This post took me a long time to write, (4-5 hours to be exact), mainly because it deals with a topic that has bothered me for the past four to five years, and has been fervently racing through my mind with increased tenacity, especially in the past couple months.
I've noticed that frequently my professors extol the virtue of following something you're truly passionate about, despite the financial rewards it may or may not present to you. Class after class, I hear the importance of chasing your dream early on, lest you wake up one day and realize you lived a life of regret, and as a result, these discussions consequently move towards a simple question that I encounter not only in the classroom but in day to day life... "What are you passionate about?"
My first answer is usually food... I show people my passion for food. I make them a meal that tries to break their expectations, in order to show what the difference is between "I like to cook" and "I am a passionate cook." I complain about the downward spiral of the Food Network (I'm pointing my finger at you, Cupcake Wars), while simultaneously praising the writings of Michael Ruhlman, the pantheon of blogs bookmarked in my browser, the culinary inspiration that is Thomas Keller, and the cinematic masterpiece that is Pixar's Ratatouille. I spend every moment of my free (and sometimes not so free) time reading about the culinary world, various new techniques, and recipes, and then I dream of the day when I can dine at the French Laundry, Le Bernadin, Scarpetta, Les Halles, and the other restaurants named on my bucket list.
"Any other hobbies?"
I then show people my Flickr account, detailing my food journal and the senses I try to stimulate when one sees a picture of a thickly sliced piece of golden french toast, blanketed in powdered sugar and accented with the reddest strawberries you can find. I also show them my conceptual photography portfolio, which provides me an escape from everyday life, and translates all of the thoughts crowding my mind that I can't express with words into a fantasy world for anyone who views it to take part in. Finally, I let them view all of the painstakingly edited pictures I have taken over the years of my travels that capture the whirlwind of emotions I get when embracing another culture.
The second question I frequently get asked is, "Then why aren't you pursuing a career in photography or food?"... and my answer to that is an awkward stutter, followed by, "I honestly don't know."
Actually, I probably do know, and it comes right down to being afraid. I've lived for the most part a sheltered life, blissfully unaware of what it means to live on a budget. I don't know what it's like living paycheck to paycheck, or saying "no" to something I can't afford. I spent my high school career taking the toughest classes possible, staying up until 2am every weeknight in order to get the highest SAT score, and G.P.A. I possibly could, all while juggling the responsibilities of being on ASB, so I could get in to a college that could eventually land a 9 to 5 career and a steady paycheck. For me, pursuing a "lowly" education and career in photography or culinary arts meant throwing all of that hard work away. I was convinced that if I was able to succeed doing that, then eventually as an adult I would have the time and money to pursue cooking and photography outside my forty hour work week, which would hopefully... maybe... perhaps... satiate these two passions. This compromise seemed much more reasonable than the financial insecurity and not uncommon seventy hour work weeks that both a photographer and restauranteur/chef might experience.
Had I not experienced honors chemistry in high school, I immediately sacked the archetypal Asian dream of majoring in medicine, as I knew that could very much lead to me (figuratively, of course) shooting my brains out. Thus, I chose business, thinking that if I didn't fall into the trap and temptation of an accountant or financial banker's salary, that I might be influenced to actually follow the two passions I've exhaustively written about and open some sort of photography or food related business. Or perhaps, the creativity marketing has to offer might fulfill my interest in digital media and lead to a job I might actually enjoy as much as a career in food or photography. However as I've come to realize, studying the material that will help open a business is much different and less satisfying than studying what your business will eventually be about.
If you've actually read all the way to this point (kudos to you), don't get me wrong - I love what I do in college. I love the growth I've experienced in the past year, and the broadening of my horizons through living in a tight knit, on campus community. While I don't necessary like economics or accounting, I like the leadership opportunities I have been presented with and jumped upon, and believe it or not, I kind of like the idea of working in the corporate world. I think it affords me even greater opportunities in making a change in the world. I have a hard time imagining myself being a prominent figure or philanthropist in society by working late nights in the kitchen or staring behind a computer screen editing photos. But at the same time, while I do dream of being a leader in business, the idea of donning a black, pinstriped apron and serving a room full of strangers in a cozy, dimly lit bistro at times is a stronger desire drifting through my mind.
However, both my culinary and photographic repertoire is admittedly shallow: I can't disassemble a lobster without mangling its meat, properly truss a roast, or take a whole fish and reveal its perfectly portioned filets. I safely stick to what I know how to cook: stews, roasted chickens, fresh pasta, and humble tarts. I also have zero expertise at using artificial lighting, and lack a lot of knowledge about light metering and advanced photographic terms and techniques. But studying these two areas isn't like the studying that goes on in a college library, because for me it doesn't feel like studying at all.
