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.

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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.

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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.

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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: