Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mast Brothers' Goat Milk Chocolate

Go(a)t milk?
This week, I walked into Hannah's Bretzel to studiously examine their chocolate wall. As expected, this thorough analysis resulted in a purchase, this time a brand they've only recently added to the wall.

Mast Brothers are Brooklyn-based chocolate makers whose products have ingredients lists that are short and exciting. On the shorter side, you have any of their origin bars, whose ingredients lists include only cacao and cane sugar--proof that this company is legit. Over on the exciting end was my recent purchase, the Goat Milk bar, a dark chocolate bar with cacao, cane sugar, goat milk powder and cocoa butter.

At once richly dark and sweetly tangy, the Goat Milk bar has joined the ranks of instant classics, destined for placement on the Desert Island List. Adding goat milk powder has solved the question of, "How can a chocolate have milk in it without sacrificing the properties of dark chocolate?"

Monday, January 5, 2015

Astro Doughnuts at the 2015 NHL Winter Classic


Though we have been to many games individually, my brother and I have been to only three Chicago Blackhawks games together. The first was Round 1, Game 5 of the 2010 Playoffs against the Nashville Predators when Patrick Kane's shorthanded tying goal with 13.6 seconds left in regulation "charted [the] course for the Cup." It was my first hockey game and turned me into an instant fan. The second was Round 2, Game 7  of the 2013 Playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings where a denied goal in the third period resulted in a near riot until Brent Seabrook clenched the series in OT. Given that both of the Cup-clenching games in our lifetimes happened during away games, my brother reasons that we probably saw the two biggest games in recent Blackhawks history to have taken place at the Madhouse on Madison, United Center. It is only fitting that our third game together take place elsewhere, and what an event it was: the annual New Year's Day NHL Winter Classic outdoor match-up. In 2015, the game took place in Washington, D.C. at Nationals Park, my second favorite ballpark after Wrigley Field.

The day began early, thanks to my brother's wise insistence that we get there with plenty of time to enjoy the pre-game festivities. We wandered around a fan zone full of giveaways (foam hockey stick hats!) and numerous shoot-the-puck challenges (long, long lines!) while a ska cover band played bouncy tunes (horns!). While the home team Washington Capitals had larger representation among the fans, there was no shortage of Blackhawks jerseys making their way through the crowd--and not just my custom "17 SECONDS" jersey. (Man, watching that video never gets old.)

The only downside of getting there early, I bemoaned, was that we wouldn't be able to try one of the places in D.C.'s burgeoning doughnut and fried chicken scene, the most notable of which seem to be Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken and Golden Brown Delicious. Neither were near Nats Park, anyway, but a glutton can dream. Imagine my whooping delight when my brother discovered an Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken food truck in the fan zone. Bless Quenneville's mustache, it was a Winter Classic miracle!

Looking at the abbreviated menu--a choice of three doughnuts and one sandwich option with multiple sauce choices--we settled on a Crème Brûlée doughnut, a Vanilla Glazed doughnut and two of the sandwiches, mine served with sriracha-mayo, both served on a savory doughnut (read: fried dough with no sweetening glaze). The Crème Brûlée was an obvious winner, featuring burnt sugar coating the top of a stylish square doughnut and a tasty custard filling. (Astro's style and full menu remind me of NYC's fabulous Doughnut Plant, where they also feature square doughnuts with filling, plus Crème Brûlée and PB&J doughnuts.) Speaking with southern-born authority, the fried chicken was excellent, though I wish I'd have spiced up the savory doughnut bun with the Old Bay seasoning they offered. I'd eat at their food again without hesitation and will definitely want to try the other flavors, savory and sweet. And, hopefully, I can try Golden Brown Delicious next time I'm in D.C.

The rest of our Winter Classic experience was incredible, up until the very end when it came crashing down like so many complimentary seat cushions being thrown onto a baseball from the stands. But other than that slight, it was a great third game in my brother and I's run of fantastic Chicago Blackhawks experiences together. Go Hawks!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Freezer Favs: Denali's Bear Claw

Exit, in pursuit of bear.
While this blog is primarily a fan of local scoop shops, it acknowledges that sometimes a person just wants to stay in for the night. That being said, this is one of my Freezer Favorites.

