Thursday, December 31, 2015

Ciao Bella's Holiday Flavors

As a dessert blogger, I am occasionally given free samples, as is the case with the products in this post. My words still represent my true feelings toward these products.

• • •

Having all-but-forsworn the two leading grocery store pint brands (Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry's) for their drastic slump in quality, I was delighted when Ciao Bella made me aware of their new flavors whipped up for the holidays, especially ones so unlike anything else found in the grocery store freezer. Here are my reviews, in order of preference:

Mulled Apple Cider Sorbetto - Apple cider sorbet is something I order every time I see it--an occasion that is sadly rare--so I was elated to see the flavor popping up in a mass distributed form. Given that sorbets are basically water + sugar + flavor-naming ingredient, it's only natural that this pint is an undiluted punch of apple cider. The only thing lacking here is the texture one hopes to get in a sorbetto; because of the high water content, normal freezers render the sorbetto into an ice block to be chipped away at, rather than the smoothly shoveled sorbettos of gelaterias' temperature-controlled freezers. This isn't always the case with Ciao Bella sorbets, but no matter. This is so good it is earns the patience one needs to scrape until one has a full spoon's worth.

White Chocolate Peppermint Gelato - I generally prefer chocolate mint, but while chocolate mint is delicious, it doesn't scream the holiday season. Ciao Bella went the peppermint route, but not quite full-on peppermint bark. This experiment ran a risk, though, since the margin for error is much smaller with peppermint ice cream; far too easily it can fall into Altoid territory, making it into an unappetizing, higher calorie way to get fresh breath. What Ciao Bella's flavor does, wisely, is toss a snowy white chocolate into the mix. That sweetness added to the base makes the eating more enjoyable, while the burps that follow are still minty and fresh.

Almond Nougat Gelato - The most unique of the flavors, the effect of this gelato reminded me of pistachio ice cream. It is a light flavor with diced nut pieces sprinkled sparingly throughout. It is more creamy than nutty. For fans of subtle ice cream or folks who often find American desserts to be too sweet, this is the grocery-store gelato for you. It is delicious, so much so that fans of sweeter desserts may accidentally down the whole pint in one sitting. Whoops.

Ciao Bella makes numerous other flavors year-round, including one of my Freezer Favorites, their Blood Orange sorbetto.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Plump King of Pumpkins

Each year of the Pumpkin Challenge presents new challenges to overcome, from moving house to time-sucking rehearsals to nationwide canned pumpkin shortages. This year, the season was ripe with travel obligations for my job, in addition to my regular late-September travels abroad. But, with this being the Tenth(!) Annual Pumpkin Challenge (lasting Sept. 15 - Oct. 31), I've learned how to rise to a challenge. And did I ever! Suffice to say, the record number of unique pumpkin items consumed in the 57 days of the Pumpkin Challenge was 52 and this year...well, check out the list:

(1) homemade African pumpkin soup
(2) homemade carrot, jicama, apple and pumpkin seed salad (Blue Ribbon for Notable New Recipe)
(3) pumpkin pie
(4) homemade stuffed poblano with pumpkin seeds
(5) homemade chocolate chip pumpkin bread (Annual Favorite Recipe)
(6) Milk and Honey's pumpkin spice granola with pumpkin seeds (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(7) pumpkin cream cheese coffee cake
(8) Annette's pumpkin pie supreme ice cream
(9) homemade white bean and pumpkin ragout with chicken sausage
(10) Corner Bakery pumpkin pound cake
(11) Gelupo's pumpkin and cinnamon gelato
(12) Rude Health pumpkin health bar
(13) Hilary's pumpkin spice chewy granola bites
(14) Frontera guacamole with toasted pepitas
(15) Hilary's vegan pumpkin pie cookies
(16) pumpkin butter
(17) Amy's pumpkin ice cream
(18) Maine Root's pumpkin pie soda
(19) pumpkin cream cheese stuffed waffles
(20) pumpkin sorbetto
(22) homemade pumpkin swirl brownies (Annual Favorite Recipe)
(23) homemade pumpkin pasta with sausage and mushrooms (Annual Favorite Recipe)
(21) Eli's pumpkin pecan praline cheesecake
(24) Trader Joe's Pumpkin Chai Latte
(25) Do-Rite's pumpkin doughnut with cream cheese dollop and pumpkin seeds
(26) Forever Yogurt pumpkin pie froyo
(27) Mariano's pumpkin chocolate chip muffin
(28) Chobani Flips pumpkin yogurt
(29) Pumpkin Oreos
(30) homemade pumpkin seed pesto
(31) Thomas' pumpkin spice English muffins
(32) R.W. Knudsen's Pumpkin Spice sparkling apple cider (Blue Ribbon for Notable New Product)
(33) Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Snap-O-Lantern ice cream (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(34) Trader Joe's pumpkin soup
(35) 365's pumpkin ice cream sandwiches
(36) pumpkin ravioli
(37) Philadelphia pumpkin cream cheese
(38) pumpkin pie cream puffs
(39) BelVita pumpkin spice breakfast biscuits
(40) homemade pumpkin cheesecake ice cream
(41) & (42) Big Jones' pumpkin pancakes with pumpkin cream
(43) J.B. Deli's pumpkin bar
(44) Toni Patisserie's pumpkin macaron
(45) Toni Patisserie's pumpkin roulade
(46) Wow Bao's pumpkin bao
(47) Garrett's pumpkin spice caramel corn
(48) Dairy Queen's pumpkin pie blizzard (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(49) McDonald's pumpkin and creme pie
(50) homemade Pumpkin black bean quesadilla with pumpkin crema
(51) Molly's pumpkin cupcake (Annual Favorite Purchase)
(52) Stan's pumpkin hot chocolate 
(53) homemade Chickpea pumpkin burger
(54) Jell-O pumpkin pudding
(55) Pumpkin spice Frosted Mini-Wheats
(56) Pumpkin spice Milanos (Blue Ribbon for Notable New Dessert)
(57) Manolo's Pizza & Empanadas' pumpkin empanada

There ya have it! An average of one unique pumpkin edible per day for the entire length of the Pumpkin Challenge!

