Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of...

It's that time of year. The time for making the end of year 'best of' lists. Movies, books, music, and even pop culture moments are collected - most often in groups of ten.

I've never been much for making my own 'best of' lists. It's too absolute for me. How can I rank a historical romance against a young adult dystopian novel? How can I rank a cheeseburger against a slice of cheesecake? Still, in keeping with the season, I am going to do my best to join in on the list making.

The end of the year is closing in quickly though, so I'm going to keep it short only naming one of the best books I read and one of the best things I made to eat.

One of the best books, was actually a whole series of books. I read the first and then quickly hunted down the other two and read them as well. Although, the series was called a trilogy, I read on the author's blog that she is considering writing a fourth one... So now I have a new years wish as well.

The series I am referring to are Susan Beth Pfeffer's, Life As We Knew It, The Dead and The Gone, and This World We Live In.

All three books are about the aftermath of a natural disaster - a meteor hits the moon knocking it closer to earth. Like dominoes falling the consequences begin to stack up, from flooding that kills millions to volcanic eruptions that fill the sky with ash and kills the crops that can no longer get the sun. The best though is the human reaction on a small scale. These books aren't like an disaster action movie where the main entertainment is watching the White House explode and freeways crumble. The drama is instead watching one teenage girl trying to cope as her world grows smaller and society crumbles around her.

These books stuck with me. Weeks after I read them I couldn't shake the 'wow this is exactly how it would happen feeling.' If you haven't read these books - they'd be an excellent way to start the new year.

Now on to the best thing that I made. This one was actually pretty easy. You see, 2011 was a special year in many ways for me. It was the year I got an agent. It was the year my book sold. And it was also the year that I got an ice cream machine. And it was the year that I used that machine to make my first batch of salted caramel ice cream.

If you don't have an ice cream machine, I would recommend making 2012 the year that you get one too. And the first ice cream you make - should be this one.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Recipe from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Salted Caramel Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

It was at a French bakery where I worked throughout high school and college that I first heard of salted caramel, called "salty" caramel by a chef in his thick French accent. For years it has been the most popular flavor of ice cream in our stores, accounting for more than 20 percent of sales, and we still make it the way we always have, one batch at a time, the sugar hand-stirred in a pan over a hot burner. The reward: no better flavor in the world.

2 cups whole milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 1/2 ounces (3 tablespoons) cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Danger! This is the dry-burn technique. I don't add water to the sugar before putting it on the heat, as some chefs do. Caramelizing sugar dry means it goes faster, but you have to watch it more closely and be ready with your cream. Here is an overview of what you are going to do:

Stand over the pan of sugar with a heatproof spatula ready, but do not touch the sugar until there is a full layer of melted and browning liquid sugar on the bottom with a smaller layer of unmelted white sugar on the top. When the edges of the melted sugar begin to darken, use the spatula to bring them into the center to help melt the unmelted sugar. Continue stirring and pushing the sugar around until it is all melted and evenly amber in color--like an old penny. When little bubbles begin to explode with dark smoke, give the sugar another moment and then remove from the heat. Immediately but slowly pour about 1/4 cup of the cream and corn syrup mixture into the burning-hot sugar. Be careful! It will pop and spit! Stir until it is incorporated, then add a bit more cream and stir, then continue until it is all in.

Mix about 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry.

Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth.

Mix the cream with the corn syrup in a measuring cup with a spout.

Fill a large bowl with ice and water.

Heat the sugar in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat until it is melted and golden amber in color (see note above). Remove from the heat and, stirring constantly, slowly add a bit of the cream and corn syrup mixture to the caramel: It will fizzle, pop, and spurt. Stir until well combined, then add a little more and stir. Keep adding the cream a little at a time until all of it is incorporated.

Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the milk. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and gradually whisk in the cornstarch slurry.

Bring back to a boil over medium-high and cook, stirring with a heatproof spatula, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. If any caramel flecks remain, pour the mixture through a sieve.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla and whisk. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and submerge the sealed bag in the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice as necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.

Pour into frozen canister and spin until thick and creamy.

Pack the ice cream into a storage container, press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface, and seal with an airtight lid.

Freeze in the coldest part of your freezer until firm, at least 4 hours.


  1. This looks wonderful. Of course, I have a weakness for caramel.
    Thanks for the series recommendation too!

  2. Kate, OMG. A) I love Life As We Knew It and am eager to read the other books. B) I LOVE that Jeni's book. I just made the cognac ice cream for Christmas and have been dying to try this one with the smoked almonds. Awesome post!

  3. This looks amazing! Except I need an ice cream maker...or I need to take this recipe to a friend with an ice cream maker. :)