Friday, July 29, 2011

Fresh Sweet Cherry & Nectarine Upside-Down Cake . . . with Honey Whipped Cream

As a kid, the only upside-down cake I ever encountered was the classic pineapple ring and maraschino cherry model. I couldn't stand the stuff. As I recall, my dad adored it. He was the only one in the family who showed unfettered interest. Not even my mom, devoted dessert lover that she was, could bring herself to crave the canned-fruit laden cake. As a rule, it was atrociously sweet, sodden with that sugary syrup and just not an altogether great concept. She'd make it for him, of course, but the woman had her standards; given the choice, she would always have opted for a slice of something chocolate.

I guess it's no surprise, then, why I've never launched with abandon into the production of that sticky, inverted confection. Those pineapple cakes may be endearing in a retro sort of way, but not enough so to motivate me into actually baking one. No siree.

But this cherry and nectarine upside-down cake, on the other hand, while bearing some resemblance to that toothache-inspiring item of yesteryear, isn't as cloying. Made with thin slices of ripe nectarine, fresh sweet cherries, honey, plain yogurt, a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg, and a teeny tiny splash of peach schnapps thrown in to jazz things up, this baby's an improvement on that fusty old relic.

In fact, were the two cakes to pass on the street, I'd wager they'd acknowledge each other with a polite nod but, figuring they hadn't much in common, the pair wouldn't even stop to chat.

About this recipe . . .

Today's cake is adapted from a recipe in the gargantuan volume, Bon Appetit Desserts. It's a dream of a cookbook and, with 700+ pages, it's heavier than heck. Weighing in at 6.5 lbs., it's the size of a full-term newborn. They should sell it with a complementary stroller so readers can cart it around the house. Or, better yet, a forklift.

I customized the original recipe, which called for peaches along with a lot of spicy cardamom. What did I alter? In addition to using a combo of nectarines and cherries instead of peaches, I omitted the cardamom entirely, using just a little cinnamon and a scant pinch of nutmeg instead. I also added in a wee dab of peach schnapps, for a bit of zing, and I slightly increased the amount of salt (coarse kosher). Threw in the seeds of half a vanilla bean, and reduced the amount of granulated sugar in the cake by a small margin. In the honey whipped cream topping, I used less than half the amount of honey called for. (Have you ever mixed honey with heavy cream before? Fact is, you need a remarkably small amount to get the desired effect.)

With the adjustments, this cake is still sweet, but not ridiculously so. Some sweetness is just the nature of an upside-down cake. The flip-it-over-while-it's-still-really-hot concept wouldn't work without that gooey glaze permeating the top/bottom of the cake. In any case, if you want a concentrated sweetness infusion, an upside-down cake is definitely the ticket.

Fresh Sweet Cherry & Nectarine Upside-Down Cake 
with Honey Whipped Cream

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!) 

Yield: One 9" one-layer cake

6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (divided use)
1/4 honey (I used clover honey.)
1/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 and 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Scant 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. baking soda
Scant 1/2 tsp. coarse kosher salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, large
2 tsp. peach schnapps (optional)
seeds of half a vanilla bean (or, 1 tsp of vanilla extract)
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
2 medium size nectarines, pitted and thinly sliced in crescents (about 1/4" thick)
Approximately 16 fresh sweet cherries, pitted

For the honey whipped cream:
(Note: The original recipe suggested adding a little plain yogurt into this mixture. I didn't try that, but thought I'd mention it in case you'd like to give it a whirl!)
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
2 tsp. honey (Or use up to 2 Tbsp. if you want really sweet whipped cream.) 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in middle of oven. Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a 9" round cake pan. (After buttering, I took the extra step of lightly spraying the pan with vegetable oil spray; as far as I'm concerned, one can't be too careful where inverted cakes are concerned.)

In a medium size sauce pan, melt 2 Tbsp. of the unsalted butter. Add into that the brown sugar and the honey. Cook on medium high heat until the mixture begins to boil; stirring often, let boil for about 2 minutes or until the mixture begins to darken just a bit.

Remove the pan from the heat and immediately pour all of it into the buttered pan. Set the pan aside; the syrup will harden in the pan while you're preparing the rest of the cake.

 In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, and kosher salt. In the bowl of your mixer, using the paddle attachment on medium high speed, combine the remaining butter and the granulated sugar until it looks somewhat fluffy. Beat the egg into this on medium speed, along with the vanilla been seeds, and the peach schnapps.

Pour in half the flour mixture on medium speed just until well blended; blend in all of the yogurt. Add in the remaining flour on low speed, just until blended.

Arrange the nectarine slices (you may not need to use them all) in a spiral design around the edge of the cake pan, over the hardened syrup. Arrange the cherries similarly in the middle of the nectarine spiral. Using a spoon, gently dollop the soft batter over the fruit, being wary not to disrupt the design. Smooth the top of the batter carefully to completely cover all of the fruit.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and the sides begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.

Let the finished cake cool for only 5 minutes after removing it from the oven. At that point, have your serving platter ready and place it snuggly over the top of the cake.

Quickly invert the hot cake pan onto the platter and delicately lift the hot pan off. If all goes well, you'll be faced with a lovely fruit design atop a glistening cake. Let the cake cool before slicing.

To make the honey whipped cream: 

Whip the cream in your mixer on medium speed in a chilled bowl. Drizzle the honey in and whip until the cream forms soft peaks. Add more honey to taste, if you'd prefer the whipped cream to be sweeter. Keep refrigerated and serve over individual slices of the cake.

(If you'd like to comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the purple COMMENTS below!)

In New York this week to visit family and friends. Got lost in Baducci's, here in Scarsdale, New York, a culinary heaven for a food lover like me. I would probably have to stay in a neighboring hotel had this been the Manhattan location as it is more like a department store than a supermarket. Better map out a strategy before entering today. Taking a list is pointless in this grocery store, as changing your mind about whats for dinner several times is inevitable. More great recipes to come soon. Glad I brought along the stretch pants! Sent from my iPhone

The Cat's Pajamas

Favorite Photo Friday #1

Quote of the Day:  Cat's pajamas - Something considered to be outstanding

The term "cat's pajamas" comes from E.B. Katz, an English tailor of the late 1700's and early 1800's, who made the finest silk pajamas for royalty and other wealthy patrons. Nothing like a cat nap in Kat'z pjs. (from the book, "Cats out of the Bag" compiled by Terry, Don and Ken Beck)
Alternative: A slang phrase coined by Thomas A. Dorgan in the 1920s when the word "cat" was used as a term to describe the unconventional flappers from the jazz era. This was combined with the word pyjamas (a relatively new fashion in the 1920s) to form a phrase used to describe something that is the best at what it does, thus making it highly sought and desirable.
It's also the title of a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury.

Leo in the Light

I'm starting a new tradition on my blog, to post my favorite photo of the week on Fridays.  I love how the natural outdoor light shines on and through Leo's fur. Look at how you can see the veins in Leo's ears as the sunlight shines through them. It reminds me of when we were young and took a flashlight into a dark place, maybe camping in a tent or a closet, and we'd hold it behind a finger or a friend's ear to see what's inside.  Kinda freaky, but fun.  Was it an attempt to see the insides of a person?  Wasn't it just "the cat's pajamas" to use the flashlight to "see" the veins inside or make shadow puppets?

Journaling Prompt:  What are some "cat" phrases you know?  What quirky things did you do as a kid, or now?

Go. Create. Inspire! And, do something that's "The Cat's Pajamas!"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

No one said it would be Easy

Quote of the Day:  A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. — Thomas Mann

I'd like to debate that Thomas Mann quote.  Substitute the word that describes you and your art or skill.  Is it harder for you to create, or easier?  In some ways it's easier.  You have the desire.  You think of ways to describe things.  I often find myself reacting to a situation or person or event like a writer.  I start thinking of how I can describe it for other people so that they can experience it through my work.  Then, the "it's harder" part comes in.  I agonize over just the write words and phrasings.

It's like getting yourself all geared up for that big climb, like Eric on the ropes course up there.  My boys had a preview of their camp experience by going to Camp Shamineau with their class this spring.  It gave them the spark of desire.  They tasted success and thrilled at the adventure.  But, it was still a little scary stretching themselves a little further, sleeping away from home, trying new things, meeting new people.

Last night, it stormed - loud and long.  I was awake for a while.  Then, I felt restless and couldn't fall back to sleep.  All that crash, bang, boom must have been loud in those cabins.  I wondered if it woke the boys. Who might have freaked out, and if the counselors got any sleep.

Yesterday, was one of those idyllic summer days, temps in the low 80s, low humidity, slight breeze, lots of sunshine. I sat on my deck in the afternoon and read a book. (Hey, the little guys are gone, I enjoyed the quiet time. I can clean house later.). I thought, what a great day to be a camper.  Last night, during the storm, I thought, it's a bit more challenging to be a camper right now.

Such is our artistic life.  Sometimes the words come easy.  We can see the description in our heads, or just know the right color and texture combination in our art.  Musicians hit the combination of notes that sends shivers through your body.  Then, there are times when you erase what you've written, paint over the first layer on the canvas, or try new combinations of notes.  When it's your thing, you want it to be just right, and that's when you know it's work, but you love it.  It's a hard climb, but it's worth it.

I'm trying to find the best time to have my play performed with the cast who loves it the most.  I want it to be perfect.  Maybe I need to let go of "Perfect" (the unattainable), and let the creative forces take over.  I met two lovely and talented young women this week - at the coffee shop, of course. They get my play and want to be in it.  I am so encouraged by that - people willing to take a risk with me, a new playwright, and my original play. 

Okay, Creative Spirit, take it away.  I'm geared up and ready for the climb and glad I have supportive friends holding the ropes.

Go. Create. Inspire! (and be sure to wear your protective gear)

Journaling Prompt:  What's the next project for you?  Where do you want to go with your artist's life?

Monday, July 25, 2011


Quote of the Day:  Growth, in some curious way, I suspect, depends on being always in motion just a little bit, one way or another. - Norman Mailer

Eric, Alex, and Charlie

My babies are going to their first sleep-away camp without me. *sigh* My babies are growing up.  I am both excited and nervous for them.  They are both excited and nervous about going.  Luckily, they brought their buddy Alex with them.  Plus, they know two other boys in their cabin.  What a great way to have a first experience at summer camp.

It all started with the 5th grade fieldtrip.  They take the kids to this nearby camp where they get to explore the outdoors, challenge themselves on the adventure ropes, and ride horses. (I wanna go.) So, the boys asked me if they could go to camp this summer.  I asked a friend about the camp because her kids have gone.  She said that it's great.  Her son, who is the same age as my boys, loves it and was signing up for the same week.  He's been on the same baseball team with my boys. 

Speaking of baseball, Alex was busy with the traveling team until their team lost this week.  So, when I ran into his dad at the grocery store (Holy Spirit moment), he asked about the camp and went home and signed up his son, Alex.

A guy can't go to camp without his baseball glove, two footballs, and his buddies.

Just yesterday, these young men went to church with me and talked about what happens to you when you die.  They think we come back as someone else, so I taught them the word reincarnation.  We also discussed dejavu, premonitions, and intuition.  I told Alex's dad that the morning was like Bible school, a little Jesus time.  He thought that would be a good thing.  Maybe a guy can't live by baseball alone.  Still, a little game of catch goes a long ways in working off some nervous energy.

Have a great week, guys! See you on Friday for your program, camp stories, and glad-to-see-you hugs.

Go. Create. Inspire! And, while you're at it, try something new that helps you stretch and grow as a person and artist.

Journaling Prompt:  What kind of summer camp would you like to attend?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Pizza dough/ Pizza with zucchini and mozzarella

I always have flour on hand for that emergency appetizer.  Last night was the perfect example. I normally keep pizza dough ready to go at any time in the freezer.  Last night, I realized my inventory was depleted so I had to make this in a hurry.    My mother always made it in a hurry on a Sunday night for a snack. With one zucchini, some onion and some extra virgin olive oil, mozzarella  and some flour, it was pizza heaven.  I ran to the garden and only found one large zucchini.  What to do? Make a pizza of course!  Delicious.

I typically use the food processor method as it is quick and easy.
1 1/2 active dry yeast
3 cups unbleached flour + extra to roll out and smooth out your dough
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 + 1/4 cups warm water
one tablespoon cornmeal

Into the bowl of a food processor place your yeast and one 1/4 cup warm water. Make sure the water is warm to the touch but not hot.  Pulse and you will see bubbles form.   In a separate bowl combine all your dry ingredients.
Add 1/2 your flour to the food processor and continue mixing . Add your cup of water. At this point you should see that your dough is sticky but coming together.  Add your olive oil and the rest of the flour. Continue to mix until your dough comes together into a ball.  If it looks to wet and sticky, add additional flour until the flour comes away from the bowl and forms a ball.  Roll out onto a floured surfaces and form into a ball.  Place in bowl and cover with damp cloth.  Let rest 30 minutes.  At the end of 30 minutes you will notice that the ball will be somewhat inflated.  Divide in half.  Typically you can make four thin pizza formed into small 14 inch rectangle baking  pans from this one recipe.  Tonight I divided this in half for a thicker pizza.
You should see a smooth texture.  Add a  Little more flour and roll out.  At this point your dough is ready.  Wrap your other dough  in cellophane and place in freezer for another time.  Sprinkle some cornmeal inyour pan and place your newly formed pizza into your pan. Stretch out if you like. Set aside to rest. Preheat your oven to 425.
In a skillet,  2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and set your pan to medium
Add one sliced zucchini (medium about 7 inches in length). If you find two in the garden even better.   Be sure and slice the zucchini paper thin.
2 tablespoons onion
1 oz of pancetta diced into small pieces.  You can also slice and add to the pan.  Remove it as it will add wonderful flavor to your pizza.
1/2 cup white wine
Cook your zucchini, onion and pancetta until wilted and your pancetta is crispy.  This process should only take a few minutes.  When it begins to stick to the pan, add your white wine and let reduce. Your oil will separate from the pan.  Should take about 8 minutes in all. 
Set aside to cool.
Put your pizza in the oven for 6 minutes to pre cook. Remove from oven.  You will notice a crispy texture beginning to form.  Add your zucchini and sliced mozzarella cheese.  Place in your oven for 12 minutes or so.  Your cheese will be melted and your pizza nice and golden.  Let rest for 5 minutes. Slice and  Enjoy.  Buon Appetito~

*Special note:  If you are using a Pizza stone to cook your pizza on, please remember to preheat your stone in the oven, before placing your pizza on it to cook. *

Friday, July 22, 2011

Soundtrack of Your Life

Quote of the Day:  For better or for worse, music is the language of memory.  It is also the language of love. - Jodi Picoult, in her novel Sing You Home

Sonja Hinderlie playing her cello in the Mount Carmel Trio

I am not original in posing the question, What is on the soundtrack of your life? But, I found it was a great journaling prompt for my friends and family at Mount Carmel.  I had a longing to connect with other creative spirits, so I announced that I'd like to get together with others who are interested in journaling.  I used my own prompt from my recent post, What songs hold a strong memory in your life?

A couple other moms and I met on Tuesday.  We talked about songs that we sang as kids, and ones that we sing to our kids.  One mom said that her kids love it when she sings Rock-a-by baby in the treetops, when the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.  And, it's a lovely little tune and you sing about a baby and rocking, but then you're singing about the cradle falling and breaking, and when you think about it, it's not such a nice song afterall.  So, this mom, tried other words, which didn't really go over, so she wrote out a different image of the cradle falling into the loving arms of Jesus, and a prayer that the baby would be protected from the storms and falls of life.  A much nicer vision as you send your children off to dreamland.

On Wednesday, I tried meeting with a few more people right after lunch.  My mom was the first one there, and we were quickly joined by two of my cousins, a cousin-in-law, and another woman (the only non-Aalgaard).  We started by writing out songs and memories associated with songs.  My mom wrote a list of songs she likes to sing or hum to herself, morning praise songs, hymns, then started to write about songs that reminded her of her grandma and her parents.  We got a little family history out of it - for instance, our grandparents (on my dad's side) came into their faith by attending tent rival-type meetings back in the 30's.

My mom wondered what songs I'd think of when I thought of her.  Hymns, of course, especially Swedish hymns, but that's more her dad.  I told her that I think of her when I hear the soundtrack to Fiddler on the Roof.  She likes the good, old musicals.  The Sound of Music is also a favorite, but what I'll always remember is that my mom prefers the first half of these shows.  "They end too sad," she says.

My dad sings cowboy songs and gospel songs and anything that sticks in his head.  He loves to sing.  And, I realized that it's a family trait to walk around all day with a tune running through your head.  I hear my boys doing it, too. Ah, Tradition! like in Fiddler on the Roof, or the way we all confessed to stopping for ice cream on our way to camp.

Go. Create. Inspire! And, keep a tune in your heart.

Journaling Prompt:  What is on the soundtrack of your life?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mural Ministry

Quote of the Day:  What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?  - Vincent Van Gogh

 A muslin canvas is stretched over a handmade frame, measuring about 5x7 feet. The artist, Paul Oman, sets the stage for us as we enter the chapel.  What will he paint?  What's the Bible story for tonight?  How can he finish a painting within an hour's service?

