A Perfect Cheescake….Finally!

There are those recipes you dare to try, going in with great gusto and leaving all inhibitions aside. Cheesecake may safely be said to be one of those such recipes. (At least for me.) I’ve lived in New York City long enough to consider myself a New Yorker and, thus, a fan of cheesecake. Those of you inhabiting the East Coast of the U.S. may likely be familiar with Junior’s cheesecake, originating in Brooklyn; decadently rich and smooth. But, honestly, I don’t know too many people, regardless where they originate or currently find themselves geographically, who don’t enjoy a thick slice of gateaux du fromage.

I’ve attempted my hand at creating a cheesecake worthy of praise a few times in my life. I’ve had some near successes, but certainly nothing I could sell at a corner bakery. Until now…

I recently began reading a book titled, “CookWise,” by Shirley O. Corriher. I haven’t completed reading it cover to cover, so I can’t give a final review at this time, but I can tell you how exciting it is to read sections and chapters at random and get new insights about various recipes I’ve tried without a lot of success, simply due to my lack of food science knowledge. I find this book to be most like a hand guide for those of us home cooks who have always had an inkling to — but never found the time — to attend cooking school.

I tweaked the following recipe — it originally called for sour cream, and I replaced it with Greek thick yogurt, with much success. I added pure almond extract, but you could instead add an almond-flavored  liquor, such as amaretto, or simply omit the almond flavoring and opt for lemon juice and zest. The original recipe calls for chocolate wafers in the graham crust, however I used some tea biscuits and loved the outcome. It’s totally up to you and your preference.

Because this recipe doesn’t contain any starch in the batter, it must be baked in a water bath. The cake pan should be placed in a casserole dish large enough to leave a good inch of space around the entire cake pan. I was a little apprehensive the first time I attempted this recipe, but placing a thick, terry cloth towel underneath the cake pan provides extra protection from heat on the bottom of the pan, and allows the cheesecake to bake nicely without overcooking. The towel will certainly not burn, so not to worry!

Cheesecake will appear to be undercooked when you need to stop the baking process. So if the cake looks a bit jiggly in the center, don’t fret. It will set nicely in the fridge overnight. Most cheesecakes I have made in the past came out cracked in the center, which I later found meant I had overcooked the cake. I made a simple preserve syrup out of frozen strawberries, blueberry/cranberry juice, almond extract, and sugar, but it’s certainly not necessary. This cheesecake is divine on its own, topping or no.

Crust:
14 wafers, or tea biscuits (chocolate or plain)
3 Tbsp. sugar
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Filling:
2 packages (8 oz. each) cream cheese, room temperature
1 c. sugar
3 large eggs
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
4 tsp. pure almond extract, or 1/4 c. amaretto
3 c. thick Greek yogurt, such as FAGE brand

Crush the wafers or biscuits in a plastic zipper bag or in a food processor. In a small bowl, stir together the crushed wafers, sugar, and melted butter until a coarse crumb is achieved. Line the bottom of an 8 x 3″ round, straight-edged cake pan with parchment paper, cut to fit. (Despite what you see in the photo below, I do not recommend using a spring form pan, as a little bit of water will leak through the pan during the baking process, making the crumb crust soggy.) Grease the sides of the pan, then press the crumb crust into the bottom of the pan.

Preheat the oven to 350º F. Meanwhile, in a food processor or standing mixer, blend the cream cheese and sugar well, removing all lumps. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Add the vanilla, salt, and almond extract (or amaretto). Blend well. Add the yogurt. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Prepare a water bath by folding a thick, terry cloth towel into the bottom of a roasting pan. Place the cake pan on top of the towel. Pull out the oven shelf you intend to use to bake the cake, and place the roasting pan onto the oven shelf. Carefully fill the roasting pan with nearly boiling water until the water reaches about an inch up the sides of the cake pan. Carefully slide the oven shelf back into place. Close the oven door and do not open it for 45 minutes, despite any temptation to do so. After 45 minutes, shut off the oven heat and allow the cake to sit inside the oven for another hour. The cheesecake batter may look undercooked to you, but trust me, it’s going to be fine! Remove the cake from the oven and place it in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, you will need to remove the cake from the pan. It will need to be inverted twice, so cover a baking sheet with plastic wrap and set aside. Turn a burner on low and place the cheesecake pan on the burner for a few seconds. This will allow you to remove the cake from the pan easily. Place the plastic-coated baking baking sheet over the cake pan and invert the cake onto the sheet. Peel the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake and then re-invert the cake onto a pedestal cake dish, or cake plate. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve. Believe me, you (and all your guests) will be blown away by this cheesecake. In fact, I think I am going to have another slice from the fridge as soon as I finish writing this post!

Orange Poppy Seed Bread

There are always a few recipes that stay with us as fond memories from our childhood. This recipe is most certainly one I carried with me after I left home. It was a favorite of my mother’s, who would bake it for family gatherings, or simply because one of her children requested it. I loved to cut a slice from the middle, which was richly laden with the orange glaze drizzled atop the loaf. I so enjoyed the tiny bites of poppy seeds, exploding under my teeth while I savored every bite. I am a huge fan of marzipan, and really anything flavored with almond, so perhaps that’s why this bread has appealed so greatly to me throughout my life. You could substitute lemon in place of the orange juice and zest called for in the recipe, if you prefer. This bread is fantastic served at brunch, afternoon coffee, or as a light dessert post dinner. It also makes a lovely gift. Perhaps this recipe will become a favorite of your family, just as it did in mine.

3 eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
1 1/2 c. oil (canola, safflower, or vegetable, preferably organic)
1 1/2 c. whole milk, room temperature
2 c. sugar
3 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. poppy seeds
zest of one orange
3-4 tsp. pure almond extract

For the Glaze:
1 orange, juiced
1/4 c. granulated or powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)

Grease and flour two 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5″ loaf pans. Set aside and preheat the oven to 325°F. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds in a large bowl; whisk to remove any clumps. Combine the eggs, and with the mixer running on medium-low, add the oil, sugar, almond extract, and orange zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, alternate between adding the dry ingredients and milk to the egg mixture. Pour the prepared batter into the loaf pans and bake in the oven on the middle rack of the oven for about 1- 1 1/4 hours, or until a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the loaf removes cleanly.

Allow the loaves to cool for about 10 minutes on a wire cooling rack before attempting to remove them from the pan. If they do not remove easily, run a sharp knife around the edges of the loaves. Meanwhile, prepare the orange glaze in a small butter warming pan. Add all the ingredients and allow the sugar to completely dissolve into the juice. Place the wire cooling rack over a baking tray, and pour the glaze over both loaves. You may want to poke a few holes into the tops of the loaves so more glaze penetrates into the center. Some glaze will accumulate in the baking tray. Simply remove the wire rack and pour the remaining glaze back into the butter warmer and re-pour the contents over both loaves again. Once the loaves have cooled slightly, you can eat a slice (or two!) immediately, or once the loaves are completely cool, you can wrap them in plastic or aluminum foil. This bread freezes nicely, but I have not yet ever had a loaf left over to store in the freezer!

A Cloud of Meringue: Pavlova Dessert

This dessert is one of my favorite go-to recipes for holidays, dinner parties, and the like.  Not only is it delicious, but it’s a relatively easy dessert to put together, and it looks impressive.  But the best thing about this dessert is that it is so light and airy that it can top off any 20-course holiday smorgasbord and still leave room for a cocktail or coffee.

There are many recipes and variations of this dessert available, but the basic combination is simple:  meringue + whipped cream + fruit.  Winter is a great time for making this, at least in the northern regions in the U.S., because meringue is much easier to cook and store when there is not much ambient heat or humidity.  Of course, the storing problem usually isn’t an issue because I never seem to have leftovers!

The name Pavlova was apparently given in honor of Anna Pavlova, a famous Russian ballerina from the early 20th century.  The meringue takes 2-3 hours in the oven, so it’s best to prepare that part the night before you plan to serve it.  The rest of the assembly can be done relatively quickly and at the last minute.

