Monday, August 25, 2008

More than One Way to Eat Your Greens...

Central Elementary School Garden
This year, I have the privilege of chairing a committee for the Junior League of San Diego called Growing Healthy Students - aka "The School Garden committee." We're working with Central Elementary School in City Heights, which until now has been running their fabulous on-site garden as a "Six to Six" program activity. This year, we're partnering with the UC Davis Cooperative Extension to bring a new curriculum to the fourth grade classroom, to get the kids into the garden, and bring the garden into the classroom. The TWIGS curriculum is California Standards based, but it's nice and earthy too - with fun lessons about soil and worms, edible flowers - even some recipes. For an hour or so each week, the kids will learn about soil and how food grows, they'll observe what's going on in the beds, and maybe even plant some of them. Though I was on this committee last year, this is the first time that the program has been integrated with the classroom teaching, which is pretty exciting for us.
Central Elementary Garden Cleanup
For the benefit of the garden, the families and our members, we're doing cooperative garden cleanup and planting days at the school every other month - this past Saturday was our second one, and like the first it was a big success. We planted some guava trees and grape vines, pulled weeds, hauled trash, and just generally spiffed the place up.
Sugar Cane, Lemongrass, Tomatoes and Basil
The amazing garden is cared for by Agustin, who works not only at Central but at a few other schools in the area. It's serious foodie territory - with sugarcane and lemongrass; herbs including thyme, oregano, chocolate mint, spearmint and basil; zucchini, apples and tomatoes. The best part of going to work there, is there's always a surplus of trimmings and extras for the helpers. Last time it was buckets of onions that we actually sent to the Linkery. This time, it was basil, lemongrass, sugar cane, and best of all - fresh Chocolate Mint.
The haul in my car ready to go home
Chocolate Mint is a variety of peppermint with a slightly darker leaf that has a hint of chocolate in it's aroma. On Sunday morning, I picked off the leaves and steeped them in cream to make the best homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream I've ever made. It might even be the best mint chocolate chip ice cream I've ever had - which is saying a lot, considering it's my standard order at Bi Rite Creamery. It has just enough sharpness from the peppermint, with a gentle herbal undertone you just can't get from pure peppermint oil. I did boost the flavor just a teensy bit with a swipe of peppermint oil on a toothpick - but you could get away without it too. The delicate herbal flavor has a charm all it's own.
Chocolate mint leaves steeping
We ate this last night with some friends to top off an ideal summer meal - a salad made with heirloom tomatoes from their garden, some local avocados, fresh burrata I picked up at Taste this weekend - topped with dollops of fresh pesto made with basil from the garden using Elise's recipe. I did feel a little bit guilty. After all, making ice cream and pesto isn't exactly what we have in mind for our program - but we wouldn't want this lovely stuff to go to waste now, would we?
homemade pesto
To sop up the tomato juices we had toasted Bread and Cie baguette, and there were salad greens which were largely ignored, and Vinho Verde, which was not. The meal was delicious, the company was delightful, and the ice cream was the perfect thing to finish. Best of all, I found out Jora is growing chocolate mint in her herb garden right now, meaning there is undoubtedly more of this delicious stuff in our future!
Fresh Chocolate-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Fresh Chocolate-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
adapted from this recipe and this one.

1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 cups lightly packed chocolate mint or peppermint leaves

1 cup half and half
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
pure peppermint oil (not extract)*

5 egg yolks

1 cup chopped chocolate (I used Valrhona 56%, chopped with a chef's knife into 1/4 inch pieces - and one and one half 3 oz bars made exactly one cup of chips)

In a small saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup cream and 1/2 cup half and half with the mint leaves, stirring constantly, until it's good and hot but not boiling. (You can just touch it lightly with your finger to test it.)

Set aside the mint and cream mixture to steep for at least 30 mins. Press the mint leaves against the side of the pan to extract the flavor, and stir the pan a couple of times during cooling to prevent a skin from forming on the milk.

