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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pumpkin Rundown

The Ninth Annual Pumpkin Challenge started slow (and late), but ended with me hitting my third highest number yet! (The record remains 52.) Between September 17 and October 31, I consumed 43 varieties of pumpkin foods and liquids.

Milk & Honey's Granola with pumpkin seeds (Rick Bayliss mix)
Homemade Pumpkin pancakes
Einstein Bros' Pumpkin schmear
Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream's Snap-o-lantern ice cream
Homemade Savory Pumpkin quiche
Rick Bayliss' Pumpkin Chipotle Salsa
Homemade Pumpkin-swirl brownies
Do-Rite Donuts Pumpkin Cream Cheese Doughnut
Homemade Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies
Cafeteria-made Pumpkin bread pudding with pecan praline sauce
Homemade Pumpkin bread with chocolate chips and pecans

Pachiugo's pumpkin gelato
Trader Joe's Pumpkin spice chai tea latte
Homemade Pumpkin ice cream w/ marshmallows, graham and chocolate
Einstein Bros' Pumpkin walnut crunch bagel
Xoco's Sikil Pak (smooth dip of pumpkin seed, roasted tomato, sour orange and habanero)
Trader Joe's Pumpkin Croissant
Alliance Bakery's Pumpkin Spice Macaron

David's Tea Pumpkin Patch tea
Homemade Pumpkin polenta with sausage, fennel and onion
First Slice's Pumpkin Cheesecake
Homemade No-Churn Cranberry and Pumpkin Swirl ice cream
Trader Joe's Pumpkin Mochi
Food Should Taste Good's Pumpkin Tortilla Chips
Homemade Pumpkin Alfredo tortellini
Homemade Pumpkin waffles
Trader Joe's Pumpkin spice salted caramels
Homemade Pumpkin and coconut soup

You Can Do Better
Pumpkin & caramel kringle
Trader Joe's Pumpkin Jo-Jos (sandwich cookies)
Trader Joe's Pumpkin bagel
Starbucks' Pumpkin cream cheese muffin
Trader Joe's Ginger cookie pumpkin ice cream sandwiches
Trader Joe's Pumpkin cinnamon rolls
Pies by Fasano's Pumpkin pie
Edzo's Pumpkin milkshake

Dunkin' Donuts pumpkin muffin
Trader Joe's Pumpkin seed brittle
Trader Joe's Pumpkin Greek Yogurt
Pumpkin Cornbread
Pumpkin Ginger Compote
Jamba Juice's Pumpkin Smash smoothie
Dunkin Donuts' Pumpkin Pie doughnut

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Freezer Favs: Steve's Mexican Chili Chocolate

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.

• • •

A newcomer to my list of favorites is Steve's No. 45 Mexican Chili Chocolate, a chocolate ice cream spiced with cayenne, cinnamon and guajillo chili chocolate. It is a dense, fudgy chocolate ice cream with a rough mix-in, similar in texture to that of stone ground chocolate. But the first thing to notice after taking the lid off is the spicy whiff of cayenne and cinnamon. But never fear! The spiciness is most present in the mix-in and, though it leaves a burn in the back of the throat, the flavor of the base is classically chocolate. It makes sense: Everything on the ingredient list is pretty straightforward, except the final ingredient, guar gum, which is a commonly used stabilizer.

One friend commented that it was the best ice cream she had ever tasted. It is certainly one of my new favorites. But who (or what) is Steve?

Years ago, Steve's (Est. 1973) was a Massachusetts-based scoop shop that branched into pre-packaged ice cream for grocery stores. They were actually an early rival to Ben & Jerry's, as mentioned in the book Ben & Jerry's: The Inside Scoop. Though discord resulted in the business closing in the 90's, it was revived in 2011 by a former worker of the original store in the Boston-area. The business was moved to Brooklyn where it focuses on small batch preparation and unique flavors. How unique? They do not sell a plain vanilla or chocolate. In fact, every one of their flavors contains two distinct flavors, be it Coconut Key Lime Pie or NOLA Iced Coffee and Donuts.

Steve's Mexican Chili Chocolate, I salute you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Freezer Favs: Häagen-Dazs' Vanilla Swiss Almond

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.