Meringue

6 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 Tbl. cornstarch
1 1/2 tsp. white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla

Whipped Cream

1 pt. heavy or whipping cream, chilled
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbl. sugar, to taste

Fruit – fresh or frozen, choose one option from below

1 1/2 c. berries (blueberries, raspberries, or strawberries) + 2 Tbl. berry jam
or
1 mango and 1 kiwi, both peeled + 2 Tbl. apricot jam
or
1 1/2 c.  peeled and sliced peaches, nectarines, or apricots + 2 Tbl. apricot jam

Garnish (optional)
1/4 c. fresh fruit, sliced or cut decoratively
1/4 c. chopped unsalted pistachios

Preheat your oven to 250º and line a baking sheet with either parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Using a whisk attachment, beat the eggs in an electric mixer on slow to medium speed until soft peaks begin to form.  Increase the speed and slowly add the sugar. Continue beating for several minutes more until the egg whites are stiff and glossy. Fold in the vanilla, cornstarch, and vinegar until combined.

Spoon out the egg whites onto the baking sheet in the shape of a circle no larger than the dish you plan to use for serving (about 8-9 inches in diameter). Then hollow out a wide, shallow crater in the center that will later serve as a “bowl” for the fruit. The egg whites should look like a shiny, white, fluffy cumulus cloud, with a slight volcano center. Avoid sharp peaks because they will just break off after the meringue is cooked.

Bake the meringue at 250º for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 175º and bake for another 1 1/2 hours more. Turn off the heat and let the meringue rest in the oven for an additional hour or so (or overnight), until the oven and meringue are completely cooled. The outside of the meringue should seem hard and crispy to the touch. Store the meringue in a cool, dry place until ready to serve.

Place the meringue “cake” in one piece on the serving plate. When removing the meringue from the parchment paper or baking mat, it’s best to use a large off-set spatula. Don’t worry if a few small pieces crumble off. They can be placed in the “crater” with the fruit before covering it all with the whipped cream. And if it cracks a bit, no big deal — it will be undetectable under the cream.

Take half of the fruit (whichever kind you choose) and either mash it or lightly puree it with the jam. Chop the rest into small chunks and add it to the mashed fruit. Spoon the fruit mixture into the crater of the meringue. Depending on the size of the crater, you might not use all the fruit.

In a chilled bowl, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla until stiff peaks form. Cover the entire meringue with the whipped cream, making it look like a very white, fluffy cloud. Garnish with the reserved fruit pieces, if you like. I like it just smooth and creamy, but if you want to add a little crunch, you can also sprinkle chopped unsalted pistachios on top. Serve immediately and enjoy!

TDB Homemade: Yogurt Freezie Pops

My daughter stopped drinking milk when I finally broke down and got rid of her bottle. (Ok, so I let her drink her milk from a bottle until she was two. There are worse things one can do when parenting, right?!? I felt some sense of pediatric guilt, but ultimately, I was tired of buying Avent nipples every week because she was biting holes in them. ) My daughter is one of those stubborn types, like myself, who instead of holding out a week with not drinking milk from a bottle, she decided to refuse a cup, sippy, or straw to drink her dairy for almost a month. Fortunately, she grew fond of frozen yogurt sticks. And while the organic brands are void of artificial colorings and flavorings, I still think it’s better to know exactly what’s going into my family’s food, so I decided to try to make my own. With very little effort and a small amount of time, it’s possible to create a fun, healthy treat for your kids. But honestly, they’re pretty tasty, and I find myself sneaking one out of the freezer for myself from time to time!

During the summer months, when fresh berries and fruit are abundantly available in your local markets, use whatever combination you fancy to include in your frozen pops. However, frozen fruit can also be used with fantastic results. Before you throw out bananas nearing their expiration, peel them, wrap them in plastic, and place them in the freezer for later use. When you’re ready to use them, just thaw them, and add to your frozen pop blend. As for which type of mold you choose, it’s really up to your personal preference. There are many different shapes and sizes available on the market today. Stay away from thin plastic molds, as they tend to break easily when attempting to remove the popsicle before consumption. More flexible, thicker plastic molds work better. I have had great success using popsicle molds from IKEA. But you could even use paper or plastic cups, allow the liquid to harden in the freezer for about 15 minutes, then place a popsicle stick into the liquid, and allow them to continue freezing solid. Always remember to run the mold under some warm water for a few seconds to release the popsicle easily, avoiding a lot of unnecessary effort and frustration.

Yield: 6 pops

2 c.  yogurt
2 ripe bananas, peeled
6 oz. of fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.)
1-2 Tbl. raw honey

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, bananas, fruit, and honey. With a stick blender, blend all the ingredients together. (Alternatively, you could place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor.) Pour the yogurt mixture into the molds, dividing evenly, and filling almost entirely up to the top of each mold. Place the stick inside each mold and place in the freezer. The pops should be completely frozen in about 4 hours.

