Yesterday at work, I was handing a large soda out the drive-thru window to a man when he randomly asks me if my eyes are real.
With voices playing in my ear from the headset and all the other obnoxious noises going on in the restaurant, I thought he had asked me for some condiments. Not entirely sure if I’d heard right, I asked him to repeat the question.
“Are they real?” he shouted.
“You want ketchup?!” I replied.
“No!” (he was determined to find out) “Are you wearing contacts or are your eyes real?!”
Are my eyes real? It took a second for the question to sink in. First thought: Who asks that? Second: Better let him know so I can get the line moving.
“They’re real,” I answered rather stoically.
“Oh… well, they are very pretty,” he said and drove off.
I feel somewhat guilty now for my reaction. All I could think was how strange it was for someone to ask such a question. It was a very nice compliment and totally unexpected, but still very odd. How many other people think I’m wearing colored contacts as I walk down the street?
Flash back a week and a half ago:
“Is this really mint ice cream?!” my mother asked… no accused. “I taste basil! You really made basil ice cream, didn’t you!?”
“It’s peppermint! It’s really peppermint.” I tried to defend myself, but to no avail.
“I think you used basil,” my mother decided and walked off.
For the life of me, I could not convince her that I had picked the peppermint from my brother’s herb garden. Truth be told, there was a slight basil backdrop to the ice cream. Truth be told, I may or may not have accidently picked a few basil leaves while picking the peppermint. In my opinion, the peppermint naturally has that earthy, basil taste to it when used directly from the ground. Either way, I was being accused of faking the ice cream.
Now what would I possibly be trying to pull if I did something like that?!?! It seems terribly silly to me. Yes, I actually would like to make a basil ice cream sometime. I imagine a dainty scoop of it floating atop a chilled, strawberry soup. Don’t knock the idea unless you try it. This, however, was genuine peppermint.
There is something romantic about extracting the flavor of mint directly from its leaves. After lightly rinsing them, I steeped the peppermint right in the whole milk and heavy cream. This took an hour, after which I rang the leaves out, releasing all the precious oils. Though the recipe promised the cream to turn a brilliant shade of emerald after the steeping, I was dismayed to see only a yellowish tint to mine. The scent of mint was not prominent either, but dipping my finger in the mixture, I could definitely taste it…..and basil.
In fact, my first thought was “Woah! Basil.”
Instantly, I knew I’d be in for it. I knew that my mom, ever aware, would probably accuse me of purposely using another herb. In haste, I doctored up the mixture, adding as much creme de menthe as possible (adding too much alcohal can prevent the ice cream from freezing properly) and a dollop of green food coloring, which ironically promotes the basil flavor as much as the mint. Personally, I liked the flavor, but I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hear that my mint ice cream was not as minty as it could be.
Over the next few days, my mint chocolate chip ice cream was the source of much frustration and pleasure. On the one hand, my brother couldn’t get enough of the stuff, and was a committed believer that I had in fact used peppermint. This, however, could be biased. I had used HIS peppermint after all. I found it to be extremely delicious and refreshing as well. Probably my favorite flavor I have ever made…even after malted milk ice cream (gasp!). So, in my opinion, the awkward, mysterious flavor was a blessing, not a curse. Except for the fact that I kept being asked if I had used basil!
NO! no no no no no no no no. NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!
At the last straw, my mom marched outside to the herb garden and picked a leaf right from the source. Tasting it, she looked rather surprised to find that the peppermint itself did, in fact, taste like basil. Rolling around the leaves in her fingers and releasing the oils, it started to taste more like mint.
“Next time, you need to extract the flavor better,” she advised.
Now I was rolling my eyes.
“Actually, I happen to like it just the way it is.”
Oh, I love my mom very much, but I definitely need to be careful when I make ice cream in my house, lest I be accused of evilly concocting experminental flavors disguised as the familiar. Yes, I love to try new things, but this time, I genuinely wanted to try my hand at mint, and boy was it delicious!
So, between the color of my eyes and the flavor of my ice cream, the world will never know what’s real and what’s fake. What am I trying to pull? Who am I trying to kid? I don’t think I’ll tell. It’s my little secret 😉
Before I end this post, I just want to comment on the process for making the “chips” in the mint chocolate chip ice cream. No, you don’t just add a bag of chocolate chips. That’s too easy. I used a process known as stracciatella. Often used in gelato, the Italians have created a brilliant way to make deliciously crunchy, bite-sized shards of chocolate throughout ice cream. Simply melt semi-sweet chocolate over a double boiler and drizzle through ice cream during the final minutes of churning, being careful not to hit the paddle directly. If all goes well, the chocolate will distribute evenly. If it doesn’t (and it didn’t my first try), you will end up with homely, unpleasant chunks of chocolate that will have to be broken up with a spoon before eating. This is why practice makes perfect. Not to worry, it gives me an excuse for making more mint(basil) ice cream in the future 🙂
By the way, despite her concern, my mom loved the ice cream too. Basil flavor and all 🙂
Fresh Mint Ice Cream
adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes about 1 quart.
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
pinch of salt
2 cups lightly packed mint leaves (I used peppermint)
5 large egg yolks
Warm milk, sugar, 1 cup heavy cream, and salt in a saucepan. Add mint leaves and stir into liquid. Cover, remove pan from heat, and let the leaves steep at room temp for about an hour.
Straint the liquid into a medium saucepan and press the leaves to squeeze out all the extra flavor. Discard leaves. Pour the remaining heavy cream into a large bowl and set the strainer on top.
Rewarm the mint-infused liquid. In a small, separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mint liquid into the egg yolks and whisk constantly to bring up the temperature of the eggs. This will keep them from cooking when being poured into the saucepan. Pour egg yolks into saucepan and stir mixture constantly over medium heat.
When the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, it’s done. You can test this by dragging your finger across the spatula. If the line your finger makes holds, then it is ready. If you really want to be on the safe side, test mixture with an instant thermometer. It should read between 165-170 degrees.
Pour mixture through strainer into heavy cream and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill mixture thouroughly in refrigerator (preferably overnight) and freeze in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.
also adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz
Makes enough for 1 quart of ice cream.
5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Make a double boiler by setting a clean glass or metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Add chocolate and let melt, stirring until smooth.
Drizzle chocolate in a very thin stream into the ice cream mixer during the last few minutes of churning. Do not let the chocolate hit the paddle. If this is impossible, layer the melted chocolate into the ice cream as you layer it in the storage container.