Improving Vanilla Ice Cream

Well… let’s just ignore the nearly eight-month-long, uh, sabbatical, here, okay? I mean, no one likes excuses, and the fact is, I just didn’t make time to write for the last several months.

Instead, let’s just pick up right where we left off. With ice cream.

I made this ice cream last fall for a girls night with a few good friends. Of course, everyone has shortcomings, and, unfortunately for this chocoholic, several of these friends would pick vanilla and caramel over chocolate any day. So, in an attempt to liven up the world’s most boring flavor, I swirled my standard custard-based vanilla ice cream with some caramel sauce and served it with a giant cookie.

Everyone enjoyed it, including me. (After all, I don’t hate caramel or other flavors, but chocolate will always be my first love…) So, maybe that’s a sign that I should start making ice cream (and blogging) more often. The old downside to this plan is the fact that I’m right in the middle of birthday season for some vanilla fans. I’m going to need a chocolate fix pretty soon.

caramelswirlvanillaicecream

I used a homemade caramel sauce (thanks to America’s Test Kitchen), but you could definitely use your favorite, already-prepared caramel sauce. It’d also be good with an extra pinch of sea salt either in the caramel or on top of the ice cream, for that salty-sweet combo that everyone loves.

Caramel Swirl Vanilla Bean Ice Cream 

5 egg yolks
1 cup of half-and-half
3/4 cup of sugar
2 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
pinch of salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scrapped
1-2 teaspoons (give or take) vanilla extract
1/2 cup caramel sauce, plus extra for serving if desired

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the half-and-half, sugar, salt, and one cup of cream. Set the pan over medium heat and add the vanilla bean seeds and pod. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is warm. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for a little while (30 minutes or so).

In a glass 2-cup measuring cup, whisk the egg yolks together until they are smooth. If the milk mixture has cooled, reheat it until it’s warm to the touch again. Slowly pour 1/4 cup of the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Continue to add the warm milk to the egg yolks, 1/4 cup at a time, whisking the entire time. When you’ve added about 1 1/2 cups of warm milk, pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan, whisking the entire time.

Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring it constantly with a rubber spatula. When the custard has thickened and coats the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat.

Pour the remaining cup of cream into the bottom of a mixing bowl or large measuring cup. Set a fine mesh strainer over the cream and pour the custard mixture through the strainer. Remove the strainer and add the vanilla bean back to the ice cream base. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Chill the ice cream base in the refrigerator until it’s completely cold, at least a few hours or overnight. Churn the ice cream in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. When the ice cream is finished churning, drizzle a couple tablespoons of caramel sauce into the bottom of the container you will store the ice cream in. Scoop about a third of the ice cream on top of the caramel, then drizzle another few tablespoons of caramel sauce on top of the ice cream. Repeat the process until all of the ice cream has been layered in the container with the caramel sauce. Drizzle a little more caramel sauce on top of the ice cream, then freeze until solid.

Serve with extra caramel sauce, if desired.

Ice cream base adapted from my Moose Tracks ice cream recipe, which is initially from David Lebovitz via Everyday Annie.

Click here for a printable version.

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Simple and Sweet

When it comes to holiday menus, I kind of forget about the drinks. I get so caught up in balancing the classic, “we have to have this because it’s TRADITION”  recipes and the new “this looks intriguing” recipes that I forget about having something to drink besides water. It’s not that I’m not into other beverage options; I just have more fun making food. Plus, it’s usually more fun to eat your calories, rather than drink them. (Fair warning if you come to our house – the beverage choices are probably rather limited.) 

We hosted several friends for Easter again this year, and I spent the week beforehand looking at ham recipes and trying to decide which type of rolls to bake. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon, when the rolls were rising, that I realized I didn’t have anything to drink besides water. And I wasn’t going out to the grocery store the Saturday before Easter. No thank you.

After a quick survey of the fridge, freezer, and pantry, I decided that strawberry lemonade was the way to go. I still have a fair amount of strawberries in the freezer from last summer, and there were some lemons kicking around in the crisper drawer. Plus, the recipe I found got good reviews and was super easy to put together. Puree, strain, mix, and chill. The perfect amount of prep for a holiday weekend!

