Black walnut ice cream tops Ozarks meal

When I start noticing the trees in my neighborhood taking on autumn hues, I feel a deep longing to take a road trip back to my childhood home, in the Missouri Ozarks.

I hit the road over the weekend for a leaf-watching tour and was greeted with a gorgeous fall day; the hills and cliffs were ablaze with breathtaking color.

On Saturday morning, I decided to check out the College of the Ozarks. The campus covers many acres, and the main administration center, lodge and restaurant are perched atop an Ozark mountain with a panoramic view for miles around.

The college, which calls itself Hard Work U, is actually a working village; students work in college-run businesses in return for tuition. The student-run businesses include an upscale hotel with each room boasting a fireplace and private balcony. There's also a fine-dining restaurant, bakery and gift store.

Livestock is raised on the campus along with various crops; a grist mill grinds grain used in the restaurant and sold in the store.

Of course, I could not leave without having lunch in the restaurant. I enjoyed delicious smoked tomato bisque, a crisp salad, and fresh trout cakes with a lemon remoulade sauce. Dessert was an Ozark specialty — black walnut ice cream.

It was all beautifully served and, by far, the best food I had on my Missouri escapade. I cannot wait to return again now that I have discovered this hidden jewel.

Your questions and e-mails continue to pour in. Let's take a look at a couple of them.

I have a recipe calling for a vanilla bean. They are very expensive and I want to substitute vanilla extract instead. Is that possible and how much do I need?

Sometimes chefs and cookbook writers use vanilla beans because they add a very rich flavor. However, I agree that they are expensive and only worth the money if they are fresh and supple. Vanilla extract certainly may be substituted. You could substitute one to two teaspoons vanilla extract and still have a very good recipe.

I don't cook very much but does it matter if I use whole milk, 2 percent or skim milk in recipes?

Whole milk is usually the one used in testing the recipes. However, you can use the lower fat or skim milk in most recipes but may have a leaner or thinner texture. Skim milk used in coffee gives a less rich flavor than whole milk, but it works.

Pudding or custard made with skim milk will thicken and may be acceptable but will not be as rich and creamy. It may also have a different mouth-feel than one made with whole milk.

You probably will not tell much difference if using low-fat milk when baking a cake. Recipes typically work with any kind of milk, but the flavor and texture may be slightly modified.