Summer Recipe: Salted Caramel Ice Cream

The salted caramel flavor train is sweeping the nation and its next stop is right in your kitchen! Last month we gave you a skinny margarita recipe, and now that summer’s here it’s time to indulge. You’ll need an ice cream maker, so if you don’t have one, see if you can borrow one from a neighbor or friend! Here’s our recipe for homemade salted caramel ice cream:

caramel

(source)

Equipment

  • Ice cream maker
  • 10-inch heavy skillet
  • 2 medium-sized bowls
  • Small, heavy saucepan
  • Whisk
  • Wooden spoon
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Fine-mesh sieve
  • Large bowl
  • Airtight container

Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups sugar, divided
  • 2 ¼ cups heavy cream, divided
  • ½ teaspoon flaky sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs

Step One: Heat 1 cup of the sugar in a dry, 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir it with a fork so that the heat distributes evenly. When it begins to melt, stop stirring and cook it by picking up the skillet and swirling it around so that it melts evenly. When the sugar takes on a dark amber color, it’s time for Step Two!

Step Two: Add 1 and ¼ cups of heavy cream to the sugar (this might spatter, so be careful!) and cook until all of the caramel (AKA dark, melted sugar) has dissolved. Move this mixture to a bowl and then stir in the ½ teaspoon of sea salt and ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. Pro tip: if you don’t have two ½ teaspoon measuring spoons, use the same spoon for dry ingredient first, then the wet ingredient last. That way you’ll end up with the right amounts of both.

Step Three: Bring milk, the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream and the remaining ¼ cup of sugar to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan. Stir occasionally.

Step Four: Lightly whisk eggs in a medium-size bowl, then add half of the hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour it back into the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until a custard-like consistency appears and coats the back of the spoon, registering 170 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer. Do NOT let the custardy mixture boil!

Step Five: Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl and then stir in the cooled caramel. Chill the custard, stirring occasionally, until it’s very cold – this will take between 3 to 6 hours. Freeze the custard in an ice cream maker (it’ll be soft), then transfer it to an airtight container and put it in the freezer to firm up.

This recipe will last you a whole week, so once you’re done be sure to save some to show off what a cooking maestro you have become!

Need more inspiration? Check out our Idea Book and learn more about how to take your hardscape to the next level.

 

Planning Ahead for Summer Outdoor Parties

School’s out for the summer and it’s the perfect time to make the most out of some good weather and the great outdoors. Summers are chock full of opportunities to throw a party – it seems like every week there’s a new reason to celebrate! Graduations, holidays, you name it. But party planning isn’t all fun and games. It can take a lot of hard work and preparation to keep the chaos at bay.

With that in mind, we’ve got some tips and ideas on how to celebrate the most important days of summer.

Have the Best Hydration Station in the Nation

Whether you’re planning a party for the Fourth of July, National S’mores Day, or Labor Day, you’re going to need to keep your guests safe from the summer super-villain known as dehydration. You’ll be everyone’s favorite host or hostess if you keep cold refreshments outdoors in several easy-to-spot locations. Clear containers with metal spigots are cheap, attractive choices for self-serve drink dispensing. Plus, everyone will be able to avoid passing out from heat stroke before the fun starts.

summer1

(Source)

Trust us on this – everyone will thank you for using the ancient art of peer pressure to stay hydrated. It sounds basic, and even obvious, but millions of Americans are chronically dehydrated. It’s not just from lack of water consumption; popular beverages like tea, coffee and soda dehydrate you more than you might expect. With busy day-to-day lives, it’s easy to forget the basics sometimes and it helps to be reminded. So whip up some fresh lemonade (with real lemons and even some mint leaves if you’re feeling decadent) to keep your guests happy, healthy, and full of energy to keep partying. If you’re hosting the Fourth of July get-together, bonus points if you make strawberry lemonade (because it’s red, of course).

It’s All Fun and Games

The thrill of playing games isn’t just a great way to avoid awkward conversations with your friend’s great-uncle’s boss about politics. They’re a wonderful way to bond and have fun with people you love (and get to know new people). For a Fourth of July or Labor Day party, break out a game like Apples to Apples or Pass the Popcorn (this one’s especially great for movie buffs). These kinds of games are the perfect party game: they’re low-stress and minimally competitive. You don’t want to be the party thrower who gets everyone embroiled in a friendship-ruining game of Risk or Monopoly.