Throughout the week, we have been gazing at the fruits of his labors, marveling at the details of murals painted while Bible stories are read and the music plays.  What stories are represented in these paintings?

Paul said that he likes to ask the viewers what stories they see in the paintings.  The answers can be very creative, especially if you weren't in attendance when he painted these murals.  While I sat through services and listened to speakers this past week, I'd look at these murals and imagine myself inside the painting.  The one with the fire is called Mount Carmel, and I see the great power of the Holy Spirit, coming in wind and flame to give you inspiration, courage, creative hearts, and love.  The one at the sea makes me think of "Fishers of men (and women)."  I also see the journey.  The ships are beckoning me from my safe shore into unchartered waters.  Where will my ship sail?  When will my ship come in?

The creator and his art interacting.  What do you see taking shape?
Small children are just below my photo frame (I wish I had lowered my viewpoint), heads on hands, glued to the action, mesmerized by art unfolding before their eyes.

First, a hand, then a face appear, and strokes of light and movement.

Paul said he was nervous about this painting. He said he was trying something new that was challenging him as an artist.

Do you hear words being whispered?  Do you feel the emotions of this young woman?  What will happen next?

I wanted a close-up of her face. Paul intentionally lets paint drip, to form tears, movement, and streams of light.

Paul and his painting. 
I see the Holy Spirit with Mary, and Paul, filling them, inspiring them, and whispering...
Go. Create. Inspire!

Paul said that he began drawing around the age of 10.  He originally went to college to be a veterinarian.  He ended up being a science teacher, and said that he continued to use art to learn and to teach.  He felt called to the ministry and became a pastor.  He was in a small parish, attendance was low during Lent, so he took a risk with a vision that he'd had - to paint a mural during a worship service while the lessons were read and songs and hymns played and sung.  The first year, he had his usual 40 attendees.  The next year, 200 people showed up.  When he did it again, 400 people came to the service.  Soon, he was sharing it with other congregations and at Mount Carmel family camp where I first saw him paint, four years ago.  This May, he resigned from his safe and secure pastor job, and embraced his true calling, Mural Ministry.  He has bookings through next Easter.  To learn more about Paul Oman, his art, and his ministry, go to his website.  He wants this experience to be available to everyone, no matter the size of your congregation, or where you live.  They'll help you find creative ways to bring him in.

Journaling Prompt:  What do you see in Paul's Paintings?  Have you ever witnessed art evolving in front of your eyes?  If you took a leap of faith, where would you go? What would you be doing?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Corn Dog Muffins

I don’t know about your house, but summers are BUSY around here! Lately I have been very dependent on my stand by recipes for dinners. Breakfast in the evenings has been occurring at least twice a week, and the easy options of sweet and spicy chicken tacos, spaghetti with slow cooker marinara and bean and chicken burritos have been regulars. In between baseball practices, tournaments all weekend, work, and everyday life I just didn’t want to make new dinner recipes. Instead I made sweet treats, breads, and food that, while they are OK in moderation, probably wouldn’t do so great as dinner.

It is time to start incorporating some healthy options for snacks, lunches and dinners. That is why I made these corn dog muffins. My kids LOVE corn dogs but I don’t love the deep fried, processed versions that I buy at the store. I have seen this idea floating around blog land for a while and decided to give it a try. My kids loved them and think it is even funnier to say they want to put ketchup on their muffins; they laugh and laugh about it like it is the funniest thing in the world to them. Which makes me start to laugh too because they are just so darn cute!

Ok…so the muffins…they are a cinch to make, tasty and like most of my favorite recipes can be changed up to suit your tastes. Plus, and don't tell my kiddos this, they are much healthier.  The basic idea is to whip up a batch of cornbread, throw in some hot dogs, bake and eat. But you can get fancy if you like, we add cheese, jalapenos and once in a while if I have a wild hair I might use turkey dogs instead of beef dogs, they would even be good topped with chili…OH MY! ENJOY!

I'm also linking up, go check out the other great recipes people are sharing!

Corndog Muffins
Recipe: A Cook’s Quest inspired by Blogland

Cornbread batter (my recipe is below)
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup melted butter
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp sugar

High quality hot dogs/turkey dogs/chorizos/sausages cut to fit your tins

Extra filling items to make your muffins even tastier-jalapenos, grated cheese, green onions, and peppers are some that we like.


