Don't Forget the Ice Cream!

As you know from my last post, Scott and I have been quite busy as of late.  One of the things that kept us the busiest outside of work has been our lawn.  Yes!  We have an honest to goodness lawn in our backyard now!  It took a lot of time and effort along the way though.  First, we had to rake and rake in order to clear the ground for grass seed.  
We had about 5 years worth of packed leaves all over our yard and it took three full days of hard work to get it all cleared up and moved to a massive pile behind our backyard.  Next, Scott attempted to aerate out lawn on his day off.  I say “attempted” because the dirt here in NC the dirt is as hard as cement.  To dig a hole here one uses a pick-ax, not a shovel.  So despite the machine we rented weighing 250 pounds, the biggest hole I found in our yard was about 1 cm deep.  After the failed aerating, I had little to no hope of grass ever growing in our yard.  Despite this, Scott wanted to plow on ahead and try planting grass.  Even our neighbor, Rocky (I’ll have to tell you more about him later, he is a whole post in and of himself), told Scott multiple times “You’re crazy, you will not succeed in growing grass, it is impossible.” but Scott, being the optimist that his is, would not listen.

So, being the good wife that I am, I went to Lowe’s after church (Lowe’s and I are now very familiar with each other having now painted our house, built a deck, planted a garden and defended against deer) and spent a good chunk of change on three bags of grass seed, 1 big bag of fertilizer, 1 bag of lime, a few bags of top-soil and peat moss, a seed-spreader cart thing, and two bales of hay.  It is an odd feeling being a girl, in a dainty dress, with no husband in sight (he was working), buying a mountain of yard supplies at Lowe’s.  Try it sometime, you will get uncertain, worried looks from all the men around you.   Take it one step further, and throw my yellow Volkswagen beetle (complete with hot-pink flowers in the vase) with the back of the car packed full with macho yard supplies that say “I mean business” but yet look so utterly out of place, into the equation and then you will really get disconcerted looks from the guy that is helping you load the hay bales into your car.
The next day we planted grass in our backyard (we ran out of seed for the front, nor did we have enough time) and everyday after that we I watered our yard for almost two hours every night moving our one sprinkler to a new spot every fifteen minutes.  After one week we noticed our first bit of green!  

At the end of three weeks we had a full, lush, bright green, legitimate lawn!

Multiple neighbors have now stopped by to pay their compliments, express their surprise at seeing such a green lawn in this part of the country, and ask how we managed to do it.  The only neighbor that has not said anything has been ol’ Rocky--he still thinks our grass will die and not come back in the spring.  Hopefully we can prove him wrong!

Somehow, during this busy time, I made caramel ice cream, made with real homemade caramel.  
I made it to go with some apple crisp that I had made and while I tinkered a little too much with the crisp recipe (so much so that the “crisp” part was not crispy), I followed the caramel ice cream recipe almost to the letter and it turned out divine.
It may be the best ice cream, custard or gelato that we have ever tasted.  It was that good!  Better, even, than Berthillon in Paris.  You see this empty glass below?  
I poured myself some of the custard and drank it!  I felt compelled to because it was so just so tasty, that and the beautiful caramel color with its velvety glossy smoothness enchanted me.  It was what I have always imagined Butterbeer to be in Harry Potter, a caramel custard in liquid form (plus the addition of some rum).  I share this recipe with you now as I feel ice cream is often an afterthought for Thanksgiving desserts, but yet ice cream is so necessary for all the pies, crisps, and bread puddings served on Thanksgiving Day to really shine.  At least in my opinion, the goodness of a dessert is multiplied when you add ice cream.  So, if you want to spice things up a bit from regular old vanilla make this!  If making homemade caramel for the caramel ice cream seems daunting, consider this Maple Pecan ice cream recipe (which is also really good) or this tangy buttermilk ice cream, which pairs excellently with the overly sweet pecan pie or the rich, the warm spices used in pumpkin pie.

Salted Butter Caramel Ice Cream (aka The Genius of David Lebovitz)
A few quick notes, if you are tempted to use regular table salt for this recipe, don't.  It will over power the ice cream.  Use fleur de sel if you have it, otherwise regular sea salt use slightly less than called for.  Also, because of the caramel in this ice cream, once churned and frozen, it will stay soft and creamy, not hard like other homemade recipes.  If it becomes too runny, crank up your freezer or store it in a shallow pan.  Finally, even though it is more work to make the caramel praline (verses leaving it out), I strongly encourage you to make it as the textural crunch it brings is fantastic.

For the caramel praline (the mix-in)
½ cup (100 gr) sugar

¾ teaspoon sea salt, such as fleur de sel
For the ice cream custard
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, divided

1½ cups (300 gr) sugar

4 tablespoons (60 gr) salted butter

scant ½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cups (250 ml) heavy cream

4 large egg yolks

¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
To make the praline:
1. To make the caramel praline, spread the ½ cup (100 gr) of sugar in an even layer in a large, unlined heavy duty saucepan. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or brush it sparingly with unflavored oil.
2. Heat the sugar over moderate heat until the edges begin to melt. This will take few minutes but be patient. Use a heatproof utensil to gently stir the liquefied sugar from the bottom and edges towards the center, stirring, until all the sugar is dissolved. (Or most of it—there may be some lumps, which will melt later.)  Continue to cook stirring infrequently until the caramel starts smoking and begins to smell like it’s just about to burn. It won’t take long once the sugar has liquified.
3. Without hesitation, sprinkle in the ¾ teaspoon salt without stirring and immediately pour the caramel onto the prepared baking sheet and quickly lift up the baking sheet, tilting and swirling it almost vertically to encourage the caramel to form as thin a layer as possible. Set aside to harden and cool.

To make the ice cream:
1. Make an ice bath by filling a large bowl about a third full with ice cubes and adding a cup or so of water. Nest a smaller metal bowl (at least 2 quarts, the mixing bowl that comes with Kitchen Aid stand mixers works well here) over the ice, pour 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk into the inner bowl, and rest a mesh strainer on top of it.
As you can see here, I got away with using a glass bowl just fine.
2. Spread 1½ cups (300 gr) sugar in the saucepan in an even layer. Cook over moderate heat, until caramelized, using the same method described in Step #2 for making the praline.
3. Once caramelized, quickly remove from heat and stir in the butter and salt, until butter is melted, then gradually whisk in the cream, stirring as you go.  This will bubble and maybe even splatter (protect yourself from burns) but this is normal.  The caramel may also harden and seize, but return it to the heat and continue to stir over low heat until any hard caramel is melted. Stir in 1 cup (250 ml) of the milk.
4. Whisk the yolks in a small bowl and gradually pour some of the warm caramel mixture over the yolks, stirring constantly to warm the egg yolks without cooking them, (this will prepare them to go into the rest of the hot caramel). Scrape the warmed yolks back into the saucepan and cook the custard using a heatproof utensil, stirring constantly (scraping the bottom as you stir) until the mixture thickens. If using an instant-read thermometer, it should read 160-170 F (71-77 C)  (For me, I reached 170F before it seemed very thick but the ice cream still turned out wonderfully).
5. Pour the custard through the strainer into the milk set over the ice bath, add the vanilla, then stir frequently until the mixture is cooled down. Refrigerate at least 8 hours or until thoroughly chilled.
6. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
7. Enjoy!!  This ice cream is so good you will be tempted to keep it all to yourself and not bring it to your Thanksgiving meal, but bring it anyway and I bet you will enjoy everyone's compliments just as much. ;)

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