Cashew, Date, & Coconut Balls

A friend of mine recently turned me on to Lärabars; a bar I had glanced at numerous times while waiting in the cashier’s line, but never bothered to try. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to try these gluten-free, vegan, non-GMO bars with minimal pure ingredients, then by all means, please do! (Most of my local supermarkets carry this brand, but I know for a fact that both Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carry these simple bars of goodness throughout the U.S., and hopefully, somewhere close to you.) I was blown away when I inquired of my friend regarding the ingredients in the bar, and found, to my utter amazement, only two ingredients listed. I kept re-reading the contents, searching for added salt, sugar, or that ever-present, soy lecithin. I kept thinking to myself, “How could this be?” But there it was, clearly written, “dates, cashews.” And nothing else. I opened the package, took a quick glance, and chewed off a small bite. Delicious!

I immediately began scheming a plan to recreate this bar at home. Luckily, I had some fresh dates in the refrigerator, as well as a bag of raw cashews (a favorite snack of both my kids). I got out my food processor and started to grind away. In my haste, I forgot to use my logical brain, which I have a tendency to do when I’m excited about making something, and I placed the dates into the processor first. Big mistake! Dates are extremely sticky and don’t allow the blades of the food processor to move correctly, which could lead to motor damage if left going for too long. So, my advice to you, readers, is to chop the cashews first and then add the dates.

I kept adding cashews until I got a good ratio of nuts to dates.  I peered down into the processor, assessing the glop I had just created, all the while thinking how much I didn’t want to try and scrape out all this lovely stickiness onto a pan and then have to cut into bars. Thus, I thought of forming my concoction into small balls and rolling them in some dried coconut. Behold….a ball of goodness, which is easy to make, healthy for you and your family, and most importantly, delicious!

Your palate may be different than mine, so experiment. You may want more or less of either ingredient. And you may just want to experiment with other ingredients, such as peanuts. I store these little delicacies in the refrigerator, since they do have raw cashews, but since they seem to be consumed entirely in a couple of days, refrigeration is most likely not necessary. This recipe is perfect for dinner guests, who may be vegan, as a light dessert, or even to give as homemade gifts. But for whatever reason you decide to make this recipe, I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Yield: 50 balls

30 fresh dates (about 1 lb), pitted
2 c. raw cashews
1/2 c. dried, shredded coconut

Process the nuts; remove half of the nuts and set aside in a bowl. With the other half of the nuts remaining in the processor, add half (appx 15) of the dates; process together until the dates have fully incorporated. Remove this batch and set aside in another bowl. Add the rest of the nuts and dates; repeat. Combine the two halves together in a large bowl. Remove small chunks of the dough and roll into small balls with your hands. Roll the balls in a plate of coconut. And that’s it! No baking required!

Coconut Cupcakes

It’s that time of year again…..blossoms are blooming, the tendrils of green leaves have sprouted on all the trees, and the grass (whatever small patches I have the opportunity to experience in New York City) seems to have shot up six inches suddenly. People begin to reemerge from winter hibernation, and you seem to get an invite to a party or BBQ every week. So what to bring the host/hostess on such occasions?? I have a couple of dessert recipes in my “arsenal,” which I can whip up quickly, simply because I’ve made them so many times, and honestly, they’re not complicated to make at all. Of course, deliciousness is a major factor. Your arsenal needs at least three recipes which are easy, quick, and deliciously crowd pleasing. (I mean, who doesn’t want to be congratulated a few times when the other guests sample your party contribution?!?!)

I give you: the coconut cupcake.  Simple, yet scrumdiddlyumptious! Ok, unless you detest coconut. These baby cakes have been a favorite of my son since he was about two-years-old. Plus, there’s just something about that sprinkling of coconut atop each cupcake, which brings you back to your childhood. At least for me. I usually add significantly less sugar to the cream cheese frosting, but feel free to add as much as you like. If you prefer, you could always substitute with a butter cream frosting. You may also substitute some coconut oil for a percentage of the butter called for in the recipe, which intensifies the coconut flavor.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened (or 1 stick butter; 1/4 c. coconut oil)
1 c. sugar
3 lg. eggs
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 c. buttermilk
3 oz. shredded coconut, plus more for topping

12 cupcake liners

Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. (If you’re using the dry powder form of buttermilk, include it in with your dry ingredients and then add the water at the end.) In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter (and possibly oil) and sugar. Begin incorporating the two ingredients, then add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla and almond extracts. Alternating between the buttermilk and dry ingredients, add the rest of the ingredients. Mix until everything is incorporated together. Add the 3 oz. of dried coconut. Place the cupcake liners into the baking tray, and spoon the batter about 3/4 to the top of each cupcake mold. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the cupcakes have a lovely golden hue around their edges.