• • •

Pick up any ice cream brand that distributes half gallon sizes and you'll discover they have some variation of Moose Tracks, be it the real thing or a knockoff variation aligning itself with a different quadruped. One can tell the "real thing" by the distinct Moose Tracks logo, which stays the same no matter which company is making it. This logo is trademarked to Denali Flavors ice cream, the Michigander brand that originated the flavor seemingly inspired by the appearance of mud on snow after a certain antlered animal's amblings. The company licenses the Moose Tracks name and ingredients to numerous dairies and labels. The same is true, though to a much lesser extent, of a few other of Denali's flavors, including Caramel Caribou, the first triple caramel ice cream I ever encountered. But one of Denali's flavors is greater than them all. It is in fact my favorite of half gallon flavors, a rare flavor I do not grow impatient with when it lingers longer in my freezer than the typical two-or-three time use pint.

Denali's Bear Claw is a dark chocolate ice cream with a caramel swirl and chocolate covered cashews. As I've said many times before, most chocolate ice cream does not taste like chocolate; it tastes like chocolate ice cream, essentially cocoa powder in cream. This flavor serves its function, but doesn't scratch the chocolate itch we chocolate connoisseurs are known to have. So when one finds an ice cream that defies this expectation, offering a darker, richer flavor, it is worthy of note. Bear Claw is one of these ice cream flavors. And layered in are sticky caramel swirls to add some counterpoint to the dark chocolate melody, punctuated by the percussive texture of the salty-sweet chocolate covered cashews. I really wish this flavor were licensed as widely as Moose Tracks because it deserves a wider audience.

Denali's Bear Claw, I salute you.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 3

Not pictured: Carrot and Mandarin.
In Part 2, I discussed the history of Madrid and pastry. This time, I'll talk about the art of Madrid and gelato.

Retiro Park.
While the Museo Nacional del Prado seems to be Madrid's most famous art museum, from all I read it focused on art I don't care about: portraits of posed rich people, devotional pictures of deifically-rendered saints and biblical figures being lit by the heavens whilst suffering or being blessed. But the museum was free from 6 to 8 that particular day, just enough time for me to rush in to see the works of two artists who differed from the rest of the pack. Hieronymus Bosch did some paintings that look like what Dali would have made were he an evangelical Catholic at his peak. Surreal and whimsical, but at times a little creepy. Most notable is "The Garden of Earthly Delight," a triptych which depicts heaven, an overindulgent earth and hell, which kind of resembles Monty Python animation. Also featured there were some works by Francisco de Goya. He did some paintings of war that, rather than simply depicting spotless heroics, show the inhumane moments of battle, "El Tres de Mayo" especially. He also did the nauseating/haunting painting of "Saturn Devouring his Son" and the striking painting "The Dog."

Equipo Crónica's Espectador de
espectadores. Max Ernst's Red Birds.
Oskar Schlemmer's costumes
for Triadisches Ballett.
More my speed than the Prado was the modern art Museo Reina Sofia, which I went to a different day. This was the attraction that most excited me about Madrid and it certainly held up. It featured some classics (most notably Picasso's "Guernica," along with a lot of Dali and Miro), some lesser-knowns and some up-and-comers. I was excited that they also had some of the dance costumes Oskar Schlemmer designed during the Bauhaus movement, something I'd seen video of in theatre history class. A nice mix of mediums, complete with intriguing head scratchers and obvious masterpieces. Plenty of forgettable things and pretentious b.s. too, just to keep them honest. With four floors in three connected buildings, I was arted out when I left at 7:30. Adjacent to the museum is Retiro Park, whose gorgeous grounds deserved more time for exploration than I left in my day.

Museums are great and all, but the finest work of art I experienced in Madrid was the extraordinary gelato at Giangrossi. I was bummed they didn't have the 40 flavors I'd heard they had, but with 15 or so to choose from I still had trouble deciding. The best two flavors I had were Zanahoria y Mandarina (carrot and mandarin; a citrus blast with a clean aftertaste) and Mascarpone de Frutos Rojos (mascarpone with berries; a subtle base with a tart punch of berries swirled in). The other two flavors were Dulce de Leche (which was sweet sweet sweet and carmelly) and Chocolate con/with Cookies (deep dark chocolate). 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 2

Long lines and a fancy pink sign.
Sculpture in Puerta del Sol.
I began my first morning in Madrid by heading to Puerta del Sol on the Metro. I was running late for my walking tour, so I didn't check out the square. Instead, I was rushed to Chocolateria San Gines for their famed churros con chocolate, which they've served since 1894. I thought they were just okay, but that's probably the chocolate snob in me and the budding doughnut aficionado--churros of course being another culture's interpretation of fried dough. For a better chocolate experience, I'd recommend nearby Valor, where I had an exquisite, thick-as-fondue chocolate-orange drink. (Based on appearance, the churros seem about the same as Chocolateria San Gines.)

