Friday, December 31, 2010

They're Called Idiots.

Some people don't think it makes sense to eat ice cream in the winter.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Toft's Ice Cream

I knew my stomach would start growling once we hit the Ohio Turnpike. The lunch I had back in Virginia would be a distant memory and Christmas cookies and clementines would not be enough fuel for 12 hours on the road. Naturally, I had a plan. If my anatomy were the solar system, my stomach would be the sun.

We stopped in Sandusky, a town introduced to me by my friends Candice and Logan during our Thanksgiving carpool to Virginia. Sandusky is the proverbial last outpost of Southern sprawl, possessing comfort food chains Lee's Famous Chicken and Cracker Barrel that are far more popular below the Mason-Dixon line. Recharged with chicken and biscuits, we were ready for the last 5 hours. But first we had one more stop.

Pictured is the "small" cone at Toft's. Having had their "small" once before, I knew to order a two piece at Lee's instead of a three piece. This regional dairy's dipping parlor offers dozens of flavor options, so stopping on each of my drives home seems mandatory. Here are some of the flavors I've enjoyed:
  • Orange Pineapple, orange ice cream with pineapple. (pictured, top)
  • Wedding Cake, white cake batter ice cream with red raspberry filling and cake pieces.
  • Graham Central Station, graham cracker ice cream with chocolate covered toffee and graham crackers. (pictured, bottom)
  • Bullpen Chocolate, a rich chocolate cookies and cream with a fudge ripple.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ben & Jerry's Snickerdoodle

Of the seasons' many gifts, love is second only to Christmas cookies. This winter season has also brought a new Dominick's grocery store in my neighborhood, and with it a variety of new ice cream options not previously available at Jewel. This includes flavors that have been ever-elusive (Haagen-Dazs Midnight Cookies and Cream and Ciao Bella's Blood Orange Sorbetto) but also Ben & Jerry's Snickerdoodle, which embraces the Christmas cookie spirit.

Ben & Jerry's came to the long overdue realization this year with their flavor Milk & Cookies that cookies can exist in ice cream fully-cooked, not simply its larval form. Cookie dough, while a good flavor in and out of ice cream, is cooked for a reason. Ben & Jerry's have done it once again with Snickerdoodle, mixing in the cinnamon sugar cookies with the cutesy-wootsy name in a buttery cinnamon and sweet cream ice cream. The flavor is only available for a Limited Time, so try it now if you can shop at places that aren't Jewel.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Somewhere David Lynch is smiling.

I knew I was in for a long night when the opening band didn’t start until after the hour headliners usually wrap it up. My best friend’s band had scored their biggest gig yet opening for Arcade Fire. I’d never been to the venue before and being that it was too small for a group like Arcade Fire—a sort of snubbed nose gymnasium with retractable wooden stadium seating and a balcony, but too small for a basketball court—gobs of people were everywhere. Magically, though, an area seemed to clear everywhere I went, even when I was pogoing on the center floor to James’ music in the brightly lit auditorium. It was then I noticed that a singer for his now sizable back-up band, which previously had fluctuated from two to three and back again, was another friend, John Thomas. Pretty strange since they live on opposite coasts; I hadn’t even been aware that he and James stayed in touch. But there he was, contributing to every song of the set, which other than the opener was entirely new material that focused on the full band sound.

It wasn’t until the after party that I came face to face with John. We were two quiet moths in a swarm of loud partiers when John took a seat across from me and I noticed that he looked like an amalgamation of his younger selves, like a 90-pound weakling college freshman with an 8th grade haircut. I called his name across the modest dining table, but the words must have flown out the darkened window before they could make it to his ear. My facial expressions insisted on eye contact until he confusingly responded to my persistent calls of his name. He said he wasn’t John. I got mad.

These are just early glimpses of one of my rare all-nighters. I made appearances at numerous parties crowded with people, who strangely were all younger than me. It ended serenely at the purple hour of dawn where, taking in the stillness of the moment, I stood outside a crab shack with budding feelings of new love—someone I knew from high school drama club with whom I had recently reconnected on Facebook (though admittedly she’d never crossed my mind between friending her and running into each other that night, just as she’d never crossed my mind between curtain call senior year and seeing her name in my Friend Requests). We stood on a thin strip of land between two bodies of water—specifically an isthmus, though I didn’t know this at the time—marveling that we now occupied the space between day and night: one direction showed the clear horizon changing color, while the cloud covered sky overhead only got darker until far away in the other direction, somewhere, it was still midnight.

But my Glass family ramblings haven’t just gotten me off-topic, it has missed the focus completely. Somewhere between confronting John Thomas’ doppelganger and the purple dawn I stopped in at an all-night backroad ice cream shoppe. I asked the owner what flavors he still had in stock. He named a litany of old standards, but one stood out as strange. “Douglas Fir?” “Douglas Fir.”