To what do I owe this success? One answer is that I checked out a library book entirely devoted to pumpkin recipes. The more obvious answer is that more businesses are jumping on the pumpkin and/or pumpkin spice bandwagon. Any chef worth his salt is trying to scheme up a new twist on the seasonal gourd, while every national chain and grocery-store brand is trying to produce the next "pumpkin spice latte." Obvious pro: pumpkin, as the Pumpkin Challenge originally sought to achieve, is in higher demand, one that has stretched pumpkin mania from late summer into winter. Hidden con: many band wagon products are pumpkin only in name, offering very little (not even the typical spices) to evoke that signature autumnal flavor.

If I were to retire the Pumpkin Challenge this year, I could do so at the top of my game, having set a new record and been witness over the past decade of exponential growth in pumpkin products. And if I am to continue the Pumpkin Challenge next year, the rules would need to be changed. While cinnamon, clove, ginger and nutmeg are a winning combination, they are pumpkin only in spirit; if the Pumpkin Challenge continues next year, I may have to limit myself to items that actually have pumpkin as an ingredient. As a lover of food, I must take a stance for quality over quantity.

But let's ditch the soapbox. This year was 57 days and 57 unique pumpkin foods. The Pumpkin Challenge has gone ten whole years, adding up to over 300 unique pumpkin foods. It is a glorious time to be a lover of the gourd of the gods! Live it up!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Tenth Annual Pumpkin Challenge

Welcome to the Tenth Annual Pumpkin Challenge, my autumnal toast to the gourd of the gods. This year, we follow the same rules as last year. Onto the FAQ:

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. This year, I'm getting a late start. Feel free to count anything you ate on Sept 15 or 16.

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 or pumpkin seeds. 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.

What are my chances of defeating you, Brad?
This year, they are pretty good. I'll be on the road for roughly three weeks of the pumpkin challenge and I'm going to guess the pumpkin spice craze is more of an American thing than it is a British or Dutch thing. 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 must 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. Ten years ago, it was uncertain one could find the stuff in September; this year, I blessedly bought stuff in August. Rather than change the period the challenge takes place, we celebrate the bounty we have received.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Bobtail Year 3: Introduction

Welcome to my third Bobtail Year! Because Chris over at Bobtail, has been such a fan of my posts during years one, and two, I will continue receiving two pints of Bobtail Homemade Ice Cream a month. As before, I will review my favorites. Man, I could get used to this whole sponsorship thing.

Bobtail Year 3 Rundown
June - Raspberry Cheesecake
July - ?
August - ?
September - ?
October - ?
November - ?
December - ?
January - ?
February - ?
March - ?
April - ?
May - ?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Freezer Favs: Ben & Jerry's Phish Food

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.

• • •

My first experience with wacky ice cream flavors came via Ben & Jerry's. Though I was likely aware of the brand before this, I don't think I demanded my parents buy some until, during my freshman year of high school, I saw Phish Food featured on an episode of Felicity--the pre-haircut first season, for anyone who's asking.

Phish Food sounded quirky and different, which appealed to both my sense of self and my palate. Its contents reminded me of a Milky Way Dark, the candy bar that in the late 1980's put dark chocolate on the map for an entire generation of trick-or-treaters. But Ben & Jerry's's creation would prove far more memorable, more influential, more enduring. The runny caramel swirl was a revelation, setting the bar for what caramel swirl mix-ins could actually be. The marshmallow swirl was somehow both gooey and fluffy. The fudge fish were softer than your average chip and would linger long enough to melt on your tongue like real chocolate. And the chocolate base was darker and richer than the weak sauce offered in most half gallons. This was super premium ice cream, baby, and there was no turning back.

Despite their many admirable social stances, the quality of Ben & Jerry's products has declined in recent years along with my opinion of them, but the fact remains that they were a major part of my ice cream coming-of-age. Phish Food was the gateway drug to super premium ice cream and, given the age I was at upon first tasting it, it certainly helped that the brand prided itself on being a little different. Over the years, there have been many Ben & Jerry's flavors that have been in frequent rotation for me. Some of these are among the dearly departed in the Flavor Graveyard (Pulp Addiction and Dave Matthews Band® Magic Brownies™ - Encore Edition), while others are still in production, for now at least (Milk & Cookies). But Phish Food was and is ice cream royalty, an undeniable star of the grocery store freezer, loved by one and all.

Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, I salute you!

For more info on the hilarious history Ben & Jerry's check out my two part book review of the nonfiction book, The Inside Scoop.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Union Square Donuts

Right across the water from Boston, bordering Cambridge, is Somerville, MA. Waiting there is an instant entry into my Top 25 to Visit, Union Square Donuts. Though the combination of their hours (closed by 3pm) and my work location (the southern suburb, Braintree) meant I could only visit once during my trip, I have two pretty great reasons to add this place to my list of must-visit Boston-area places. Here they are:

Chocolate Pretzel
An airy pretzel roll with thick crystals of salt on top, topped with a melty, sticks-to-your-fingers milk chocolate. Each bite is delicious and makes you wish you had a little more chocolate. Then you take another bite, but still wish you had a liiiittle bit more. So you chase the dragon until you’ve finished the entire thing, wondering if you should turn around and buy another. This is more of a roll than a doughnut. Don't care.

Brown Butter Hazelnut
A moist doughnut that is also airy, but not nearly as light. The intense sweetness of the brown butter glaze is balanced out well by the husky, nutty flavor of the hazelnuts. I'm pretty sure that if I put on some ruby slippers and clicked my heels together, I'd be transported to a place where I tasted this always. This doughnut is unquestionably a top five doughnut of my life.