When you're ready to make the custard, put the remaining cream and half and half in a saucepan with the sugar and a dash of salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until hot but not boiling. Temper in the egg yolks - add a little of the mixture to the yolks and whisk it in to warm the yolks, then add the yolk mixture back to the saucepan and whisk together gently. Cook the custard over medium heat for about ten minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it makes an opaque coating on the back of the spoon and your finger leaves a trail when drawn through it. If you have a thermometer, it should be about 170 degrees.

Strain the hot custard into a bowl, then strain the mint-cream into the same bowl, pressing down on the mint to extract all the juices. Take the peppermint oil and drip one or two drops into the cap of the bottle, then dip a toothpick in the oil and swish it through the custard mixture. (Trust me, this is all it takes!)

Chill until cold, either in an ice water bath or the refrigerator, and churn in an ice cream maker. When you put the ice cream in to churn - chop your chocolate, place it in a bowl, and leave in the freezer for a few minutes, until the ice cream is done. When the ice cream is frozen, add the frozen chocolate chips - either by sprinkling them in a little bit at a time while the machine is running (if possible) or stirring them in immediately after freezing.
Fresh Chocolate-Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
I think my Krups machine goes a little longer when the bowl is wrapped up with couple of folded kitchen towels for extra insulation. (make sure you don't wrap the motor, it could overheat!) My theory is that the extra time allows it to whip more air into the ice cream, giving it better texture. My machine has a little hole in the top, and when the ice cream was spinning on the blade like taffy and looked nice and elastic and pretty solid - I sprinkled the chocolate in a little at a time, until it was all incorporated, then scooped it into a container for the freezer.

*I bought mine at Henry's - it's an essential oil, which they carry in the cosmetics section. I'm pretty sure you can also buy it at Whole Foods.

Makes 1 quart, plus one extra serving for the cook!

Other favorite ice cream recipes from the archives:
Sour Cherry Frozen Custard
Salted Caramel Ice Cream (linked)
Lemon Ice Cream


  1. I would love to be involved with a program like that! The ice cream looks heavenly!

  2. Man, I'm more excited that they're growing sugar cane in San Diego. If/when I come back I'm so ready to help out with something like this.

    I could finally use my culinary background for something other than blogging and personal gain.

  3. this is my husband's absolute favorite flavor of ice cream. i might have to make this for him when he returns from being in the desert for a month!

    very cool garden, too. i've had fun this summer growing just a few things. so satisfying.

  4. Wow, very cool! I dont know how you find the time to do all the stuff you do! I need to stop watching telly!

  5. I had the best mint chocolate chip ice cream at Chez Panisse Café. This fresh mint ice cream reminds me of exactly that. Thank you for the recipe.

  6. What a fantastic program! I hope the kids get to sample some of that incredible ice cream! :-)

  7. Very cool. City Heights is my new 'hood, and it's great to see this going on! Good on you for being involved in a great program!

  8. That ice cream was to die for (and you know I'm not even an ice cream person). You should enter it into TheKitchn ice cream recipe contest. And if you have any leftover, bring it on over to the other side of the mountain. :-)

  9. OK, I just made this, and I think it might be the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. I was worried before I chilled the custard b/c it tasted overly minty — I didn't have as much restraint as I should have with the peppermint oil, but once it is frozen the taste is much milder. I am so excited! I have been looking for a good base ice cream recipe and this one can be adapted in so many ways. I can't wait to blog about it, but I'm afraid the ice cream may be gone before I can snap a picture of it. It is so yummy!!

  10. I found this recently and make the ice cream. OMG. I am not a mint fan but it was delicious. Gave to my co-worker who requested this flavor. THANKS!!!!

  11. hmmmm looks yummy i like ice cream too much. i found a place where i have got great saving on motor mint specials. nice to see this blog i will must try this.

  12. Just found your blog and love it. I'd like to learn more about the school gardens that you are involved in, but that blog link doesn't work. Can you send me in the right direction?

    Oh and I definitely am going to try this mint ice cream, yum!