The Pacific Northwest is full of weird places, but they are far surpassed by the dream world. I mean, as far as dessert goes, how do you figure choosing conifer trees over deciduous?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Field Report: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

With the opening of Part 7 Part 1 (P7P1), my dear friend Amber tells of her own magical journey:

As the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits theaters, I find it a perfect time to share my thoughts on the culinary (and other) delights of my own visit the Wizarding World this past summer.

If you can ignore the long lines, sweaty tourists, children bobbing and weaving through the crowd, and roller coaster careening in the background, your first steps into the Wizarding World, or “Harry Potter land”, as I took to calling it during my trip, will be truly magical. I had the pleasure of early entry to the park during my stay, and so all the above-mentioned distracters were not a problem at 8am. The shops and scenery are far from fake-looking, and if you are one who can maintain suspension of disbelief at least temporarily, you will be truly amazed.

The first thing you’ll see in your path is a huge barrel with “BUTTERBEER” emblazoned on the side, making it clear that Universal Studios, their Executive Chef Steve Jayson, and all the Wizarding World staffers take great pride in this concoction. “What is it?” you ask yourself. We may never know, as they’ve kept the recipe top-secret, and the only place to access Butterbeer is within the park. Not only that, it’s whipped up on the spot and designed to be consumed immediately, so guests smuggling samples outside the park (what, to study it in their magical laboratory?) will be sorely disappointed. All you need to know is that it is delicious and has been described by many loyal Harry Potter fans as a “religious experience.” What they mean by that, in my opinion, is that it’s a similar experience to reading about and imagining a beautiful exotic location and then stepping into it. Many have likened its flavor primarily to butterscotch, but also to root beer, cream soda, shortbread, Werther’s caramel candy, or some combination of the above. Personally, I’d go with a butterscotch-flavored cream soda with a salty caramel aftertaste.

They’ve made efforts to please all by offering Butterbeer frozen or unfrozen. Both are topped with a rich foamy cream that joyfully clings to your upper lip so you can wear it as a badge of deliciousness. I tried both frozen and unfrozen Butterbeer, and in my personal opinion, frozen is the way to go. For one, it prompts you to drink slower, fully taking in the butterscotch and salty caramel flavors. It’s also not as sweet and the cream sticks around longer. For me, the unfrozen Butterbeer was overwhelmingly sweet. The surest path to a diabetic coma: Drink some unfrozen Butterbeer, and then down a bottle of the Wizarding World’s other beverage prize child, Pumpkin Juice. Both are good in their own right, just do me a favor and pace yourself, won’t you?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nice Cream’s Fall Selection

After learning about Nice Cream this past spring at the Neo-Futurist Theatre, I swiftly joined their email list. With Chicago’s outdoor market season over—brrrrrr—it isn’t as easy to find Nice Cream since they don’t have a store to call their own. All the more reason to be in-the-know online. Earlier in the season, I received an email about a tasting of their new flavors happening in a neighborhood that is particularly difficult for me to get to on public transportation. Luckily, my priorities were straight as I took pen in hand and copied directions from Google Maps.

Nice Cream makes four different flavors per season, always making sure to have a splash of something all their own. In the spring, they had cream cheese with carrot cake. In the summer they had chocolate basil, one of my favorite flavors from the Chicago Ice Cream Festival. And this fall, the stand-out is Burnt Caramel with Crunchy Toffee.

Caramel ice cream is usually made by simply blending caramel into a sweet cream base; maybe some caramel cups or a caramel swirl are added in the finally moments of mixing. But what Nice Cream has created is a cup of cow love that explodes with flavor much like a good gelato. The joy my mouth felt was reminiscent of eating Fran’s Chocolates, which have the best caramel I’ve ever tasted. On a different note entirely, it seems I like to eat frozen burnt things; Toscanini’s brown butter continues to be a chart topping ice cream memory for me.

Other flavors of the season are Salted Chocolate with Marcona Almonds, Pumpkin Spice and Banana Bread with Dark Chocolate Chunks. (Needless to say, I did not try the latter since it contains the fruit that is best left forgotten.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Snap-O-Lantern & Other Pumpkin Ice Creams

Primarily I think of pumpkin as a delicacy to be enjoyed at a warm temperature. I have not been tempted by the pumpkin smoothies offered at Jamba Juice, nor was I very jealous when my brother said he had pumpkin Italian ice at Rita’s. The one exception, you guessed it, is ice cream.