The original recipe says to mix the strawberry-lemon mixture with three cups of water, so that’s what I started with. I gave Andy a sample sip, and, well, you should have seen his face. 😀 I added an extra 1 1/2 cups of water, and we thought it was the perfect balance of sweet and tart. (Of course, you may feel differently… adjust to taste!) 

With as easy as this one is, I might start serving drinks more often!

StrawberryLemonade
The best part about this lemonade? It matches my pitcher. 🙂

Strawberry Lemonade 

1/2 pound frozen strawberries, thawed
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, divided
1 cup sugar
3-5 cups cold water

Place the strawberries in a blender (or a deep bowl, if you’re using an immersion blender) and pour two tablespoons of lemon juice over the berries. Puree the strawberries until they are smooth.

Set a fine mesh strainer over a 4-cup measuring cup and pour the pureed strawberries through the strainer, straining out any seeds. Add the lemon juice to the strained strawberry juice. Add the sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves.

Pour the strawberry-lemon concentrate into a large pitcher. Add 3 cups of water to the concentrate and stir to combine. Taste the lemonade, and if it is too strong, add additional water until lemonade reaches your desired strength. Serve cold.

From Epicurious 

Click here for a printable version.

Birthday Beans

Andy loves baked beans. I’m talking a level of love that most people reserve for chocolate. Or coffee on Monday mornings. In fact, he once bought a 10-pound can of baked beans for himself because “they were the best deal per ounce” and “who wouldn’t want that many beans!?”

So, when Andy saw Bridget and Julia making these beans, he was interested right away. I wasn’t opposed to the dish (I mean, there’s brats and bacon in it), but I didn’t catch all of the ingredients and steps during the TV episode. I didn’t write it down, so I moved on to other recipes.

Luckily for Andy, our PBS channel airs a lot of reruns, and we happened to catch the same episode again. This time, I took notes, and waited for the right time to make a batch of beans large enough to feed an army. Late January rolled around, and when I asked Andy what he wanted for his birthday, these beans were at the top of his list. I’m a big proponent of eating what you want for your birthday (even it’s boring vanilla ice cream), so I was all in for birthday beans.

Andy, of course, loved them. So did Arron and Karen. I enjoyed them too, and the four of us did our best to put a dent in 116 ounces of beans. In fact, we liked them so much that I made them a few weeks later to share with Janelle and Josiah (and all of the kids) too. They were a hit again, and even after feeding six adults and 12 children, we still had a decent amount left over. (To be fair, we also ate pork roast, mac and cheese, salad and bread that night, but still…) 

So, this makes a ton of beans, obviously. OK, not a literal ton, and maybe I should have realized that by the ingredient list, but still. It filled every inch of my 9″ x 13″ pan. It’s a good thing that I took Bridget’s advice and put the pan on a cookie sheet before it went in the oven, otherwise I’d been cleaning baked bean sauce off of the bottom of my oven.

It’s very obvious that this recipe comes from the Cook’s Country side of America’s Test Kitchen, instead of the Cook’s Illustrated side. First of all, it calls for canned beans. And not just cans of plain beans. You use two cans of prepared baked beans and a can of Ro-tel. Then there’s the sauce. It’s part ketchup and part prepared barbecue sauce, plus some spices and other items. Finally, it’s super easy to put together, which, as most people know, is not always the case with recipes from CI.

Easy beans with lots of brats and bacon? That’s a birthday win for sure.

BBQBeans

Backyard Barbecue Beans 

1 1/4 pounds of bratwurst, casing removed
2 onions, chopped
2 28 ounce cans of baked beans (CC used Bush’s; I’ve used both Bush’s and Aldi’s baked beans with good results.)
2 15 ounce cans of pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 15 ounce cans of cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 10 ounce can of Ro-Tel tomatoes
6 slices thick-cut bacon

For the sauce: 
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup prepared barbecue sauce
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon liquid smoke

Brown the brats in a 12″ skillet (you guessed it; I used my Lodge again), breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon. When the meat is almost completely browned, add the onions to the pan and cook until both the onions and the brats are nice and brown.