Allow the cupcakes to cool in the pan for about 8-10 minutes. Then place the cupcakes on a cooling rack. Ice the cupcakes with the cream cheese frosting, and sprinkle each cupcake with a bit of dried coconut. Health food, or organic food stores most likely will carry a brand of dried, unsweetened coconut, such as, Let’s Do….Organic, a brand which I have used numerous times and recommend.

Cream Cheese Icing: 

1 pkg. cream cheese (don’t bother with the low-fat stuff.; it won’t have the proper consistency), room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/8 tsp. almond extract
1 3/4 c. confectioners’ sugar (I tend to only use about 1 cup; add it in slowly, and keep tasting)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese and butter. Add the extracts and some of the sugar. Begin to beat the ingredients with a hand mixer. Continue to add more sugar until you’ve attained the sweetness you prefer.

Pear Cake

My fruit bowl always seems to have a few pieces of unloved, uneaten fruit that begin to show signs of expiration. On occasion, I have been known to eat them anyways because there’s nothing more I hate than throwing away a lovely piece of fruit. Fortunately, I have a wonderful cake recipe, which utilizes unloved fruit perfectly. In my home, it’s usually the pears which are unloved the most, and thus, I titled this post, “Pear Cake.” However, you can use plums, strawberries, or even apples–just make sure to slice hard fruit very finely, or else it won’t cook thoroughly while baking. This cake is just as delicious served at room temperature as it is warm. It’s really up to you. I highly recommend serving it with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. There’s just something special about taking a bite of the silky ice cream, followed by the crustiness of the cake, and finished with the smoothness of the fruit.  A true delight for the palate!

*All ingredients are at room temperature.
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 c. flour (alternatively, you could substitute 1/4-1/2 c. ground almond flour or other flour of your choice)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon, plus more for dusting over top of cake
pinch of salt
1 pear, skinned, cored, and sliced thinly

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients together. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar. Begin mixing; add eggs one at a time. Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients. Combine until batter comes together. Pour batter into an 8″ springform tart pan. (If you don’t have a springform pan, any 8″ tart pan or cake pan will do.) Carefully place and press the fruit slices, decoratively, into the batter. Lightly dust the top of the cake with cinnamon.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top has browned nicely. Remove from oven and allow to cool. After about 10 minutes, remove the cake from the pan and place it onto a serving plate or cake stand. (By the way, I don’t bother to remove the base of the springform pan since this cake is literally gone within a few hours of my husband’s return home from work. But if you prefer, you could attempt to remove the base, prying it gently off with a large, thin spatula, once the cake has cooled.)

TDB Homemade: Shamrock Shake

It’s that time of year again when, in the past, I used to enjoy making my annual visit to…(gasp and shudder)…the Golden Arches.  I, like so many other people, am (er, was) a sucker for McDonald’s Shamrock Shake.  I’m not sure exactly what kept me going back for so many years — it might have been the novelty of something that’s only available once a year, or perhaps it was the nostalgia (involving some great college memories) that it invoked.  But I know one thing — it certainly was not the quality of the ingredients in the shake that kept pulling me back.  The last time that I tried it and saw the ingredients separate, in a matter of minutes, into an artificially-colored mess of grainy solids and oily liquid, I realized how suckered I had been.

So this year I set out to find a recipe to make at home, but when I Google-searched it, I came up with the same recipe posted over and over of ice cream, milk, mint extract, and green food coloring.  But I don’t want to artificially color what I make, and why use mint extract instead of the real thing?  With fresh mint leaves, perhaps I can cover both flavor and color bases, right?