Without a doubt, the best pumpkin ice cream I’ve had is the one I make myself. But, since everyone can’t be me, I thought I’d assist my Chicagoland neighbors by reviewing the major concoctors of ice cream and otherwise. Here they are, from best to worst:
  • Snap-O-Lantern ice cream by Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream (Madison, WI, sourced by many Chicago-area ice cream providers) – While this ice cream and Ben & Jerry’s were the only ones to spice up pumpkin ice cream by adding some textural element, the addition of gingerbread cookie dough isn’t the only reason Snap-o-Lantern tops the list. The ice cream reminds me of my first memories of pumpkin ice cream at the Hilton Village Parlor Restaurant back home: sweet in front, pumpkin in the back, creamy all the way around. I attribute this to the gingerbread cookie dough, which excuses the ice cream from having to be all spices at once and instead to focus on being pumpkin. At first taste last year, this became a seasonal favorite. (pictured)
  • Pumpkin Pie gelato at Pachiugo (locations around the country) – Though products named pumpkin pie or pumpkin spice usually indicate a watered down pumpkin flavor, this product tasted the most like pumpkin than any of the others. And, as is to be expected with gelato, a really smooth texture appropriate to its flavor inspiration.
  • Pumpkin gelato at Black Dog Gelato (Chicago)
  • Pumpkin ice cream at Bobtail (Chicago)
  • Pumpkin ice cream at Oberweiss (many Midwest locations)
  • Pumpkin ice cream at Homer’s (Wilmette, IL)
  • Pumpkin Spice ice cream by Nice Cream (Chicago)
  • Pumpkin Pie frozen custard at Culver’s (many Midwest locations)
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake ice cream by Ben & Jerry’s (grocery store) – This offering is not new this year, but the recipe must be. Either that or the 7-11 at Western & Foster got a bad batch.
  • Pumpkin kefir at Starfruit Cafe (Chicago) - Ever heard of kefir? It’s a yogurt product that is supposedly healthier. Guess why you’ve never heard of it? It tastes like frozen earwax.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oh My Gourd!

For the fifth year running, I sought to consume as many pumpkin edibles as possible between Sept. 15 and Halloween. My total this year was 40 different items, busting my 2008 record by a whopping ten items! Considering that there are only 47 days in the pumpkin challenge, I must have slacked off 7 days.

This year I cooked more than any other year, sifting through my stack of untested pumpkin recipes given to me by past years' MVPPs (Most Valuable Pumpkin Provider). Of these, I was most impressed with the pumpkin mole sauce (though not heavy in pumpkin flavor) and the pumpkin cinnamon rolls. I was least impressed with the wontons and the soups. If anyone cares to share, I need a recipe for a good soup that has textural diversity but doesn't have its pumpkin flavor overwhelmed by other ingredients.

To make all these recipes I purchased 8 large cans of pureed pumpkin (232 oz). Luckily the stores have not run out since that quantity has been used up!

Here's the list:
vegan pumpkin cookie, pumpkin doughnut, pumpkin chocolate swirl brownies, ginger pumpkin soup, pumpkin ginger rice pudding, pumpkin waffles, pumpkin ice cream (various sources), pumpkin pie, Culver's pumpkin pecan custard, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin fudge, Rick Bayliss' pumpkin mole sauce on chicken, dark chocolate covered pumpkin seeds, pumpkin muffin, pumpkin bagel, pumpkin schmear, pumpkin hummus, curry pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread pudding, pumpkin seed granola, Paciugo's Pumpkin Pie gelato, pumpkin risotto with bacon and spinach, pumpkin layer cake with chocolate icing, chocolate chip pumpkin cake with cream cheese frosting, black bean pumpkin soup, chipotle pumpkin salsa, savory pumpkin wontons, pumpkin cinnamon buns, pumpkin cream cheese roll (like a jelly roll), Thai pumpkin custard, pumpkin-topped cream puff, pumpkin chocolate truffle, pumpkin milkshake, pumpkin butter, savory pumpkin quiche, pumpkin cheesecake ice cream, pumpkin chili, pumpkin gingerbread pie, Beard Papa's pumpkin eclair, pumpkin keifer

italics indicate items that I made myself

Next time: The best frozen pumpkin desserts in Chicago!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Howl-O-Ween!

Scene from the 6th Annual Happy Howl-O-Ween Dog Parade & Costume Contest, sponsored by the Andersonville South Neighborhood Association.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream

When I visited my cousin this past summer, I was quite impressed by what a good host she was: she took me to the best ice cream place in Madison, WI. Students at University of Wisconsin are not the only people to be blessed by Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream. They distribute many Midwestern states, including exotic locations like Andersonville in Chicago. Yes, their product is sourced by George’s, my neighborhood enabler, to which I recently made my autumnal waddle for Snap O’ Lantern ice cream (pumpkin ice cream with gingersnap cookie dough).

The company makes over 100 flavors available for wholesale. This translated into some exciting options at the hometown scoop shop. Coconut Almond Bliss (my favorite), Kitty Kitty Bang Bang (Raspberry cheesecake with Oreos and chocolate chips) and—be still my beating heart—Horchata! (It has been in the back of my mind for years to do a blog post about horchata, but I want to try it at every place in Chicago first…which is nearly impossible.)

Another appealing element of this super premium ice cream is their nutrition information. And I quote: “Don’t even ask…You want nutrition, eat carrots.”