One of my favorite teachers and mentors this past year said that, "It's a sad day when you wake up and realize the only thing holding you back from doing what you love was you all along." As I lay down at night, I sometimes think of my worst fear of waking up one day in the future and being unable to go to work, realizing that I wasted the past decades of my life. I know... these are deeply cynical thoughts for someone who only finished his first year of college.
I have a terrible habit of collecting miscellaneous appliances. As of now, the following machines are sitting somewhere in the kitchen:
-KitchenAid stand mixer
-an immersion blender
-a cheap, plastic shaved ice machine
-2 qt ice cream maker
-2 in 1 blender/food processor
Out of all of those, I would say I only use the first 3, and the blender when it actually works. The shaved ice machine is admittedly a failed purchase, and the juicer is in use when I'm in an imaginary health kick; I'm alright with not touching the crockpot since it was won in a game of White Elephant and I didn't actually have to pay money for it. The ice cream maker was something I thought I'd be using every other week in the summer, when in reality I think I used it only once this year, and that was to make this cinnamon toast crunch ice cream.
Okay, I cheated for this- I melted down some vanilla Haagen Dazs to use as the ice cream base. But this idea would not get out of my head and I needed instant gratification, so if you're too lazy to go through the trouble to make a real custard base, then get away with doing that.
My original idea for this was to have a cinnamon toast crunch cereal infused ice cream base, studded with bits of caramelized cereal. Also, because cinnamon toast crunch + bananas is a killer combo, some form of the fruit in the ice cream. However, I feared that if I just pureed roasted bananas into the base, the flavor would mask the cereal and would be too overwhelming, so I settled on finding a way to make a "roasted banana swirl". Usually frozen bananas turn into hard rocks when frozen, so I tried preventing that from happening by smoothing out the roasted banana paste with some of the ice cream base. However, the banana swirl still turned out to be quite icy, so maybe next time I'll add some more of the ice cream base to it.
I also wanted some actual crunch in the ice cream, so I baked some cereal with brown sugar and butter until it caramelized and became a touch more crisp. This process also added a slightly burnt/bitter edge, which was nice since it provided a nice balance to the sugary cereal. For extra measure, I baked off some leftover Apple Crisp topping I had in the freezer, which I tossed with some extra cinnamon.
As for the final product? Pretty darn delicious if I do say so myself- it reminded me of being a kid and eating a bowl of cinnamon toast crunch with sliced bananas, with a deeply rich flavor. However, it was not without some imperfections. Because the ice cream was a bit runny when it came out of the ice cream maker, the caramelized cereal got soggy during the hardening process, so perhaps adding them an hour or two after you stash it in the freezer would solve this. As I mentioned above, the banana swirl was still quite hard with large ice crystals. The secret home run winner overall though was the chunks of baked crumble, which had stayed delightfully crisp during the hardening phase, and added a rich, buttery crunch to the ice cream.
Cinnamon Toast Crunch Ice Cream with Roasted Bananas, Caramelized Cereal, and Cinnamon Crumble
MAKES APPROX. 1 QUART
*note: the following quantities are all approximations
cinnamon toast crunch ice cream
a plain ice cream base (I recommend David Leibovitz or Alton Brown)
a cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
3 cups of cinnamon toast crunch cereal
roasted banana puree
2 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
a pinch of cinnamon
1 cup of cinnamon toast crunch
2-3 tablespoons of butter
2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar
6 tablespoons of flour
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
3 tablespoons of brown sugar, packed
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 cup of oatmeal
1/2 stick of cold, unsalted butter, diced
Heat the ice cream base until scalding along with the cinnamon and cinnamon stick, turn off the heat, and dump in the cereal. Allow to steep for 15-20 minutes. Don't let it go for too long, or it might become too starchy. Strain the mixture, and allow to cool in the refrigerator or in an ice bath until the temperature reaches at least 40 degrees.
To make the banana puree, slice the bananas and toss them with a pinch of cinnamon, salt, and the brown sugar. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 5-10 minutes on a greased baking sheet, until the bananas turn golden brown. Mash with a fork until it becomes a paste, and add in some of the ice cream base to prevent it from freezing hard.
For the caramelized cereal, toss the cinnamon toast crunch with butter, a pinch of salt, and brown sugar. Bake in a 300 degree oven for 7-10 minutes until they darken in color. Be careful, as they burn quickly.
Finally, for the cinnamon crumble, mix all of the ingredients in the bowl and mash with your fingertips until the butter is broken down into small pieces and the mixture turns, well.... crumbly. Bake in a 350 degree oven.
Churn the ice cream base according to your manufacturer's directions. Before putting it in the freezer to harden completely, fold in the caramelized cereal and baked crumble topping, before swirling in the roasted banana.