Plaza Mayor.
My free three-hour tour, given by SANDEMANs New Europe, began at Plaza Mayor which was in the process of becoming a Christmas market. (Throughout my November trip, this was a theme: Decorated areas that might look spectacular lit up, look a bit anachronistic with the unlit, skeletal beginnings of Christmas decorations exposed by daylight.) We learned that the square once carried out some brutal torture techniques below street level, using a wheel to tighten a rope around a victim's neck and drive a screw into the back of their neck. Other highlights from the tour:
  • We reviewed eight monarchs worth of history from Felipe I to Carlos II. There was a lot of inbreeding from marrying their cousins, resulting in an impotent, deformed and mentally disabled Carlos II.
  • The Spanish Inquisition (which went on for 300 years or so, amounting in the deaths of around 3,000 people and the persecution of countless others) is a primary reason ham and pork are such a point of pride in Spanish culture. When the non-pork-eating Jews and Muslims all converted (or "converted") to avoid persecution under the Inquisition, they decided the best way to prove they were true Catholics was to hang a pig leg in the window. These legs are ubiquitous in modern-day Madrid.
The Royal Palace.
  • Many streets in Madrid feature descriptive pictures of the street names accompanying the street sign to aid the illiterate populace from an earlier time.
  • Though the size of the grounds do not compare to Versailles, the palace itself is the largest in western Europe. The Royal Palace tour, which I did later, was a somewhat quick experience for the cost, but the there was still plenty of awe at the decadent rooms within. Nice views in the courtyard too.
  • We learned about Spain's recent history under Juan Carlos, who in the 1970s used his royal power to turn Spain into a democracy! There was a military coupe a couple years or so later, but it failed, bringing even more public adoration to Juan Carlos. In recent years, however, he has been criticized for his spending during rough economic times.
Napolitana de crema.
After all that walking and book larnin', I had earned a tasty treat. And the place to do that was right back where I started: Plaza del Sol. After a dinner of pinchos (little appetizers served on a slice of toasted French bread), I grabbed pastries at La MallorquinaOf the things I had there, I will point you toward two. First, the napolitana de crema, a croissant with custard inside, but not runny custard like you find in doughnuts. In addition to being thick like bechamel or cream cheese baked into a muffin, the filling was subtly sweet while still bring dense, like an Italian pastry filling. The croissant was flaky with a thin and sweet brush of glaze. Second, I'd recommend the Pringles-shaped almond cookies called tejas. There tastiness is like the buttery cookie part of an M&M cookie, tejas are crispy on the outside, while having a chewier coconut macaroon consistency inside. They might not look like much, but they're great!

In Part 3, we'll talk about art and Madrid's best gelato.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Spain Exp'ained: Part 1

Christmas lights in Saville, outside a tasty upscale tapas spot, Enrique Becerra.
After spending nine autumn days in three different Spanish cities, I had many stories to tell. The entire trip was notable, whether the Gaudí architecture in Barcelona, the history and art of Madrid or the seafood of Seville. But when measuring the value of each city on the quality of the desserts I consumed--as always, I had done my research beforehand--the winner was Madrid.

Before we can delve into the food, we must look at the pictures of pretty things. Then we can move on to the pastry of Part 2 and the gelato of Part 3.

Gaudí's Park Güell, Barcelona.

Parque del Retiro, Madrid.

Palacio Real de Madrid.

Plaza de España, Seville.
Octopus Galliga at El 3 Oro. Saville.

Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona.
Gaudí's La Sagrada
Familia, Barcelona.

Christmas lights, Seville.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Cinnamon

November was month six of Bobtail Year 2, during which I received two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

This month's flavor was Cinnamon. It tastes like Christmas at home and, predictably, is quite good. It also helped inspire the satirical, dessert-free blog below.

