King of Vanilla Creams

JPatz_20140711_3J8A3827-Edit_WebI heard on Clark Howard a few weeks ago that Consumer Reports claimed that Costco has the best widely available vanilla ice cream.  That seemed like a worthwhile thing to test, especially with another niece coming to visit for her Golden Ticket trip.  So we collected several big brands and the three of us tried them (several times).

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Best Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe

Feeling hot hot hot?  Well, then it’s time for homemade ice cream.  I’ve given you some of the very best homemade ice cream recipes I know of already – Vanilla, Oreo Mint, Peanut Butter Cup, and Peach.  You can get a printable version of all four here.  We worked on them until each was the tastiest we’d ever had.  The only complaint we got was that there was no chocolate recipe.  As you can see below, that situation has been rectified.

This recipe was easy to finalize since we had already tested different chocolate combos for the best brownies in the world.  All we had to do was modify the winner to pack that flavor into ice cream.  Just like the brownies, the challenge of chocolate ice cream is making it really chocolaty.  It is easy to turn the white cream brown but getting a strong flavor to match that dark color requires several kinds of concentrated chocolate and a little espresso. Both Melanie and I agree that it is the best chocolate ice cream we’ve ever eaten.

I think this ice cream could be a real winner with chocolate Oreos broken up in it.  If it didn’t melt so fast, it might be nice to add some cinnamon chocolate pudding right at the end of the mixing.  Of course duplicating Ben & Jerry’s New York Super Fudge Chunk is never a bad idea.  You’d just need to mix in white and dark chocolate fudge pieces, pecans, walnuts, and chocolate-covered almonds.

Maximum Chocolate Ice Cream (Printable PDF version)
Makes about 5 cups

1-1/2 teaspoons instant espresso
1-1/2 teaspoons boiling water
2 oz Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup Dutch-processed cocoa
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1.  Freeze freezer bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (probably overnight).
2.  Bring water to a boil in a medium bowl.  Stir in espresso powder dissolving completely.
3.  Stir in chocolate chips dissolving completely.
4.  Heat milk until hot but not boiling then add to chocolate mixture.
5.  Stir in cocoa powder dissolving completely.
6.  Cool mixture in fridge until very cold.
7.  Add sugar and mix on low speed for about two minutes until all sugar is dissolved.
8.  Add cream and mix about one minute until evenly incorporated.
9. Pour immediately into ice cream maker and operate according to manufacturer’s instructions until ice cream is thick and frozen (probably 30 minutes).
10. Eat immediately for soft serve.  Transfer to container and place in freezer for about two hours for firmer ice cream.

After you give it a try, let us know how you like it.  If you send me a picture of you enjoying your batch of ice cream (in a G-rated way), I’ll be sure to append it to this post.  Let me know if you want me to include your name or not.

Homemade Marshmallows and Homemade Super S’mores

*** Update:  I now recommend two bags of chocolate chips as shown in the corrected recipe below.  This works great if you spread the chocolate out a little more.  It is easy to put on so much chocolate that it is almost too thick to bite through once it cools.  Thinning it out makes it a little easier to eat.  ***

If you have never made homemade marshmallows, you should give it a try.  “But Jason,” you say, “How are those any different from store bought?  You can’t get much more basic than marshmallows.  They are just sugar with air and water whipped in to them and some animal parts to help keep their shape.”  This statement is true, but it is the freshness factor that really makes a big difference.  Ever found a half-eaten bag in a desperate hour (like when you wife is on a no-sugar kick and you’ve already consumed all other dessert options)?  Those things taste like Styrofoam because time is a marshmallow’s enemy.  Once you’ve had a batch of homemade, you’ll see that a “fresh” bag of store bought is still rather bland.

Homemade Marshmallows

They can be a bit sticky if you don’t work with them quickly while they are still hot, but other than that they are simple to make.  They take maybe 15 minutes to create and then a couple of hours to cool.  Be sure not to sample them too quickly!  The molten sugar concoction is like sun napalm.

Non-stick cooking spray
½ cup cold water
(3) ¼ oz packages of unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup light corn syrup
¼ cup water
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon peppermint extract
2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract
Confectioner’s sugar

Line a 9”x13” baking dish with plastic wrap leaving an overhang on ends.  Lightly spray with cooking spray (if you put it on too heavy you’ll be able to taste it).

In a large mixing bowl combine gelatin with ½ cup cold water.  Let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium saucepan combine granulated sugar, corn syrup and ¼ cup water.  Bring mixture to rapid boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for one minute.  Immediately add to gelatin mixture.  WARNING:  Sugar mixture will be extremely hot and gelatin will be extremely stinky.

