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One Night in NOLA: Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

10 Aug

I don’t eat ice cream very often. I’ve made vanilla and cookies and cream versions for Joe, but usually I have a spoonful and leave it at that. I’m more of a pie and pastry person when it comes to sweets. When I think back to many birthday parties over the years, I’ve never wanted a scoop of ice cream with my cake.

But I have my moments. The craving hits every once in a while and always for the same flavor: butter pecan. And the way I see it, if you are going to treat yourself to ice cream, you should go all the way and make it everything you want. As many of my recipes are, this one is born from a memory.

Seven Junes ago, Joe proposed to me a few days before a trip to New Orleans with my family. When we arrived in NOLA, we surprised everyone with the news, and what was already set to be a fun vacation became even more celebratory and special.

The first night there was, as expected, hot and muggy. We made our way through the French Quarter to a tiny restaurant called Green Goddess. We had an excellent meal, but for one time in my whole life, it was an ice cream dessert I ordered there that embedded itself in my brain. It was a sundae consisting of butter pecan ice cream, a caramel sauce, candied bacon, and whipped cream. And it was unreal. The ice cream was perfectly creamy and packed with buttery toasted pecans, the caramel sauce was dark and rich, and the candied bacon was smoky, salty, crunchy, and sweet. The cloud of homemade, not-too-sweet whipped cream on top was the perfect finish.

So when I got my annual(?) ice cream craving, I thought about just making butter pecan, but then I thought back to that sundae and decided it needed a caramel swirl right through the ice cream along with some crispy, salty pecans. Go all the way, right?

The best part about this ice cream is that it’s really not fussy (no egg tempering!), and all of the components can be made in advance. For me, that’s really excellent. My energy level since being diagnosed with RA has been erratic at best, so recipes that allow me to do things at my own pace are especially valuable to me.

Obviously, you will need an ice cream maker of some kind to make this recipe. Whether you roll a ball or use a electric countertop model, you’ll turn out some great ice cream. Let’s get churning!

Salted Butter Pecan Ice Cream with Caramel Swirl

Ice Cream Base

  • 1 cup cold whole milk
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups cold heavy cream
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract or 1/3 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Salted Buttered Pecans

  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 4 tbsp. butter
  • ¾ tsp. salt

Caramel Swirl

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 7 tbsp. heavy cream
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt


To make the ice cream base, whisk together milk and brown sugar until brown sugar is dissolved.

Stir in heavy cream and vanilla extract or vanilla bean pulp. I also throw the empty vanilla pod in.

Pour into a lidded container (or cover the bowl) and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, though I usually let it go overnight.

To make the buttered pecans, melt the butter in a skillet. Add pecans and salt to the pan, and cook over medium low heat until pecans are browned and fragrant, about 8-10 minutes.

Remove from heat, strain off the excess butter (and save that pecan butter! It’s so good on pancakes), and spread the pecans on a foil lined baking sheet to cool.

Cool completely before use.

To make the caramel, using a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring the sugar, corn syrup, and water to a boil over medium heat, stirring just until sugar is dissolved.

Then boil mixture, without stirring, but gently swirling pan, until the syrup turns a deep amber color. Be careful, it goes from golden to burnt quickly. I like to swirl on and off the heat to keep the syrup nice and even in color.

Remove pan from heat and carefully pour in the cream and vanilla extract. The mixture will bubble up and harden a bit. Return it to the heat and simmer mixture, stirring, until caramel is smooth.

Remove pan from heat, stir in the salt and cool caramel to room temperature.

If you make this on the same day you are making your ice cream, leave it at room temperature. If you make it in advance, store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week. Warm to room temperature before use. You may need to heat it slightly to loosen it up.

Now let’s put it all together. Have ready the container you want to use, a large spoon for the ice cream, a spoon for the caramel, and a butter knife. Have your buttered pecans and caramel ready to go.

If you used one, remove the vanilla bean pod from the ice cream base.

Pour the chilled ice cream base into your ice cream maker and churn according to manufacturer’s directions. In my ice cream maker, this takes about 24 minutes.

Pour in the pecans during the last 3 minutes of churning.

Take 1/3 of the ice cream and spread it in the container. Quickly drizzle a layer of caramel on top.

Repeat this 2 more times, and then use the butter knife to swirl the caramel through the ice cream. I ended up using about 2/3 of the caramel I made, but it did not go to waste!

Cover the ice cream and quickly move to the freezer to harden. In my freezer, it took about four hours to reach a nice hard scoop consistency. Serve as-is, or if you’re feeling special, drizzle on some extra caramel sauce, sprinkle a few chopped salted toasted pecans, and top with some maple sweetened softly whipped cream.

While no pigs were harmed in the making of this sundae, the savory, crunchy toasted pecans and deep, rich caramel swirl running through the fluffy, soft ice cream with that little pillow of whipped cream on top instantly took me back to that wonderful summer night. Music spilling into the restaurant from the streets, my new fiancé by my side, and my family surrounding me. My heart was full. What a profound testament to the power of foods as vessels for memory.