Looking forward to my next visit to Union Square Donuts, even if transported there by Kansas tornado.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Bobtail Year 2 in Review

How do you measure...measure a year?
- Jonathan Larson (RIP)

• • • 

While the characters of Rent choose to find value in the passage of time by the love they give and receive throughout a year, I've found it far more reliable to measure it based on ice cream consumption. Last month marked the end of Bobtail Year 2, during which I received two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail. After twenty-four pints, it's fun to acknowledge some stand-outs and crown some winners. But, first, a little review:

I first received this bi-monthly ice cream allowance two years ago as a donor benefit for giving to Oracle Theatre, After a year of eating and blogging, Chris at Bobtail gifted me with another pint punch card, thereby legitimizing my blogging bent that has now gone on for nearly a decade. While I'm grateful to receive such sponsorship, nothing has changed: I blog about ice cream I like* and try to put a spin on it when I can.

Bobtail Year 2 was crunchy, nutty, dreamyspice-y and occasionally crepe-y. It had spooky moments where we ate friendly snowmen and even fingers. It had appearances by the drizzly cousins, butterscotch and caramel. And it included a reunion with an old friend.

Year 2 was even tastier than Year 1, so much so I will highlight the best three. Topping the list is Butterscotch Peanut Brittle. It defied the expectation of what peanut and ice cream do when combined, tasting like peanuts instead of peanut butter. Number two is Olaf, the cream cheese, carrot and walnut ice cream that I liked so much I couldn't let it go. And number three of the year was Butterscotch Chip Cookie Dough, which still has my teeth tingling with delight. Here's hoping some of my favorites from the past two years make it into regular rotation.

*Because, really, who cares if I eat ice cream that I don't like? I don't want to read about that, much less write it.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection

I'll review the flavors, but first a little history:

Once upon a time, there was a line of Häagen-Dazs products known as the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series. It took the concept of super premium pints of ice cream and elevated it even further with niche flavors. But the timing was off. Just a year after this line premiered, the housing market crashed, which made the higher-end-yet-affordable luxury of $5 pints of ice cream seem a tad absurd. And, sadly, as the economy went south, it took the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series with it.

Years later in 2013, Häagen-Dazs would introduce a new line of products that played off their elegant branding and the idea of something high end, Häagen-Dazs Gelato. This line offered products with almost identical ingredient lists to each corresponding ice cream flavor, but with a smoother texture. The catch was the one notable new ingredient was high fructose corn syrup, which accounted for the texture and the disgusting flavor. This series, which somehow still exists, is gross. That this was what the company put out the same year it ended its Five line (ice cream made with only five ingredients, meant to have a "more natural" appeal) is criminal.

This year, Häagen-Dazs premiered yet another new line, the Häagen-Dazs Artisan Collection, which I'm happy to report is better than the Gelato line, even if it falls short of the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series. The aim is boasting collaborations with lesser-known artisan dessert makers (only one of which I've heard of before) to create unique flavors. Below, I have reviewed the five flavors that do not contain the fruit that shall not be named, ordered from least desirable to most:

Applewood Smoked Caramel Almond, a collaboration with San Diego's Praline Patisserie®
One bite in and you think, "This is...interesting. It is! It's really....different. A bold, new choice for an ice cream flavor." Two bites in and you think, "That was a fun exercise. What else is in the freezer?" The ice cream enrobing the smoked almonds isn't enough to make the savory smoked flavor feel like a dessert.

Chocolate Caramelized Oat, a collaboration with San Francisco's Clairesquares®
The caramel flavor of this ice cream is over-the-top, but at least it covers the flavor of the bargain bin chocolate that coats the oats. The texture of the oats, which is neither crunchy nor chewy, doesn't add much even though the mix-in is unusual.

Tres Leches Brigadeiro, a collaboration with NYC's My Sweet Brigadeiro™
Pictured on this carton is what appears to be like a spherical cookie dipped in chocolate. It looks delicious. It must be the "brigadeiro" thingie the flavor name suggests. This is what you'll think until you are a few bites in and you realize there are no cookies here. You read the back of the package and it says the brigadero has been melted down...and Wikipedia says a brigadeiro is basically a piece of chocolate...and it occurs to you that tres leches literally means three milks...and you slowly realize Häagen-Dazs just sold you a $5 pint of pretentious fudge ripple. I mean, it's good, it's rich, but it's a $5 pint of fudge ripple.

Ginger Molasses Cookie, a collaboration with Brooklyn's The Good Batch®
The clear winner of the bunch. The ice cream is a refreshing bite to eat and has the slightest spicy kick. It claims the ice cream is vanilla cinnamon, but the taste of the ginger bleeds over. The cookie mix-in, which has the crunchy/crumbly texture of the cookie in a Twix bar, adds a diversity to the texture, but not much flavor except for the times it houses a tiny bit of crystallized ginger.

Spiced Pecan Turtle, a collaboration with Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate™
The chocolate ice cream is not the powerhouse, sock-to-the-jaw flavor I hoped for (and Häagen-Dazs has had in the past), but the spiced-caramel swirl and the pecan clusters make up for it in spades. The spices have a wintery quality to them as well as a tiny kick of picante. This is also the only flavor in the new line whose collaborator I'd heard of, thanks to Chocolopolis.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bobtail Year: Butterscotch Chip Cookie Dough

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

• • •
"Butterscotch, huh? Been a while." This was my reaction and everyone else's when I mentioned Bobtail's latest, Butterscotch Cookie Dough. (The previous month's flavor boasted butterscotch in the name, but hadn't really had much of the taste.)

Absence hath made my heart grow fonder. And good thing, too, since there's enough here to o.d. on the stuff.

There are more tiny butterscotch chips than any mix-in I've ever encountered at Bobtail. When I took the lid off my pint I'm sure there were dozens looking back at me just on the top layer, even amongst the couple chunks of chocolate chip cookie dough and pecans. Hunks of crunch, I tells ya. And it's sweet, enough to give a little tingle to your teeth.

I was sad to see this pint end. Another hit for Bobtail!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Post #300: Top 25 to Visit

Time for another clip show.

Here you will find my top picks, revised since Post #200 back in November 2012. As the blog has grown substantially, I've changed the Top 20 tag to the revised TOP 25 TO VISIT tag. (This includes two places I will post about in the next month or two.)

My hope is that you will check this blog when you travel and use that handy-dandy search box on the right to see what I recommend in your destination city. And if I haven't written about that particular place, I hope you sample the best and report back, maybe even write a Field Report guest blog. (While this blog's primary allegiance is with local scoop shops, see my Freezer Favorites for the best of grocery store ice cream.)

Favorite Ice Cream 
#1 Toscanini’s (Cambridge, MA) 
#2 Morelli's (Atlanta, GA) 
#3 Creole Creamery (New Orleans, LA)

Favorite Doughnuts
#1 Mighty-O (Seattle, WA) 
#2 Firecakes (Chicago, IL) 
#3 Union Square Donuts (Somerville, MA)

Favorite Pastries 
#1 Twice-baked almond croissants at Bakery Noveau (West Seattle, WA) 
#2 Kuoing Aman at Les Madeleines (Salt Lake City, UT) 
#3 Made-to-order cream puffs at Beard Papa's (many locations around the world)

Favorite Chocolate 
Toscano Blond, 63% Dark Chocolate with Peach and Apricot
Amadei (Tuscany, Italy; available in fine chocolate stores)

Favorite Fancy Dessert   
Skyland and Big Meadows Resort (Skyline Drive, VA) 

In addition to blogging about the best desserts from my travels and the occasional recipe (like my creation of the perfect S'mores ice cream), my hope has been to make you laugh along the way. Here are my favorite humorous posts since Post #200:
Thank you for reading and for the emails, texts, Facebook posts and carrier pigeons with your dessert recommendations.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

My Favorite Ice Cream Ever

The menu where dreams come true.
My first visit to Toscanini’s in Cambridge, MA came during the summer of 2009, an experience I posted about when this blog was not yet two years old. Though mostly a wood-and-brick hipster chic spot, they have two snazzy-looking couches. I sat in one and observed the MIT students doing their homework with spoons in hand. I recall marveling at how I was in the presence of some of the most brilliant minds of our time. Not the students, no; the makers of the best ice cream in the world.

In the years since then, I’ve visited the Boston area a handful of times, even relocated there for a month, and each time the item at the top of my to-do list, right above dinner at Al Dente, has been Toscanini’s. I couldn’t name all of the flavors I’ve tried over the years, but I could tell you that there is rarely a flavor I sample that I do not purchase as a full scoop because each taste, big and small, only further proves that they are masters at their craft.

B3, Blackberry Lime
and Khulfee
Ranging from classic (Cocoa Pudding, one of several chocolate options) to unique twists (Burnt Caramel) to unorthodox (Khulfee, the delicious cardamom-heavy Indian dessert), Toscanini’s beats out all other ice cream shops in nearly every flavor category. Their Chocolate No. 3 is among the richest, darkest chocolate ice creams I’ve ever had, more so than many gelati. It is so popular that it has its own shirt dedicated to it and, presumably, sells out quickly given the fact I’ve only managed to catch it on their menu once. Their Blackberry Lime without question is the best fruit ice cream I’ve ever consumed, besting even sorbets. The lime elevates the flavor to tart peaks over the tangy blackberry base, bringing every region of taste bud to ecstasy. Their Brown Butter ice cream is my favorite flavor of all time, a scoop whose mouthfeel and fullness of flavor are the model of decadence. (For those seeking Brown Butter, you are more likely to see B3 on the menu—brown butter, brown sugar and brownie ice cream—another superlative-earning flavor, the best brownie mix-in I’ve tasted.)

This month, I had the privilege of going to Toscanini’s twice. The first time I ordered their largest size, 2 Scoops, feeling simultaneously fully sated—they know how much is enough—and wishing a larger size had been available to allow for more flavor combinations. The second time I went full glutton, ordering 2 Scoops and a 1 Scoop, feeling triumphant afterwards for seizing the moment to maximum enjoyment.

It is a rare occurrence to revisit an old favorite and find that it actually exceeds your already high expectations, leaving you completely fulfilled. That consistency of product, in addition to their impressive use of imagination and dedication to finding multiple notes to hit with each flavor, are what make Toscanini’s my favorite ice cream ever.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Can Ice Cream Fix the Pothole Problem?

I've already discussed the spring thaw in Chicago. One of the more tangible effects is how the roads and sidewalks get damaged from the winter freeze.  And one artist has found a way to keep the spring thaw from turning into the summer time blues in Chicago and Finland. You see, there ain't no cure for the summer time blues, unless of course ice cream is involved. Check out this article with pictures of Jim Bachor's answer to the pothole problem: ice cream mosaics.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Houston's Best Ice Cream

Top: Beef rib at Killen's Barbecue, flags, George H. W. Bush statue in airport
Bottom: Houston Astros game, fajita relleno at Escalante's, NASA
When many people think of Texas food, they think of barbecue and Tex-Mex. On a recent visit to Houston, I learned Texans also have a unique sweet tooth. With doughnuts, the Houston pallet is in touch with its childhood: they really, really like using
cereal as a topping. (For a solid traditional doughnut, try Christy's Donut Kolaches. Their glazed yeast donut, old fashioned and chocolate devil's food were all great. Or try the Shipley's on Ella.) With ice cream, Houston has their noses pointed straight up, offering some intriguing but truly strange flavors, like fennel-citrus, that make my adventurous side seem pretty tame. They also had two vanilla options: vanilla and Mexican vanilla, which uses a different bean. All in all, Houston was an unusual tour de food, but not without some noteworthy ice cream flavors.*

Best Overall & Best Original Flavor:
Cloud 10 Creamery's Lime Ceylon
Located in Rice Village, a shop-heavy section of town that is perfect for strolling, Cloud 10 boasts the strangest of Houston's ice cream flavors, the best of which was Lime Ceylon. This flavor mixed the sour notes of lime with the bitter notes of tea, resulting in a soft-toned flavor that doesn't bite the consumer with its sharper notes so much as nibbles and nuzzles their taste buds.

Best Flavor with an Unusual Mix-in:
Hank's Moo Moo-licious
Vanilla ice cream with hot fudge and chocolate-covered Rice Krispies. I've been unimpressed when other places have attempted flavors with puffed (often soggy) rice, but Hank's made me a believer! Smooth ice cream with a sharp crunch. Though it has a cow-themed name, I made a pig of myself eating this flavor. Word has it that Beyoncé is a fan of their product, too.

