Reverse Root Beer Floats

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I needed an assistant. I needed someone who would handle the mundane grunt work. Someone to write recipe notes for me; to scrape vanilla beans for me; to do the dishes for me.

The hitch, though, is that I don’t have the money to pay a decent assistant. But, with a little perseverance on my part I found someone who was willing to work for Pop Rocks.

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Granted, she needs to be in bed with the lights out by 8:00, but who am I to argue with the price?

This time of year the canister for our ice cream maker basically lives in the freezer. After every batch of ice cream or sorbet, it gets washed and put right back into the freezer so it’ll be ready for the next recipe. Recently, with an itch to make something frozen, and in the mood for something different I hunted down the root beer extract we had left over from a horribly failed attempt candy making venture.

Middle age, being the jerk that it is, has required that we look for alternatives to dairy in our house. While the original recipe (from America’s Test Kitchens The New Best Recipe) calls for whole milk and heavy cream, I used soy creamer and coconut cream in place of whole milk and heavy cream respectively. This recipe makes for a good base for most ice creams (just substitute another extract flavor), but works best with heavier flavors that can stand up to the coconut.

My newly hired assistant also expects a certain amount of entertainment and fun, so what we really needed was a vanilla soda so we could make Reverse Root Beer Floats.

We carry three different vanilla beans at the Spice House, but I settled on the Mexican beans. In contrast to the others, especially the Madagascar, I get earthier notes off the Mexican beans (think coffee and bitter chocolate), that I figured would work better with the root beer flavors.

Root Beer Ice Cream

  • 1 ½ cup coconut milk (or heavy cream)
  • 1 ½ cup soy half and half (or whole milk)
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 3 tsp root beer extract
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste

Position a strainer over a medium bowl set in a larger bowl containing ice water. Heat the coconut milk, half and half and ½ cup of sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until steam appears and the milk is warm (about 175 degrees), about 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the yolks and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a medium bowl until combined and pale yellow. Whisk half the warm mixture into the beaten yolks, ½ cup at a time, until combined. Whisk the milk-yolk mixture into the warm milk in the sauce pan; set the saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until steam appears, foam subsides and the mixture is slightly thickened or an instant read thermometer registers 180-185 degrees. (Do not boil or the eggs with curdle.) Immediately strain the custard into the bowl set in the ice bath, stirring occasionally to help it cool. Cover and refrigerate until and instant-read thermometer registers 40 degrees or lower, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Add root beer extract and vanilla paste and stir well. Pour the custard into the ice cream machine canister and churn, following the manufacturer’s instructions, until the mixture resembles soft-serve ice cream. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container, press plastic wrap flush against the surface, cover the container, and freeze the ice cream until firm, at least 2 hours.

Vanilla Bean Soda

Combine sugars, water in salt in a medium sauce pan. Split vanilla beans lengthwise with the tip of a paring knife. Using the back of the knife scrape the seeds from the pods and add them to the saucepan. Add the pods to the saucepan.

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Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugars are dissolved. Let cool a bit and pour into an airtight container. Refrigerate overnight.

Strain and discard pods.

To serve combine ½ oz. (2 tbsps) with 8 oz. (1 cup) chilled club soda. Add syrup slowly to avoid foaming. Stir well. Or, add 4 oz. (½ cup) syrup to 1 liter of chilled club soda. (Again, add syrup carefully to avoid foaming.)

My trusty assistant forgot about the Pop Rocks altogether. She was too bugging me to taste the ice cream.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Bread and Butter Pickles

I have a confession to make: Last summer I went on a pretty hardcore bender. In the process I became a living Portlandia sketch. I pickled everything I could get my hands on. Working a couple of days a week at a farmers market meant I got my hands on plenty.

See, over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested (okay, obsessed) with preservation and the surprising number of foods we still eat that came about simply to avoid spoilage and to have something to eat in February. Cured or smoked sausages, ham and bacon, jams, dried fruits and herbs all began as a way to avoid spoilage. So did duck confit. Beer and wine likely started as a means to lengthen the shelf life of barley and grapes. As did pickling.

Roughly defined, pickling involves using a liquid base that inhibits bacterial growth. Acid, salt brine and vegetable or olive oil all do the trick. My bender resulted in putting up far too many jars of pickled fruits and vegetables for a normal family of three to eat, and a kitchen that perpetually smelled like vinegar. (Although, between my pickles and the jam my wife made we would have been set if that brutal Midwestern winter dragged on any longer. So, it’s not all bad.)

The Spice House carries a great pickling spice blend that makes a great base for dill pickles, but I think my favorite style is the sweet bread and butter pickles. My mother-in-law agrees and did her part to move a few jars. She started asking politely a few months ago when I’d be making more. Now that cucumbers are showing up at the farmers markets, she’ll be relieved to know that I can start making them again.

After trying a few recipes I found online, I made one that was close to what I was looking for, but was a little heavy on the celery seed, so I pulled back on that. If memory serves, I also had to adjust out of necessity. I think I was short on white vinegar and/or white sugar and made up the difference with cider vinegar and/or brown sugar. The changes not only made a huge difference, but gave me the exact pickles I was tasting in my head.

I made a batch of these last week. Somehow, though, three jars went mysteriously missing. Curiously, my mother-in-law had been over to babysit.

Bread and Butter Pickles
(makes approximately 7 pint jars)

  • 3 cups white vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups cider vinegar
  • ¾ cups brown sugar
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 5 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 4-4 ½ pounds of cucumbers

Wash and sterilize 7 pint jars, lids and rings.

Slice cucumbers into rounds about ⅛ inch thick.

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In a heavy sauce pan combine vinegars, sugars and salt over medium heat. Stir periodically until sugars and salts are dissolved.

To each sterilized pint jar add:

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Pack each jar tightly with sliced cucumbers, leaving ½ inch head space.

Fill each jar with hot brine and cap. Wipe rims with a clean, damp towel. Place in refrigerator for at least two days to allow flavor to develop, but try to allow them to refrigerate for at least two weeks.

Alternately, instead of refrigerating, process the jars in a water bath and store in a cool, dark space where your mother-in-law can’t find them