As a food writer and a food lover, let me tell you a little secret: I have actually spent a long time feeling like an imposter. While my love of food is genuine, I've spent most of my time in the kitchen following other people's recipes to the letter, and bouncing between simple meals and ambitious recipes that are really more like DIY projects. I've been a passionate cook, but never a very confident one.
That all began to change about five years ago — when I started to make ice cream.
My sister was graduating from grad school, and I got her an ice cream maker as a present. About 20 minutes after ordering hers, I ordered one for myself as well. Buying that KitchenAid freezer bowl attachment was the best thing I could have possibly done because it helped me find my stride in the kitchen.
I started out making ice cream the way I start out anything — with lots of research. I read books and blogs, made lists of recipes to try, and followed ice cream enthusiasts on Twitter. I immersed myself in as many ice cream-related things I could find.
Then I started making ice cream. I tried a cherry ice cream that required an airplane-sized bottle of amaretto. I learned to temper eggs (and ended up with a few scrambles), and I braved burnt sugar to try my hand at salted caramel ice cream.
Then I embarked on a quest to find the best basic vanilla ice cream recipe. In sitting down with five to six recipes for vanilla ice cream side by side, I learned to play around with the building blocks of a basic recipe. I found my favorite vanilla ice cream — it was creamy, rich, and didn't freeze too hard — and I started to use that as the base for other flavors.
I took the mix-ins from my other favorite flavors and added those to my new favorite ice cream base. That simple step helped me break out of the need to follow a recipe line by line.
Once I started branching out and combining recipes, I started coming up with my own original ice cream flavors. I found flavors in other desserts or dishes and translated them into ice cream. I turned my afternoon coffee break drink — dirty chai — into an ice cream flavor. I was inspired by a fancy chocolate company to create raspberry pink peppercorn sorbet. And I made a batch of lemon ginger cookies and cream based on the favorite cookie of my boss at the time.
The best part was that this experimentation and confidence with ice cream flavors carried over into all the other foods I cook. I'm much more willing to tweak a recipe that I'm trying because I know how to look at the building blocks and change an ingredient or swap one step for one from another recipe.
I might not be revolutionizing anything in the kitchen, but I'm a much more confident and versatile cook now, and I owe it all to ice cream.