RumChata Ribbon Ice Cream. Oh, and I graduated from nursing school.

So.

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Damn it, RumChata, I’ll get back to you in a second. Stop looking so delicious. (Or, as the lady at the liquor store told me, stop looking like a giant bottle of lotion.)

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On Thursday, I finally, after an insane three years of paper-writing, textbook-reading, note-taking, care plan-making, and IV-flushing, graduated from nursing school. Hooray for me!

Now, when I write about things on here, the attitude is usually “hooray for me” all the time, mostly because it’s a blog, and what other kind of attitude are you supposed to have when you are mostly writing about your own accomplishments in knitting and baking? (And cats. I do write about cats a lot.) It’s also written from that perspective because I often have a very hard time accepting compliments in the real world. Or thinking that my work is good enough in general. I often ride a very fine line of knowing that I am extremely capable when I work hard at something and also thinking that the world and everything I love will suddenly plummet to a firey descent of death if I don’t get an A on this damn paper.

It makes life weird.

Anyway, attitudes like that which generally make my day-to-day life anxiety-fraught (and the word ‘anxiety’ consistently makes it onto the most-frequently-used tags cloud at the bottom of the page, so are we really surprised?) made this moment that much sweeter.

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Yep, valedictorian. I just. I. I don’t even know. I was pretty sure that it was coming (except during one particularly harrowing afternoon when it looked like some sort of weird snafu of transfer credits, prerequisites, and weird university by-laws was going to make it not happen), especially because of my general desire to set unattainable goals, but I still don’t even know what to say. All I know is that I smiled from ear-to-ear for nearly 48 hours straight. Might be a record.

Now. Back to the ice cream.

A graduation party had been in the works for some time prior to all of this, mostly because I wanted to make sure that I could properly thank the people in my life who made the experience bearable with their kindness, warmth, and humor, with an entirely ridiculous amount of food and alcohol. When I was brainstorming desserts, my friend Brittany issued me a challenge. An ice cream challenge, which is probably the best kind. She suggested making alcoholic ice cream. RumChata ice cream, specifically.

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Hey there, you beautiful bottle. Glad you’re back.

If you’ve never partaken in the glory of a shot of RumChata, let me let their website describe it to you: “Rum and horchata had a lovechild, and it’s delicious.” Good copy.

It tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But with alcohol. And it is a fantastic addition to any graduation party, all on its own. But in ice cream? I found lots of fakey-type ice cream recipes online for it (like the coconut cream or bananas methods), but to make it a real custard-based ice cream, I had to get creative.

You see, RumChata is 27.5 proof alcohol, low on the general drinkability scale, but high when it comes to attempting to freeze something. Some research was definitely required to get everything to work out properly. Enter Ice Cream Happy Hour, a fabulous book by Valerie Lum and Jenise Addison and definitely required reading if you’re attempting to freeze anything that’s loaded with alcohol. Their method employs prepared gelatin and chilled alcohol incorporated at the end of the custard base chilling process, which is totally genius stuff right there. I also pulled together inspiration from the Pioneer Woman and Food.com in creating this cinnamony delight.

Here we go.

RumChata Ribbon Ice Cream
with a great deal of adapting and combining from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, Ice Cream Happy Hour, the Pioneer Woman’s Cinnamon Ice Cream and Virginia’s Cinnamon Sauce

Ingredients:
Cinnamon Sauce Ribbon:
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
1 pinch salt
3 tsp cinnamon
3 cups water
1 tsp vanilla

RumChata Ice Cream Base:
2 cups whole milk
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp cornstarch
3 tbsp softened cream cheese
1/8 tsp sea salt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp light corn syrup
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 packet plain gelatin
1/3 cup water
3/4 cup chilled Rumchata liqueur

Directions:
Cinnamon Sauce Ribbon:

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Whisk all ingredients together, except for the vanilla, in a medium saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.

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Remove from heat, stir in vanilla, and set aside to cool. (I let it sit out on the counter while I prepared the ice cream base and then refrigerated it until it was time to assemble the finished ice cream.) The sauce will thicken as it cools.

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RumChata Ice Cream Base:
This is all done using the Jeni’s method of ice cream making, which comes highly recommended by me and countless others. Please do go check out their website and support them in their awesome grand re-opening.

Mix two tbsp of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to make a smooth slurry. Whisk the cream cheese and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Fill a large bowl (a giant bowl) with ice and water in order to chill your ice cream base when ready.

Combine the remaining milk, the cream, sugar, corn syrup, and cinnamon sticks in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat, being sure to stir constantly to prevent scorching or boiling over, and boil for 4 minutes. (And be precise, people! Your ice cream is counting on you!)

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Remove from heat and gradually whisk in your cornstarch slurry mixture. Return to the heat and bring it back to a boil, still stirring, allowing it to cook and thicken up for about 1 minute. Fish out those cinnamon sticks and throw them away, unless you know something I don’t about what to do with them now.

Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the cream cheese and beat until smooth. Add the ground cinnamon and mix until well-distributed.

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Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon Ziplock bag, seal it, and submerge it in your giant bowl of water and ice until it’s totally chilled, about 30 minutes.