Fat Cat Creamery.
Best Twist on a Classic:  
Fat Cat Creamery's Buttermilk Strawberry
This is a seriously rich strawberry ice cream. Chock-full of butterfat and with a punch of strawberry, this flavor was my favorite of Fat Cat's. (To be fair, their selection had a lot of boozy flavors, which do not appeal to me. According to the website, even this flavor has gin in it.) Seriously, though, Fat Cat's Buttermilk Strawberry goes to 11.

Best Chocolate Flavor 
Cloud 10 Creamery's Nutella with Marshmallows
Though my friend Jon and I agreed that we didn't taste even a hint of Nutella, he seconded my suggestion that both the texture of the marshmallows and the cocoa powder flavor of the ice cream made the flavor into scrumptious frozen hot chocolate. In a world of many lackluster chocolate ice creams, this unique effect was certainly memorable and worth trying.

Best Logo: Hank's
Just look at it: a waffle cone in the shape of Texas, a playful yet classic cursive script and an ice cream cone for an apostrophe. On their shirts (which come in white, black and purple), the script is purple, producing a New Orleans purple-and-gold look. This logo is a thing of beauty. If there had been a purple shirt in medium, I would wear the heck out that thing.

Best Flavor Names: Eatsie Boys
It should come as no surprise that a food spot that takes inspiration from the Beastie Boys incorporates clever wordplay into their flavor names, many of which incorporate Beastie references. Take a look. Sadly, they were closed. Possibly permanently, based on the hour and an exterior sign that appeared to have been taken down. But maybe they're still open? If I had more time in Houston, I'd stop by again because these flavors sound worth trying.

*Not all of the places I tried ranked or are listed.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Carmen's Italian Ice


Comparing Rockville's Carmen's Italian Ice to the New Jersey-based chain Rita's is no stretch. They both serve:

  • Jersey-style Italian ice, so finely cut that there's no crunch or even chewing required. The cold just slides down your throat. You may need to chew certain flavors, though, because some of them contain bits and chunks of actual fruit!
  • frozen custard from a soft-serve machine. It is denser, richer and creamier than soft-serve ice cream.
  • a concoction called a gelati (not to be confused with gelati, the plural of the Italian word gelato) which sandwiches Italian ice between a bottom and top layer of frozen custard. The combination of frozen custard and Italian ice doesn't intuitively make sense on paper, but in practice is a delicacy.

But Carmen's sets itself apart in a few important ways:

  • The long list of ice flavors they have available. Their website lists sixty-three varieties and, as the picture at the top shows, they had twenty-six when I visited. Though Rita's lists more on their website, your average franchise only has maybe eight to sixteen flavors available. 
  • A longer list of frozen custard flavors they rotate between--eleven--as compared to Rita's six.
  • A wider and more interesting range of flavor types than Rita's, from horchata (sadly, not featured the day I went), to sour snozzberry, to strawberry malt, to coconut (with real coconut in it), to spicy mango and more.
After some introspective sampling and conversation with the friendly cashier, I settled on two unique flavors: the tangy and sweet Strawberry-Lemon and Birch Beer, the similar-to-root-beer-but-different beverage that I've encountered in Pennsylvania and Maryland. (Wikipedia tells me it "is most commonly found in the Northeastern United States, and Newfoundland in Canada.") The gelati was mostly frozen custard, but the ice was the stand-out ingredient. When I went back for more, I skipped the custard and got the ice all buy itself. Refreshing and recommended!

- - -

Another fine option for frozen dessert in Rockville is York Castle Caribbean Ice Cream.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Flavor Battle: DC Doughnuts and Fried Chicken

The spread at Astro Doughnuts.
I was already aware of the chicken and doughnut trend that had hit Washington, D.C. Indeed, when I was in the city for the 2015 NHL Winter Classic, I was able to sample the delights of one of the two market leaders, Astro Doughnuts. Wowed, I vowed to taste the competition, GBD, when next I made my way to the nation's capital. How pleased I was that the opportunity came so soon. The battle was on!

GBD (Golden Brown Delicious)
I arrived in D.C. on my most recent trip via a Megabus into Union Station. Though the temptation was high to go to Dangerously Delicious Pie's Union Station location, I did not pass go and took the Metro straight to Dupont Circle to try GBD (Golden Brown Delicious). While I arrived knowing what chicken doughnut sandwich I would order, The Luther, their doughnuts were another story because of their rotating selection. Looking over their options, I was surprised at how childish the options that day seemed--Funfetti? After less deliberation than I usually need, I settled on a Tres Leches cake doughnut and a Nutella Glazed yeast doughnut.

GBD in Dupont Circle.
I sat at GBD's bar and sampled my doughnuts while I waited for my main course. The Tres Leches had some nice coconut flavor (for some reason), but was a bit limp. It was more impressive than the Nutella Glazed, though, which despite boasting hazelnuts on top had zero Nutella flavor. I was surprised when my sandwich arrived with a huge side of fries. How many fried things could I, should I eat in one meal? The sandwich was fried chicken with two bacon strips served on a brioche doughnut bun. The bun itself was topped with a maple sauce and sprinkled with pecans. It was tasty, but not remarkably so.

Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken
Located near the Metro Center stop, conveniently near two of my brother and I's tourist destinations (Ford's Theatre and the International Spy Museum), the storefront location for Astro Doughnuts is much more modest than GBD's Dupont bar; it is a grab-n-go counter with a handful of sidewalk cafe tables. Their space is so small, the food is delivered up to the store counter on a dumbwaiter from a lower level.

Astro Doughnuts at the Winter Classic.
Having already tried their wonderful chicken doughnut sandwich (sriracha-mayo with lettuce and tomato) at the Winter Classic, I set my sights on trying their doughnut selection, which was far more extensive than the food truck menu from months previous. I settled on two. First, a Carrot Cake doughnut: a yeast doughnut with raisins mixed and a sweet (not especially cream cheesy) glaze. It was like a lightly fried cinnamon roll, which despite not tasting like carrot cake, left no room for complaints. Not too heavy, not too sweet.