My first attempt was made with some plain yogurt instead of ice cream (just because that’s what I had in the house at the time).  I started by making a simple syrup* that, when slightly cooled, I blended with an equal amount of loosely-packed mint leaves.  I then blended the mint syrup with some yogurt, milk, and a little vanilla.  I let the mixture freeze a bit and then blended it again to get a smooth and thick consistency.  Result — the color was a bright speckled green from the mint leaves, not an even, consistent color, but the mint was finely blended into the syrup, so the texture was smooth.  The flavor was good too, but the tartness of the yogurt gave it more of a smoothie quality than milkshake, and it didn’t quite hit the mark.

The next day I picked up some vanilla ice cream and tried again.  I simply mixed the ice cream, milk, and some freshly-chopped mint leaves with an immersion blender.  Result — the flavor was perfect, and the color, again, was a nice speckled green, but the mint leaf pieces didn’t blend completely and left a slight chewiness to the texture, which I didn’t like.

To avoid the chewy flecks of mint leaf, I steeped some mint in the milk overnight, strained it, then mixed the minty milk with an equal amount of vanilla ice cream.  The flavor was minty, creamy, and delicious!  But the color had only a slightly green hue, and what’s a Shamrock Shake if not green?!?

After a couple tries with some of my other favorite green foods, I tried adding some avocado to the creamy concoction, and I loved the result.  It turned the milkshake into a nice light shade of green without doing much to change the flavor.  In fact, I think the texture was improved by the avocado!

So, here we go, after 2 weeks of “research” and almost daily intake of ice cream (someone had to do it, right?), I provide you with the Two Dancing Buckeyes’ version of a Shamrock Shake.

FINAL RECIPE —  makes 4 8-ounce servings.

Ingredients:

2 1/4 cups milk

1 cup coarsely-chopped and loosely-packed mint leaves

2 cups vanilla ice cream

1/2 avocado (this is mostly for the color, so it is optional)

whole mint leaves for garnishing

Directions:

Heat the milk until it is steaming, but not boiling, and pour over the mint leaves.  Once it has cooled nearly to room temperature, cover and refrigerate overnight.  Strain the leaves from the milk with a fine mesh sieve (a French Press also works well).  Combine the milk, ice cream, and avocado in a blender and blend until smooth.  Pour into 4 frosty glasses and garnish with the mint leaves.

Notes:

  • Use whatever flavor of vanilla ice cream you prefer (vanilla bean, French vanilla, etc.), but be sure to get “Premium” or “Super Premium” ice cream, such as Häagen-Dazs® or Ben and Jerry’s (I happened to use the Trader Joe’s brand, which was good).  This means that it will be more dense (less air added in the churning process), so it will hold up better as a shake.  Other airy, double-churned, or “light” ice creams, such as Breyers® or Edy’s®, will liquefy almost immediately.
  • Lesson learned:  at one point I attempted to thicken the shake by turning the milk into a custard.**  This added too much of an “eggy” taste to the shake, and it did not make it any thicker.
  • Whole milk and 2% reduced-fat milk work well, but do not use skim milk (too watery) or heavy cream (leaves your mouth feeling coated).
  • Look for a brand of ice cream with as few ingredients as possible.  Some brands sneak in fillers, stabilizers, preservatives, and even colorants to vanilla ice cream — keep it natural!

Variations:  consider adding one or more of the following…

  1. 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder per serving or some Organic chocolate syrup;
  2. 1 ounce of your favorite alcoholic additive per serving, such as Irish cream, hazelnut-flavored liqueur, or coffee-flavored liqueur;
  3. the seeds scraped from one-half of a vanilla bean (per 4 servings).

This was homemade, yet so simple, and, best of all, no mystery ingredients!!  The minty milk has to be made a day ahead, but the total time to make this is less than 10 minutes.  Of course, I do not purport this to be healthy or low-fat, but you get something natural rather than what is handed to you in the drive-thru***.  Enjoy!

*A simple syrup is equal parts of water and sugar heated to a boil and stirred until the liquid runs clear.

**A custard is made by slowly adding heated milk to a beaten egg yolk, then heating the mixture while constantly stirring until it thickens.

***For your comparison, click here to see the ingredients from McDonald’s website for their McCafé Shamrock Shake. Additionally, whether you frequent the Golden Arches or not, it’s a good idea to be knowledgeable about the nutritional effect of eating what they serve.  Take some time to explore their website to see what’s in some of the items that you (or a loved one) perhaps have consumed.