Pre-heat oven to 400 F.  Line muffin tins with liners.

Mix one batch of your favorite cornbread. Fill muffin tins about ½ full with cornbread mix. Add cut hot dogs, cover with more batter. Bake 16-18 minutes. Eat

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Pollo alla Valdostana~

Delicious~ Chicken Breast stuffed with sage, prosciutto and Fontina cheese.  Recipe posted. Buon appetito~

Camping for Generations

Quote of the Day:  One thing I had to learn was that nothing remains the same...people grow and change...You look around and somebody is different from a year earlier. - Barbara Mandrell

Here I am at camp in our Little Red cabin with my four big boys:
Bobby, a senior this coming year.
Zach, 13, and Eric & Charlie, 11.

Here I am in 1973, sharing my popsicle with my little brother, and hanging on the beach with cousins.
Hey, relies, do you recognize yourselves in this photo?

I spent last week at a family bible camp with my four boys, my parents, an aunt, and cousins and their families, plus all the other campers, many of whom I've met in the past.  It was a big reunion and time for new memories. The Aalgaard's have been going to Mount Carmel for 40 years.  My mom went when she was a girl and worked there during her college years as a singing waitress.

Some of the highlights of our week together include the music from some amazing musicians.

The Mount Carmel Trio

"Maybe we should talk about the songs we're doing tonight."

John Ylvisaker, whose music I enjoy sharing at my home church.
Thanks, John, for your generous gifts of music.

I connected over journaling with my mom, other relatives, and made new friends. Our theme was music and memories. (More on that on Friday's post.)

Note, the stack of games behind me, the lovely weather outside, and my new Mount Carmel sweatshirt.  It was on the cooler side that week.  This week in MN, it's an unusual tropical climate.

We also played games, all sorts.  One afternoon, Bobby was wandering around the camp checking out what everybody was up to.  He saw Grandma (my mom) playing Scrabble with a couple friends, so he sat down and joined them. Sweet memories.

I also had the privelege of watching an artist in the process of his creation.  Here's the teaser for Wednesday's post....

What do you think will appear on this canvas?

Journaling Prompt:  When and where does your family like to go to just be together?  Do you have a family tradition of a place to stay or special time to be together?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chocolate Moosetracks Ice Cream with Mini Peanut Butter Cups . . . Heat Waves Have Their Benefits!

I have to believe that humans had a harder time enduring summer before the advent of ice cream. I mean, come on, how did those cavemen get along on the steamiest days with all that excess hair, no air conditioning, and--worse yet--no ice cream whatsoever?? It must have been hellish.

Yes, the present era may be heavily laden with its own problems, but historically speaking, I figure we're pretty darn lucky. For one thing, we have easy access to moose tracks. And I'm not talking about the kind of tracks imprinted in mud by a four-legged creature. No, I refer only to the endearingly frosty, alluringly creamy variety. The kind you can scoop up, press down into a brittle sugar cone, or plop generously into a big shiny bowl. I speak, my friends, of that singular ice cream that's swirled with fudgy streaks and dotted with mini peanut-butter cups.

It's one of womankind's favorite treats (and probably mankind's too). It's moose tracks ice cream, and it's a flavor concept that was, by the way, born and bred right here in Michigan. I guess it was only a matter of time before I had to take a stab at producing a homemade version.

Too much heaven, you say? Oh please. This is me you're talking to. We both know there's no such thing.

About this recipe . .

Everything valuable I know about making ice cream at home I owe to pastry chef David Lebovitz. I've probably already told you in the past that I never made really spectacular ice cream until he wandered along and published what I now view as nothing short of a seminal volume, The Perfect Scoop.  

Dear David, 
You've done civilization quite a service. 
Are you even remotely aware of that? Gosh, I hope so. 
Love, Jane.  
P.S.  I seriously think a copy of The Perfect Scoop should be placed in a time capsule at the North Pole, post haste. Just in case. 

I've lately been reading his memoir/cookbook, The Sweet Life in Paris, and in doing so have become ever more enamored of this down to earth, fun-loving pastry chef. He's got poetry in his soul, whimsy coming out of this ears, and by all accounts he's the kind of dedicated chef who tests and tests and retests again until he gets it right. What more can one ask?