Second, I had Boston Creme. I didn't have the highest of hopes. Long ago, Boston Creme used to be my go-to doughnut. And as time went on I continued to love the delicious custard, but years of eating cloyingly sweet chocolate glaze frosting took its toll and Boston Creme doughnuts were forsaken for the powdered sugar (or standard glaze) of Bavarian Creme. But when I saw Astros' square doughnut with a hole in it, I gave into its hipster charm and bought it anyway. The first thing I noticed was that the chocolate on top was a lighter color. Then when I took a bite, I realized it was because the topping was the same chocolate used on Boston Creme Pie, not the aforementioned cloyingly sweet abomination. Another plus was how light the doughnut was, like a proper Boston Creme pie's cake layers should be. This is the best Boston Creme doughnut I've ever had, restoring my faith in that particular species of doughnut.

GBD's The Luther.
Just look at that maple glaze.
Without a doubt, Astro Doughnuts & Fired Chicken is the better choice than GBD. In all categories--doughnut selection, doughnut quality--Astro has a better doughnut. As for chicken, Astro also wins for quality and for including some lettuce and tomato to add a little something fresh to the fiesta of fried food. The one thing GBD wins at is the maple sauce they drizzled over their doughnut chicken sandwich; Astro, follow their lead on this one.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Ice Cream Jubilee

Just past the outfield and over the stadium walls of Nationals Park in D.C. lies the up-and-coming Anacostia Riverwalk Trail that borders an area growing with condos and bougie food spots. Tucked among them is the inventive Ice Cream Jubilee. Over two trips and numerous sample spoons, I tried ten of the sixteen flavors on their menu board, weighing their vitality so that you, dear reader, can come prepared to order the best three flavors their large size bowl will allow. (Their flavors do rotate, but please do not fault me for being unable to review ice cream from the future. I'm working on it.)

Silence the OCD mathmetician
that wants this to be 4 x 4.
The number one flavor to try is Coconut Lychee Lime. Lychee is the dominant taste, while the lime is a hint of sour and the coconut is only experienced as the textural bits of coconut within. Though not advertised, the cool and refreshing flavor is appropriately a sorbet. (Their menu does not distinguish the ice cream from the sorbet.)

The second flavor for your bowl should be Cookies & Cookie Dough. Though the description of Oreos and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough pieces may seem a bit simple for their menu, your tastebuds will disagree. With no shortage of both mix-ins, this flavor is like getting impatient with dunking your cookies and choosing instead to just pour your milk straight into the cookie jar and eat it with a spoon.

Clockwise from L: Coconut Lychee
Lime, Blueberry Pie, Caramel Popcorn
The previous two are far and away the best of the bunch. As for the third spot, I have no complaints about the Caramel Popcorn and Peanut Molasses, but it belongs to Honey Lavender Lemon. There is only a light floral taste, not too much, while the honey and lemon shine through most in this subtle and unique flavor. While not my go-to ingredients, this ice cream was memorable and, at the very least, worth sampling so you can taste it for yourself.

- - -

While Ice Cream Jubilee serves up tres chic scoops in D.C., don't miss Georgetown's classic ice cream shop, Thomas Sweet.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Horror-themed Ben & Jerry's Parodies

In the wake of my X-rated post on Ben & Jerry's legal dispute with an adult video company comes an R-rated slasher post.

Artwork by Frank Browning.
Made exclusively for
as featured on
The folks over at iHorror conceived of a long list of horror film-themed Ice Screams, complete with artwork for the pints. Having never been a horror buff, I'm delighted to see some I can really sink my teeth into honoring some films I enjoy, like American Psycho, The Shining, Ghostbusters and Army of Darkness. What might be even more impressive than the hilarious flavor names are the truly bizarre flavors. They range from horrifying (mint with a cherry swirl) to a tad strange (marshmallow ice cream with fruit swirls) to unexpected-and-curious (cake batter with cherry and almonds) to tasty (pumpkin ice cream with dark chocolate) to YES! TAKE MY MONEY! (Hi-C Ecto Cooler ice cream).

So go read the article. Quick, before I spoil the funny flavor names!

(I do not own any of the content (other than that linked in the first sentence), but I am promoting the iHorror article for it's shared interest with this blog. If anyone connected with iHorror or this content would like me to take any part of this down, I will.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Lord Stanley's Cup Diddly-Umptious Bracket Bar

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are upon us. Despite some goalie drama--including a record-setting, 42-save performance in Game 1 by back-up goalie Scott Darling--the Chicago Blackhawks defeated their first round opponents, the Nashville Predators.

NBCSN is celebrating this Playoffs by sending out loftily-named chocolate bars. With the bars comes the chance of getting a silver ticket that wins PRIZES! ---------------------------------------> But those who don't get a silver ticket have another chance...another chance to win PRIZES! ------------------------------>

Each bar contains a bracket, containing one of the 32,768 possible scenarios that could play out in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Here's the randomly assigned bracket included with my bar:

With two of the series in the first round still going (Islanders vs. Capitals and Lighting vs. Detroit), my bracket is still completely plausible at the time of this post...except for the glaring error involving my Hawks losing in the first round. But have no fear! I still could win SOMETHING if the predicted winner does indeed go on to win the Cup. And surely Alex Ovechkin will live up to his potential and advance past the conference semifinals...right? Right? (Go Islanders.)

Bracket bungles aside, the actual chocolate bar was nothing to brag about...EXCEPT FOR THE FACT THAT I GOT ONE AND YOU DIDN'T! NEENER NEENER NEENER!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

York Castle Caribbean Ice Cream

Despite R.E.M.'s protestations, I have found a reason to go back to Rockville.