With Joe at Green Goddess

Recipes are little time capsules we can open at any moment, and I know this is one I will surely return to on many occasions.

Ciao for now,


An Ice Cream Layer Cake for Roger

18 Oct

Celebration cakes are my favorite cakes to make. I’m not particularly apt at piping icing designs or writing messages, but I can usually come up with something creative to complement the flavors under the icing. The person the cake is to be for inspires me with their choice of flavors and then from there…a blank canvas. No rules, no rubrics to follow, no required homework, just good creative fun.

When Joe told me several weekends ago that his dad’s birthday was coming up, I offered to make the cake and asked what kind he thought Roger (his dad) would like.

“Can you make an ice cream cake?”

I had no idea. I didn’t even know if I had a powerful enough freezer, or for that matter, one with enough space to freeze multiple cake layers. I resolved to try, because (as they say) if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

One thing I did know was that Roger loves chocolate, so what better to include than my personal favorite perfect chocolate cake recipe. I made two 9in. layers of Ina Garten’s Beatty’s Chocolate Cake. After cooling completely on a rack, they were wrapped and placed in the freezer to firm up.

The next step was to create the ice cream layers. After lining two nine-inch rounds with plastic wrap (so I could lift the layers out later), I scooped and flattened softened ice cream into each–cookies and cream in one, and vanilla in the other. Using an offset spatula, I smoothed the surfaces even as best I could, then covered each with another layer of plastic wrap and then put them in the freezer to harden.

 After a day, I lined a springform pan with plastic wrap and stacked the layers together. First the cookies and cream ice cream, then a layer of chocolate cake, then the vanilla ice cream and finally the second chocolate cake layer. I wrapped the whole cake tightly in plastic wrap and returned it to the freezer.

Two days later, I turned the cake out of the springform pan and onto a turn table. By that time, the layers had frozen firmly together and I was able to do a quick crumb coat of icing. I used Cool Whip, by the way, as it will firm up in the freezer, but won’t get too hard. I let another 8 or so hours pass and then put on a final coating. I also moved the cake from the turn table to an aluminum foil covered piece of cardboard that I’d cut to fit inside of a cake box that the kind folks at the bakery near my office had graciously given to me.


As for decorating? Well, by the time I’d iced the cake I was so amazed that it had actually come together that I was hesitant to ruin it with a bad attempt at writing “happy birthday” on top. What I did instead gave me a lot of flexibility.
I melted a bag of semi sweet chocolate chips over low heat, mixing constantly until just smooth. I then poured the melted chocolate into a pastry bag fitted with a rounded point and piped lots of little shapes onto big sheets of wax paper. I made swirls, stars, zig-zags, curls and other odd little designs that I thought might look interesting. After they hardened, I topped the cake with them by gently pressing an edge of each into the icing until it stood. I wanted an explosion of chocolate stars and fireworks bursting forth from the icing. Because this cake, if it were to personify anything, I would want it to be joy.

With the freezer turned to its highest setting, I returned the cake to it once more to prepare for its final 10 minute trip to Joe’s parents’ house.

Fortunately, Joe had pre-warned his mom to make freezer space, and it was quickly tucked away to wait patiently for its unveiling after dinner.

At last I saw it opened, still decorated and stable, and was finally able to breath a sigh of relief.

And the inside looked really cool!

I was really proud of this, especially once I saw how well it held up after we took a few slices out. Aside from the icing starting to get soft, the layers of cake and ice cream remained remarkably firm and tasted oh-so-good. After Roger had two slices, I felt comfortable in assuming that it was in fact, delicious.

What I learned throughout this little endeavor is that ice cream cake doesn’t take a ton of time on any given day, just the patience to take small steps in between freezings. While it took me the course of a week to make, I worked on it for maybe 5 minutes each day either stacking, unmolding, icing, or decorating. An exercise in patience? Yes.

Worth it in every way when I saw the smiles on the faces of the folks around me eating it? You bet.

Ciao for now,

Mystery Food Week 9: Heatwave edition

29 Jul

Another very fruit-filled box this week!

Here we have a tomato, melon, doughnut peaches, freestone peaches, green beans, and summer squash. I made a great little dish out of the tomato, green beans and squash sauteed with hot peppers, garlic, and onions. Topped a bowl of it with a slice of provolone and let it melt. One of the best vegetarian meals I’ve had in awhile. Nice and simple too for these dog days of summer.

It hit triple digits here over the weekend and of course our air conditioning decided to die. Fortunately, it was after I finished baking an assortment of 6 dozen cookies for co-workers (mine and Joe’s) because, well, who doesn’t like homemade baked good surprises? Here’s the sampler plate…I had leftover chocolate ganache in a ziploc bag and decided to do a little art project.