Note from 2012: Here is the blog post I eventually did about horchata.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

International Brad Day

For the past few birthdays, I've referred to the event as International Brad Day. To me this seems like a fun way to diffuse the awkwardness that sometimes comes with (a) what does a person bring to a birthday party for someone who doesn't drink and (b) it removes birthday from the equation so there are none of those unwanted jokes-about-aging cards that I have no need for in my life. It also creates a curiosity amongst people that don't realize it's my birthday as to what this day is I've devised to throw a party in my own honor. Oh, and it's fun.

In past years, I have celebrated my birthday with all-out dessert bashes. And since I've been in Chicago, I've started throwing pot luck dinners at my house, which have all the appeal of a normal party but the downhome-ness of a family gathering. They have been huge successes. I decided that this year, I wanted to do something adult: throw a legitimate dinner party.

What is legitimate? Well, I wore a button-up shirt, which is a rarity in this unemployed phase. But, more importantly, I invited 6 guests to join me and my epicurean girlfriend for a multi-course home-cooked meal served on non-disposable dishes with real silverware and enough seating to accommodate all the guests. This was our menu:
  • pumpkin hummus (with fresh pita from my local Mediterranean market)
  • curried pumpkin soup (with veggies from my local Mexican market)
  • date honey chicken and cous cous (the date honey was from my main squeeze's recent trip to Israel)
  • date honey ice cream with pumpkin spice granola on top (the granola made by Chicago company, Milk & Honey)
  • pumpkin bread pudding
As you see, dessert was quite the production. Boren's special lady friend--who so adores me referring to her like this--said it was easily the dessert that excited her the most in recent memory. She then asked me to make this autumnal treat for her birthday in February. Knowing that she is a more well-rounded foodie, I was quite flattered. Everyone else concurred that while the entire meal was outstanding, the dessert was the best.

The evening was superb. And the work that went into putting together a meal with so many different parts gave me new appreciation for my mom and all the dinners she planned for our family growing up or for dinner parties I had been to where everything had to come together at the correct time. And while two of us had to sit on the couch for lack of chairs, and I had to borrow some of plates and spoons, and I had to wash everyone's soup bowls before they could have dessert, I sort of felt like a real adult.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Eels and Ice Cream

Usually these two topics have nothing to do with another. Not tonight.

A concert that started boring--throwaway tracks, a food festival cover of "Summer in the City," a funk-ish version of "My Beloved Monster"--got cool--"Fresh Blood," jazz version of "Dog-Faced Boy," rocking "I Like Birds"--and then weird--drummer sang some random song, "Mr. E's Beautiful Blues" sung over "Twist and Shout," a mariachi cover of "Summertime (and the Livin' is Easy)". During this last track he cracked open a cooler on stage and started throwing dozens of half-melted ice cream novelties and popsicles into the crowd. I watched as a Drumstick was passed around by confused audience members. Idiots.

I just got back and had to wash chocolate off my jacket. This is actually the second article of clothing today that has needed this treatment. La vita è bella.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Field Report: R&B Never Tasted So Good

Former Chicago resident, Rachel, explains her celebrity ice cream encounter:

I was getting home from a late night shift one warm night a few years back and as I'm walking, I see an ad for Edy's ice cream—buy one get one free—in the CVS window. I was immediately sold: partaking in 2 half gallons of ice cream when I get home could possibly be the best idea ever.

Fast forward to my waiting in line with a bunch of tired people, all of us ready for bed, a half gallon of moose tracks in one hand and a half gallon of vanilla bean in the other, and who walks into CVS, but R. Kelly himself. (During this time, he was going through his trial in Chicago regarding his extracurricular activities.) The body guards that surrounded him and the rest of his entourage all scattered into the various aisles as if they're on a mission. Apparently their mission was to get R. Kelly drunk, because they all start heading up to the front of the store with bottles of Jack Daniels, cases of beer, and I'm pretty sure I saw some tequila and margarita mix thrown in there as well.

R. Kelly, still standing up at the front of the store, announces "Hey y'all, I am getting #%!@ up tonight, and whatever you want, it's on me. Guys, you want condoms? You get condoms. Ladies, whatever you want, I'm buying."

All of us already in line are suddenly wondering if we should be running around, adding more to our carts, but, not sure if this is really happening. I ask the nearest bodyguard "Is he serious?" "Oh yes, ma'am, he's very serious." Some people jump out of line, but really I was perfectly happy just getting my ice cream.

In the confusion the line got readjusted, but all of a sudden, R. Kelly spots me and says "Hey, hey. Let vanilla through. Let her get her ice cream." So they let me up to the front. (I'm not sure if "vanilla" is a special term of endearment for this pale, white girl look I've been rocking for years or if he just happened to see what he was about to buy me, but I realize this might be the only chance in my life to talk to him. Wanting to thank him and let him know that under his circumstances I'd be looking to get #%!@ up as well, all I can come up with is "Thank you very much, Mr. Kelly."

"You're welcome, baby."

