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)."