• • •

The elf on the shelf is a bunch of nonsense. Kids already get presents under the tree, junk in their stockings, daily trinkets or edibles from their advent calendars and now they have Santa's least stealthy spy watching them more closely than the NSA monitors Scott Stapp's weapons and air fare purchases online. All this consumerist culture brings to mind my first acting role in Ms. Husson's fifth grade winter program in 1994, a bizarre piece about materialism with such songs as "Yankee Doodle Santa" and "Make a Buck." ("Make a buck, make a buck! Spend! Spend! Make a buck, make a buck! Buy, buy, buy, buy!" Stop me in the street and I'll sing this on command.) It could make a person nauseous...or it could get them into the Chri$tma$ $pirit!

I've been thinking: being a feminist, I believe we need a female role model in the Christmas crap-hawking canon. A Disney princess who's also a strong woman. Someone who's good with a bow and arrow, but also isn't afraid to throw down on Master Chef to beat Mrs. Claus. Someone little girls can look up to, but whose outfit can be easily adapted into something skimpy for sexually empowered women doing holiday bar crawls. Finally, there needs to be Christmas magic because WWJD. I present to you Cindy the Cinnamon Witch of the North Pole!

A red hot win for festive fetishism feminism.
This red-haired firecracker waves her Cinnamon Stick Wand to transport her to third world countries to help relief efforts for the underprivileged...or to be the sassy and fashionable MC/DJ of the hippest holiday ho-ho-hoopla! Her presence is immediately known because Cindy the Cinnamon Witch smells like a snickerdoodle dipped in apple cider wherever she goes, appearing and disappearing in a puff of cinnamon smoke! While usually a crossbow-carrying conductor of cheer--in addition to magic, her Cinnamon Stick Wand is good for directing an orchestra in "Ode to Joy"--Cindy is also feisty, punishing bad kids with the cinnamon challenge...and posting video footage on YouTube! Fighting for equality all day and partying all night, it's a wonder when that celestial celebrity Cindy ever has time to go back to the North Pole to do her hair! Cindy the Cinnamon Witch of the North Pole™ will be a spicy addition to your religious and/or secular winter holiday traditions!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Butterfinger

L: Butter. R: Fingers. (Not pictured: Missing fingers.)
November was month six of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

I’m no gastro-scientist, but my understanding is that anything cooked slow and low for long enough will break down into mush. Apparently, some time between Dia de los Muertos and Thanksgiving, Bobtail decided to test this out with severed digits.

You may be worried that their new flavor, Butterfinger, is a scarlet red bloody mess, but defying expectation they created a bright, white ice cream. Now, I have no personal experience cooking or eating human flesh—Thanks, Obama!—but, even if the fingers are merely a mix-in, it is pretty dang impressive that there isn’t even the slightest pink tint to the base! How might they have accomplished such a feat?

My guess is their first step was draining the blood from the fingers. Then I think they mixed in some confectionary sugar into the blood and cooked it into a syrup. The result is a soft brown solid that is kind of waxy, but sweet. I believe the next step was cooking down the remaining skin and bones into a brownish-orange crunchy mass. Given how sweet and sticky it is, I’m thinking they used brown sugar and corn syrup to produce such a delicious product, perhaps even a touch of smooth peanut butter. Thankfully, there are no cuticles to be found; I’m willing to eat another person’s pinky, but I have my limits.

We could guess at Bobtails’ recipe for cooking fingers all day, but while these facts are veiled in mystery we at least know one other major ingredient: butter. You don’t have to be Paula Deen to realize that many foods are better smothered in the stuff. Personally, I like my carrots that way with a little brown sugar, so why not fingers? Suffice to say, this flavor's base is more buttery than your average Bobtail flavor with toothsome results.

Suppose you want to test your luck at making Butterfinger ice cream in your home kitchen? You'll be happy to learn that butter is for sale at grocers across the country. As for the fingers, your best bet is probably Mariano's. I mean, they sell python meat* so anything's possible.

*scroll to #7

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Spooky Crunch

October was the fifth month of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Obviously, I enjoy Bobtail's ice cream, but I have to admit their annual pumpkin flavor isn't pumpkin-y enough for me. I taste all of the pumpkin spices, but not enough of the gourd. I decided to give it another try when I learned roundabout Halloween that their featured flavor, Spooky Crunch, was pumpkin ice cream with caramel, cookie dough and sprinkles.