Most people don't find themselves in the situation I was in: I'd already sampled ten ice cream flavors and was forcing myself to exercise restraint to keep from sampling more. Such wanton accumulation of one-time use plastic spoons, tsk tsk...and it was Earth Day. But with so many interesting flavors at the Jamaican-owned, tropical-themed York Castle, it was easy to fall into that deliciously indulgent trap, especially when the young man behind the counter was so friendly and enabling. (He was great! We talked about hockey, traveling and more!)

Adventurous eaters will want to explore the handful of totally unfamiliar flavors like Caribbean cherry, lucuma, and mamey sapote. Other exotic flavors are recognizable, but not usually as ice cream, like lychee, guava and soursop. Then some are more familiar, but are far from being same old, same old when York Castle makes them: the milkfat in their mango ice cream doesn't dilute the intensely authentic flavor and when they make ginger ice cream, it is spicy! York Castle also features a secondary list of flavors from the ice cream canon, which I did not even sample. (There's that restraint I was talking about.)

I somehow narrowed my selection down to four flavors. First ginger, which sizzled in my nasal cavity. Next was passion fruit, as tart as hoped. Then came Caribbean cherry, a berry flavor (possibly my Puerto Rican favorite, acerola) whose sweet tartness cut through the milkfat. And last was mango, whose texture and taste were like biting into a hunk of the namesake fruit. Usually better as gelato or sorbet, this was the best mango ice cream I've ever had. (I was sorry to see that they were out of lychee, which serves as yet another reason to go back.)

If you ever find yourself in Rockville, Maryland, or if you are in D.C. and feel like a trip to the 'burbs, don't miss York Castle Caribbean Ice Cream. They may not have a website or an official Facebook page, but you can taste how they put those dollars into the product instead of marketing.

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Another fine place for frozen dessert in Rockville is Carmen's Italian Ice.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bobtail Year 2: Butterscotch Peanut Brittle

April is month eleven of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Peanut brittle is better than any form of peanut butter. The lingering nutty legume-y flavor and the crunch of whole peanuts far exceeds that of crunchy peanut butter. These qualities are good enough on their own, but enrobe those peanuts in a sugary, caramel-colored, hard to bite, sticky to chew brittle and you have a time-tested dessert that surpasses other salty-sweet trend desserts.

What a fine place to find inspiration for an ice cream flavor. If the goal was to achieve all of the adjectives I've used in the previous paragraph, the ice cream makers at Bobtail can sleep easy tonight for a job well done. From first bite, I started feeling premature sadness for the day this flavor was no longer in my freezer. Rationing it out will be an exercise in discipline.

Saying this is no small compliment. I come from the land of peanuts. Indeed, if I were allowed a final meal from a single place, I would want mine to come from Virginia Diner, ending it with a slice of their warm peanut pie with ice cream on the side. This ice cream flavor captures that moment...without the grim "final meal, about to die" thing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Freezer Favs: FatBoy's Key Lime Pie-wich

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.

• • •

Being a dessert blogger, I am often asked about my favorite [fill in the blank]. Occasionally I'm stumped, as is the case whenever folks ask me a less-readily-available member of the dessert canon: "Where is the best key lime pie?" Living in the often frozen Chicago climate where tropical desserts are rarely in season, I'm afraid my key lime pie palate is unrefined.

I've had the dessert enough times to know it can be bright green or off-white. It can be sweet-sour or mouth-puckering sour. It can be covered in whipped cream or not. And it is made with a graham cracker crust. It can be many things, but whenever I've ordered it, what I am served rarely defies or surpasses my expectations, even in my trips to Florida.

Enter FatBoy Ice Cream Sandwiches, a Utah-based ice cream novelty maker whose products are available all over the U.S. Fruity, tart and rich, this is the best form of key lime pie I have consumed, besting all proper pies. Just my opinion, but key lime pie aficionados take note and give this a try.

Let's dig in deeper: What I want most out of a summer treat is a cooling sensation, and obviously ice cream accomplishes that. At the same time, I don't want something too heavy, so an ice cream novelty is the perfect size potion. At first, I started thinking about how I missed the snap of the graham cracker crust...until I realized what I was eating was making more of a flavorful contribution than a frozen graham cracker would. Trust the experts.

UPDATE: Having compared the two, FatBoy's is superior to Ciao Bella brand's Key Lime Pie gelato sandwiches. FatBoy's have a greater punch of citrus.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bobtail Year 2: A Dream of Spring

Not pictured: cursing commuters.
March is month ten of Bobtail Year 2, during which I receive two pints of homemade ice cream a month from Bobtail.

• • •

Ah, spring. The season when Chicagoans cycle back to the beginning of the five stages of grief: denial. Usually there's a week or two of nice weather that arrives very suddenly. It starts with the sheets of ice on the sidewalks melting away into frosty puddles. Then the mounds of snow start to decrease in size, dwindling down to the permafrost layer that, by this point is several months old. Then the period known as "autumn's shame" begins, when the last bit of snow melts away, exposing all the garbage and dog poop that were left waiting beneath. And for a brief moment, all evidence points to the end of the bitter winter. Heh heh.

Witnessing this spectacle of climatory cruelty are millions of people breathing a little easier, smiling considerably more and joking about the aforementioned dog poop. To them, any full day in the thirties feels like a blessing of Biblical proportions. Once it hits 40 degrees, heavy jackets give way to light sweaters and there's some dude walking around in shorts. Optimistic individuals remark about how nice the weather is, while pessimists/Floridians say it is still cold and realists feel Cassandra-like inclinations to warn that the worst is yet to come. But first it gets better, jumping into the 50s--this year we actually entered the 70s for a day. There's a collective sigh in the city as everyone starts to think, "Maybe this is it. Maybe spring has actually arrived with the equinox."

Then we receive the biggest snow in seven weeks.

If I weren't a brick wall deflecting all emotion, this might just break me. Just in case, what were those stages Kübler-Ross says I should expect next?

