In a country where vanilla is consistently the favorite flavor of ice cream, it's surprising there are so many unusual flavors.

One of my favorites, from Jeni's in Columbus, is Sweet Potato and Torched Marshmallow. I like vanilla, too, but it's a jumping-off point to taste wonders beyond our imaginations. Look!

BEET ICE CREAM

from earlymorningfarm.com

2 beets, peeled and roughly chopped

2 or 3 juicing oranges or 2⁄3 cup orange juice

2 vanilla beans

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

1⁄2 cup honey

Roast beets. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wrap beets into a foil packet. Bake until very soft (a fork should slide right through), about one hour. While the beets are baking, juice the oranges until you have 2⁄3 cup orange juice. Let cooked beets cool, and purée in a food processor until smooth. If you want very smooth ice cream, strain mixture through a sieve.

Combine honey, cream and milk in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve the honey. Cut vanilla beans in half, then cut a slit down the middle and add to the pan. Heat over moderate heat, stirring from time to time, just until tiny bubbles form around the edges of the pan, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Combine cooled beet mixture and milk mixture. Chill until completely cold, or overnight. Mix according to your ice cream maker's instructions, then let freeze for a harder ice cream you can scoop.

AVOCADO LIME CILANTRO ICE CREAM

from thegoodeatsco.com

11⁄2 cups whole milk

2 ripe Hass avocados (total about 12 ounces)

1 cup cilantro, leaves and tender stems, chopped*

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

21⁄2 cups heavy cream

1 scant tablespoon finely grated lime zest, green part only (no bitter white pith)

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

*use one very packed cup if you like cilantro and loosely packed if not

Add milk, avocado and cilantro to blender and blend until cilantro bits are finely ground.*

In heavy medium saucepan, combine sugar, lime zest and cream over medium low heat, stirring with heat proof spatula until sugar is melted -- avoid simmering.

Off heat, combine avocado mixture and sweetened cream in mixing bowl, whisking until just blended.

Add lime juice and vanilla.

Chill mixture at least six hours or overnight; some darkening may occur -- whisking lightly will restore color.

Add chilled ice cream mixture to running electric ice cream maker, and churn for about 20 minutes or until it has the appearance of soft serve ice cream.

You may serve it immediately, but it will take on firm ice cream texture if allowed to freeze at least four hours.

TIP: Avoid the temptation to blenderize heavy cream with the avocado and cilantro, as you will over whip and end up with buttery chunks

JALAPENO CHEESECAKE ICE CREAM

from meatsandsweets.net

for the cheesecake ice cream

8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature

3⁄4 cup sugar

1 cup sour cream

1 cup heavy cream

juice of 1⁄2 a lime

pinch of salt

for the candied jalapenos

3 large jalapenos, halved, seeded (or 4 smaller)

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

for the graham cracker crumb

2 graham crackers

1 tablespoon butter, melted

Start with the ice cream base. In a bowl, whip cream cheese until smooth, add sugar and whip until lump free. Add sour cream and heavy cream and mix one minute more. Add lime juice and pinch of salt, mix until well combined. Place in fridge until well chilled, 3 hours or over night.

While the ice cream is chilling, prepare the candied jalapenos. In a small pot, combine sugar and water, stir until sugar is dissolved. Add jalapeno halves and simmer 15 minutes. Remove jalapenos and dry on rack about 1 hour. The sugar syrup can either be saved for future uses (great for making jalapeno flavored cocktails!) or discarded. Chop and set aside.

Next, prepare the graham cracker dust. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Break down crackers into a fine crumb. Add melted butter and press into the bottom of a skillet. Bake 15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

Back to the ice cream. Once chilled, give it one more quick whip. Assemble ice cream maker, add ice cream base, jalapenos and process according to machines instructions. It was about 20 minutes for me.

When packing ice cream, layer the graham cracker crumb with layers of ice cream so that when scooped, there will be swirls of the crumb.

BUTTERED POPCORN ICE CREAM

from clockworklemon.com

21⁄2 cups whole milk

11⁄2 cups heavy cream (aka whipping cream)

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 heaping cups of buttered popcorn

Combine milk, cream, 1⁄2 cup sugar, vanilla and the popcorn in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Heat until almost boiling and then remove from heat. Let rest for 30 minutes to infuse the popcorn flavor

Using a cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer strain out the popcorn and discard.

In a separate bowl whisk or use a mixer to beat the eggs and remaining 1⁄2 cup sugar until it reaches the ribbon stage

While still whisking/beating pour the warm milk into the eggs and beat until combine. Pour the egg milk mixture back into the clean pot and heat over medium until the mixture thickens while stirring constantly.

Chill custard in fridge with plastic wrap placed directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming. I like to chill mine over night. Then churn in an ice cream maker and either enjoy it as a soft serve ice cream right away or put it in your freezer to firm up and enjoy as scoops of ice cream.

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