A few bites in I knew I enjoyed what I was eating even though it didn't taste at all like it's given ingredients. For the base, I tasted cream and cinnamon, topped with more cinnamon. As for the mix-ins, the cookie dough was inspired, the sprinkles added a rough texture and the caramel was probably there. But if I silenced my expectations I noticed the flavor tasted suspiciously (spookily, even) similar to Ben & Jerry's twice discontinued cult-favorite, Oatmeal Cookie Chunk. It wasn't a dead ringer, but enough to make me realize that Spooky Crunch only needs a few slight adjustments to be a new favorite. Simply switch out the sprinkles for teeny-tiny chocolate chips (not Bobtail's somewhat overused chocolate flakes), add a little more cookie dough, let up a little on the cinnamon and drop the other pumpkin spices.

I'm not suggesting Bobtail mimic Ben & Jerry's, but rather that they cash in on an opportunity to improve a one-off Halloween-inspired flavor while also making it into a unique year-round flavor inspired by a classic dessert. Seriously, Bobtail, do it! The loud voice of geek populism demands it! TV: Firefly :: Ice Cream : Oatmeal Cookie Chunk.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Salted Caramel Pecan

September was the fourth month of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

The best two salted caramel flavors I've had were Morelli's in Atlanta and Steve's, based in Brooklyn but available in many grocery stores. For the most part, salted caramel in general is a trend I don't understand. In my eyes, chocolate-covered pretzels are the perfect representation of the salty/sweet combination. Caramel, on the other hand, is an art few have mastered in its nascent form; and with good caramel being a delicacy that is rarely found, it seems presumptuous that chefs dive into altering it. And why add salt at all unless the purpose is to create a new flavor that seems more than the sum of its parts (as with Morelli's)? With these scatter shot observations, I knew Bobtail would have a tough time convincing me with their regularly-available flavor Salted Caramel Pecan.

But it's so good.

The salt is barely detectable, light enough to make the cream base taste like Butter Pecan. The caramel adds a hint of sweetness to cut through the buttery tasting base. Pecans make pretty much anything better and there are tons of them! In short, Bobtail's Salted Caramel Pecan is Butter Pecan with caramel. The flavor is good enough as is, but if they felt like experimenting they'd only need to trade in honey roasted pecans to make it Pecan Praline ice cream. I'll have a scoop of each please.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Apple Crêpe


August was the third month of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Apple Crêpe ice cream is apples in a cream cheese ice cream. Sounds like apple cheesecake, right? That’s what I thought, but the flavor isn’t as heavy. But with no pastry mixed in, can it actually be described as being crêpe-flavored?

The answer is yes and no. The flavor suggests many of the things crêpes also suggest. For example, crêpes are light, yet dense; when eating crêpes at home, it is easy to eat a large quantity, only to realize later that they were not as light as they seemed. Also, crepes have a touch of sour that highlights the dominant flavors; in crepes the sourness comes from lemon, while in this ice cream it comes from the cream cheese base.

But it is hard to make apples work in an ice cream flavor. Apple-flavored ice cream bases often taste both artificial and gross. And apples as mix-ins seem texturally strange, being neither crunchy (like a fresh apple), nor firm and chewy (liked baked or fried apples). The mix-ins in this flavor are icy and frozen, yet soft enough to bite through. (This could possibly be the result of Bobtail choosing the natural route with their flavors.) I’m happy to say that this typically undesirable texture, somehow works in the nuanced ice cream base.

Though named “crêpe,” the base reminds me of the vanilla sauce that was served with the apple strudel I ate in Berlin. The sauce, a staple in Germany, is lighter than custard, but not airy like whipped cream. It is rich, yet subtle. Similarly, the cream cheese ice cream that enrobes the frozen apples is both dense and light. It offers a touch of sweetness that is enough on its own, complementing the tartness of the apples. All in all, delicious.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bobtail Year 2: Strawberry Goat Cheese

July was the second month of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Facebook may have rendered high school reunions obsolete, but certain reunions never go out of style, like when my best friend visited this summer or when I noticed an old friend in the Bobtail freezer. Bobtail's Strawberry Goat Cheese is what put the shop on the map for me, paving the way for numerous other discoveries in their ever-rotating line of new (and often customer-suggested) flavors. Bobtail offers different varieties of Strawberry, including the Chocolate Covered Strawberry I sampled during my first Bobtail Year, but none are as great as this.

Strawberry Goat Cheese is a delicate flavor, balancing tart and sweet into a flavor all its own. It is light, but full-bodied. It is bold, yet sensitive. It is basically your dream boyfriend/girlfriend. If you see this flavor at Bobtail, put a ring on it.