"You enjoy getting #%!@ up tonight."

"You know I will."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Fifth Annual Pumpkin Challenge!

After a long scary year of an empty pumpkin shelf at the grocery store, pumpkin season has returned. I bought $20 worth yesterday, a total of 232 ounces. Why? It's time for the Pumpkin Challenge!

Every year, from September 15 through Halloween, all are invited to consume as many pumpkin foods as possible. So epicurate a cornucopia of new recipes and buy out the grocery. Or, better yet, try and beat my record. Here are the rules:

  • The only beverage allowed is the milkshake.
  • 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.)

Why was the Pumpkin Challenge created?

Originally the short-term goal was to encourage pumpkin season to start earlier than October, since they are mostly only offered around Halloween and Thanksgiving. Happily, this year has already shown progress of pumpkin activity in early September! The long-term goal is for pumpkin products year round. If you aren't currently active in the off-season of the Pumpkin Challenge, my hope is your participation will help you branch out into new pumpkin dishes (not just pie, bread and muffins) and give you post-autumnal pumpkin pangs.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Cornbread Ice Cream

The idea of cornbread ice cream first crossed my brain at the Chicago Ice Cream Festival. Great idea, but I'll admit the product was rock hard and chalky. It tasted more like a vanilla ice cream with stones of cornbread in it. I knew the solution and how to improve the recipe.

Usually when I make a new ice cream recipe, I research online, find the common denominator among the recipes I find and build my recipe accordingly. This time I looked at the recipes online for sweet corn ice cream--reportedly a favorite in Mexico--and I disagreed with them opting to create my own. There is a turning point when the student becomes the master. I have arrived.

The sour cream base cut through the cinnamon, creating a balance that was kissed with honey. Each bite had bits of puréed corn and cornbread crumbs. I served it atop a piece of cornbread. The perfect ending to my homemade Southern meal of hot wings, mashed potatoes and lima beans.

I have made many flavors this year--fresh blueberry, Mexican chocolate, strawberry, garlic, some others I'm forgetting--but this one sticks out. It is the first recipe since doughnut ice cream that has gone become an instant favorite guaranteed to be repeated.

Friday, August 20, 2010

I am my father's son.

When I saw Ben & Jerry's was on sale for $2.50 (down from about $4.00), it seemed the perfect time to use my coupon for "$1.50 off 3 pints of Ben & Jerry's." If this wasn't good enough, after I made my purchase I received a coupon for "$2.00 off my next shopping order, courtesy of Ben & Jerry's."

3 pints of Ben & Jerry's for $4.00. My dad is quite proud of me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Doughnut Burger

It seemed appropriate to follow my last entry about mustard ice cream with this.

The report in the Christian Science Monitor might say it best: "Admittedly, the Krispy Kreme Cheeseburger (KKC) sounds atrocious to just about everyone who hasn't tried one...About a quarter of its customers were pitching in an extra buck for the side order of chocolate-covered bacon."

If anyone tries it, please report back.

Note from 2012: Though it wasn't at a Krispy Kreme, Boren and I tried a donut burger on our well-documented 2011 road trip.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Put That On Your Dog and Eat It

It is no secret that I do not like bananas or coffee and feel their presence in ice cream to be a waste of heavy cream, but an even more awful ice cream flavor has emerged. Still, I do admire them for their imagination.

(excerpt from Chicago Tribune article, "Mustard Day relishes its favorite condiment")

"Thousands of people are expected to show up in Middleton, Wis., Aug. 7 to figuratively paint the town yellow in celebration of National Mustard Day.

"...Culver's, a Wisconsin-based quick-service restaurant chain noted for its butter burger and frozen custard, will present a mustard ice cream studded with pretzels."

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chicago Ice Cream Festival

Wearing my summery best, I took myself on a date to the Chicago Ice Cream Festival to join hundreds of people in consuming 30 different samples from 12 festival participants. The festival is only in its second year, but based on the attendance—one of the organizers mentioned that there were 800 people on the first night—the festival only shows signs of growing. Though the festival website mentioned unique culinary creations from gourmet chefs and famous scoop shops from far off commonwealths, I was not at all disappointed by the roster of almost entirely Chicago-area epicureans serving pure and simple ice cream. I imbibe in many more ice creams and desserts than those covered on this blog, but nearly all of the companies dishing out at the Festival were remarkable enough to inspire my typing fingers.

Most Imaginative Taste Sensation or The My-friends-will-never-believe-how-delicious-it-was Award: Nice Cream’s Chocolate with Sweet Basil + Vosges’ Naga (coconut curry).
Basil may seem an odd mix-in for ice cream, but Kris at Nice Cream explained it is actually a member of the mint family. While the flavor doesn’t evoke mint chocolate, caprese salad also never comes to mind. The basil somehow brought out the richness of the chocolate. As for coconut and curry, my first dessert experience with this combo was at Theo Chocolate, where the flavors are mixed into a milk chocolate; while Vosges’ description for this mentioned milk chocolate, this daring ice cream was curry yellow and without a trace of chocolate in what I could taste.

