How family tradition has inspired a modern take on an old favorite
photography by Philip Pietri
How many of us have family recipes or cooking techniques that inspire our best culinary creations? Perhaps it’s a perfect neck-bone tomato gravy, pie crust, a unique salad, or something peculiar and intense like homemade charcuterie. For me, I think of my grandmother every time I shave fresh garlic with my paring knife; she taught me how to do it perfectly so as not to cut off my fingers. Even the racket coming from her kitchen inspired me — for example, the unique, constant chopping sound her strange glass cutting board made as she processed cucumbers, onions, and avocados for the simple salad she prepared for nearly every sit-down meal. When it was time for dessert, the hiss of hot oil softly called me back into the kitchen, as the first zeppole was flung into the fryer. My grandmother’s kitchen has been, and continues to be, the inspiration for my culinary journey.
And I am not alone. There are culinary artisans honing their craft by using recipes and techniques passed down from their cherished relatives. Case in point, not everyone wakes up with a wild idea to all of a sudden instigate the process of preserving and canning fruits or vegetables. No, those folks have learned such skills through multi-generational knowledge banks.
Lakeland, too, is home to food enthusiasts of the like. They usually aren’t quick to blurt out their life story of how they came to be, but there’s likely a Granny out there you should thank for imparting the joy of cookery into these kids. This is especially true of a particular Gran, a gingersnap recipe, and A Cow Named MOO — a delightful local business that handcrafts ice-cream sandwiches and pedals them from their custom ice-cream tricycle around town.
Patrick and Sarah Mulcahy, A Cow Named MOO’s proprietors, share a parallel background. As food lovers, they both crave a side of good story to accompany their entrée. The thought process behind every detail is just as important as the finished product. When it comes to A Cow Named MOO’s menu, every flavor combination has a story, a detailed anecdote of how it came to be. Sarah, too, has fond memories of spending quality time with her grandmother in an old Northeast kitchen.
You see, the gingersnap cookie has become one of several signature recipes for the walls that hold together A Cow named MOO’s incredibly edible ice-cream sandwiches. It’s Sarah’s grandmother’s recipe, which she constantly had baking in the oven when Sarah was a child. Every time Sarah bakes a batch, the smell brings her right back to the time-worn kitchen of her youth.
Although not every cookie is based on Grandma’s recipes, the concept of scratch-made food was handed down to both Patrick and Sarah from generations past. Patrick’s family tree is rooted in Germany. His mother and grandmother made everything by hand for the humble motive of not knowing any other way. Patrick is undeniably better off for it, as this way of looking at nourishment has stuck with him, to our great benefit. Sarah’s father is a farmer at heart. At the supper table, they dined on organic, home-grown food. Even the name of their new business is a nod to a rich family heritage. Sarah actually had a cow named MOO when she was a young child.
Sarah and Patrick love food with uniqueness and character. As they do not live stationary lives, their flavor concepts are inspired by their travels. During their early twenties, for several years they lived on Nantucket island, where the unique approach to locally grown, hand-crafted food was decades ahead of the trend. A few years ago, they stayed at Nebo Lodge, the only inn and restaurant on a little island off of Penobscot Bay in Maine. This is where they first savored basil and pine-nut ice cream. To this day, for both of them, it was the best ice cream they ever had. It was made by hand, of course, the way most life-changing tastes are created. The dairy was from the island (with only 300 year-round residents), while the herbs were grown at the restaurant. This experience inspired them to bring that idea to Lakeland in what we now can enjoy sandwiched between two shortbread cookies. However, before we fast forward to the present, you still must understand that at that point they had no clue how to churn whole milk, sugar, cream, and such into the majesty we now have.
Some things, out of necessity or out of pure desire, they had to find out for themselves. They had to exasperate all possibilities in order to seek excellence in the product they wished to create. In order to become masterful, they started a comprehensive study program on the art of ice-cream making. Like many, they turned to the knowledge of those who already honed their own skills to get more insight on the subject. They went to the library and checked out as many books as they could find on the topic and read them all cover to cover in an effort to gain an understanding of the science behind making this simple dessert. When it finally came time to invest in their first ice-cream maker, they were encouraged but not overly excited about their product. They kept trying and experimenting, honing their craft to perfection. Ultimately, they surprised themselves when it finally clicked. After exhaustive attempts of experimenting, eventually they figured it out.
