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Chill out: Celebrate the last blast of summer eating homemade ice cream

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

Even though autumn is three weeks away, most Americans think of Labor Day weekend as the end of summer. Family vacations are over, children are starting school, and grills are being readied for one more grand meal cooked outdoors.

There's just one problem. Summer doesn't seem ready to go. In many parts of the country, we're only now entering the hottest time of year, regardless of what the calendar says or how much earlier the sun sets.

So, I'd like to offer you some tips for your Labor Day cookout.

1. Keep the food simple. Choose items that grill quickly, whether it's sliced summer vegetables or relatively thin fillets of seafood, poultry or meat. Now is not the time to stand over a hot covered grill as you slow-cook and regularly baste a boneless pork shoulder.

2. Keep accompaniments equally simple -- and cool. Classic coleslaw or a salad of sliced sun-ripened tomatoes with basil, for example, will help you feel refreshed throughout your meal.

3. Finally, finish with homemade ice cream. No dessert expresses summer's pleasures more effectively.

Making ice cream is surprisingly easy. What takes the most time is preparing your ice cream mixture (basically a flavored, pourable custard), and that doesn't take much more than a half hour of kitchen time. Then comes what used to be the most challenging part of the process: hand-turning an old-fashioned ice cream freezer. Today, however, you can find a good variety of reasonably priced electric machines that will do that work for you. If you love good ice cream but don't have one of these appliances, I highly recommend that you get one. You may even find them on sale, now that summer is almost over.

What kind of ice cream should you make? Of course, the instruction booklet that comes with your machine will offer good basic recipes. But I suggest that you start getting more creative as soon as you feel comfortable. To inspire you, let me offer of my own favorite recipes for a uniquely American flavor that symbolically toasts our nation's workers on Labor Day: Jack Daniel's chocolate chocolate chip.

The smooth, mellow taste of Tennessee whiskey as exemplified by its most familiar brand, Jack Daniel's, perfectly complements custardy homemade ice cream flavored and flecked with bittersweet chocolate. Considering the recent boom in artisanal spirits, I'm sure you'll easily find other good options; or substitute your favorite Kentucky bourbon. (Feel free to make a "virgin" batch, if children will be joining the party. The results will still taste delicious.)

Note that it takes very little liquor to flavor the ice cream: a 1/2-cup (125-mL) serving includes just 3/4 teaspoon. Still, I suggest that you eat (and drink) responsibly on this unofficial last weekend of summer!

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