Most Intriguing or The I-need-more-of-this-in-my-life Award: MAC’s Ice Cream* + Clandestino
Both had unique offerings I would gladly stock in my freezer, but have neither wide distribution nor their own scoop shop. MAC’s list of flavors taunts me with intrigue: French Toast, Bacon, Sourdough. And Clandestino surprisingly is not exclusively an ice cream maker; they host secret dinners around town and sometimes feature ice cream as dessert. Clandestino also featured the most ambitious flavors of the festival—Sweet Cornbread, Blueberry Huitlacoche and Chocolate Chile—offering recognizable names with earthy tones, emphasizing accuracy of flavor over sugary sweetness.

Best Twists on Old Favorites: Homer's White Diamond + Nice Cream’s Peaches & Cream.
Cinnamon ice cream is always scrumptious, but usually is texturally boring. Homer’s solved that by adding white chocolate chips, which fix this problem without altering or overpowering the cinnamon flavor. As for Peaches and Cream, see below.

Best New Trend: Using a sour cream base instead of heavy whipping cream. This was done with Nice Cream’s Peaches & Cream and MAC’s Chocolate Sour Cream Sea Salt. For each, my peaked curiosity morphed into a slowly forming grin on my nodding head. With the right flavor combinations, this could be revolutionary.

Best Fruit Ice Cream: Bobtail’s Strawberry & Goat Cheese and Nice Cream’s Peaches & Cream.
Best Sorbet: Oberweis’ Mango Pomegranate.
Texture Award: Clandestino’s Chocolate Chile and St. Germain’s Peach Sorbet.
Comfort Food Award: Shawn Michelle’s Honey Cinnamon Graham Cracker.
Nationwide flavor worthy of mention: Ciao Bella’s Orange Crème Fraiche
Best Company Name: Sassy Cow, who featured a subtle Ginger Pear.
Best Logo: MAC’s Ice Cream. A flying pig wearing a chef’s hat and holding an ice cream cone. Second place goes to Clandestino’s lucha libre in a chef’s hat.
Best Service Experience: Nice Cream.
Most Reoccurring Flavor: Peach, which was featured by four different companies.

Thanks to Chris from Bobtail for telling me about this wonderful event!

*They do not appear to have a website.

Note from 2012: Inexplicably, there was only one more year of the Festival! It is missed terribly. I shall have to make a pilgrimage to the other top ice cream festivals.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

You can send Barack Obama a birthday message online. As you can probably imagine, I had some important information to pass on to the Leader of the Free World:

Happy birthday, dude. I know you're working hard out there, but take some time to eat some cake and ice cream. From what I recall, the Chocolate Chip Cookie ice cream at Thomas Sweet in Georgetown is superb.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Garlic Ice Cream (*contains no Twilight jokes*)

Ever since I heard it existed, I’ve wanted to try making it. And then I heard it is actually a gourmet thing to serve, not just a weird fascination for those who’ve had one Chipwich too many. So I went online and printed at least 10 recipes. And recently I made the obsession a reality.

Garlic ice cream would be, thus far, my only experience with a savory ice cream (unless you count the Asian classic Red Bean), so I wanted to get it right. Most of the recipes were identical but used ice cube trays instead of an ice cream maker, which made them inferior. One featured five heads—Heads! Not cloves!—of roasted garlic. But I settled on a recipe that called for five cloves and no sugar.

I wanted to get it right, so I followed the recipe closely. But what the heck does it mean when it says “Let it thicken into a pudding-like consistency until it coats the back of a spoon” but “Don’t let it thicken so much it curdles”? Thinner lines have not been walked by man. On top of that, I wasn’t entirely sure what coating the back of the spoon meant since any liquid seems to do that on first contact with a spoon. Also, I admit wasn’t entirely sure what curdling was, both physically and chemically. Based on the scrambled egg texture when it was actually getting thick, I’m pretty sure I learned what curdling was.

I then strained the mixture, which at this point had one of the foulest odors I’ve ever encountered (short of the shrimp paste I smelled when I took a Thai cooking class or the time I witnessed a lutefisk eating contest). After straining, there remained almost two cups worth of the liquid mixture to chill overnight. The scrambled egg stuff was promptly trashed and soon after taken to the dumpster to distance myself from the stench, which still floated around the apartment for at least one sickening hour before I left for the evening. The smell made me less than sure of this culinary fascination.

Boren and his special lady friend Jamie came over to my stench-free apartment the next day with mango chili and roasted asparagus al parmigiano, nice compliments to my mashed potatoes, store-bought unsweetened apple sauce and—the centerpiece of the evening—garlic ice cream. My guests dolloped small spoonfuls of the g.i.c. onto their mashed potatoes, and, unlike their host, they did so without hesitation. Ponderous chewing nods were quick to follow and the decree that it was like chilled garlic butter without the salt.