Once they fully realized a solid technique, the next step was achieving a flawless execution in a public setting. Whether you recognize it or not, each time you visit A Cow Named MOO at one of its touring locations, you are a test subject. Each event or outing is a chance for continuous improvement, tweaking the process little by little with each delectable bite.
Their extensive research and analysis has shown that only certified organic, grass-fed milk would accomplish their vision to emphasize the quality of each sandwich’s component. It’s unique for ice-cream makers to use this kind of milk; not only is it expensive, but it’s also hard to find. Judging by taste alone, it does make a clear and present difference in the end result.
Patrick’s unique ability to pair flavors and taste details is imperative in creating the exciting and surprising flavors offered by A Cow Named MOO. As a child, he played a game with his mom during which he would guess the spices she used in preparing dishes. Today, he guesses flavors with pinpoint accuracy, a skill that is very helpful when recreating a delicious flavor experience or translating it into ice-cream sandwich form, such as the Concord Stout, a coffee-and-dark-beer-infused ice cream nestled between two rich, chocolaty cookies. The Concord Stout is an homage to the uniqueness of both Concord Coffee and A Cow Named MOO, two of Lakeland’s gems.
As they meet and network with more Lakeland growers, crafters, and farmers, A Cow Named MOO plans to add even more local goodness to the product. They recently purchased a vintage Cushman Truckster to help save Patrick’s legs on those longer journeys outside of downtown Lakeland. What started out being a hobby is blossoming to become something much more substantial and, indeed, a sweet career.
While you’re melting away in the Florida heat this summer, savor the flavor of a unique ice-cream sandwich from A Cow Named MOO, which can be found at Downtown Lakeland’s First Friday, and Dixieland Village’s Twilight Market and Last Friday events. Look for Patrick pedaling a vintage red trike with a large custom ice-cream box attached to the back (assembled in town by a local metal fabricator, of course) and Sarah pedaling the product.
MEXICAN STREET CORN ICE-CREAM SANDWICHES
The thought of extracting flavor from freshly shucked summer corn might sound like an odd taste profile for ice cream. It was positively how I felt the first time I saw it on the dessert menu at Indigenous in Sarasota. However, it turned out that the mild, grassy notes alongside the pure sweetness of corn complemented all that rich cream to absolute perfection and inspired me to create this variation. Since not everyone has an ice cream maker lying around, this recipe has been adapted to incorporate the store-bought variety. Feel free to make your own with a basic vanilla-bean base; then follow these steps for the mix-ins.
1/2 gallon organic vanilla ice cream (slightly softened)
2 cups corn puree*
1 cup Mexican crema
a few shakes of ground cayenne pepper
pinch of salt
1 cup blackberry preserves (1 pint blackberries, 1/3 cup sugar, zest and juice from 1/2 lemon. Cook on medium-high for about 15 minutes or until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Let set for 30 minutes before mixing in.)
1 block queso fresco (finely crumbled; then set aside for garnish)
Mix ice cream, cream, corn puree, and cayenne thoroughly. Place half of the mixture in a loaf pan; and then carefully place half of the blackberry marmalade on top. Alternate with the rest of the ice cream, and finish with the marmalade. Place a butter knife or narrow spatula into the ice cream until you reach the bottom of the pan. Make a gentle, swirling pattern to incorporate the two components. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Place in freezer to fully set.
(makes 2 cups)
3 ears of corn (shucked, with kernels cut from the cob and the cobs cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
Place all ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan on medium heat and let simmer, stirring occasionally. After 20 minutes, remove pan from heat and cover in order to steep for about 1 hour. Discard the cobs, pour mixture into a blender, and pulse on high for 3 minutes. Strain out the pulp with a sieve. Place back in saucepan on medium heat for an additional 10 minutes to reduce liquid. Remove from heat and let cool.
1 3/4 cup flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 cup butter softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2-3 Tbsp. buttermilk (or plain yogurt)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Stir dry ingredients together.
In a large bowl, with a hand mixer, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Gradually beat in dry ingredients.
Add enough buttermilk to dough to moisten and make soft — not wet.
Roll rounded teaspoon of dough into balls. Place on cookie sheet and slightly flatten. Bake 8-10 minutes or until edges turn slightly golden. Let cool completely before assembling the sandwiches.
Makes approximately 30 cookies.
To assemble: Scoop desired amount of ice cream onto the flat side of a cookie. Place the second cookie down onto the ice Cream, applying a slight amount of pressure to adhere. Just before serving, take a small handful of the queso fresco and sprinkle it around the edge of the ice cream. Makes 15 sandwiches. Enjoy!