Peach-Pecan Ice Cream Adventures

My fourth Make it from Scratch challenge attempt was on-time in the making but delayed in posting.  You see, I spent my blogging time that evening eating it instead.  (And narrowly losing Bananagrams to my husband - but it was his birthday, so I guess he's entitled to the victory.)

My husband adores peaches.  So since we've been married, I've learned a lot about peach desserts.  I learned about peach pie and peach crisp and stewed peaches.  Last summer I tried learning about peach ice cream.  I wasn't overly impressed, so for his birthday I decided to tweak the recipe a bit.  I ended up mostly copying a recipe from the Homesick Texan, but I used 1% milk (what I had) instead of half-and-half and I added salt to the pecans.

I started with five Colorado peaches - just over two pounds' worth.  Previous experience has taught me that it's no fun trying to halve and pit clingstone peaches after they are peeled and slippery, so I pitted them all first.
 Three peaches I then threw into a boiling water bath.  If the water is already at a rolling boil before you throw in the peaches, thirty seconds is all you need for the peels to slide easily off.
 I finely (in retrospect, not finely enough) diced the two skin-on peaches and macerated them with a splash of lemon juice and a scant teaspoon of sugar.  The peeled peaches were cut into large chunks and pureed in the blender.  It made about 2 1/2 to 3 cups of puree.
 Two cups of milk were heated until steamy, then set off the heat.
 Then I whisked two egg yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar...
 ...and carefully added in the hot milk a ladle at a time.  As much as the yolk/sugar mixture looks like scrambled eggs, I didn't actually want to end up with a scramble as my finished product.  The custard mix went back on the stove until it started to thicken a bit (with only two egg yolks, it didn't thicken all that much - it only coated the spoon with a very thin layer).

I always strain my custard at this point to get out those bit of egg that didn't mix properly or otherwise curdled.
 Then I added one cup heavy cream, one teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon salt, mixed in the peach puree and chilled the mixture in my fridge for four hours.  I'd prefer to chill it longer, but I was impatient.

While it was chilling, I mixed a tablespoon of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a bowl.
 And toasted a cup of pecans in a tablespoon of butter on the stove.
 Then I stirred them into the sugar/spice mixture while still hot.  After they cooled, I chopped them into small pieces.

When I couldn't wait any longer, I poured my ice cream mix into my chilled ice cream freezer and churned for about 15 minutes.
 Then I added the peaches...
 ...and the pecans, which challenged the capacity of my ice cream freezer somewhat.
 And voila!  Peach-pecan ice cream!

The verdict

The peach flavor of the ice cream was excellent.  The ice cream itself was a trifle icy and crystalline in texture, but not bad.  I think adding more egg yolk and/or using whole milk would really help.

I was less pleased with the mix-ins.  The peach chunks ended up as mostly flavorless ice cubes.  They need to be smaller - 1/4" dice - and macerated with more sugar to combat freezing.  And I didn't feel like I noticed the flavors of the sugar or spices on the pecans, so I think I'd just omit those altogether and add more salt - up to 3/4 or a whole teaspoon total.  If you really wanted a sugared and spiced pecan, try caramelizing the sugar and spice on directly in the pan or oven.  But the ginger and nutmeg also impart a less clean, crisp summery taste to the nuts and more of a full, warm harvest-and-holidaytime flavor.
Day Three of the Make it from Scratch challenge is here.  And what could be more old-school DIY in the kitchen than pickling and canning?  I don't know - but if you have suggestions I'd love to try that too.  Besides, I needed to do something with this crazy monster cucumber my husband brought home from a coworker's garden.
  Having made a tentative foray into the canning and pickling world last year with green cherry tomatoes, and being somewhat encouraged that I did not die of botulism afterwards, I thought I'd try it again this year.  So I sterilized my jars and lids in a boiling water bath.
The strainer insert for my stockpot is pretty useful for placing my jars in the pot and removing them again without dropping them - I really need to get a non-slip jar lifter if I decide to continue canning in any serious manner.

Then I put my spice mixture (dill seed, garlic and peppercorns) into the jars...
 ... crammed them full of cucumber spears...

... covered them with my brine, used a knife to wiggle out the bubbles, and placed the lids on.  I secured the rims finger-tight and carefully lowered them into the boiling water to process for 10 minutes.

The sealing part definitely worked (so far).  The only downside is that they need to sit for a few days before I actually open a jar and try them.  So I guess I'll have to post an update in a week or so.
I also tried a crazy recipe for guacamole mac and cheese, which definitely turned out well (except for the pictures).  That's going to have to be a post for another day.

AKA Make it from Scratch Challenge Day 2.

Besides Money Saving Mom, one of my other favorite blogs is Smitten Kitchen.  So today I tried Deb's strawberry summer cake.  Basically I was looking for a quick dessert to use the pound of strawberries I got on sale before they went bad.  I made it with regular all-purpose flour because I didn't have fancy barley flour, and I cut the sugar to 3/4 cup in the batter.