While the brats and onion are browning, cut the bacon into 1″ pieces and set them aside. Preheat your oven to 350°.

Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the brats and onions to the bowl, and stir to combine. Add the Ro-Tel and the beans to the bowl, and gently stir to combine all of the ingredients.

Pour the bean mixture into a straight-sided 9″ x 13″ metal baking pan. (Trust me on this one. Your glass 9″ x 13″ Pyrex dish will not have enough room for all of the beans, meat, and sauce.) Lay the bacon pieces over the top of the beans in an even, single layer. (It always looks like there won’t be enough bacon to cover the entire pan, but it’s worked out perfectly both times I’ve made this. Trust the source.) 

Place the baking pan on a rimmed baking sheet, and baked for 90 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool 15 minutes before serving.

From Cook’s Country

Click here for a printable version.

Go-To Pizza Dough

Pizza night is a fairly regular thing  for us. Whether it’s take-out from Glass Nickel (we like the Boaris Karloff and the Sacre Bleu) or a homemade favorite, pizza gets five stars in our kitchen. And ever since Fester came into our lives, homemade pizza has gotten an upgrade.

In my never-ending search for ways to use sourdough discard, I stumbled on a recipe for sourdough pizza crust from King Arthur Flour. Not only does it keep me from pouring my sourdough discard down the drain, but it mixes up easily, AND it freezes well. Plus, KAF includes the weights for the ingredients, so I can use my kitchen scale and not million measuring cups and spoons. It’s a win-win-win all the way around.

The sourdough gives the crust a flavor boost that takes homemade pizza to the next level. It’s a great crust for traditional pizza toppings (pepperoni, pineapple, onions, and banana peppers, please), and it’s just as good with less traditional fare.

I’ll mix up a batch when I feed Fester, and then freeze it until our next pizza night. And with crust like this, pizza night happens a lot more often. 😉

SourdoughPizzaDough

Sourdough Pizza Crust

8 ounces (1 cup) unfed sourdough starter (discard)
4 ounces (1/2 cup) hot tap water
10 1/2 ounces (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast (KAF calls for instant, but I have the active dry yeast in my fridge, so that’s what I use.) 

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Turn the mixer on low to combine all of the ingredients. Then knead the dough on medium speed until the dough is smooth and slightly sticky.

If you’re making pizza that day, place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in bulk. This usually takes a few hours, but it could be shorter or longer. (A lot will depend on how warm your house is and how active your sourdough starter is.) You can also put the dough in the refrigerator to slow down the rise. When the dough has risen, gently shape the dough into a pizza crust. (This usually makes enough dough for one regular (not deep dish or thin crust) pizza for me.)

Preheat your oven to 450°. If your crust is on the thicker side, you can par-bake it for about 7-8 minutes to give it a head-start, then remove the crust from the oven. Top the par-baked crust with your desired sauce and toppings, and then return the pizza to the oven and bake until it’s done.

If you’d like to freeze the dough, wrap it well in plastic wrap and place it in a ziploc bag in the freezer. To use the dough, simply let it thaw and then bring the dough to room temperature. Shape the dough as desired, and then proceed with your pizza recipe.

Note: KAF suggests letting the dough rise in the pan after you’ve shaped it. I generally don’t do that, but I do par-bake the dough before topping the pizza. Check out the KAF page for additional pizza tips. 

From King Arthur Flour

Click here for a printable version.

Squash with Stuffing!

I don’t remember eating a lot of squash when I was a kid. I remember my mom sauteing zucchini sometimes in the summer, but that’s about it. Fall and winter squashes weren’t really on the menu as far as I can recall. Especially acorn squash. Apparently my mom had a terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad experience with acorn squash when she was a kid, so she never served it to us. (Ironically, I suffered a similar experience with meatloaf, and now I never serve that…) So, when we started receiving all kinds of squash in our CSA, I didn’t know what to do with it.

