deep dish apple pie with a side of spiced caramel, chocolate chip cookies, cranberry hand pies, and today’s recipe of maple pecan ice cream - were a lot of work. But I remember being so happy and excited to feed my family that day that I didn’t care if I was in way over my head. Every night of the week leading up to the big day, I prepped and worked on different components of the 4 dishes (while also helping my mom with the main meal) and despite being told that I didn’t need to put so much effort into it because it was only going to be “us”, I kept my head down and finished what I started. And everything honestly came out great, surprisingly! The high I felt from accomplishing something like that was 100% worth it all.

Every Thanksgiving since then, I’ve calmed down a bit on the quantity of desserts and have shifted my focus on making a couple of really, really good dishes. Besides returning year after year to the pumpkin cheesecake recipe I gave you earlier this week, I sometimes opt to re-make the maple pecan ice cream that I first tried in 2013.

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Not that many people think to make homemade ice cream for Thanksgiving. Of course, this is because it’s just another thing that would need to be added to an already long to-do list and not everyone has the time. The norm for most people, and trust me, my family does this as well, is to buy a big ole tub of vanilla ice cream for anyone that may want a scoop with their slice of pie. And chances are, only about a 1/3 of the party will want some, whereas another 1/3 would prefer whipped cream, and the remaining would prefer nothing. But l wholeheartedly believe that this maple pecan ice cream will be requested by EVERYONE at the dinner table. Unless you have nut allergies, and if you do, I apologize because you are missing out!

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First of all, the flavor alone is pretty unique and something that you wouldn’t be able to find in the freezer section of your local grocery store. There is of course the ever so popular “Butter Pecan” flavor that most people are familiar with, but this ice cream is definitely on a whole different level, largely due to the maple syrup aspect. The ice cream base is only sweetened by pure maple syrup (the good stuff, not Aunt Jemima’s) and in fact, the only “sugar sugar” found in this recipe belongs to the candied pecans that are folded in with the maple ice cream after it’s churned. And speaking of those candied pecans - that are simply cooked with butter and brown sugar - they add such an incredible flavor and crunch to the ice cream that it makes it unbelievably addicting. There’s a full cup of pecans in this recipe and that’s because I want you to get pecans with every bite.

This ice cream is custard based - the best ice creams are - and so this means that you’ll have to temper the eggs when making the base. But besides that little step, everything else is fairly simple! And what’s most important is that you can make this days (but no more than a week) before Thanksgiving and thus have more time to give to your turkey, stuffing, and other desserts.

I say give this maple pecan ice cream for Thanksgiving a try and you’ll see how your guests (or hosts) go completely insane over it. And for those who still take the whipped cream over the ice cream: they will never know what they’re missing.

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Maple Pecan Ice Cream

Yields a little less than a quart

Recipe adapted from Closet Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1 cup raw pecans, roughly chopped

  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar, light or dark

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup (Grade A or B works)

  • Pinch of salt

  • 4 large egg yolks

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the chopped pecans and toss to coat with butter. Sprinkle in the brown sugar, and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the pecans are candied. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool completely.

  2. Warm the milk, heavy cream, maple syrup, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. 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.

  3. Transfer the mixture to a bowl set over an ice bath for about an hour before moving to the refrigerator. Chill for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

  4. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer to an airtight container and mix in the candied pecans. Freeze until solid.

ROASTED STRAWBERRY + VANILLA ICE CREAM

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With about a month left before summer is officially over, I am scrambling to make as many dishes utilizing what the season has to offer. Even though I'm much more of an autumn and winter fan, summer produce yields my favorite fruits to eat: watermelon, stone fruit, and berries. Although living in California allows me to eat some of these fruits year round, nothing compares to when these fruits are at their peak of ripeness.

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The recipe I am giving you today was not what I had planned exactly. I was testing a roasted bourbon-peach sherbet and after a few trials, I ended up axing the recipe altogether. Alex gave his seal of approval, but from the process to the finished product, I came across a bunch of problems and in the end, I couldn't stand behind the recipe nor could I share it with you. Maybe I'll try it again next summer when I haven't reached my limit of purchasing peaches yet.

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With that said, I want to be clear that today's ice cream recipe is no consolation prize, and in fact, I'm looking at the peach sherbet failure as a blessing in disguise. I realized that I hadn't shared my go-to vanilla ice cream recipe yet and instead of just giving you the recipe for that straight-up, I wanted to add something to it highlighting a summer ingredient. Enter: roasted strawberries.

Let me preface this by saying that growing up I never EVER cared for ice creams that didn't have some kind of chocolate element to them. Chocolate chip cookie dough, mint chocolate chip, cookies 'n cream... these were all my favorites. Flavors like pistachio, strawberry, cherry, or butter pecan, were all a no-go for me. Fortunately, I've outgrown my narrow-mindedness in the ice cream department, and can earnestly say that this roasted strawberry and vanilla ice cream is in my top 5 favorite flavors. Roasting the strawberries in honey and a bit of balsamic vinegar gives it such a unique flavor that isn't overpowering to the vanilla, and leaves you with a complete fresh taste. It's truly incredible.

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I divided up the recipe so that if you 0nly want to make the vanilla ice cream, and trust me, you'll want to, the directions and ingredients are there for you. I've made this vanilla ice cream countless times and it's so creamy and refreshing that I will probably never bother trying to find another recipe. As for the roasted strawberries, there's one tip that I want to give: the larger you leave the roasted strawberries when cutting them before adding to the ice cream base, the bigger chance of them becoming icy when in placed in the freezer. As you can see in the pictures, I chose to leave the strawberries larger because I think it looks beautiful, and I personally wasn't phased by the texture of the berries. If you think that will bother you, simply puree the berries in a blender. 

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Roasted Strawberry and Vanilla Ice Cream

Makes about 1 quart

Ingredients for Roasted Strawberries

  • 1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in half or quarters depending on size

  • 3 tbsp. honey

  • 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar

Ingredients for Vanilla Ice Cream (adapted from David Lebovitz)

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  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided

  • 3/4 cup sugar

  • Pinch of salt

  • 6 egg yolks

  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Additional Ingredient

  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice

 

Directions

Make the strawberries: 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

  2. In a medium size bowl, mix the strawberries, honey, and balsamic vinegar and transfer to the baking sheet, making sure to scrape out everything from the bowl.

  3. Bake in the oven for about 35-40 minutes, stirring the strawberries once halfway through. The berries will appear well-cooked, a bit browned, and the juices will be bubbling.

  4. Allow the berries to cool for about 15 minutes on the baking sheet. Using a knife or kitchen scissors, roughly cut up the berries so there will be bigger chunks in the ice cream. Transfer to a bowl, making sure to get all the juices from the parchment paper and chill completely until ready for the ice cream. Alternately, you can transfer the berries to a blender and purée them if you wish to have a smooth ice cream consistency.

Make the vanilla ice cream / strawberry vanilla ice cream

  1. In a large bowl, add 1 cup of the heavy cream and set a strainer over the top (use a bowl that will be able to fit over an ice bath for later).

  2. Warm the milk, 1 cup of heavy cream, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. 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.

  3. Pour the custard mixture over the strainer-lined bowl. Stir the custard in with the heavy cream that is already in the bowl and add in the vanilla extract. 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.

  4. When ready to churn, mix the roasted strawberry mixture with the custard ice cream base. Add the lemon juice. Churn the ice cream in your maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  5. Transfer the finished ice cream to an airtight container and freeze until solid. Enjoy!