Thursday, September 6, 2007

A Tale of Ice Cream and other Frozen Extravaganzas

I have always loved Ice Cream, Frozen Yogurt and anything else Frozen, Creamy and Delicious. Yes, I know, "you scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream", but my love of these frozen delights is deeper than that. It is born out of a childhood largely bereft of ice.

Until I was four years old my family possessed a wonderful machine: a kerosene powered refrigerator that didn't need to be plugged into an electrical outlet. This was a wonderful thing considering our only source of electricity was our generator, a noisy, gas guzzling affair that we only turned on when necessary. Having a full sized refrigerator and freezer in the middle of the jungle was a great luxury, especially during the hot and dusty dry season.

Then came the Unfortunate Occurrence. We went away on a trip for several months and when we returned, the fridge would not work. We had, of course, turned it off before leaving and now it just would NOT turn back on. We tried everything. We gave it fresh kerosene, a fresh wick to burn it with, we banged on the pipes round the back of the thing, and following advice from friends in town, we turned it upside down, on its side and backwards in the hope that this would somehow liven it up again. All to no avail. Our refrigerator was no more.

And as we quickly found out, it had been one of a dying breed. Nowhere could we find another kerosene burning refrigerator. We searched all over Belize, we searched all over the USA. We asked everyone who lived in rural areas or near Amish communities, where a refrigerator that didn't depend on electricity should be a popular item. No luck. After scouring half of North America we gave up and realized that the Era of Ice was over. No more opening that big yellow door to dip cold water out of the cold water jar. No more buying chicken in town and freezing it for the weeks ahead. Even worse- no more banana popsicles! No more icy treats to cool off a hot day! Our beloved refrigerator was turned into a food safe, we bought some big ice chests, and life went on. But sans the frozen treats. The ice chests only kept ice and chicken cool for a couple days and certainly weren't cold enough to freeze anything in.

And so the rest of my childhood was spent yearning for ice cream, that distant exotic treat that was only available in far off urban centers like Belize City and my grandmother's house. My favorite flavours depended on what country I was in. In Belize it was the Soursop ice cream, the Rum and Raisin, the Coconut, or the Pineapple sherbet. In the USA it was Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream or Orange sherbet. I remember a wondrous day when my grandmother allowed me to get four scoops all at once, which I selected by color and then ate happily sitting on a bench in the mall.

Once I moved to the states I became a big fan of Ben and Jerry's, especially their peanut butter cup and chunky monkey ice creams. I would also buy fat free frozen yogurt, as a healthier alternative to B&J's high calorie indulgences. Despite baking my own bread from scratch for years, I never dreamed that I would end up making ice cream at home. To me ice cream was a high art that was beyond me, something better left to the professionals. That is, until a few months ago, when I started reading food blogs during the height of summer. Ice cream, sorbet and sherbet recipes were EVERYWHERE. Everyone seemed to have an ice cream maker and boy were they having fun with them! Recipes ranging from Beet Ice Cream to Salted Caramel Ice Cream to Frozen Yogurt and intensely flavoured Sorbets were being posted daily from all parts of the world.

I wanted in! I wanted to make my own ice cream too! But I was afraid. Afraid of becoming a slave to the machine-a die hard ice cream addict, churning and devouring new and rich flavours day and night. While certainly they would be delicious, I thought, all those eggs and heavy cream would kill me in the end for sure! The debate in my head raged for several weeks. I reminded myself that healthy eating does not include huge doses of cholesterol and saturated fat, amply provided by the "heavy cream" and "5 egg yolks" called for in many an ice cream recipe. It seemed every time I saw an ice cream that I liked, it was based upon a custard that could harden my arteries just from looking at it.

But despite all these logical arguments, ice cream lust won out in the end. I convinced myself that I would make sorbets and frozen yogurts, that custardy ice creams would be a rare event, and that surely making them was more healthy then buying them at the store! In a rush of self indulgence I purchased my ice cream maker and impatiently waited for it to arrive-after paying 50 dollars for the item itself I just couldn't justify overnight shipping as well. Luckily it showed up only two days later, handily preventing me from gnawing my fingernails off in anticipation. I opened up the box and stuck the bowl in the freezer that very night.

The next day it was Ice Cream Time. The first thing I made was David Lebovitz's frozen yogurt recipe-lauded on Heidi Swanson's website as a "rival to Pinkberry's". I admit it, I have no idea what Pinkberry's is and have never tasted their frozen yogurt, but if Heidi said it was the best, it had to be true. After all, it was a David Lebovitz recipe, and the man is an ice cream god. I wasn't content, however, with plain frozen yogurt (although next time I will take Heidi's advice and try it that way). I wanted peanut butter frozen yogurt, preferably with chunks of banana in it too, but my significant other nixed that idea. So plain Peanut Butter it was. I was, of course, out of homemade yogurt, so I ran to the store and got a container of Fage 2% yogurt and made the recipe with a few alterations:

Peanut Butter Frozen Yogurt

This recipe makes about 3 cups of frozen yogurt, at 291 calories per half cup serving.

2 cups Fage 2% or other Greek yogurt
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter (I used smooth but I think chunky would be more fun)
1 tsp vanilla

Optional add-ins:

1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1/4 cup Kahlua or other liquors (chocolate, coffee, peanut or banana flavoured probably work best but feel free to experiment!)
1 banana, chopped into pieces
1/4 cup Reese's pieces or other peanut butter candy
1/4 cup malt powder or cocoa powder


1. Microwave the peanut butter for about 30 seconds until it gets soft and melty.

2. Stir together the yogurt, sugar, agave nectar, vanilla and softened peanut butter until completely blended and smooth. If you are adding alcohol, malt or cocoa powder now is the time to stir it in as well. A whisk works great for this.

3. Cool in the fridge for at least an hour or two.

4. Process in your ice cream maker according to the instructions. In the last few minutes of churning, add your solid add-ins. Next time I'm putting in banana and eating it all myself!

How was the frozen yogurt? Well, it churned up quite firm and delicious. The tang of the yogurt was definitely present, which one of my tasters felt was an unwelcome contrast to the peanut butter, but I think it worked well. The texture was smooth and creamy, but by the next day it had frozen rock hard and had to be defrosted for a good 15 minutes before it was scoopable again. Probably if I had used full fat yogurt it might have stayed a bit softer, but I'm not complaining. The yogurt also makes great milkshakes when blended with frozen bananas and milk.

Are there any pictures? No, there aren't and I don't plan on taking one of the frozen brown lump sitting in the freezer either, although I will continue to enjoy my peanut butter milkshakes until it is gone.

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