Today's recipe is adapted from his formula for milk chocolate ice cream in The Perfect Scoop. I changed his base recipe very minimally, by deleting the 3/4 cup of cocoa nibs as well as the 2 tsp. of cognac. Instead, I used 2 tsp. of Kahlua (coffee flavored liqueur that goes fantastically well with chocolate), and I added a few swirls of homemade milk chocolate ganache into the just-churned ice cream before freezing it, along with a half cup or so of Trader Joe's mini PB chips (they're actually very good, not too sweet, and not waxy).  And, of course, I reworded the Lebovitz recipe to reflect exactly what I did 'cuz, well, that's just what I do.

Thus, I present you with my version of chocolate moosetracks . . . or as I imagine David Lebovitz might casually blurt out, in a cute French accent, "Voila le moose tracks du chocolat!"

(Oh, and before I forget, many thanks to Denali brand ice cream, for coming up with their original moose tracks flavor to begin with. You are a credit to our great mitten-shaped state!)

Milk-Chocolate Moose Tracks Ice Cream 
with Milk-Chocolate Ganache and Mini Peanut Butter Cups 

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

8 oz. milk chocolate (with at least 30 percent cocoa solids), finely chopped (I used Trader Joe's brand milk chocolate; comes in a very big bar and has, I think, 33% cocoa solids. Not expensive, but nice  flavor. It's a good bargain to use for everyday baking, etc.) 

1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 and 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar (I use cane sugar when I make ice cream. Has better flavor, I feel, and they say it has fewer impurities than beet sugar.)
1 large pinch of salt (I used coarse kosher salt.)
4 large egg yolks
2 tsp. Kahlua (coffee flavored liqueur)
1/2 cup mini peanut butter cups (I used Trader Joe's brand for these, too. Yummy.)
1/2 cup milk-chocolate ganache, at room temperature (See separate recipe for ganache below.)

In a large metal bowl set atop a saucepan of simmering water, heat the chopped milk chocolate and the heavy cream. Stir gently, heating until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove the bowl from the saucepan, using care to get no water into the bowl. Set the bowl aside and place a clean mesh strainer close to it. 

Set up an ice bath by placing ice cubes and cold water in a large shallow bowl. This will be used to cool down your egg-based ice cream mixture before it goes in the fridge. Have the ice bath ready and waiting before you start the next steps.

In a medium size saucepan, warm up the whole milk, sugar, and salt. While they're warming, in a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Pour the warm milk mixture slowly into the yolks, whisking constantly. Then quickly scrape this mixture back into the saucepan with a flexible spatula.  Over medium heat, stir constantly, until it thickens and can coat the spatula or a wooden spoon. Be very careful not to over thicken this mixture. It should be very pourable; you don't want it to look like pudding at this point.

Pour the heated mixture quickly through the mesh sieve placed over the bowl of melted chocolate and cream. Urge it through with your spatula if needed. Stir to combine the two mixtures. Stir in the Kahlua. 

Place the combined ice cream mixture, in its bowl, atop the waiting ice bath, being careful not to let water get into the ice cream mixture. Stir the mixture now and then to help it cool. 

When it's at least room temperature, cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least several hours or overnight. 

Make the milk chocolate ganache at least an hour or more before you plan to churn the ice cream in your ice cream maker. The ganache needs to be no cooler than room temperature so you can swirl it quickly and easily into your just-churned ice cream.

To make the milk chocolate ganache, and to finish making your ice cream: 

4 oz. milk chocolate, finely chopped (I used the same type of chocolate that I used for the ice cream mix.)
4 oz. heavy cream

Place the chopped chocolate in a small bowl. Heat the cream slowly in a small saucepan. When it's hot but not boiling, pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes, then gently stir it until all of the chocolate has dissolved and the ganache is smooth and silky. Let the ganache cool uncovered until it reaches room temperature.

When you're ready to churn your ice cream, have on hand the ganache and the mini peanut butter cups. Churn the ice cream mix according to your ice cream maker's directions. As soon as it's done churning, quickly spoon in dabs of the ganache, swirling it in as you go, and sprinkling in the peanut butter cups as evenly as you can manage. Freeze your churned ice cream overnight so it can fully ripen. (I prefer to keep my churned ice cream in a couple of pint-sized sturdy glass containers that have tight lids because it seems to freeze more evenly and quickly than when I do it in metal or plastic.)

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