Craft Beer, Fine Wine, Artisan Spirits, and Mouthgasmic Food.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homemade Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

You might have seen the recent buzz, and it is true.  Graeter's Ice Cream is now in HEB's.  To launch in their new market, Graeter's Ice Cream sent several bloggers some samples of their French Pot ice cream.  The French pot method isn't easy, and it makes only two gallons at a time.  A French pot spins around a blade as the ice cream freezes and thus scraping the sides, as opposed to the blade spinning inside of a pot (which is like many home ice cream machines).  I'm not sure how different the French pot method is to other commercial methods, but I will tell you that I was really intrigued by the chocolate adding process.  In tasting the ice creams, the chocolate was like random pieces of ganche as opposed to consistent small pieces of chocolate.  And this I liked.  According to their website, someone hand mixed low-melting temperature chocolate into the two gallons of ice cream at a time.

So, I decided to make some ice cream myself and to play around with different methods.  Here's how I did it.  The recipes didn't come from anywhere in particular.  I made a typical custard using ratios I normally would for crème brûlée or curd, and then I added whatever I liked.  This is the first time I have made ice cream at home, but I've many plenty of custards. Please note that there were plenty of trials and errors. Please adjust the recipe to how you see fit. 

Mint Chocolate Ice Cream sans ice cream machine
  • 32 ounces of heavy cream
  • 8 oz milk
  • 6 yolks
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 3/4 cup white sugar (I don't like overly sweet ice cream)
  • Giant handful of fresh mint (I grabbed about 15 long vines from the garden)
  • green food coloring
  • 24 ounces chocolate (semi-sweet, however much you like. I like a plethora of chocolate.)
  • 1/3 cup raw cocoa nibs (optional)
1. Heat the heavy cream, milk, sugar, and salt in a large pot.  After washing the mint, I spanked it hard.  Literally.  I spanked it, and then dropped it into the pot to steep.  Use more mint if you like it really minty, and use less if you like it more subtle.  You can add mint extract too if you like.  I used a whisk to kind of muddle the mint in the mixture. 
2. Add the egg yolks one at a time making sure to thoroughly mix it in.  Keep whisking while the mixture heats up.  I use a thermometer every time I make custards or curds just because I don't trust myself using the back of the spoon method.  I may get too impatient and take it off the heat too soon.  Most custard recipes say to heat until 170 degrees, but I always go to 180 degrees.  Make sure the thermometer isn't sitting on the bottom or sides of the pot so that it gets an accurate temperature reading of the mixture.  Add food coloring here if you like.  Makes sure you keep whisking.

3. Once it up to 180 degrees, remove from heat and strain to remove the mint and other bits that might not have mixed in well.  After straining, I put the mixture onto an ice bath.  That would mean putting the bowl of the mixture into an even bigger bowl filled with ice and water.  That will help the mixture cool faster.  At this point, I put custard into the fridge to chill.

4. Note: If you have an ice cream maker, now is the time to put the mixture into the ice cream maker.  Many hours later, @windaddict gets home, and we decided to freeze the ice cream in the fashion that he wants.  I know that many, many websites recommend this, but I will not do this method again.  It is messy, and it did not work well.  For this method, you put the mixture in a ziploc bag, and then into another bag (to protect your ice cream from the salt water), and then into another bag that you fill with ice and salt.  You're supposed to knead or to roll it around to freeze it. 
@windaddict insisted that we throw it around like a football to mix it up.  First, the bag gets really cold and wet so that makes it difficult to throw and to catch.  I'm sure someone's fingernail put a hole in the bags so everything started leaking.  And with the leaking, I now know what it is like to have ice cream all over the driveway.

5. It is best if you skip step 4.  If you don't have an ice cream machine, you can use this method.  Place the mixture (in a bowl) into the freezer for about two hours.  Take out the bowl, scrape down the sides with a spatula and mix it up.  Your goal is to break up all the ice crystals.  If you have a hand mixer, now is the time to use it.  You want the mixture to be smooth and free of ice crystals in the end.  Place it back in the freezer.  Take it out in about an hour, and mix again.  Repeat this process until the ice cream is getting pretty thick and you feel like you have gotten out all of the ice crystals.  You can serve the ice cream now if you like.

