Cool Stuff on Hot Days: Gelato

If there is something dear to the heart of most of us, it is ice cream, or some form of ice cream, especially on a hot summer’s day.  Making ice cream from scratch is a bit intense at times – like when the hand-crank freezer leaks salt into the batch you have been waiting for.  Another disappointment is when it gets chunks of ice when you freeze it in the freezer without having churned it because you don’t have a churn.  You can also put a bowl in a bucket of ice and chill the mixture by hand, stirring, stirring, stirring, but that is a bit primitive.

Enter the electrified, freeze-the-bowl-overnight variety of churn.  We got one for our wedding over 20 years ago, and we still use it.  It looks something like this one, except we have to make the ice cream!  And it works wonderfully well for gelato.

I’ve outgrown my taste for heavy, thick ice cream. Frozen yogurt is okay, but never a favorite. Sorbet is better than ice cream or frozen yogurt, but not quite what hits home.  The other night, we went out shopping and ended up buying gelatos just because. And then the thought hit: why not make it at home?  We just love gelato!

Research began, and at first I was sure I was not finding anything that was gelato as it sounded way too much like ice cream.  The difference, it seems, is that gelato is not all cream, but a bit of cream or half-and-half combined with milk.  Some gelato recipes have egg yolks, and others do not.  Those egg yolks are necessary to absorb water and prevent those nasty chunks of ice from forming, so some recipes that are eggless use a starch of some sort to absorb the water molecules.  Interesting, eh?  You can use cornstarch or potato starch or arrowroot.  Not liking that idea, I used egg yolks in mine, but it is good information to have on hand.  Ya gotta love the internet!

Basic Gelato Recipe
3 c. whole milk / half-and-half / cream combination (largest portion should be milk)
3/4 – 1 c. sugar
4 egg yolks

Heat milk combination over low heat with half the sugar, stirring to dissolve sugar. Watch the heat does not get too high. Beat egg yolks with remaining sugar until thick, heavy, and filled with air. Add a bit of vanilla if you want. Once the milk is warmish, and the yolks are beaten and thick, take about a cup of warm (not scalding hot) milk and beat it into the yolks. This is to equalize the temperatures of both mixtures. If the milk is too hot, you will cook the yolks, which is not what you want to do. Then, beat in the rest of the milk. Once this is done, take a fine strainer or sieve and pour the mixture through it to remove any chunks of cooked egg or whatever. Store in the fridge until cold.  Then freeze, using whatever ice cream maker you have on hand, being sure to read the directions!!!

Customizing your gelato is easy.  Some hints I read about making good gelato, one with a deep rich flavor, is to use over-ripe (but not spoiled) fruits, freeze it until custardy in texture, not hard, and so on.  Too little flavor is not good!  I read about the following types of gelatos:

  • mascarpone lemon gelato
  • chocolate-cardamom-stewed fig gelato
  • toasted coconut gelato
  • raspberry gelato
  • blueberry lemon gelato

You get the idea – you can do anything you want!  What did I choose?

Mint & Chocolate Chunk Gelato
2 c. whole milk
1 c. combination of cream & half-and-half
1 c. sugar
4 egg yolks
fresh mint leaves
vanilla extract
chopped Valhrona 70% or more dark chocolate (1 bar)

Follow the directions above. In the milk mixture, add the mint leaves and leave to soak a bit. Beat the egg yolks and vanilla. When ready to combine the two, I strained out the mint leaves and set them aside. Once the yolks and milk were combined, I took the mint leaves, now soft from being in the warm milk, and chopped them up as fine as I could. Then I put them into the yolk-milk mixture, and put the whole mess in the fridge to cool. Once ready to churn, I set up the ice cream maker and churned – about 20-25 minutes by my watch – and then, before removing the gelato from the churn, added the chopped chocolate.

Freeze, eat, devour.

