Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Look Ma, No Ice Cream Maker!

The creative process is a strange and mysterious thing, leading travelers to down many bizarre and twisted roads.  This summer, my attempts to burn off creative angst have sparked whims of hand-sewing yoga pants from salvaged t-shirts, single-handedly painting the borders along my ceiling and doorways lavender, and walking all the way from 52nd St. and 11th Ave all the way to Broadway (for those of you not familiar with NYC, that's over 60 city blocks on foot).

When I'm trying to work out something that's weighing heavily on my mind, I enjoy doing things the hard way.

Which leads me to my latest venture.

Homemade ice cream recipes aren't that hard to come by.  Problem is, the majority of them call for eggs.  And an ice cream maker.  Even though I have no problem with eggs, my roommate doesn't eat them, and it makes me sad to make something I cannot share with people I like to feed.  After a quick internet search, I came across a pretty basic corn starch ice cream recipe by my guy Mark Bittman.

As for the ice cream maker problem, I discovered there are two main methods for making ice cream by hand.  The quickest involves putting the ice cream mixture into a plastic bag and then shaking it vigorously with ice and rock salt.  While that method sounds extremely cool in a Bill Nighy the Science Guy sort of way (and would no doubt be an instant hit for babysitting and kiddie birthdays), rock salt is an item I don't generally keep in stock.  So I fell to method number 2, which involves whipping in between several freezing cycles.

My first batch was somewhat less than perfect.  Often when I am trying a recipe for the first time, I am loathe to use up the entirety of any particular ingredient in case I have nothing to show for it.  So I used a little milk, a little yogurt, and a little coconut milk.   The resulting texture was a chalky and watery (but still quite edible with enough chocolate chips, peanut butter-filled pretzels, and maple syrup.  What can I say?  I love my toppings).  The worst part was the yogurt I used was one my roommate had bought by mistake, so even if it hadn't been so lackluster, I still wouldn't have been able to share it.

So for my second attempt, I resolved to follow the recipe exactly as Bittman had written it, going out and buying a carton of light cream from C-Town.  Still, just because I'm going back to the basics doesn't mean I have to stick to plain vanilla:  I added 1/3 cup of cocoa powder while simmering and then a scoop of peanut butter just before freezing.  Though it didn't seem to want to crystallize as it was supposed to, the outcome was creamy, luscious, and absolutely decadent. 

Emboldened by this success, I decided to take a stab at making a truly vegan ice cream (this is a healthy-ish blog after all). Given my druthers, there are few treats more wonderful than the various coconut milk ice creams sold at health food stores.  Problem is, they generally cost upwards of $6 per tiny pint, greatly reducing the incentive to avoid the $1.99 per gallon Breyers.

So last night I went back to C-Town and picked up two cans of coconut milk (actually one can.  I had picked up two cans a few weeks ago, but seemed to have misplaced one of them in the disaster zone that is my room).  I also decided to take my stepmom's suggestion and add some crushed pineapple for a pina colada variation.  This one did manage to freeze as directed, leaving me with dairy-free goodness the next morning.

The only problem I can't seem to solve is how to keep the ice cream from being hard as a rock after prolonged time in the freezer.  Not sure if this is a problem with the storage container or freezer temperature, but either way it's nothing 30 seconds in the microwave can't solve.  But if you're able to plan ahead, I would try and make the ice cream on the same day you plan on eating it.

But enough talk.  Here it is, folks:

Homemade, Handmade Ice Cream

Time:  About 2 1/2 hours
Quantity: 1 generous pint

2 1/2 cups light cream, milk or coconut milk (I'm sure other vegan milks would work as well, though coconut milk is preferable because the high fat content more closely resembles cream.)
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons of corn starch
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Optional:  1/2 cup cocoa powder, 1-2 scoops of peanut butter, chopped fruit, or additional extracts (I used coconut extract in both of mine).  The sky's the limit, really. Here is where you can get creative and tailor it to your particular tastebuds.

Heat 2 cups of cream in a saucepan, along with sugar, salt, and cocoa powder if using.  Cook at a low heat until milk begins to steam.

While the milk is steaming, in a small bowl mix corn starch with the rest of the milk until smooth.  Add corn starch mixture to pot.  Cook, stirring until the mixture starts to thicken and barely reaches a boil (about 5 minutes).  Lower heat and stir for another 5 minutes until the mixture is thick.  Add extracts now if using. 

Remove from heat and place in a medium sized metal or plastic bowl.  Chill either by placing mixture in an ice bath (bowl filled with ice) or in the refrigerator.  Now is the time to add chopped fruit, peanut butter, or other add-ins.  Once chilled, place bowl uncovered in the freezer and freeze for about 45 minutes, or until tiny ice crystals start to form around the edges.  Take the bowl out of the freezer and with a hand mixer, stick blender, or a strong whisk, beat the mixture until it is smooth again.  Return the bowl to the freezer and repeat the whipping process every 30 minutes.  This mimics the ice cream machine, which spins the ice cream vigorously to keep it from crystallizing. Plan on repeating this process two or three times.   

After the last cycle, transfer mixture to a container with a lid and freeze until ready to eat!
Pina Colada and Chocolate Peanut Butter Ice Cream Scoops Topped With Peanut Butter-filled Pretzels, Pineapple, Maple Syrup and Blueberries.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Homemade Kale Chips

When you tell most people you're vegan one of the first questions you inevitable are bombarded with is (annoying nasally voice):  "Where do you get your CALCIUM?"  For, as we all learned in health class, the only way to insure that your bones don't disintegrate from Osteoporosis, is to drink a giant class of milk every morning. 

I'm not going to spend this entry breaking apart that particular sacred cow (I know, I'm witty!), but suffice it to say the vegetable kingdom provides more than adequate calcium-rich options.  Namely, I'm talking about dark, leaf  greens--kale, swiss chard, spinach, arugula, collards, mustard greens, and even broccoli.  Now, I love me some broccoli, but there's only so much a girl can eat in a lifetime.  And as for the others, well, I think there's also a 5-year-old in all of us that instinctively recoils at the sight of of a big lump of green stuff on our plate. 

Of all of the leafy greens on the list, spinach was the only one I ever explored.  Living alone, I tended to shy away from purchasing produce that couldn't be eaten right out of the fridge or used in several capacities, for instance, salads or panini sandwiches, and baby spinach fit the bill perfectly.  Now that I live with another vegetarian, however, I am finding myself wanting to be more ambitious and craving something heartier, with more "meat" to it so to speak. 

I first encountered kale chips at my internship this summer when my fellow intern Deepali pulled them out of her lunch bag.  I'm not sure if it was the kale chips themselves, or simply the fact that for the first in mt life someone had weirder items in their lunch than me--at any rate, I was intrigued. I tried one and was blown away by a texture that was crunchy like a potato chip, but more delicate and with a fuller flavor. 

So at the Highland Park farmer's market last week, I picked up a bunch of gorgeous organic kale.  While Deepali had given me a basic sketch of the preparation method, I found a recipe online for backup.  To that basic recipe, I added some lemon and lime juice for extra flavor.  The result?  Crunchy, calcium-rich, green goodness.

Homemade Kale Chips

1 Bunch of Kale
1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
Salt and Lemon/Lime Juice to taste
(I can also imagine other spices working well with this too--curry powder, tamari, garlic--let your imagination run wild!)

  1. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a non insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. With a knife or kitchen shears carefully remove the leaves from the thick stems and tear into bite size pieces. Wash and thoroughly dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with olive oil and sprinkle with seasoning salt.
  3. Bake until the edges brown but are not burnt, 10 to 15 minutes.