Weekly Photo Challenge: Fruit

This week at Where’s My Backpack?, Ailsa has selected “fruit” as her travel theme. Allrighty then. I’m in.

Some interpretations of fruit may be a little bit loose. But what the hey, we have fun.

First up: my kitchen! I was making a lemon-caper vinaigrette to have with our dinner salad one night. As the Lord sayeth, verily, it was good.

Dee-lish!

Dee-lish!

Next up: on a chilly morning wandering the grounds of the Essex Resort in Vermont, I stumbled upon a planting of frosty ground cherries.

And then I ate one.

And then I ate one.

I like grapes. I like how they prepare them at the Ravines Wine Cellar at Keuka Lake (bonus: they do wine and chocolate pairing tastings…hell yes!). Imma leave this right here.

Super-yummy. I love a good tasting room.

Super-yummy. I love a good tasting room. Did I mention they do chocolate pairings? 🙂

Close to my home: I spotted this dwarf pomegranate blooming along the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail one fine late-summer day.

I really need to take another bike ride down the Rail Trail soon.

I really need to take another bike ride down the Rail Trail soon.

And finally. One night while visiting my mother, la momma asked me if I wanted anything fruity after dinner. Sure, I replied. What have you got?

WP_20150925_20_06_13_Pro-001

Health, darlings. Health.

Mmmm hmmm. Apple pie, strawberry ice cream. I’m not sure if she and I define “fruit” the same way. Nevertheless, it was very good indeed.

Enjoy the rest of the fruity offerings on Ailsa’s photo challenge! See you ’round the interwebs.

Nosh: Thai Iced Tea Ice Cream

When you live in a small town with a limited number of recreational options, you tend to have home dinner parties.  At least, that’s what my friends and I do.  Invite some people over, cook something you can’t necessarily get your hands on at the corner bar and grille, have some cocktails and conversation.  Guests are often assigned to bring dessert and so, for the most recent dinner foray at a friend’s house, we brought homemade ice cream.  Since we knew said friend was making Thai curry (more easily available to us here than it was a few years ago but nevertheless, not standard takeout fare) I wanted something that would “go” with that.  I had a box of Thai tea laying around and so, Thai iced tea ice cream became a reality.

For those who have never had Thai iced tea, believe me when I say it is a glass full of realized happiness.  The tea is warmly spicy and slightly orangey and sweetened with condensed milk.  When I get one I have to pace myself or I swear I will drink the whole thing in one giant, straw-sucking slurp, social propriety be damned.

It’s that good.

So, turn it into ice cream.  Why not?  A former co-worker once said to me, “All the positive energy in the world goes into ice cream” and who wouldn’t want to bring that to a friend’s house?  I’m in.  I used this recipe with, of course, a few minor modifications and some suggestions along the way.  The first suggestion: make sure you get tea leaves that say they are a “Thai tea mix” or “Thai seasoning mix”.  The sort I used said it was “original Thai tea”, so it was a dark Ceylon, but it wasn’t nearly as spiced or orangey as I wanted it.  C’est la vie.  We live and learn.  And it was still delicious.

Of course, first things must be done first, and this is one of the pain-in-the-butt things about making ice cream, especially with the sort of maker we have.   There’s no, “Hey, I have a great idea!  Let’s make some ice cream NOW!” moments to be had.  The churning sleeve has to be frozen, so you really need to put it in your freezer overnight; if you hear any sloshy sounds when you shake it, it’s not ready to use.

It does take some planning.

It’s not that this is hard, but it does require planning.

So, next morning: assemble your starting lineup of ingredients.

I never said this recipe was designed for the health nut.

I never said this recipe was designed for the health nut.

As an aside, for those of you curious about the different between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk, follow this link for a very good, basic explanation.  Since I didn’t have loose tea leaves and lack the patience to cut open tea bags and measure the actual leaves, you’ll notice that I stuffed a bunch of bags into a 1/4-cup measuring cup.  I think I used eleven bags.  It was plenty strong enough.