You can play Apples to Apples outside, but if you really want to take advantage of the green grass and summer sun, play a game of kickball or four-square. These kinds of games are fun for young and old alike, and there’s a reason kids love them so much. Children are certified experts in fun. According to the U.S. Department of Fun, you’re going to have a great time. Okay, that department isn’t real. Yet.

Unwinding

If you’re having a low-key get-together, these tips are for you. The Fourth of July is about reveling in freedom and relaxing underneath a canopy of stars and fireworks with people you care about. Not much of a party planner? No problem. You don’t have to turn your house into a public park to have a good time. Try coordinating a trip with your friends to go to the nearest fireworks display. Have everyone meet up at your place then carpool to the festivities. Make sure you have a designated driver and then relax, thinking about the kitchen you won’t have to clean up tonight. When you get home, everyone can curl up around the fire pit and roast s’mores together.

summer2

(Source)

If you’re not much for hosting parties on the big days, try something new this year and celebrate National S’mores Day! It’s on August 10th and it’s our new favorite excuse to eat the celestial combination of marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate. If you’re a homebody or a camping fan (or fanatic) here’s our suggestion for celebrating this day of deliciousness. Plan a backyard camping ‘excursion’ for you and the kids or some good friends, tell spooky stories and feast on s’mores to your heart’s content. Buy all different kinds of chocolate: exotic flavors, flavors you’d never think to combine, flavors you’ve never heard of.

Life is better when you’re having fun and making good memories, and there are endless ways to make each day memorable. How do you plan on celebrating these holidays? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments!

Gardening Tips to Beautify Your Hardscape

We hope you’ve all enjoyed the first official month of spring! Regardless of how the weather has behaved in your area so far, you can rest assured that sunshine is on its way – and with it, plenty of time to relax and entertain in the yard.

But first, we all have work to do to get our outdoor living areas ready for extended use. Time to wipe down the tables and chairs, sweep off the patio and most importantly, whip your garden into shape so you can blow away your guests.

This year, consider taking a fresh approach to your garden; one that works in tandem with the design of your hardscape to create a truly unbelievable getaway.

Here are a few tips to help you knock off the winter rust and beautify your outdoor living space with some natural beauty.

gardening1

Bring walkways to life. Pleasant walkways are one of the key elements of the perfect hardscape. Not only do they provide a safe and comfortable walking path for you and your guests, they also guide the eye toward your yard’s best features and add visual interest to the landscape. This year, make your walkways even more magical by surrounding them with Irish mosh or thyme. This type of greenery will add character to your pavers and make your yard feel more a part of the natural environment.

Add vertical interest. Is your hardscape feeling a little one-dimensional lately? Try giving it a more robust and enchanting flavor with some clever layering. Make us of both short and tall greenery. Use ground level flowerbeds as well as elevated platforms and pots to create the illusion of a more diverse landscape. Consider adding a sunken garden that can serve as a little hidden getaway for you on warm summer evenings.

Make the most of your surroundings. If you have beautiful naturally occurring bushes or trees in your yard, use them as focal points rather than trying to fight against them. After all, the point of outdoor living is to bring you closer to nature in a way that gives you all the comfort and convenience of being indoors — not to isolate you from its beauty.

Make your garden pop with neutral pavers. If you want to draw visitors’ eyes to your meticulously manicured garden, try a more unassuming color stone in your hardscape so as not to distract. Our Lafitt pavers come in natural-looking stone colors that allow your gardening skills to shine and embellish the design of your hardscape.

gardening2

Keep it fresh. Change up your look with seasonal updates so you never get bored of your outdoor living space! Try pansies, bloodroot or lilacs in the spring. Switch things up deeper in the summer with fresh aster, daisies or dahlia.

Smart gardening can do wonders for the mood of your hardscape. Depending on your style, you can use flowers, bushes, trees and other plants to give your outdoor living space a bright, airy feel, or a secluded, mysterious one. Whatever your personal preference, use these tips to spur your creativity and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Happy Gardening!

How to Host a Great Easter Egg Hunt

Flowers are blooming, the trees are gearing up to provide us with shade and both spring and summer holidays are right around the corner. As you’re preparing for outdoor celebrations, don’t overlook Easter as a great opportunity to invite guests over for an afternoon Easter Egg hunt!

