Here are a dozen places to visit in Downtown/Strip District, East End, South Side and South Hills for the best tacos in Pittsburgh.
A few weeks ago, I tasted Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream for the first time. There's a reason people know Jeni's outside of its base in Columbus and outside of Ohio. Her Backyard Mint ice cream was quite memorable for incredibly fresh ingredients and creamy texture.
I'm not sure why a mind-blowing ice-cream experience inspired me to make it at home rather than look for something of comparable quality here in Pittsburgh, but such is the case.
I think it's the guilt. I generally don't wait in line at a shop without talking myself out of buying it. Why wait for ice cream when you can sit down at a restaurant and eat something equally as decadent, like pork belly?
On the other hand, making ice cream allows for future impulse eating.
The first flavor I craved was honey thyme, riffing on the Honey Thyme recipe in the "Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book." I got the book after reading about the quirky shop in San Francisco, conceived by Jake Godby, the quirky pastry chef from Coi. With flavors such as Elvis, The Fat Years and Rosemary's Baby, I started off conservatively.
First I heated milk and cream. Then I added the yolk-sugar mixture. Twenty-four hours later, after the concoction had cooled, I followed the Icecreamists' suggestion to whip ice cream for 45 minutes or more. The book "Icecreamists" was released in June and is a terrific primer for anyone hoping to make fantastic ice cream.
The first round of honey thyme was a success. I was rather proud of myself for making a sugar-free dessert this delicious. The second, I overwhipped, setting the mixer for a bit longer, on low for 60 minutes. The ice cream was so light it was like frozen whipped cream. This was not terrible, but not what I was hoping for. It would have been good on berries, as opposed to by itself, which is how I ate it anyway. There is something a little depressing about spooning something akin to whipped cream out of a plastic container.
After two rounds of honey ice cream, I chose a strawberry recipe that's a ringer. That said, I could have made a cold soup and those strawberries made it delicious. Airy with a bit of body, this ice cream was the one to test on my most discerning friend, who, incidentally, has eaten several of my dessert debacles.
After dropping off a strawberry pint for him to sample, he responded with a text of affirmation.
"You need some work on your fruit pies, but you make one hell of a strawberry ice cream."
Honey thyme ice cream
1/2 cup local honey
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 teaspoon salt
3 egg yolks
Stir together honey and thyme in a small bowl and let it infuse for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Fill a large bowl or pan with ice water. Place a bowl in the liquid, fitted with a fine-mesh strainer. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine cream, milk and salt, stirring occasionally. Do not allow it to boil.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks together.
Remove the cream mixture from the heat. Slowly pour about half of the hot cream into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer the yolk mixture back to the saucepan with the remaining cream mixture and return it to medium heat.
Cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula and be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan so it doesn't scorch, until the liquid begins to steam and you can feel the spatula scrape the bottom of the pan. Remove the custard from heat.
Pour mixture through the strainer into the bowl in the ice bath. Stir in honey thyme infusion. Let cool, stirring occasionally.
When the custard cools, cover and let steep and chill in the fridge for at least an hour preferably overnight.
When you are ready to freeze the custard, transfer to an ice cream maker and spin on low for 45 minutes.
Then freeze in a separate container until it solidifies to the desired texture.
-- Adapted from "Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book" by Jake Godby and Sean Vahey Chronicle, 2012, $19.95)
Scarlett fever strawberry ice cream
For the strawberry syrup
1 1/4 cup hulled and chopped strawberries
1/3 cup sugar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
For ice cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
First, make the syrup. Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and place over low heat until the strawberries soften. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then pour into a heatproof bowl. Make an ice bath and place the bowl into it for 20 minutes. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Pour the milk and cream into a large saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until it begins to steam.
Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks in a heatproof bowl until smooth. Add the sugar and whisk until pale and slightly fluffy. Gradually pour the hot milk into the egg mixture while whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Return the mixture to the saucepan and place over low heat, stirring frequently, until the custard thinly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not let boil.
Pour back into the bowl and set aside for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until cooled to room temperature. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Using a spoon, stir three-fourths of the syrup into the chilled mixture; do not use a blender so you retain the texture of the strawberry pieces. Pour into an ice cream machine or attachment and churn according to manufacturers' instructions (on low for about 45 minutes), adding the remainder of the strawberry syrup about 5 minutes before the end.
When churning is complete, scrap ice cream into a freezerproof container with a lid. Freeze until it reaches desired scooping texture.
-- Adapted from "The Icecreamists" by Matt O'Connor (Mitchell Beazley, June 2013, $19.99)
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 and on Twitter @melissamccart.