And then we tried it on the asparagus. My goodness was that brilliant. It unlocked secret flavors most people don’t realize are contained within those tiny green stalks.

Jamie elaborates: “The garlic ice cream was much milder than I expected, more like a frozen crème fraîche infused with garlic. The garlic was so faint that it didn't hit my palate until after the cream started melting, which was actually wonderful. Even though it had no sugar, the sweetness of the cream really came through and it was best when combined with salty and pungent dishes; I enjoyed it more on the roasted asparagus than I did on the mashed potatoes. I'd love to try it again with the flavor being stronger (and maybe supplemented by another flavor - smoked paprika? Black pepper?), so I could see how it would taste with a milder base (like the mashed potatoes). But it was one of the best asparagus toppings I've ever tried.”

I was the last at the table to try the ice cream solo, with nothing to dull the horror I expected after the cooking stench. But it really wasn’t strong. Nothing I’ll be cooking at my next pot luck, but not a bad experiment.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

What's in a Name?

Edy’s Slow Churned. Dreyer’s Fun Flavors. Breyer’s Overload. These varieties offer some unique options such as Twix ice cream and Girl Scout cookie ice cream. But let’s look a little closer.

If you are buying these products, often you are not buying ice cream. What are you buying? “Frozen dairy dessert.” Sometimes "light ice cream" or "iced milk product." And the number one ingredient? Usually little Miss Muffett’s favorite milk by-product, whey.

I work to keep this blog positive, promoting every individual’s pursuit of ice cream. But it concerns me when the consumer is being sold a lower quality product in a concealed way, just as the major American chocolate companies have been doing for years much in the same way—by using filler. Edy’s/Dreyer’s started making their half gallon containers smaller a while ago to keep prices down for consumer, but now they’re giving the consumer a lower quality product. Breyer’s even has the audacity to call their product ice cream on their website next to an image of a product that plainly states the product is frozen dairy dessert on the label. I began noticing this about a year ago, but admittedly it could very well have been going on for years without me realizing it. This discovery has answered my questions about why some products have tasted less creamy, instead seeming more pudding-esque in texture or like the marshmallow swirls you find in Phish Food ice cream.

I try not to be an ice cream snob and consume all brands, not just the high end stuff. But now I see that my internalized complaints about the half gallon products of Edy’s/Dreyer’s and Breyer’s are born of the fact that they weren’t inferior ice cream because they weren’t ice cream at all! (Each of the companies do still carry at least one line of pure, undiluted ice cream, but the number of flavors offered in those lines are decreasing, especially in chocolate-based ice creams.)

In short, if you don’t see the word ice cream in the logo on a half-gallon flavor, chances are it ain’t ice cream. It’s worth the financial investment to go with a local dairy’s product, which actually is.

UPDATE: (excerpt the New York Times article "How Much For Artisianal Ice Cream?")
"On the subject of the more inexpensive ingredients that go into, say, a $1.50 ice cream sandwich, Mr. Leeson is blunt. “Commercial ice cream is the dumping ground of the dairy industry,” he said. The residue at the bottom of the vats after the milk and cream are drained off, he said, is dried and then reconstituted into the components of cheap ice cream: milk fat, whey and dry milk powder. Like all the artisans interviewed, Mr. Leeson said that in the supermarket freezer case, it is virtually impossible for small brands to compete with Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, both of which are backed by the marketing power and distribution systems of global food giants (Nestlé and Unilever, respectively)."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kindness Project Delivers 100 Cakes to the Community

Cool story. Food has an incredible power to bring people together.

On a similar note, I actually made a cake that I gave away for free at the merch table at my most recent concert. It was a huge hit and I plan on making it a regular thing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wild Party Variety Hour

This Saturday, June 26, I will perform "Something Delicious This Way Comes" AKA Post #100. Clownish weirdness at its best, plus a singalong!

Wild Party Variety Hour
Prop Theatre
3502-04 N. Elston

Note from 2012: I have since performed "Something Delicious This Way Comes" on numerous occasions and performed different pieces at Wild Party Variety Hour a few more times.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bobtail Ice Cream

There are many reasons to love Bobtail ice cream. First of all, according to their website, “Bobtail is the only Chicago company that makes truly homemade, hard-pack ice cream.” They also have creative local-inspired flavors, like the addictive Cubby Crunch (vanilla ice cream, sprinkles, Oreo®, chocolate chips, toffee). And they stick to natural ingredients whenever possible, which is why the once blue-dyed Cubby Crunch is no longer artificially colored to match its namesake team. But even more excitement has been churning at Bobtail since January of this year.

At an Oracle Theatre event, I was introduced to Chris Liebelt, Bobtail’s General Operations Manager. In addition to generously bestowing me with some freebie coupons, he let me know that every week of 2010 will feature a customer-suggested flavor. Understandably, this got both my imagination and taste buds excited. It has been a successful tactic for generating business: I have stopped by Bobtail every time I’m been even remotely nearby so I can check out the latest!