I started with the least intimidating ones: butternut and spaghetti squash. They’re easy to prepare, and butternut squash has quickly become one of my favorite fall foods. Of course, with a CSA, you don’t always get butternut squash. Sometimes, you get a new-to-you vegetable, and you have to find a way to fall in love with it. Thank you, internet. (Seriously. What did we do before Google? I would have had to use my cookbooks.) 

In my experience, there are a few sure-fire ways to fall in love with a new vegetable.

  1. Roast it.
  2. Add meat (ideally bacon or sausage).
  3. Add cheese.

This recipe uses all three methods. You halve the squash and roast it with garlic, sage, and butter. Once the squash is tender, you fill each squash with a sausage-apple-onion-parm-bread crumb mixture. In other words, you fill the vegetable with my all-time favorite Thanksgiving side – the stuffing. What’s not to love?

The original recipe calls for acorn squash, but when our CSA didn’t deliver acorn squash, I decided to see how it worked with other squashes.  (I’m a risk taker, I know.) Turns out, it works just as well with delicata squash as it does with acorn squash. Now, we’re not limited to one type of squash, which means we can have this more often. Win-win!

StuffedSquash
Not my best photography, but it’s one of our favorite meals. 

Apple and Sausage Stuffed Squash

2 large acorn squash, cut in half, with the seeds removed
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground sage, divided
12 oz. bulk Italian sausage
1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup) 
1 celery rib, finely chopped
1 apple, cored and finely chopped
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small bowl, stir together the melted butter, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon sage. Brush the insides of each squash with the butter mixture. Place the squash on a cookie sheet, cut side up, and bake until fork tender, about an hour.

While the squash bakes, prepare the filling. Brown the sausage in a skillet over medium heat. (I use either my 10″ or 12″ cast iron skillet.) Once the sausage is brown, take it out of the pan and drain it on a paper towel-lined plate. Put the onion and celery in the now-empty skillet, and cook it until the vegetables begin to soften, about 3-5 minutes. Add the apples to the pan and cook for a couple minutes more.

Put the drained sausage back into the skillet, and then take the pan off the heat. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon sage and season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in the panko and Parmesan cheese, and then add the beaten egg. Stir until the mixture is completely combined.

Evenly divide the stuffing mixture among the four squash halves. Return the squash to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Originally seen on Peace, Love and French Fries, which has since gone under. However, PL&FF adapted the recipe from Prevention RD,  who adapted it from Food.com.

Click here for a printable version.

Cast Iron Cookies

It’s no secret that I love my cast iron skillets. I use them about three times a week (sometimes more), and my copy of “Cook it in Cast Iron” spends more time on the counter than it does in the closet.

It’s also no secret that we love chocolate chip cookies around here. Out of all the cookies in the world, chocolate chip cookies are Andy’s favorite. So, when I saw the giant skillet cookie recipe in the dessert section of “Cook it in Cast Iron,” I figured it would be a hit.

Of course, it is a recipe from Cook’s Country / America’s Test Kitchen, which means it’s going to be different from your standard chocolate chip cookie recipe. There’s browned butter (be still my beating heart… all that extra flavor), and there’s also this process of whisking the ingredients for 30 seconds, then letting them rest for a few minutes, and then repeating the whole process a couple more times. And, unfortunately, the book doesn’t explain WHY this step is important. And who knows, maybe it isn’t. Maybe it’s ATK’s way of messing with us rule-followers. Maybe Jack Bishop is secretly laughing about all of us suckers who are whisking and resting, whisking and resting. Who knows. I don’t even care, actually. This cookie so good that I’ll keep whisking and resting, even if it doesn’t make sense.

In spite of the extra whisking steps, it’s not a hard recipe to make. It mixes up quickly, and it takes less than 30 minutes to bake. And if you use a kitchen scale, you won’t even have to get out your measuring cups. (Fewer dishes! Yay!) The hardest part is waiting for the cookie to cool slightly so you don’t burn your tongue on melted chocolate chips. The only change I make is to sprinkle some flaky sea salt on top of the cookie prior to baking for that sweet-salty flavor combination.