• • •

Growing up in southeast Virginia, an area increasingly dominated by big box stores and chains, there weren't many local options for ice cream. On the other side of the water was Doumar's, who, in addition serving up exemplary minced barbecue and limeade, is one business that claims to have invented the first waffle cone. On our side of the water we really only had Hilton Village Ice Cream Parlor (RIP). Truth is, ice cream at Hilton Village wasn't homemade; for all their appeal they were simply serving up Hershey's brand ice cream. We had a few other places that opened for a while--a frozen custard place in Newport News, a gelato place in Hampton--but they never lasted long. Don't get me wrong, no kid turns his nose up at Rita's, Dairy Queen or even a McDonald's caramel sundae, but my ice cream coming-of-age would not really happen until college.

Arguably, my first experience with an "elegant" ice cream was Häagen-Dazs. Unlike Ben & Jerry's cram-it-all-in style, Häagen-Dazs tended to have simpler flavors, most of which were members of the ice cream canon. In years to come, they would branch out with more nuanced flavors, customer-created flavor contests, and a super-luxury line of products called the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series, which was ambitious, brilliant and short-lived. (Thanks, economy!) Though in recent years they have scaled further and further back, one must remember the brand was quite innovative for having been the first mass-produced super premium luxury ice cream brand. Also notable in their innovation is how they offered flavors that presumably weren't regularly available in half gallon sizes. (In 1961, they started with three flavors: vanilla, chocolate and coffee.)

Tucked amongst the others is one unsuspecting flavor that sounds neither typical nor particularly unusual. It may sound simple, but I cannot think of another brand that attempts to recreate it. Vanilla Swiss Almond is an off-white ice cream that reminds the consumer of the power of vanilla. It may not be the freshest vanilla--it is vanilla extract after all--but it is a delicate flavor that fills each smooth bite. With the ice cream as its pillow, chocolate-covered roasted almonds rest within, eager to add crunchy punches of flavor and a clean after taste.

The good news is this flavor is still tasty. The bad news is that it currently uses corn syrup, which is obvious to me after eating several bites. (I am not sure whether this ingredient is a recent development or something I'm only noticing as my palate improves, but, based on the Wikipedia article about the brand, I am assuming it is the former.) While Häagen-Dazs still uses less weirdly-named ingredients than many mass-produced brands--it's still ice cream, not frozen dairy dessert--in the decades after being sold by its founder, it has lost some of the principles it was founded on: "Reuben noticed that the popular ice cream brands of the time sacrificed quality ingredients and manufacturing for a lower price tag. He decided to create an ice cream that would outshine the rest by using quality ingredients, no preservatives and a higher butterfat content – the secret to creamy, rich ice cream." All this being said, I remind you, it is still tasty.

Häagen-Dazs' Vanilla Swiss Almond, I salute you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Freezer Favs: Oberweiss' Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

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.

• • •

It may seem strange that I lean on Oberweiss for my Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough cravings, since Ben & Jerry's are the ones who put the flavor on the map. But I'm going to commit foodie-sacrilege here and declare that Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough is a flavor that doesn't usually work as a super-premium ice cream. Such a heavy mix-in as cookie dough bites demands a lighter ice cream. Oberweiss is a super-premium brand that makes a product that manages to be flavorful without being heavy. Creamy and light, their Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough isn't overloaded with mix-ins, but doesn't skimp either. Most bites have some cookie dough with a few only containing chocolate chips, that perfect touch of chocolate to leave semisweet lingering on my tongue after the ice cream melts away.

Oberweiss' Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, I salute you.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Freezer Favorites

If these aisles could talk.
While I have foresworn some items in the grocery aisle--most notably two major brands' increased use of corn syrup--there are still some items worth your while. I was reminded of this when a new grocery store chain (Mariano's) entered my neighborhood in recent months, opening me to a new world of ice cream brands, not to mention fresh squeezed, unpasteurized orange juice. In this new series, Freezer Favorites, I will explore the best items you can find for those nights you feel like staying in.

I should note that over the years I have tasted many items, national and regional, and I do not expect I can accurately represent ALL of my Freezer Favorites from the past decade. For example, I recall Blue Bell as being a superior regional ice cream maker--I daresay the best!--but I couldn't write about my favorite flavors because I lost my extensive notes from 2009 when I spent three week volunteering in New Orleans, eating as many varieties as possible. (This is one of only two sets of notes from over seven years of blogging that mysteriously disappeared. Seriously, where the heck did they go?!?)

For easy navigation, a list of entries in this ongoing series will be updated here:

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Ninth Annual Pumpkin Challenge

Western Washington, circa 2008.
We have some new items in the FAQ this year and a few changes in the rules.