 ...and I totally missed the part in the recipe where it says to sprinkle two more tablespoons of flour over the top before baking.  Oops.  That's probably why my strawberries don't look as ooey-gooey as Deb's.
 (If you're wondering why the cake pan appears to be hovering above my floor, it's because my kids insisted on taking these pictures, so I'm holding the cake pan at their level.  Sunshine's picture is on the left - my husband had to help her push the shutter button - and Pippin's is on the right.  I find Sunshine's composition to be particularly intriguing...)
 The verdict?  Pretty tasty.  The sweetness was perfect for me (I tend to like my desserts on the less-sweet side), but the composition as a whole was not one of my favorite things ever.  Maybe that's because I left out the sugar on top, but I think it may have more to do with the fact that I like desserts that are more complex than cake with strawberries on top.  I'm really more of a pie person.

But my husband enjoyed it a great deal (though he prefers my pies too), and of course the children love anything they get for dessert.  So I'll probably repeat this (remembering the sugar on top next time) for sometime when I need to whip something up that isn't too labor intensive.

Come to think of it, making a cake for the sole reason that it's "not too labor intensive" seems to defeat the spirit of the Make-it-from-Scratch challenge.  Eh.  Oh well.

It's back-to-school time and time for another challenge!  This one is only a week long and, yes, it's another Money Saving Mom special!  This week is a Make-it-from-Scratch challenge.
I suppose it's not really a challenge, since I love doing stuff from scratch and I abhor (with some exceptions) mixes and kits and whatnot.  So today I'm making yoghurt.

Technically, I'm making yoghurt cheese, since I incubated the yoghurt overnight Saturday and cooled it yesterday.  What is yoghurt cheese, you might ask?  Go ahead, ask - I did.  Then I learned that I was already making it.

Yoghurt cheese is like Greek yoghurt, only a lot richer, smoother and thicker.  It's around the consistency of a soft cream cheese, hence the name.  Basically, it's what happens when you strain your yoghurt to make it Greek style, and then forget about it for a few hours.

You start by making yoghurt.  I'm pretty sure the internet doesn't need another yoghurt recipe, so I won't go into step-by-step details, but I'll share what I've learned overall:

  • Heating the milk is a lot faster on the stovetop.  You can save a couple hours this way - especially if you use an electronic thermometer that beeps when it hits the proper temperature.  Cook on low, stir regularly.
  • You get a grainy texture in the final product when the milk is too hot when you start incubating.  Waiting until the temperature drops to between 110° and 115° has given me more consistent results than mixing in my starter right at 120°F.
  • Freeze-dried yoghurt starter is more reliable than store-bought and lasts much longer.  And because it lasts longer, I think it's cheaper in the long run - you can feel free to reserve your homemade yoghurt for subsequent batches (until it gets too thin) without worrying if your store-bought yoghurt is going bad; nor do you have to eat the store-bought stuff before it expires after a batch or two of homemade yoghurt.  It's easier to stir into your cooled milk, too. 
  • I think ovens (with the light on) are more reliable than crockpots for holding temperature.  Crockpots aren't equally insulated - I had one that was awesome, and another that lost way too much heat, even with a thick towel.  Plus, in the oven you can use a casserole dish which is a lot easier to wash than a crock.  I've never tried using a warm water bath in a cooler - I don't have a large enough cooler - but I'd like to.

After all that, I have a 2.5qt casserole dish full of yoghurt.  
  You could actually stop here, but I like the thickness and decreased bitterness of the strained product.

 To strain, take a colander, line it with a thin, clean cloth (you could use a couple layers of cheesecloth, but I use a flour sack dish towel), and place it on a plate or something because the yoghurt will start to drip as soon as you start spooning it in.

You could "pour" it too, but I like the control of the spoon.
 Then fold the cloth to the inside (if it's hanging out, the whey will wick to the tips and start dripping all over the place - ask me how I know) and place it in a bowl (I reuse the casserole dish) in the fridge.  An hour or two will give you Greek yoghurt.  A few more hours (I often leave it overnight) will give you yoghurt cheese.  You really can't strain it too long - there is a point where the "cheese" can't really get much thicker and no more whey comes out.
The result is about 4-5 cups of yummy yoghurt cheese for a half gallon of milk.  The more whey that you strain off, the more volume you lose.  But a lot of the lactic acid that those lactobacillus cultures make comes out in the whey, so I think the yoghurt cheese is much less sour and it's a good trade off.
I save around 1/4 cup of the "cheese" for my next batch of yoghurt, and I'll do this several times in a row until my yoghurt gets noticeably thinner after incubation.  I've always tossed the whey - can't think of anything useful to do with it.  Do share in the comments if you have a use for the leftover yoghurt whey; I'd love to get more out of each batch.