Measure out the appropriate amounts of things and put all this–the cream, both milks, the tea, the sugar and, though it doesn’t call for it in the recipe, a goodly pinch of salt–into a sauce pan.  Warm it until it’s hot and almost simmering, and then take it off the heat and let it sit.  The longer it sits, the more the tea steeps into the cream.  I let this go for about an hour and a half.  Once you’ve decided it’s steeped long enough, squeeze the tea out of the bags and reheat the mixture to its previous temperature: hot, but not simmering.  Let it rise in temperature gradually, since you’ve got some other stuff to do and it’s easier to keep an eye on a gradual rise in temperature.

Meanwhile, separate five eggs since you’re just going to need the yolks for this recipe.  Here are some suggestions for what to do if you want to save the whites for future use; just remember to freeze them as independent entities and not all in one lump container, if you think you may want to use the whites for more than one purpose.

Okay, so one yolk broke. So sue me.

Okay, so one yolk broke. So sue me.

You’re going to need to create a custard for the ice cream which means, tempering your eggs.  When you temper eggs, you raise their temperature slowly, so they can be incorporated into a hot mixture not as scrambled eggs but rather as a silky ambassador of body and flavor and fats.  Pour the hot milk and cream mix slowly–sloooowly–in a thin stream into the eggs, whisking the entire time.  Take a break from the pouring to just whisk and whisk.  Once you’ve got about half the milk incorporated into the eggs, add the whole thing back into your saucepan, put it back on the heat and keep whisking.  Since I lack either a third hand or a prehensile tail, I couldn’t photograph myself doing this so here’s a nice tutorial and slideshow from Serious Eats.

Stir it until it thickens; the classic test you can do to check if the custard is ready is the back-of-the-spoon test.  Simply, stick a spoon into the custard.  If you can draw your finger through the custard across the back of the spoon and said custard doesn’t run back together, it’s ready.

Ready.

Ready.

It’s like I deforested it.  Anyway.  Now you need to let the custard cool.  Theoretically, you could let it sit out until it’s cooled naturally, and then put it in the fridge and wait for that to get it nice and chilled.  But letting it sit at higher temperatures would invite a greater opportunity for things like bacteria to take hold.  And let’s face it, that churning sleeve has been freezing since last night and waiting for the custard to cool on its own would add hours to the process; ain’t nobody got time for that.  Solution?

Ice bath!

Why wait?

Why wait?

It’s pretty simple.  Put your smaller bowl with custard inside a larger bowl half-filled with ice and water.  That will start to drop the temperature of the custard immediately.  Change out the ice as often as necessary.  Some recipes recommend putting the custard into the fridge to set up and chill out even more after it’s been bathed in ice but I just kept mine in as icy a bath as possible until it was time to churn and then?

Away wit' ye!

Away wit’ ye!

No, I have no idea what caused the crack in my ice cream maker’s lid.  Anyway. Twenty-five short minutes later…

Feast!

Feast!

We garnished the ice cream with orange milano cookies because…because orange milano cookies, that’s why.  It’s also good with an drizzle of sweetened condensed milk, if you have any extra laying around.  This ice cream was delicious, even if it wasn’t quite as orange-spiced as I would have wanted.  It was one of the most intense black tea experiences I’ve ever had.  Rich, dark, black tea, sweet with lots of cream…just like my grandmother used to make for me, only gone crazy.  I think I need to get my hands on a smoky Russian tea and see what happens with that…

Enjoy, everyone!  Have fun in the kitchen!

Nosh: Lavender Ice Cream

A while ago I offered to watch an ice cream maker for a friend while he and his (now) fiancee spent some time overseas, because I am a humanitarian.  I give, people.  I give.  And I wanted to see if I would enjoy the process of ice cream making or if I’d think, meh, and would have wasted $80 buying my own machine that I’d never have used after its maiden churning.

I was hard-pressed to return said friend his property when he came home.  Homemade ice cream?  In my house?  Yes!  The only thing that’s even marginally part way kind of a drag about my ice cream maker is that you need to plan your ice cream making accordingly and freeze the churning sleeve overnight.  The simple remedy is to leave the sleeve permanently in your freezer so you can be ready for any ice cream emergencies, but hey, it’s up to you what you want to do.  If you even want to get a maker.  You could always churn it by hand, I suppose, though as far as that goes I am no help at all.