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When the ice cream base is chilled, it’s time for alcohol! Put the 1/3 cup water in a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over it. Allow it about 2 minutes to properly absorb, and then cook the mixture over low heat for approximately 3 minutes, until it is clear and all the gelatin has completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and stir in the chilled RumChata, resisting the urge to take a big swig from the bottle as you do so.

Pour this new alcohol mixture into the Ziplock bag with the chilled ice cream base, and then give the bag a good massage to make sure that everything’s mixed up nice. Pour the whole thing (most easily accomplished by snipping off a corner of the bag and squeezing it out) into the frozen canister of your ice cream maker and process it until it’s thick and creamy, according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

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This can be very different for different machines, and with the alcohol content involved in this one, may be very different from your normal time. Usually, my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment takes only about 30-35 minutes before the base is ready to freeze, but in this case, I let it go for 45 minutes before I realized it was just never going to be as lofty as it usually gets. Instead, I then poured it into a freezer container and stuck it in the coldest part of my freezer, taking it out to whisk it up every 30 minutes or so for the next 2 hours, at which point it had finally evolved into something I was more familiar with. Just keep an eye on it and have a little cinnamon-based faith. Even if it doesn’t get as beautiful as normal, it’ll turn out.

Pack your new ice cream into a storage container, layering the cinnamon sauce as you go.

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The recipe makes a boatload of sauce, so there’s plenty left over to warm up and put on top if you want when you’re serving it. Press a sheet of parchment paper firmly against the surface of the ice cream and seal with an airtight lid. Normally, ice cream only takes about 5-6 hours to cure in my freezer, but this one was best left in there for the course of 24 hours. Plan ahead for this ice cream deprivation.

When you’re ready, make sure you’ve got people crowded around and waiting, because even after all that effort, if you so much as look wrong at that ice cream when you take it out of the freezer, it will melt just to spite you. (But no, seriously, you don’t have to let it thaw or anything like you might normally. Just get to scooping and work fast.)

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Marvel in the fact that it actually worked! And then hurry up and scoop some more because you’ve got more people waiting.

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This is Brittany, the gauntlet-thrower for this entire experiment, and I think she was pleased.

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I think everyone was, as this was the scene five minutes after I started scooping.

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Luckily, I saved a tiny bit for myself at the end to enjoy. The ice cream itself was smooth and packed with warm cinnamon flavor, with a hint of that rum that reminds you that you are eating some ice cream only for grown-ups. The cinnamon sauce ribbon was slightly icy and grainy, but in the best way possible, giving the whole thing an interesting texture and more complex palate. It tasted like…Cinnamon Toast Crunch. With alcohol.

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Mission accomplished.

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Score One for the Pie People – Freestylin’ with Jeni’s Raspberry Blueberry Oven-Baked Empanadas

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Dan and I got into a small debate last weekend with some friends as to whether cake is better than pie. Dan and I fall firmly down on the “pie” side, which might be one of the defining reasons for our eight years together. I’m sure other factors play a part, but they surely can’t be as important as pie.

Cupcakes, with their beneficial frosting-to-cake ratio were mentioned during this debate, and I countered this argument with the existence of hand pies. Or empanadas. Or turnovers. Or whatever you want to call these wonderful little single-serving treats that give you an amazing crust-to-filling ratio that blows a cupcake away.

People who grew up in New Orleans (like me) also grew up on Hubig’s Pies, these amazing deep fried sugar bombs that always made an appearance at every family function in my childhood. (I have an aunt who used to work in their corporate office, and it was always her potluck contribution to bring an entire case of assorted flavors.) Unfortunately, Hubig’s suffered a devastating fire in 2012, and the factory has yet to be restored. That leaves those of us firmly entrenched on the “pie” side without some of our favorite things.

How do we fix this problem? We make our own.

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We get out our new ice cream cookbook, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts, turn to the page with the recipe for Sweet Empanadas, and get to mixing up some dough.

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Jeni’s has been encouraging people to take the recipes in the cookbooks and run with them, putting their own spin on things or creating new flavors, something they’ve dubbed Freestylin’. #freestylin if we want to be super-cool.

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When I was asking Dan about what flavor of hand pie he’d like, he specified raspberry. I was in more of a blueberry mood. What to do, especially since we’re in freestylin’ mode? Mix them together.

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Raspberries and blueberries cooked down into a delicious syrup makes the most beautiful deep magenta that I’ve ever been able to produce in my kitchen.

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I cut my circles out of my dough, using a Hard Rock Cafe cocktail glass that I have never used once for alcohol, mostly because of its cartoonish shape.

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And because I didn’t have any troubles with the dough, I was bound to run into problems sooner or later. The recipe recommends 2-2 1/2 tablespoons of filling per pie, but I could barely fit in one without having problems sealing the dough.

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See those ones in the back spilling their purple guts already? I think that I might need to invest in an empanada press. Then, the oozing might not have been so…oozy.

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Because we were freestylin’ (and slightly because I am still moderately terrified of boiling oil), I decided to bake the pies instead of frying them. Everything got brushed with eggwash and sprinkled with some extra sugar. Then, they went into a preheated 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes, switching places and turning halfway through.

