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Cooking With Myra: Summer is a time to relax, play, eat ice cream

By By Myra Starkey
July 29, 2014 at 2:29 a.m.

Brown butter peanut brittle ice cream

Brown Butter Peanut Brittle Ice Cream

Peanut Brittle

• 11/2 cups sugar

• 11/4 cups water

• 2 cups salted peanuts

• 1 Tbsp. coarse sea salt

Spray a cookie sheet with vegetable cooking spray. This will prevent the brittle from sticking. In a large saucepan, combine sugar and water. Cook over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and liquid is clear. Stir occasionally to loosen the sugar that will settle on the bottom of the pan. As soon as you can no longer see sugar bring to a boil. Add the peanuts and continue to boil mixture until the liquid turns light amber in color, maybe 10 minutes. As the liquid begins to turn darker continue to stir until the color is dark amber or dark caramel. Pour the brittle onto the cookie sheet and spread out in an even layer around 1/2-inch thick. Sprinkle with the salt. Cool for 1 hour. The brittle will get hard. Do not touch as this is very hot. When it is cool, break into smaller pieces and try not to eat all at once.

Ice Cream

• 3/4 stick unsalted butter

• 2 cups heavy whipping cream

• 1 cup whole milk

• 7 egg yolks

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 cup peanut brittle, chopped

Melt butter in a saucepan over low heat being careful not to burn it. If you burn the butter, start over. When the butter is dark amber, remove from heat and pour through cheesecloth. Allow to cool for five minutes. Bring cream and milk to a simmer in a saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk the yolks, sugar and salt until thick. Add the brown butter and whisk quickly.

Gradually add the hot milk and cream mixture to the yolks, whisking to incorporate but being careful to add only small amounts of liquid so the yolks do not curdle. When all is mixed, return the milk and yolk mixture to the pan and heat over low heat until the mixture is thick, about 5 minutes. You can tell it is ready when the spoon you are using to stir with is coated with the custard. Make sure you do not boil this. Strain the custard using a fine strainer. Add vanilla. Set the bowl with the custard in an ice bath being careful not to allow any water into the mixture. Cool down mixture before beginning ice cream process. Process this custard in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.

When the ice cream has completed, add 1 cup chopped brittle and place in an air-tight container in freezer. Allow to harden for 3 hours or overnight.

I have enjoyed the few weeks I've been able to take off from writing my column. It was nice to take a summer break and not have to be creative in terms of writing or cooking. I have been busy doing other things.

We spent July Fourth in Rockport, took in the annual art show and enjoyed the fireworks show over the bay. We went to northern New Mexico to a ranch in the mountains, and then to Santa Fe for the International Folk Art Festival. It was all great fun. But more about that later.

When I was a kid, summer was a time to relax and play. There was no school and no responsibilities. I had a few babysitting gigs and worked as a lifeguard. Those two jobs were pretty much the same thing only with the latter I wore a bikini, had a whistle, cool sunglasses and was being paid to get a tan. That was back in the day when tans were considered fashionable and cool. Now, nobody compliments you for having a healthy-looking tan.

As a working adult with no kids at home, I can't say that summer seems any different than the rest of the year. I'm as busy as always. It's not that I wish I was just sitting around doing nothing.

I recently read an article that talked about how stressful it was for humans to be still and not do anything. The scientists were looking at brain activity using magnetic resonance imaging, so the subjects were forced to remain motionless inside the machine. This confinement made their brain waves really spike. That indicated they were doing a lot of thinking.

When people are awake and still, their brains tend to speed up, which creates tension. They may ruminate about disappointments, regrets, feelings, food, shopping, what they should have done or said to this or that person, what they need to accomplish or how they compare in various ways to others.

In other words, we can make our bodies still, but we can't stop our brains. And most folks find all that thinking very uncomfortable. So perhaps that's why we all try to distract ourselves by staying busy doing something - whether it's worthwhile and meaningful or unimportant. We just can't sit still.

I tend to fill my time with things I like to do, like cook, garden and watch movies. I like to think that this summer I have moved slower and tried to enjoy my free time. Unfortunately, my work schedule has become more demanding, and my time off is a precious commodity.

In the summer, with all the rain and then sunshine, one could spend lots of time just trying to keep their yard and garden in shape. Keeping one's yard is right up there with basic personal hygiene. For instance, if you never bathe, brush your teeth or change your clothes, those around you will think you are mentally or physically incapacitated. If the grass on your lawn gets terribly overgrown, the neighbors will also start wondering about you in a similar manner.

As I mentioned earlier, on the Independence Day weekend, we went to Rockport. It's a little cooler along the coast, particularly if you are very near, or preferably, in the water. Our favorite (and only) son-in-law, Ben, was down to visit with his parents, Randy and Patti, as was our daughter, Hannah, and our good friends from Victoria, Bill and Janet. It makes for a great weekend to have lots of friends around.

Bob and Susan invited a bunch of us over for fajitas on the evening of July Fourth. Their bay house is almost directly beneath where the fireworks explode high above the water, so it's an incredible spectacle. She assigned me the dessert, so I brought traditional homemade vanilla ice cream and even ventured out on a limb and made up a batch of coconut/chocolate chip ice cream, too.

The second type sounds like a strange combination but it was actually very tasty. As I sat outside that night and looked up at the aerial display and then at the illuminated faces peering up into the sky in amazement, I felt blessed, happy, full and very grateful to be alive and living in a country that is free.

The next morning, we went to the annual Rockport Art Festival. This is the 45th year of this excellent event. We love going because the talent of the exhibitors is good. It is all outdoors under tents, and even though there is a breeze off the bay, it is incredibly hot. Luckily there is a large air-conditioned tent in the center with lots of food and drinks that we could escape to when we felt like we were about to melt.

Since we have at least two more months of this summer heat, I am including a recipe for a frozen treat that I think you'll enjoy. I made this peanut brittle ice cream and it turned out well. I have one of those small automatic countertop ice cream makers that I made this batch with, but the hand-crank version, using rock salt and ice, might be more special.

The recipe calls for making your own peanut brittle, however it might be easier to simply buy some and add it in at the end of the cycle. Rest, relax and eat more ice cream.

Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email myra@vicad.com.

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