Using an electric mixer, start mixing on slow to avoid flipping hot liquid out of the bowl.  Increase speed to high as soon as mixture begins to thicken.  Add salt and continue to mix for 12 minutes.  Before your eyes the mixture will turn into marshmallow!  Add peppermint or vanilla extract and mix until fully combine.  NOTE:  Two teaspoons of vanilla will kill the gelatin smell and three will really allow you to taste the vanilla more.

Immediately pour mixture into pan.  If you work quick enough this will be easy.  If you take too long, you may need a spatula coated with cooking spray to coax the contents out of the bowl.  Let cool for 2 hours.

Lift marshmallows from pan using your convenient overhang plastic wrap handles.  Cut marshmallows into approximate 2” squares.  You may need to rinse your knife between cuts or give it a squirt of cooking spray.  Place about ¼ cup of confectioner’s sugar in the baking pan.  Lift marshmallows from plastic wrap one at a time and toss in pan to coat.  Add more sugar to pan as needed.

Marshmallows will begin to lose their freshness after about three days.

And of course, I wanted to try coating them with chocolate.  We tried:  semi-sweet, bittersweet and butterscotch.  We tried putting them on chocolate and regular graham crackers too.  Our order of preference was:

  1. Semi-sweet with grahams
  2. Semi-sweet
  3. Plain
  4. Bittersweet with grahams
  5. Bittersweet
  6. Butterscotch

There really wasn’t a big diff between regular and chocolate grahams.  We think the ultimate would be mix of semi and dark.  The semi was the most complimentary flavor with the marshmallows but the dark had a wonderful chocolate finish.  Milk chocolate would probably be too sweet.  C’mon, you are pouring chocolate over a sugar square.  Believe it or not, you’ll need three bags of chocolate chips to coat one batch of marshmallows!  So if you want to try making super s’mores, I’d suggest:

Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Grahams
1 batch of marshmallows
(2) 12oz bags of chocolate chips (1 semi-sweet Ghirardelli and 1 bittersweet 60% cacoa Ghirardelli recommended)
1 box of honey graham crackers

Cover large plates or cookie sheets (whatever will fit in your refrigerator or freezer) with wax paper.  Break graham crackers in half (squares) and place on wax paper.

Why You Put This Stuff on the Plate Before You Coat it in Chocolate

Place chocolate in double boiler and melt.  Don’t let the water touch the bottom of the top bowl.  Keep water at absolute lowest temp that will keep chocolate melted.  If the chocolate gets too hot, it will melt the marshmallows.  Surprisingly, the water doesn’t need to be boiling to keep the chocolate liquid.  If the water boils too long, you may scorch your chocolate.

Homemade Double Boiler
If Chocolate Gets Too Hot

Spoon a dollop of chocolate on a graham and place a marshmallow on top.  Place another dollop or two of chocolate on top of the marshmallow.  As the chocolate cools slightly you can use a spatula to spread the chocolate out and down the sides, but this is not necessary unless you prefer a thin shell of chocolate instead of a thick toupee on top.

Refrigerate until completely cool (15 minutes?).  You could leave them on the counter to cool but it will take longer than you think and then you’ll have a mess when you start gorging yourself.  Mom won’t be happy.

You will have a little extra chocolate at the end. Just dunk a few grahams in it and place them on wax paper to cool.  You may get as many as eight out of your leftovers depending on how heavy handed you are when you apply it to the marshmallows.

Dip Grahams in Extra Chocolate

Crumbled chocolate grahams, shaved chocolate bar or white chocolate drizzle would probably look nice on top.

Let me know in the comments if you try it and like it.  Except for the marshmallow cooling time, this recipe is fast.  A very quick potential turnaround from raw ingredients to stomach.

Badguyschtom Toopahs without Shootguns

Aren't You a Little Short for a Stormtrooper?

Some of my relations are discovering the joy of the original Star Wars trilogy and, naturally, they wanted to be Star Wars for Halloween.  May I present to you two of the toughest Badguyschtom Toopahs without Shootguns that you are ever likely to meet.

Should you be trying to whip together you own Stormtrooper costume right before All Saints’ Day Eve, here are a few links that might help with quick n’ cheap construction.

Milk Jug Trooper Helmet

Foamcore Trooper Body Armor

Great 501st Reference Pictures (and movie-accurate construction info elsewhere on the site)