What is the pumpkin challenge?
The Pumpkin Challenge is an annual quest to consume as many varieties of pumpkin edibles as humanly possible. Most years, the Pumpkin Challenge has taken place between September 15 to October 31. Last year, we started early. This year, we're starting late.

What are the rules?
Food items may not be doubled. Two slices of pumpkin cheesecake count as one item. The only way it could count for two different items is if the second item has a distinct enough difference of flavor that it warrants a different name AND the item comes from a different source than the first item (i.e. Pumpkin Pecan Cheesecake from Cheesecake Factory and homemade pumpkin cheesecake). Pumpkin candles or pumpkin soap do not count unless you eat them.

What about beverages?
Yup, they're food. But see the above rule. TL;DR: Twenty pumpkin spice lattes only count as one item.

Does pumpkin spice count? Or does it have to actually contain pumpkin?
Ideally, the ingredients include actual pumpkin. But it all tastes good, so pumpkin spice counts!

What is the record?
During 2012’s Pumpkin Challenge, I consumed 52 different varieties of pumpkin. The previous record (2010) had been 40.

What are my chances of defeating you, Brad?
This year, they are pretty good. I don't think I've had anything pumpkin so far this month, whereas usually I've been eating as much as possible starting September 1. Your chances of beating my record, however, are slim unless you do a LOT of cooking.

Why does it stop in October? Isn’t pumpkin often a Thanksgiving staple?
Ideally, the meeting of mouths to pumpkin products would go on forever. But we most focus our efforts. The Pumpkin Challenge was created to encourage the same sort of crass commercialism extended to that Santa holiday. We want to encourage—through pestering and purchase—stores offering pumpkin foods at progressively earlier dates each year. To focus the Challenge to a time period that is the height of pumpkin consumption is both missing the mark and far too easy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Brad's Perfect S'mores Ice Cream Recipe

From my Ben & Jerry's cookbook showing me the ropes, back when I first got started making ice cream, to my travels tasting the best ice creams in the country, I am a man indebted to his influences. When I took to the kitchen this time around, I took inspiration from two sources: the toasted marshmallow milkshake from NYC's Stand 4 and the liquid chocolate mix-in from Graeter's in Cincinnati (and beyond). These two components (toasted and melted!) are typically missing from other s'mores ice creams. In mine they work together to create the perfect frozen representation of the quintessential campout fare:

A toasted marshmallow and graham ice cream base, featuring a melted chocolate mix-in that halfway hardens while the ice cream churns. Top it off with more melted chocolate (still warm when mixed in!) and graham cracker dust. Enjoy!

Brad's Perfect S'mores Ice Cream

12 - 16 campfire-sized marshmallow
4 - 6 oz. graham crackers, divided...depending on how much you want to use as topping
½ cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup milk
¾ - 1¼ cup dark chocolate chips...depending on how chocolatey you like it
4 half graham crackers, optional

(1) Place marshmallows on foil and toast in a toaster oven* until golden on top and melty. (A lower temperature for longer is better than a high temperature for shorter.)

(2) While still in the packet, crush the graham crackers in packet with a hammer. Not too hard, or you'll burst the packet open.

(3) Put toasted marshmallows and 2 - 4 oz. of graham crackers in a food processor. (Reserve the rest of the crushed graham crackers for topping later.) Blend well. It should resemble a Rice Krispies® treat made out of Golden Grahams™.

(4) Add cream, sugar and milk to the food processor and blend. Between rounds of blending, scrap the sticky marshmallow mixture off of the blades and sides.

(5) Chill mix in the fridge for at least 3 hours. Then...

(6) Start up your ice cream maker. Pour in the mixture. My ice cream maker takes about 15-20 minutes to whip in a good amount of air. (If there isn't enough air, any leftover ice cream will freeze too densely and be rock hard.)

(7) While the mix churns in the ice cream maker, melt the chocolate chips. (They only need to be soft, not fully liquid. Small portions in the microwave works fine.) Add at least half of the melted chocolate chips into the churning ice cream. Reserve the rest for topping.

(8) When the ice cream is done churning, scoop into bowls and top with the reserved melted chocolate chips and graham cracker dust. If you like, put half a graham cracker on the bottom of the bowl, or on top for extra crunch.

* Use a toaster oven because, like a broiler, it will actually toast the marshmallows. A regular oven would just melt them. A microwave will cause them to inflate, which doesn't help with the recipe, but is great fun when you have two marshmallow Peeps® and want to make them joust with toothpicks.