It is this hope of a brighter (and warmer) day that we must consider when pondering a spoonful of Bobtail's latest flavor, A Dream of Spring, lemon ice cream with graham crackers and mixed berries. One small bite and we taste a refreshing hint of sunny citrus. The way the graham cracker dust soaks into the lemon ice cream adds a nostalgic feel that summer always evokes for those foolish enough to live this far north. And the frozen, whole berries waiting within are the perfect ice cubes for my daydream lemonade. A dream of spring, indeed. When I closed my eyes and took a bite, I almost believed it was safe to go outdoors.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bobtail Year 2: Salted Caramel Pretzel

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

• • •

Pretzels are among the finest savory foods to crossover to sweet. (Bad news: They often go soft in ice cream. Good news: The solution is covering them in chocolate before mixing them in.) Most manufacturers name their flavor chocolate covered pretzel, then foolishly choose a vanilla base instead of chocolate; a more accurate name would be vanilla-covered-chocolate-covered pretzel. In Bobtail's infinite wisdom, they have chosen a different direction, focusing on the caramel-dipped pretzel as inspiration.

The assumption around a flavor called Salted Caramel Pretzel would be that the ice cream base would be caramel-flavored. I was surprised when it wasn't, but again in their infinite wisdom, Bobtail went a different direction. It is a sweet cream ice cream with lots of runny caramel drizzled throughout. If a person were looking for the perfect ratio of caramel, this would be the example to go by. Every bite has some caramel in it, but not enough to change from the subtle sweet cream base to caramel. And the salt in the caramel is light, not overpowering. So before we've even gotten to the pretzels, this flavor is a success!

I wish there had been more pretzels mixed-in, but that's hardly a criticism anymore since I've said that about every pretzel ice cream I've ever eaten. But the pretzels that are there maintain their crunch(!) and the chocolate coating is tasty. Tasting the pretzel mix-in with the runny caramel in the sweet cream base is rapturous, which is to say something so good it turns you into an insatiable raptor.

Another fine month for Bobtail ice cream.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

X-Rated Ben & Jerry's (NSFW)

Parody of original cow and cloud image by Woody Jackson.
(c) Woody Jackson and (c) Ben & Jerry's Homemade, Inc.
***If this post is ever referenced in a job interview, please know that it was posted without Brad's knowledge by a friend who hacked into his blog.***

Though they've never shied away from a double entendre, Ben & Jerry's took offense that an adult film company has beat them at their game. Until a court order put a stop to it, interested consumers could buy DVDs from Ben & Cherry's adorned with familiar and friendly cows-and-clouds artwork and parody titles of flavors. Most articles will mention the titles Peanut Butter D-Cups, New York Fat & Chunky, Chocolate Fudge Babes and Boston Cream Thighs. What most articles won't mention are the other titles, which I managed to find (the titles, not the films): Hairy Garcia, Americone Cream, Banana Cl*t, Coconut 7 Lay-Her Bar, Everything But the...Butt and Late Night Sn*tch.

Given that Ben & Jerry's has flavors called Karamel Sutra and Schweddy Balls, my guess is the real plan was to sue the porn company into bankruptcy so Ben & Jerry's could hire their creative head to help name new flavors. And what a fun job that would be. With this mind, my friends and I have porn-ified some of the names of existing flavors:
  • Hubby's Chubby
  • Chunking the Monkey
  • S'mwh*res
  • New York Super Fudge Spunk
  • Heath's Bare Crotch
  • Coconut Seven Layer Wh*re
  • Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Shag
  • Everything but the...Nuts!
  • Boston Cream of Some Young Guy -or- Bustin' Cream Pie
  • Imagine Earl's Piece
  • Crotchy Crotch Crotch
  • Americondom Dream -or- AmeriBone Dream
  • All Ova Macadamia
  • Jamaica Me Horny
  • Red Vulva Cake
  • Banana's Spit
  • Chocolate Chip Cookie H*es
  • Dublin Astroglide
  • Black & Man
  • Country Peach Gobbler
  • From Russia with Balls
  • Mission to Marcy's Pants
  • CinnaMAN Buns -or- Cinnamon Buns on Fire Part 6: Extra Cream Filling
In case you need a list of the flavor names for reference, they are in order: Chubby Hubby, Chunky Monkey, S'mores, New York Super Fudge Chunk, Heath Bar Crunch, Coconut Seven Layer Bar, Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack, Everything But The..., Boston Cream Pie, Imagine Whirled Peace, Scotchy Scotch Scotch, Americone Dream, Aloha Macadamia, Jamaica Me Crazy (sorbet), Red Velvet Cake, Banana Split, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, Dublin Mudslide, Black & Tan, Country Peach Cobbler, From Russia with Buzz, Mission to Marzipan and Cinnamon Buns.

Good luck not thinking about any of this next time you're spooning a pint.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flavor Battle: Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl

Chocolate and peanut butter are not my go-to combination, but every so often I get the craving for such an ice cream. When I get the craving, I have to ask myself if I want peanut butter cup or peanut butter swirl. This week, I wanted that hardened splotch of peanut butter that takes strong hacks from a spoon to cut through. I wanted peanut butter swirl. To meet this craving, I bought two pints, both alike in dignity: Oberweis' Chocolate Peanut Butter and Baskin-Robbins' Peanut Butter with Chocolate. Here's how they matched up:

Baskin-Robbins' Peanut Butter 'N Chocolate is dark, rich, full. Eating it, the entire mouth is coated with each bite, stuck to the roof, floor and walls of your mouth. The chocolate is rich enough that the peanut butter (also rich!) doesn't completely overpower while making its presence known.

Oberweis' Chocolate Peanut Butter has both a milk chocolate flavor and appearance. It doesn't dig in deep like the Baskin-Robbins flavor, choosing instead to have the lightness of a Wendy's Frosty. The peanut butter tastes less sweetened here, though, which complements the sweeter ice cream well.

Something that both of these flavors have going for them is that they celebrate chocolate with equal acclaim to the peanut butter, instead of making the common mistake of peanut butter cup ice creams of hosting them in vanilla ice cream. (That's not peanut butter cup ice cream; that's ice cream with peanut butter cups in it.)

In the end, I liked trying both and seeing how different the exact same flavor could be. I encourage you to do the same! But there can only be one winner, and that was Baskin-Robbins, whose flavor was decadent like fudge topping, filling the entire mouth with flavor.

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!