So I was out in my back yard the other day and I realized, we have a lovely crop of lavender.  It returned from last year which sort of surprised me; even though I know it’s a perennial, the ways off all growing things always catch me unawares.  Especially when they do what they ought, since I never get plants to behave.  Thrive.  Not die.  Anyway.  While I’m happy to attract bees and give them some nommy pollen to nosh on, the question still remains…what does one do with a surprise lavender crop?

Surprise!

Though I did just come across a recipe for lavender marshmallows; I swoon at the thought.  My options are ever-expanding.

I decided the time was right for me to make lavender ice cream.  I didn’t change anything in the recipe I used except for this: because my lavender buds were fresh, not dried, I doubled the amount I used.  Why is that, you ask?  Because fresh herbs are full of water so their flavor is less concentrated.  As a general rule, if you use any fresh herb in any recipe that calls for it dried, you should at the very least double the amount you’re using (though I’ve seen plenty of sites that say the ratio is actually three to one, and so I should have tripled the amount, but I’ve always doubled and been happy with the results, and I digress).

Of course, that means four tablespoons of lavender, which sounds like a lot of buds…

Four tablespoons lavender buds, coming right up.

…CORRECTION…

…which IS a lot of buds.  But your hands smell fantastic when you’re done, so really, is it that big of a deal?  And you’re going to strain them anyway, so you won’t have weird flowery bits between your teeth while you’re trying to enjoy dessert.  Relax.  Just see where this takes you before you judge.

Here’s everything you need.  Nothing scary.  No eye of newt or horn of toad.

A little cream, some honey, some half-and-half.

Ok, well, all this and about an eighth of a teaspoon of salt and some eggs.  Crazy how so few things can taste oh so good.  So the first thing you’re going to do–to make it oh so good–is start your lavender cream cooking.  Add the cream, half-and-half, honey and lavender into a pot and bring it just to a boil, but as soon as it starts to boil pull it off the heat, don’t let it continue to cook.  Once it’s off the heat, you let it steep.

Lavender cream in process.

There it is.  Steeping away, like a tea.  Let this sit for a half an hour while the cream coaxes all the lavendery deliciousness from the flowers.  Then strain it, clean the pot and return the cream to a low heat.  You’ll want it to heat up a bit before the next step, but you don’t need to boil it.

So you have your nice strained cream…

Strained, warmed cream.

…and two eggs, whipped with the salt.

Eggs, whipped and ready for action.

Hmmm…cream…eggs…cream?  Eggs?  I see the beginnings of a custard..!

Indeed.

Take your hot milk and add it to the eggs.  NOTE: Do NOT add the eggs to the hot cream, and do NOT dump the cream in all at once.  Add the cream into the eggs in a slow, steady, stream, whipping it with the eggs while you do.  This tempers the eggs, raising their temperature incrementally so the proteins don’t realize how hot they’re going to get and tighten up, sort of like the proverbial frog in the slow-cooking pan of water.  If you don’t think you need to temper and just dump, you’ll have a pot full of scrambled eggs, and “Who wants egg ice cream?” doesn’t hold the same sort of allure for me.  Or anyone.  Ever.

Once your cream and eggs are mixed and smooth, return the whole thing to heat and cook it until it thickens up and reaches a temperature of about 175°.  Don’t let it boil, you just want it to get thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and leave a clear stripe when you run your finger through it.

From hereon out it gets super-easy.  Cover your custard and stick it in the back of the fridge for at least three hours, and as long as overnight.  (Mine was in for three or four hours and it came out just fine.)  After that?  Into the (frozen sleeve-ed, promptly assembled) ice cream maker!

You’re going to take it from this…

Custard, locked and loaded.

…to this…

We have achieved ice cream status.

…in about twenty-five minutes.  It’s certainly thick enough to eat at this point but it’s still kind of soft, so if you don’t want it to melt right away in your bowl, exercise a little bit of patience and stash it in the freezer.  No, not in the churning sleeve, in a storage container.  Be sensible.

Floral lavender goes beautifully with the bitterness of dark chocolate, so feel free to serve it that way, or with a salted caramel sauce.  But me, I acted the purist and just had a bowl of beautiful, fragrant, refreshing, unfestooned ice cream.  And oh my stars and garters, but it was gooood!

Spoons at the ready, people.

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