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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!


Makes 2 quarts (2 L)

1 vanilla bean, carefully split lengthwise with a small, sharp knife

2 cups (500 mL) milk

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2 cups (500 mL) heavy cream

8 large cage-free egg yolks

3/4 cup (185 mL) sugar

1 cup (250 mL) bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup (60 mL) Jack Daniel's, or other Tennessee whiskey, or Kentucky bourbon, plus more as needed

1/2 cup (125 mL) melted bittersweet chocolate

Put the vanilla bean in a large saucepan. Add the milk and cream. Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a heatproof mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until foamy. While whisking constantly, pour half of the hot milk mixture into the sugar-yolk mixture. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; take care not to let the mixture come to a boil, which will curdle this custard and make it unusable.

Pour the thickened custard through a fine-meshed strainer into a large cold bowl. Immediately add the 1 cup (250 mL) of chocolate pieces to the hot custard and stir until they melt and the mixture is smooth. Cover the bowl and refrigerate until the mixture is chilled.

Stir the Jack Daniel's into the chilled mixture, adding a little more to taste if you like. Transfer the mixture to an ice-cream freezer and freeze following the manufacturer's instructions.

While the ice cream is freezing, prepare the chocolate chips.

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Heat a heavy baking sheet in the preheated oven. Spread the melted chocolate over the bottom of the baking sheet in a thin, even layer. Let cool until the baking sheet is cool to the touch, then transfer to the refrigerator and chill until the chocolate is hard. With a sharp knife, score the chocolate into small 1/4-inch (6-mm) squares. Using a metal pastry scraper or a palette knife, scrape these chips from the baking sheet. Freeze until needed.

When the ice cream is ready, transfer it to a cold freezer-proof bowl. With a spatula or large, wide spoon, fold in the chocolate chips. Store in the freezer until ready to serve.



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