Here’s a tip: after you figure out how many little hunters you’ll have, multiply that number by ten or twelve. That will give the kids plenty of treats to feast upon as well as trinkets to play with (especially for those concerned about inadvertently creating a legion of sugar-crazed children, substitute small toys or coins for candy).

eastereggbelgard

Now for the actual hunt. Here are some fun alternatives to the traditional egg hunt:

Make it feel like a mission. Have each participating kid find one or two of each color egg and once they complete their mission, they can turn in their eggs to the host for a prize, like a sweet 401k (just kidding, go for something like a coloring book and some markers or crayons, or a fun game that they can play with their whole family).

Along with candy, trinkets and coins, feel free to put messages with something inspirational or kind written on them! If you want to tailor the notes to specific kids, assign each kid a specific color. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, use different colors of yarn for each kid to weave a treasure map around the yard. That way, they’ll get exactly what they’re meant to and each kid will feel as important as they truly are (and there won’t be any brawls over who found the egg first).

Who says kids get to have all of the fun? Have an adult team up with each kid (it can be a parent, aunt, uncle, cousin or older sibling) and search together. Hide some of the eggs in hard-to-reach places and when the little ones spot a bright color in a strange spot, their grownup sidekick can put the kid on their shoulders so they can reach it. Plus, they get to feel like they’re seven feet tall for a few seconds, which is nothing short of exhilarating.

Great news: you don’t have to break the bank to have a successful, thoroughly enjoyable hunt in your outdoor living space. When it comes to having fun, kids are certified professionals, and with fun adults to facilitate these kinds of adventures, they’re bound to have an unforgettable time.

 

Start Early & Be Ready for Summer

It may be bitter cold across most of the country, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get excited for spring and summer now. These cold winter months do have an advantage: they give you ample time to plan your outdoor living space, so you can revel and relax in it when summer arrives. Here are some pros of planning ahead:

Let’s say you want a new paver for your backyard patio and pool. If you wait until summer to start thinking about it, you’ll have missed an entire season of enjoying your new outdoor space with your family and friends. Use the seasons to guide you. Determine what you want during winter, complete it in the spring, and then inaugurate your space in the summer! We’ll work with you to create a timetable that suits your needs.

Thinking about what you want ahead of time during the colder months will also help you consider what you’ll want year-round.

midwest18

Questions like “will I be able to use this when it’s chilly?” and “how will this color of paver look in the winter?” as well as “what kind of maintenance will be required in the colder months?” can be best answered when you’re in the thick of it. This way, you won’t just be thinking ahead for summer; you’ll be thinking ahead for the upcoming winters to come.

For those who love the great outdoors, winter can be a major bummer. But giving yourself something to look forward to in the next season can make you feel just as productive as you are during spring, summer and fall. And, you might just come to enjoy these months of nature’s chilly curfew.

midwest37

There’s an old adage that reminds us that though we can’t control the winds, we can adjust the sails. Nature has this made abundantly clear for many this year. We may not be able to control the symptoms of winter, but we certainly can find ways to look forward to the future. After looking back at how productive your winter was and seeing the fruits of your labor pay off in the summer, you just might embark on another fantastic project the next time winter comes calling.

Recipe of the Month: Traditional Wassail

iStock_000001436037MediumIf you’ve ever celebrated the holidays with someone of English ancestry, you may have had the pleasure of sharing a pot of delicious wassail. Wassail was originally considered a symbol of greeting and celebration. Drinking was often accompanied by caroling and general merriment, which makes it perfect for the winter season. Wassail, which means “be you healthy” or “be whole,” is a hot mulled cider traditionally enjoyed with others as an ancient southern English ritual intending to ensure a good cider apple harvest the next year.

So how exactly does one go about concocting this drink from olden days? It may have a rich history, but it’s very easy to whip up. You only need six ingredients, none of which require traveling back in time to the English courts:

  • 2 quarts of apple cider
  • 2 quarts of pineapple juice
  • 2 cups of orange juice
  • Juice of 1 fresh lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Start by combining the apple cider, pineapple, orange and lemon juices in a large pot over low heat. Add the cloves and cinnamon sticks, bring to a boil and then simmer for an hour. Remove the cinnamon sticks and cloves and serve.

You can serve wassail hot or cold, though it is traditionally served hot. If you’d like it to be less tart, you can quarter the lemon juice or add more cider. Feel free to modify the recipe to suit your palette. (Ghosts from King Arthur’s Court are not going to come haunt you for breaking tradition.)

And voila! Fresh, homemade wassail. Enjoy!