One knows that it must be unbearably hot outside when, aside from a lone box of Italian ice, the grocery store is entirely sold out of popsicles and sorbet. Thus was my experience on Tuesday evening. There was still an array of ice cream on the shelf, but I wasn’t really in the mood. I wanted something refreshing, cool, and fruity.Well, if you want something done you’ve got to do it yourself sometimes. I’m seriously disappointed that I couldn’t get a good picture of the final dish, because it was absolutely out of this world.

Peach-Basil Sorbet (with vanilla whipped cream and double-berry preserves)

for the sorbet:
-5 to 6 ripe medium sized peaches, diced. (You can peel them if you want…I never do.)
-Handful of basil leaves, torn.
-1 tbsp. lemon juice
-3 tbsp. sucanat or sugar
-1/2 cup water
-Pinch of salt

for the cream:
-Whipping cream
-Sugar, to taste (I used about a tbsp.)
-1 tsp. vanilla extract

for the topping:
 -Blackberry/blueberry preserves

Combine the sugar, water, salt, and lemon juice in a small saucepan and slowly bring to a boil.
-Add the basil leaves and boil for 10 minutes or until slightly syrupy.
-Combine the peaches and basil syrup in a blender and process until smooth.
-Churn in an electric ice cream maker for about 20 minutes and then transfer to a freezer safe container and chill.
-Whip the cream, vanilla, and sugar until soft peaks are formed.
-To serve, place a scoop of the sorbet on a plate, top with a spoonful of preserves and a spoonful of the whipped cream. Garnish with more torn basil if desired.

It is a really wonderful summer dessert with all of those components, but that’s only if you can keep yourself from eating the sorbet straight out of the freezer. It’s a challenge.

Enjoy the week and stay cool!

Ciao for now,

Flowers and Chocolate

29 Jul

What better way to begin a day than with some pretty flowers?

I hope you all had a lovely weekend. This past weekend, I was on a mission. It was a noble mission, and one that I undertook after careful consideration of the dangers and pitfalls. I had to rescue:

Yes, chocolate. An innocent victim thrust all too often into the grasp of high-fructose corn syrup and gobs of fat. Let me let you in on a little secret: Chocolate is so awesome that it doesn’t need either of those things to be good.

Determined to prove this, I was delighted when my package from arrived last week. In it were samples of Ultimate Protein in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Using the base directions from Shelly’s protein ice creams, I whisked together the following ingredients:

1 scoop chocolate protein powder
2 tbsp. sugar-free fat-free chocolate fudge pudding powder
1 cup 2% milk

My normal skepticism regarding protein powder was hanging around, but the bowl smelled so good I couldn’t help but try a taste. It was reminiscent of the chocolate milk from Turner’s dairy that my grade school cafeteria served. I began to think this one might even be tolerable as a drink! I flipped on the ice cream maker and wandered off to play video games with Joe.

25 minutes later, I could hear the churn slowing down and I knew that the mixture had firmed up. I got a plastic tub out and looked into the ice cream maker. But this was no ice cream! Shiny, dense, and rich in chocolate flavor, I had full blown gelato on my hands. I divided the batch into three small containers, but only two made it to the freezer to firm up (I wanted some soft serve).

Had I succeeded in rescuing chocolate? Here’s the verdict: Each serving contained 84 calories, 2 grams of fat, 4 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein. A solid victory was achieved, and I think a large canister of Ultimate Protein is in my future…

But what if (unlike me), you don’t have protein powder hanging around? I know it’s not on most people’s shopping list, so I sought to make a healthy chocolate ice cream using readily available ingredients. Granted, it didn’t end up packed with protein, but it did make a larger volume (better for crowds) and still tasted great.

In a blender (you can use a bowl and a whisk if you’re feeling macho), combine:

1.5 packages sugar-free fat-free chocolate fudge pudding powder
1 cup 2% milk
1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1 twelve ounce can non-fat evaporated milk
2 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract

Blend until the mixture is smooth and lump free. Pour the whole batch into an ice cream maker and churn for 25-30 minutes. Remove to a large plastic storage container and set in the freezer to harden (or eat it if you’re impatient like me).

The recipe makes about a half-gallon (8 cups). Here are the nutrition facts based on serving size:

1 cup serving: 98 calories, 2 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 7 grams of sugar.
1/2 cup serving: 49 calories, 1 gram of fat, 7 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of protein, and 4 grams of sugar.

So, have your ice cream and eat it, too! Chocolate doesn’t need so many helpers around. It can most definitely stand on its own without adding a whole lot of extra sweeteners or fats.

NOTE: The above ice creams become very hard when frozen. This is completely normal. Allow them to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving and they will return to a scoop-able state. Enjoy!

My agenda for the week mostly depends on what packages arrive. I’ve ordered some other protein powder samples that should arrive this week, and I’ve also FINALLY managed to find my birthday present: A Wii-Fit! It took awhile, but sniping on Ebay paid off in the end. Other than that, it’ll be a mish-mash of what ever pops into my head, so stay tuned. Ciao for now!