Even though oozing did occur, however, the pies stayed fairly plump and didn’t lose the majority of their fruity filling, so things worked out in the end.

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Especially when we scooped some vanilla bean ice cream (tragically not handmade) on top, as per Jeni’s suggestion.

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Look at that melty, fruity goodness. Yum.

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The pies have only been in existence for two days, and they are already more than halfway gone. I should have doubled things up, clearly. Or maybe we just need Hubig’s back ASAP. Either way would be a win for us “pie” people.

Frozen Yogurt for Breakfast

My birthday was about two weeks ago, and I wanted to be sure that I had something interesting and delicious to eat for breakfast on that special day.

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What? You don’t eat ice cream for breakfast? You should really sort out your priorities.

While I agree that it’s probably not the best practice for everyday life, birthdays are special days where general eating rules should be able to go out the window. Plus, it’s frozen yogurt, so let’s just pretend that makes it more acceptable.

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I had never made frozen yogurt before, but I knew that Jeni would be able to guide me through it with flying colors. Plus, I knew that I was going to have to draw on a reserve of patience that I normally do not have when it comes to frozen treats. Making frozen yogurt with a fruit sauce takes 2 solid afternoons worth of work, and you need to be fairly precise about what you’re doing.

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At first, I was considering just going with the plain lemon frozen yogurt, but when I saw this suggestion, I knew that blueberries had to become involved. Both recipes are from the first book: Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, and I have a feeling that I will not feel truly complete until I have made at least one batch of everything in it. Then, I’ll move on to the second book. Let’s hope there’s not a third because I might never find true ice-cream-related emotional fulfillment. (Just kidding. I would buy it immediately, if only for the opportunity to leaf through the pages and sigh wistfully.)

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The first step in making frozen yogurt? Draining yogurt. The first time I ever heard of this concept was in a post years ago from everybody likes sandwiches about this amazing-sounding orange yogurt. I have always kept this concept in the back of my mind, but never got the opportunity to practice it until this day. I have a feeling that my local grocery store employees would have looked at me funny if I asked them where they kept their cheesecloth (It is still a major moment of confusion for them when I pull out my own shopping bags. One step at a time.), so I decided to go with the coffee filter option, which seemed to work beautifully.

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That yogurt needs to drain for several hours, so overnight was the best option. Next? The blueberry sauce. I figured that making it during the day before was a good idea, although I wasn’t anticipating the delicious smell and the way that the idea of fresh blueberry sauce sitting in the refrigerator would taunt me the rest of the day.

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Blueberries and sugar get tossed together and heated up over the stove until the whole house smells like you’re baking blueberry muffins.

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Blueberry sauce might be the prettiest purple of all the purples.

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The draining yogurt and cooling blueberry sauce sit in the refrigerator for a day, waiting for their ultimate destiny.

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The next day, lemons take over your whole kitchen. You zest them into big long strips.

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You juice them up.

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You make lemon syrup.

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And then you boil up that zest with your milk and cream and sugar and all of the other white things in your kitchen.

Speaking of white things…

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How did that yogurt do? How much liquid can really be in there anyway?

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I think I actually gasped. This moment was on a par with the time that I finally got to squeeze out shredded zucchini. So much unexpected greenish liquid. It was weird. But again, so worth it. Getting rid of that extra stuff helps to make the frozen yogurt base incredibly silky and smooth, with as little incidence of ice crystals as possible.

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Check out my mise en place. I’m getting so much better at this.

After things are boiled up, the various whiskings begin.

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You whisk in cornstarch slurry. You whisk in cream cheese.

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You whisk in that lovely thick yogurt.

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You whisk in your homemade lemon syrup.

Your arm gets tired.

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You let things chill out. (You do some dishes now, because to wait until you’re finished has previously proven to be a bad idea.)

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You strain out those pesky lemon zests.

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You get this amazing silky concoction, that, if I were I lesser woman, I would have eaten straight from the bowl with a spoon like lemon curd without a care in the world. However, one of the few things that I am willing to sacrifice for is the prospect of having ice cream, so I kept that impulse in check.

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You spin it up, and then do some more dishes. It’s a good idea to make ice cream so that you have an excuse to do some dishes, really. Let’s keep telling ourselves that.

Then, the assembly begins. I think that I’ll just let this go by like a stop-motion movie. You guys know what’s up.

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Such pretty stuff, with all those alternating layers of the lightest yellow and deep purple.

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Seal it up, and let it go. That’s right. More waiting. At least four hours, or if you’re like me, until your birthday.

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And then again, if you’re like me, deny yourself the pleasure of digging right in on your birthday morning so that you can take pictures first because you are absolutely ridiculous.

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But this beauty needed to be documented. The lemon frozen yogurt is super smooth, tart, and bright, much lighter than its traditional lemon ice cream counterpart. The blueberry swirl is sweet and fresh, with the tiniest bit of iciness and chewiness from those whole berries. The whole things just screams summer. And when your birthday is on the first day of summer, could there be anything better?

Now get inside from that crazy heat and stand over a hot stove and make yourself some frozen yogurt. It’s totally worth it. And your dirty dishes will thank you for it.