cafe mama's kitchen

inconvenient eating

garden weeps, beckons, scatters uproarious: honey mint ice cream

Walk past my house -- I dare you -- and do not startle, mutter to yourself, call out a soft word of admiration direct from your marrow. Despite my clutter and half-skills and haphazard scattering of effort, energy, garden mysticism, August on my street is glory. The grape vines are the first to call to you, yes, their curling witch-fingers brushing on your cheek, your skirt, my pretttty... they say, creaking in the breeze. The lavender pokes purply, elegant and pastoral at once, echoing, imitating flatteringly, the ebullient row in front of my neighbor's home. There are sunflowers, now, cocking their cackling heads, throwing back chins and gulping in sunlight. The figs, big-handed, slow-drooping their fat sticky teardrops, they have their flowers inside, says Heather. Imagine that.

mint, front gate

It's the mint, though, the mint that catches you. I wouldn't have planned this, didn't in fact want it at all, these rootling creepers sliding their leggy rhizomes through my precious dirt. They frill out in a patch of dark mushrooms, composting better than black plastic; they shoot up among the garlic; they worm their way under the fence and up through the lavender, the rosemary, the thyme. I wander in the front yard on my sprightlier days, grabbing big handfuls from the rootbase, curling fingers into earth and pulling with all my strength. My uprooting scents my fingers, my clothes, the air around me, and this is what you notice as you walk by. "I love your garden," you'll say to me, while I grunt and sweat and wish I were neater, more organized, more nurturing. Wish I'd never planted mint. "Thank you," I'll say, gulping back weepy confessions.

I no longer see recipes with mint and smack smug satisfaction, free in my yard, I've spent too many errant hours lying piles of it on my front walk, hoping the mood will strike me to collect leaves by the gallon-load and wash, dry, squirrel away. For what? There will always be mint.

mint, milk, cream

And now there will always be mint ice cream. It started backwards, a quart-and-a-half of mint chocolate chip from Trader Joe's, memories of childhood favorites, 'twas mine, a question, "shall we make this?" And, hours later, a discovery: that nothing else in mint ice cream would ever matter again. It's complex and utterly simple, this honey mint vanilla ice cream, come, walk, pick of my mint, do this too. Ice cream is easy.

mint steeping in custard

First, make a custard.

Perhaps you do not know what I mean when I say, "make a custard," and that is fine because you will soon see. And you will perhaps wonder, is all this necessary? could I not just as well pour cream, fast-like, honey, mint syrup, into the maker? Just as good, you may think, and I will say no. No. I will not insist that you would not like the cream-and-honey-and-mint syrup recipe. But this is everything you want, and a lesson, you need. Pick a spoon, a nice long-handled wooden one, and a pot, a strong non-reactive thick-bottomed one. Mine is a stainless steel All-Clad, three quarts. Milk. Eggs. Honey. Mint. A little cream. A vanilla bean, if you like. And...

one. Heat, steep. In your saucepan, put four cups whole milk and about 1/3 cup honey, turn the flame to medium and bring to hot-not-boiling, just until the steam starts to rise. Add a few dozen leaves of mint, about 1/2 cup fresh leaves. If you have a vanilla bean -- oh lucky soul! -- slice it lengthwise and, with the tip of your little knife, push out the seeds and drop it and the specks into the mix. Put a lid on, turn off heat, and let set for about 20 minutes.

two. Whisk, temper. Turn on your heat to low again for just a minute, and, in a bowl big enough to hold a few cups, crack and separate four egg yolks. Whisk these until frothy, then pour in a quarter-cup or so of the hot milk, and whisk; then add another quarter-cup in, whisk again.

three. Make a custard. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the milk mixture and stir, with the heat at low or medium-low, gently, until the mixture is thickened. Run your finger across the back of your spoon; if a solid line is left behind, it's thick enough.

four. Taste, strain, chill. Take a little on a spoon and taste. If it's not sweet enough, add honey, heat and stir just long enough to melt the honey. If the mint taste is strong enough, stop here; if not, turn off the heat and let it steep again, covered, until it's just right. Pour through a (not too fine) mesh strainer to remove mint leaves and vanilla beans and into a bowl, mason jar or rectangular glass pan (if you're impatient) and refrigerate.

five. Combine, freeze, eat. In a large ice cream maker, pour cold custard and one pint of cream, and freeze. If you do not have an ice cream maker, you can put it in the freezer at this point, in a glass or stainless-steel bowl or rectangular glass baking dish, and whisk well every half-hour to hour for about four hours, until it reaches the right consistency.

august 18 . 2010 . comments

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