6. To add the chocolate, I melted it in the microwave, and then I drizzled it into the half frozen mixture.  I mixed it in with a spatula rapidly so that the chocolate frozen in to in even pieces.  There were small shards of chocolate.  There were huge chunks of chocolate.  If you don't like it that way, you can use chocolate chips or some other method.  Making many small shards of chocolate in the ice cream has multiple benefits though.  Homemade ice cream will usually have more ice crystals than commercial ice creams.  The texture of 10000 shards of chocolate masks the texture of ice crystals in the ice cream.  That's my little trick to hiding less than creamy ice cream texture.

7. I also added raw cacao nibs to my ice cream (optional).  And here's how I cracked them.  I used a citrus juicer, smashed several pods at a time, and then I picked out the shells by hand.  I added about 1/3 cup of raw cacao nibs to the ice cream.  Peeling the nibs isn't easy.  Mix nibs into the ice cream.

8. Once you are satisfied with the texture of your ice cream, transfer it into an airtight container for deep freezing.  Enjoy!

A big thanks to Graeter's Ice Cream for inspiring to make ice cream at home and for all the wonderful samples. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

New idea for saving water in the Drought of 2011

This Summer has been unbearable.  Temperatures during the day have been well over 100 degrees, and they have been up to 109 degrees on several of those days.  Additionally, Austin hasn't received significant rainfall over the last several months.  Sure, we've gotten a drizzle or a 30 thunderstorm, but there's nothing that is barely wets the ground.  Instead of writing up a blog post about how the temperature and lack of rain has affect the produce supply and our personal gardens, here's a post about how to conserve water.  We can't change the temperatures outside.  We can't make it rain.  I've tried rain dancing, washing the car, and washing the dogs.  None of them have worked. But here's something you can do. 

I've been pretty conservative in how I use resources my entire life.  Be it cash, gas, food, electricity, or water, I'm pretty careful on how I use things that are scarce.  This is easy method is nothing new, and my parents have been doing this for several years.  Conservation and bargaining are somewhat of a sport in my family.  It usually takes a few minutes for water for the shower to get hot.  Do you know where that "not-hot-enough-for-a-shower" water is going?  Down the drain.  You're literally throwing away perfectly good water due to the temperature of the water.

Instead of throwing out the water, I have a simple bucket system set up to collect cool water that is run for while waiting for hot water.  The water can be used for a variety of things, but I use it for flushing the toilet. There are two methods of flushing the toilet. 

1. Remove the lid of the toilet tank.  Flush the toilet with the handle as normal.  Pour water into the tank quickly until it is full.  Replace lid on the toilet tank.  

2. Pour water slowly into the toilet bowl taking care to not make huge splashes for obvious reasons.  The toilet should flush normally. Pour more water into the bowl very slowly to refill it. 

Congrats!  You've just re-purposed some water that would have otherwise gone down the drain.  You can also use the water for watering your garden or washing the dog, but this is by far the most efficient repurposing. 

My system consists of a standard 5 gallon bucket and a 5 gallon TubtrugsTubtrugs can be purchased online, and I've seen them at the Natural Gardener in Austin, TX.  If I take a bath, in which the bathtub is full, I scoop water out of it with the buckets to use for flushing. 

You'll notice that there is a little water in the tub.  Sometimes water from the faucet doesn't always have fall directly into the bucket or tubtrug.  I use the flexible tubtrug to scoop up the water by flattening one side.  A drop of water saved is a drop of water earned.  The tubtrug was one of my Christmas gifts last year, and it is right up there next to the hori-hori and the tube wringer.  I love all three tools.

Repurposing this water only takes me about 20-40 seconds per use.  It isn't closely related to food, but water does affect our food. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

8 tips on how to give a Fantastically Terrible Talk

I'm a hedonist.  I fully admit that I like things that are pleasurable.  I like talks.  Wait, not I LOVE talks.  I love informative talks, talks that make me self reflect, talks that teach me, talks that inspire me, and talks that make me laugh.  But most of all, I like pleasurable talks.  By pleasurable, I mean that the talk is well presented.  Having spent four years in speech, drama, and debate, and seven years judging speech, drama, and debate, I recognize that I probably have high expectations for public speaking.  But I also view this from the perspective that my time is valuable.  If I'm going to spend 20-30 minutes driving to a location and then parking my car to see a talk, it better be worth my time.

*I made these pretty drawings in paint to disguise the identities of the speakers. 

So here's some tips on how and how NOT to give a good presentation. 