Altogether, I was very happy with the recipe. I think the chocolate could also be melted and then slowly poured into the gelato as the ice cream machine runs. That could be pretty darn delicious. I know we will be revisiting gelato a lotto this summer.

One of the Best Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Recipes Ever!

These came to dinner one night . . . and then the recipe moved in!

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix together until creamy:
2 1/2 cubes of butter, softened (1 1/4 c)
3/4 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar

Add and beat in:
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla

Add to the mixture, beating in:
1 1/2 c. white flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg

Stir in:
3 c. old-fashioned oats, or a mixture of 2 c. oats and 1 c. Trader Joe’s mixed grains
1 c. chopped walnuts
1 c. raisins

Use a tablespoon to drop onto cookie sheets; bake for 10-11 minutes.

The Peace of Flowers

The world is a busy place, sucking you dry.  Newspapers are filled with news, from bombing Syria and worries about being bombed in return, to disgust that Congress has allowed the killing of hibernating bears and wolf cubs in their dens.  It makes me wonder what the world is coming to . . . and what people think.  Yes, I live in an isolated part of the world, one which is relatively safe, but it doesn’t keep me isolated unless I turn off the news.  This is where the walk in the woods, in the fields, and exploring the natural world outside the artifice of man beckons.  As California is now in the midst of a bloom unseen in years, I am out there nearly every day, taking in the blooms, the colors of the hillsides, and listening to the birdsong and buzz of bees.  It brings a peace.

As someone who is getting older, I frequently think of death. People – friends, colleagues, family – have died in the recent years. All my earliest childhood friends are gone. Death is something to be considered in this day and age of every baby must be born, regardless, and everyone must be put on life support, regardless. There is something disrespectful about the quality of life all this means. Keeping people alive by artificial means reaches a point, an ethical point, where it is ridiculous. Killing wolf cubs and hibernating bears for sport is equally unethical. Our destruction of the natural world boggles the mind, and the immediacy of pleasure or self-righteousness fails to address a longer viewpoint: what are we leaving behind? Plundered resources, extinct animals, and warehouses of people on life support. Equally, we kill others with impunity. In 40 to 50 years, the earth’s population will double, and we will be in even more dire straits than we are in now. Even within our own lifetimes we see the destruction, but deny it.

And so, flowers. One part of the natural world, fragrant, beautiful, evanescent. If they disappear? What next?

Friday Morning

Spring Break ends today.  I go back to work tomorrow.  Friday, a friend came over around sunrise, and we headed out to the local open space, Wildwood, which encircles the city where I live.  It’s a wonderful place, especially in spring when the flowers bloom.  As I have said before, California has had a drought for the past 6 years, but this year our rainy season was phenomenal (by desert standards).  The result is that things are green and growing, instead of the dreary brown, brown, brown.  The fields and hills are covered with a lot of wildflowers, in yellow and purples primarily, with so many different ones it is hard to remember all their names.  Some, though, include wild morning glory, mountain sunflower, allium, fiddleneck, red stem filaree, lupine, lacey phacelia, and blue dicks.

First Day of Spring Break

Well, probably officially the second day of Spring Break!  I spent Friday doing all the things I usually do on Friday mornings – cleaning, organizing, grocery shopping, and so on.

Today, I got up early, determined to finish up a couple of rolls of film.  When I ran out of film, I was sort of cursing the fact I hadn’t another roll with me, or a decent digital camera.  All I had was my phone, but it did an okay job.  In general, I don’t really like the pictures from cell phones – mine is a Galaxy S5 – but you can get a decent shot or two.  I think they tend to overdo the sharpening or whatever they do.

I headed out around 7:00 to a local open space, Wildwood.  I took the Moonrise Trail, but veered to the right rather than the left as the path was crazy muddy.  It was definitely a delight!  Sunflowers, lupine, morning glory, mustard, allium, and others I recognize but don’t know the names.  In particular, the image “Tiny Pink Flowers” was a bit of a favorite – these flowers are about 1/4 inch across – less than .5 cm, I am sure.