SkilletCookie

Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

12 tablespoons unsalted, butter, divided
5 1/4 ounces (3/4 cup, packed) dark brown sugar
3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
8 3/4 ounces (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 ounces (1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate chips
flaky sea salt, for finishing, optional (but not really…) 

Preheat the oven to 375° and make sure the rack is adjusted to the upper-middle position.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour and baking soda together, and then set it aside.

In a 12″ cast iron skillet, melt nine tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring almost constantly, until the butter is a deep golden brown and smells nutty. The butter will foam at first, but this should die down as the butter cooks.

Place the remaining three tablespoons of butter in a large mixing bowl and pour the browned butter over it. Stir the butter until the last three tablespoons melt completely.

Whisk the sugars, vanilla and salt into the butter until smooth, then whisk in the egg and egg yolk. Whisk this mixture for about 30 seconds, then all the mixture to rest for three minutes. Whisk the mixture for another 30 seconds, and then allow it to rest again for three minutes. Repeat this whisk-rest process two more times. By the end, the mixture will be thick, smooth and shiny.

Add your flour mixture to the egg-butter-sugar mixture, and stir until just combined. Mix in the chocolate chips, making sure that no pockets of flour are left in the dough.

Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel, and then spread the dough into the pan. Smooth the dough into an even layer and top with a pinch of sea salt, if using.

Bake the cookie until it is golden brown and the edges are set, about 20 minutes. Remove skillet from oven and allow cookie to cool slightly before serving. (Cook’s Country says to wait 30 minutes for this. If you can make it that long, you have more willpower than anyone I know.) Cut into slices and serve.

From Cook It In Cast Iron

Click here for a printable version.

Cabbage and Noodles 2.0

Once upon a time, in the very early days of this blog, I wrote about our favorite way to prepare cabbage. The post has a terrible picture and is more of a “guideline” than an actual recipe, but it’s one of my most popular posts. People like cabbage, apparently. (Or, maybe they’re just here for the bacon.) 

While cabbage and noodles is still a popular option in our house, sometimes you need something a little different. I’ve been flipping through old issues of Everyday Food lately, and I stumbled on this recipe. I’d obviously made it before, since I’d put four stars on the top of the page. I had a head of Savoy cabbage from one of our last CSA shares, so I thought I’d put it on the menu again.

It’s a fast, easy meal, which is just what we needed this week. The Savoy cabbage seems to cook up faster than regular green cabbage, and I used angel hair pasta instead of spaghetti, which shaved off a few minutes of prep time. We really liked the flavor that the sausage added to the dish too.

So there you have it, cabbage and noodles 2.0. And both Andy and I agree with our original four-star rating. This one’s a keeper. Just like him. 🙂

CabbageSausageNoodles

Spaghetti with Sweet Sausage and Cabbage

1 pound sweet Italian sausage
1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 head Savoy or green cabbage, halved, cored and thinly sliced
8 ounces angel hair pasta
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil, optional (I didn’t use this – I felt like my sausage released enough grease on its own.) 

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add oil to the pan, if using. Brown the sausage, breaking it up with a spoon. When the sausage is browned and cooked through, remove the meat from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the rendered fat in the skillet. Drain the cooked sausage on a plate lined with paper towels.

Add the two tablespoons of water to the hot skillet, scraping any of the browned fond off the bottom of the pan, and then add the onions. Place as much cabbage into the skillet as you can fit and season it with salt and pepper. Cover the skillet and cook until the cabbage is tender, tossing it occasionally. Add any remaining cabbage to the pot as the cabbage cooks down and makes more room.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until it’s al dente, then drain the pasta, reserving about one cup of pasta water.

Return the sausage to the pot with the cooked cabbage and stir in the pasta. Add enough pasta water to the pot to create a thin sauce. (I used about half a cup.) Add the vinegar to the pan. Stir to combine, then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately .

From Everyday Food, November 2009

Click here for a printable version.