1. Appearances are important.  You might argue that looks have nothing to do with the content, but face the truth.  Pretty things are more attractive.  A beautifully presented dish is going to be recieved better than a dish that is not.  Would you eat an Uchi shag roll if it was run through a blender with a cup of sake and a tablespoon of wasabi?  I'm going to guess not, because it is going to look hideous!  Would like to read a blog post that was written in this font at 10 point?   Probably not.  It is difficult to read.  The same thing will happen if you look like a complete slob on stage.  I'm not telling you that you should be dressed in a suit, but I am saying that if you look like a mess, you're going to have a more difficult time getting the crowd to take you seriously. 

2. For a spectacularly terrible presentation, don't have a prepared theme or story.  While it is true that some people can wing it and that some panels are completely unpredictable, but please for the love of Thespius, show up with a theme at least.  Know your story, your angle, and have some idea of what you're going to share with the audience.  There's nothing worse than going to a talk where the speaker seems to have the attitude of "I'm here to talk. I'm not sure about what."  That stinks of unpreparedness.

3. Apologize if you need to during your presentation.  Let's say you trip over a cord  and unplug the projector.  Apologize for that and move on.  But do NOT start the presentation by saying "Sorry, I'm a really terrible speaker." "Sorry, I didn't sleep last night because I was wasted." or "Sorry, I'm ill prepared for this presentation."  The first excuse makes the audience think "the organizers should have found someone who is a good speaker."  The other two excuses make people think that you don't have any respect for their time.  Instead of working on a thoughtful presentation, you decided that you had other priorities in your life.  The least you could have done was to let the organizer know that you are not able to give the speech. 

If you are a terrible speaker, you don't have to tell the audience.  Public speaking can be stressful, and even the most polished speakers make mistakes.  The audience will understand, and they'll still like you even if you say "um........." or "er................", or totally blank out.  Trust me.  It'll all be okay.  Also, you might think you are a terrible speaker, when in reality you are a great speaker.  Don't fret!

4. Separate the umbilical cord tethering you to the powerpoint slide or online video.  At some venues, there will be technical failures, and you should be prepared for it.  If you cannot give your presentation without the use of a power point, then maybe you aren't ready to give your presentation.  While photographs and video are worth 10,000,000,000,000 words, the last resort is to describe it verbally.  You can do such a good job describing the photos and videos that the lack thereof is a moot point.  I recently attended a talk that was centered around video and photography media.  The AV was okay, but the lighting in the room made the video and photographs presented look pretty washed out and unrecognizable.  Instead of killing the presentation, it actually make the presentation a million times better because the focus was on the content that the speakers shared, not the video and photographs.  The content was so interesting and compelling that the focus of the presentation (photographs and video) didn't matter.  Also, the story telling skills of the speakers were so compelling that it did bring tears to the eyes of the audience.  Now THAT'S a good presentation.

6. We don't want to hang out with you while you surf the web or think out loud.  A presentation should be just that, a presentation.  A presentation should not be a brainstorming session, a web searching session, or a train of thought session.  I recently went to a talk in which the presenter made a number of mistakes, but this was his fatal mistake.  Instead of having a prepared presentation, he plugged in a laptop (after 25 minutes of failed attempts) and talked to us about his feelings about some people he met and their websites.  There was no theme to the train of thought, and I learned zero.  I can browse the internet at home, thanks.  That talk made over half the attendees leave, and I tried repeatedly to use non-verbal communication to get him to stop and go home.  The only reason why I didn't leave was because I sponsored the refreshments, and I wanted to take home my dishes. 

7. Watch your tone.  I once started a presentation on a happy note, and the person I introduced killed the mood.  She was nervous, anxious, pleading, and all around negative.  It killed the energy in the room.  Oops.  People can pick up how you feel via mirror neurons.  If you don't want to be giving the presentation, your attendees probably don't want to be there either.  If you make remarks about hating the local university's mascot and colors, the crowd will probably hate you too.  Instead, put away all your ill-feelings and wear a smile. 

8. Don't forget your filter.  This one will make you seem as if you are bit unstable.  A topic that you're speaking about might get your riled up, and it is great to have that passion.  However, if you become so emotional that you seem like you've gone off your rocker or start attacking (physically or verbally) the audience, it is perhaps time to learn how to control the expression of your emotions.  I get very uncomfortable when speakers start going off on a diatribe or I feel as if they might physically hurt someone.  Never going back to one of those.