The most popular ways of coming up with new flavors seem to be the following: (1) imagining ingredients that one rarely sees in ice cream and mixing them in or (2) taking flavor combinations featured in other treats and adapting them into ice cream form. But Bobtail customers have found inspiration from more diverse sources: current events (Blago’s Blues, blueberry ice cream with macadamia nuts), video games (1-UP, lime ice cream with coconut, inspired by the green mushroom in Mario Bros.) and children’s programming (Bobtail the Builder, chocolate ice cream with chocolate-covered peanuts, almonds, Oreo® and raisins! RAISINS!). Gourmet cooking was the inspiration for Strawberry and Goat Cheese ice cream; already a legend, the flavor was the talk of the town for weeks. (Imagine strawberry cheesecake ice cream, only more subtle and delicate.) Also worthy of mention is the breakfast-inspired Lemon Poppy Seed ice cream. Mmm hmm. These flavors made my simple suggestion of Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting seem old hat.

I asked Chris some questions about behind the scenes at Bobtail:

What’s the usual process for coming up with new flavors at Bobtail?
The team at Bobtail is always inventing flavors and have always picked 2 new ones each month to sell. Every year we hold an ice cream contest where cone shaped entry forms can be colored with the flavor creation. These entries cover all the walls in the store. So we pick the most creative and yummy sounding ones straight from our stores walls.

What is the likelihood any of these customer-suggested flavors will work their way into Bobtail’s regular rotation? What flavor would you say has been the most successful? Have you had a favorite?
One of our long standing flavors, Daley Addiction (vanilla with hand stirred butter fudge) came from a flavor contest and has become one of our most popular flavors. I once mentioned it to Mayor Daley, but he didn't seem too impressed. This year my favorite has to be the Goats Cheese Strawberry. People would ask to taste it with hesitation in their voices, but then their eyes would light up and say "It tastes just like strawberry cheesecake!"

Where are your favorite places to get ice cream when you aren’t in Chicago?
Traders Point Creamery in Indiana makes a pretty awesome organic ice cream.[Editor's note: They are located just outside Indianapolis in Zionsville.]

World-wide, what are some of the crazier flavors of ice cream you have tasted, good and bad?
I had basil ice cream a few weeks back which was too overpowering but probably would work well as a side for another dessert. My favorite flavor is Banoffee (banana and toffee).

How successful has the experiment of a new customer-suggested flavor each week been? Any chance that Bobtail will continue with a regularly rotating customer-suggested flavors next year?
Our customers are the most important thing to us, and they love it. I can see this running indefinitely.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Flavors: Redemption in the Grocery Aisle

My flavor reviews of the Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s Classes of 2010 included touches of sadness over two elusive flavors. But the crying has ended for the flavors have been found!

Midnight Cookies and Cream – Hands down the best chocolate ice cream since 2008’s Amazon Valley Dark Chocolate (part of the seemingly defunct Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series
). Dark chocolate ice cream with chewy chocolate cookies, plus a chocolate swirl. Drowning in this would be a pretty good way to go.

Ben & Jerry's Maple Blondie
This flavor embraces two things that Vermont
is proud of (in addition to Ben & Jerry's): maple syrup and gold medal snowboarder Hannah Teter, to whom the flavor is dedicated. A good flavor, but like Dulce Delish is seriously heavy. The flavor reminds me of Häagen-Dazs Sticky Toffee Pudding, especially the bites with blondie in it.

Thank you, ice cream gods, for smiling on me once more.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Stanley Cup Sundae

The Blackhawks have done it. And now each of the players will have a day with the coveted cup.

The Stanley Cup has been victim to much debauchery, but others have used it to spread peace, love and ice cream. As the article says, "What better way to celebrate one of the sweetest moments of your life than with a giant ice cream sundae?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flavor battle: Dulce Delish v. Dulce de Leche

Ben & Jerry’s has a new flavor: Dulce Delish. But how does it match up against the popular
Häagen-Dazs flavor Dulce de Leche?

I was excited to do this comparison because I recently ate a dessert at a snazzy restaurant that featured legit dulce de leche: Carmelized plaintains in a crepe with cajeta and raspberry sauce. Somehow this fusion of flavors created a Dr. Pepper-esque sensation. So when I bought these flavors, I also bought some raspberry syrup.

Ben & Jerry’s Dulce Delish

  • More bitter
  • The dark caramel has a taste resembling cajeta, goat’s milk caramel
  • Much heavier
  • The raspberry syrup created flavor combat with the negatives of each flavor showing.

Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche
  • Sweeter
  • Caramel on caramel
  • Lighter
  • Raspberry syrup was good on the Häagen-Dazs. The flavors fused a little.
Conclusion: Ben & Jerry’s may offer the more unique flavor, but to me it was not enjoyable to eat. Go with the lighter Häagen-Dazs variety.