How ice cream taught me about food (and a recipe)…

I used to not look at my food’s ingredient labels, nor did I care much about things like sugar and sodium levels. The only thing that really mattered was how many calories the package in my hand had. This attitude never completely controlled my eating habits, but I did place a lot of weight on that little number instead of considering what exactly the food was composed of. I remember one evening when I was a senior in college – it was a particularly exhausting day of classes, and all I wanted was something sweet and decadent. I entered my apartment’s living room area and saw a couple bars of ’90-Calorie Fiber One Chocolate Brownies’ sitting on the kitchen table. I triumphantly snatched one up and swallowed it in a couple of seconds, and then ate another one after that because – obviously – what I’d eaten was basically cardboard and had done nothing to alleviate my sweet tooth whatsoever. But it was only 180 calories altogether!

This kind of mentality continued on for months, but then a pint of ice cream changed everything. After graduation, I found a job working on a small, urban farm. I lived on the premises in a tiny apartment, and I became close friends with my fellow neighbors and farm workers. After a long day of weeding, planting, teaching, and watering, it was a real gift for us to come together and share a meal.

One night after dinner, my friend Amanda suggested that we go and get some ice cream. Of course, the rest of us agreed, and we scrolled through our phones to see if there were any ice cream parlors nearby. For some reason, all of them were either closed for the day or too far away for our liking, and so we decided to drive to the local grocery store and pick out individual pints for ourselves (it was one of those nights). I stood in the frozen foods aisle, scanning all the colorful tubs in front of me until I eventually found the words I was looking for – ‘Low Fat, ‘Healthy Indulgence,’ ‘Frozen Yogurts.’

I grabbed a pint of Chocolate Chip froyo, and my friends also picked out their respective choices. We drove to a nearby park and laid down blankets, and then plopped down to enjoy our desserts in the light of the setting sun. We congratulated ourselves on this great decision, trading bites of ice cream back and forth. “That flavor’s so good,” Emily remarked, pointing her spoon at Amanda’s java chip. “I know,”’ she replied, “I love that it’s just honest ice cream. There’s like five ingredients in it – just cream, egg yolks, chocolate, things like that.”

Suddenly self-conscious, I snuck a peek at my pint’s label. The ingredients list seemed to stretch on forever – the tiny black squiggles took up half of the tub! Narrowing my eyes, I tried to see if my ice cream (okay, froyo), was made up of ‘honest’ ingredients like Amanda’s, and words like corn syrup solids, carrageenan, yogurt powder, locust bean gum, and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda, in my froyo?!) started buzzing around in my brain. Perhaps it was my imagination, or maybe my awareness of taste really had increased with this newfound knowledge, but the bites on my spoon suddenly began to taste sour and chemical-y in my mouth. I felt icky, thinking of the stabilizers and empty ingredients hiding themselves in disguise.

I started to see labels in a clearer light. Now, the calorie count wasn’t the main criminal. I employed Michael Pollan’s approach that if my great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, then neither should I. A couple of ice cream pints helped me to understand that eating real food was really the best thing I could do for myself.

Nowadays, I don’t buy a lot of ice cream, mostly because I find it difficult to pick one that is up to my bougie standards. Instead, I enjoy them when I happen across a high-quality ice cream parlor (if you’ve never had the Stumptown Coffee flavor from Salt & Straw, then you are really missing out). However, sometimes the craving for a scoop really hits. I’ve tried making ice cream before a variety of times despite my lack of ice cream maker, using bases such as soaked cashews, avocados, bananas, and coconut milk. But they always left a bit to be desired.

This weekend, I was suddenly inspired to give ice cream-making another shot. I threw the whole frozen banana notion out the window, and browsed the internet for a no-churn ice cream recipe. Because my stomach gets a bit tied up whenever I consume dairy, I decided to substitute the heavy cream and condensed milk for coconut cream and homemade coconut condensed milk. Wanting some texture, I blitzed up some raw peanut butter-chocolate cookie dough in the food processor, and then swirled everything together to set in the freezer.

It may be no Salt & Straw, but it was a delicious success.

Ingredients:

2 cans of full-fat coconut milk (refrigerated overnight)
One batch of homemade condensed coconut milk (recipe to follow)
Raw peanut butter-chocolate cookie dough (recipe to follow)
Vanilla extract
For the homemade condensed coconut milk:
Mix together a can of coconut milk with ¼ cup of maple syrup in a small pot.
Bring it to a boil, stirring constantly – keep a close eye on it, because it can boil over really quickly!
Bring it down to a simmer, and stir it frequently for about 30-45 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced and turned a bit viscous.
It will further thicken up as it cools. Once it has completely cooled, store it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

For the raw peanut butter-chocolate cookie dough balls:
1 cup of oatmeal
6-7 Medjool dates
3-4 tablespoons of peanut butter, or nut butter of your choice
2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup
3 tablespoons of raw cacao
2 teaspoons of maca powder (optional)
A pinch of salt

Blend the oats in a food processor until a fine flour forms.
Drop the dates into the machine and pulse until they are chopped up.
Add peanut butter and maple syrup, and pulse until incorporated.
Add cacao and salt, and pulse until incorporated.
The mixture will be slightly crumbly, but it should hold together when squeezed together. If it doesn’t, add more peanut butter or maple syrup.
Roll teaspoons of the mixture into little cookie dough bites. I made about 30 to 35 or so, and then rolled the rest into larger balls to keep in the freezer for when the chocolate craving hits.

For the ice cream:
Place two cans of coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, scoop out just the cream on the top and place into a large bowl.
Using an electric whisk, beat the cream until thick and with stiff peaks.
Stir together the vanilla extract and condensed milk mixture, and then pour it into the bowl. Fold with a rubber spatula until it’s incorporated. Fold in the cookie dough bites.
Place it into a freezer-safe container or a parchment-lined loaf pan, and set it in the freezer for a minimum of five hours. If it’s too difficult to scoop, allow it to thaw for 10 minutes. Top with more cookie dough, if desired.

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