Thursday, July 24, 2014

A Taste of Boston at Toscanini's Ice Cream

A couple weeks ago, I finally made it to one of America's top ice-cream destinations: Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee.

I’ve been hearing about Toscanini's Ice Cream (or “Tosci’s”) for years. I believe the first person to tell me about it was my friend Phil, an amazing volunteer for the organization I work for. And ever since Phil put Toscanini’s on my radar, I’ve noticed the name popping up all over the place… in conversations with locals, in Boston-area food blogs, and heck, even in the New York Times! So when my sister suggested that I meet her for dinner and ice cream in Cambridge after landing at Logan airport, I was MORE than game. As it turned out, her boyfriend and our youngest sister were also up for the adventure.

Home to Harvard University and MIT, Cambridge is a unique part of Boston. It’s hip, eclectic and a true representation of the cultural diversity in the city. We started the evening with a lovely dinner at Cuchi Cuchi, which featured an extensive cocktail list and small plates from around the world. But we soon found ourselves ambling down Main Street to Toscanini’s. It was a gorgeous night, and there was plenty of people watching to be had. We knew we must be getting close to Toscanini’s when nearly every other person we passed on the sidewalk was clutching a cone (or cup) of ice cream. The word is clearly out!
Toscanini’s storefront is nearly all windows, and you can peer into both the store and the kitchen from the sidewalk. Nothing much was happening in the kitchen (it was nearly 8:30pm on a Friday), but there was plenty of action going on in the main shop. And since Tosci’s has been around for over thirty years, I was surprised to see minimalist, modern wood-based decor and furniture when I walked through the door. Nothing about the place seems outdated - and least of all their menu of flavors! I’d read that Gus and his employees like to experiment a lot, so the flavors are constantly changing. And these were some of the most unique and appetizing flavors I’ve seen: Turkish Mocha, Saffron Khulfee, Malted Vanilla, Ovaltine and Cambridge Lime Pie were just a few that caught my eye. As did the interesting flavors of ice-cream cakes!
The line to the ice-cream counter was long, but we needed the wait time to mull over our choices. I’d emailed owner and "Ice Cream Maker in Chief," Gus Rancatore, earlier to inquire about his favorites. Gus told me that the insanely rich-sounding B3 (brown butter, brown sugar and brownie) is the best seller, but his own (current) favorite was the Mango sorbet. And while I couldn’t try the gluten-full B3, I sure knew I couldn’t leave without tasting the Mango. When I got to the front of the line, the person serving me obliged when I requested a sample. And, boy oh boy, the Mango was deliciously refreshing and chock-full of that sweet tang of the fruit. In the end, we ordered five flavors among the four of us (from left to right): Ginger Snap, Green Tea, Burnt Marshmallow, Cocoa Rum Raisin and Fluffer Nutter.
Prices are a bit higher-than-average at Tosci’s, but the scoops are generous. And I’d gladly pay nearly $6 for a double-scoop of small-batch artisan ice cream than $4 for frozen yogurt at the mall (although I do that, too!). And to those price sensitive or the light eaters out there, have no fear! Toscanin’s offers a baby size (pictured below) to satisfy your sweet tooth and budget.

The verdict? Overall, Toscanini’s ice cream is among the best I’ve ever had. What sets this ice cream apart from the rest is its FLAVOR. Ice-cream maker Gus Rancatore is a master at creating insanely-flavorful ice cream. Every scoop we ordered was a playful punch to the taste buds and perfectly lived up to its name. As a novice ice-cream maker, I kept asking myself “How did he DO this?” Flavors like green tea and maple sometimes have a hard time breaking through the sweetness of butterfat and sugar, but Gus has figured out the perfect ratio of unique ingredients to the traditional base ones. Biting into my scoop of Burnt Marshmallow was like chewing on a smoky marshmallow straight off the campfire. But Gus uses enough milk and cream to retain that creamy, velvety texture of the best premium ice creams. The same devotion to intense flavor was evident again in the Green Tea, which was so strong that only true green-tea aficionados could eat a whole pint. The Ginger Snap, however, went down very easily! Carolyn was very happy with her choice, and I can only imagine how great it would be alongside some apple pie. Classic New England flavors!

The surprise crowd-favorite was the Fluffer Nutter, which my sister's boyfriend ordered. My sisters and I were are big-time fans of the iconic sandwich (made with peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff), and Gus beautifully captured the magic flavor combination. The ice cream itself was rich yet pillowy soft, and the peanut butter and marshmallow were perfectly balanced - making for an addicting concoction!

The one and only disappointment of the night was the Cocoa Rum Raisin, whose flavor was spot-on but was served in a melted state. I’ll let the photo below do most of the talking (it was taken just minutes after we sat down), but this ice cream was so soupy that the young man behind the counter should have warned me about the problem. Not a single bite was frozen.
Anywhere else, the whole “ice-cream soup” thing would have been a deal breaker. But I’ll give Toscanini’s the benefit of the doubt because everything else we ordered was superb. I can't wait to come back!

The Stats:
Toscanini’s Ice Cream & Coffee
899 Main Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 491-5877

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Pied Piper Creamery in Nashville, TN

I sincerely apologize for my lack of posting lately. I  haven't lost interest in the blog -- or ice cream, for that matter -- but between crazy work hours and wedding planning, there is not much "down time" for me these days. And every weekend this month is full of travel -- to Chicago for a dear friend's wedding, to Boston to visit family, and a new-to-me destination: Nashville, Tennessee!

My youngest sister, Ava, turned twenty-one last month and we'd all made a pact years ago to travel somewhere awesome to celebrate her reaching the legal-drinking age. Our desired destination changed many times over the years; we'd once (ambitiously) settled on Sydney, under the assumption that we'd all be rolling in cash by the time Ava hit twenty-one. Recently, our ideas had become more realistic (i.e. domestic). And when it came time to book our weekend, Nashville was the only affordable location that the entire group could agree on (K and two of our friends joined). Coming from a musical family, I was excited to visit Music City!

The weekend was a complete blast. From the Seth Meyers comedy show we saw on Friday, to the awesome live music and Ava's impressive karaoke performance, it was a memorable trip. The only bad part of my weekend was missing out on a B.J. Novack sighting. The rest of the group saw him when they'd gone out for breakfast, but of course I was running late that day. K and I are longtime fans of "The Office", and B.J.'s dry humor is a big reason why. Maybe I'll catch him next time?

But celebrity-sightings aside, what trip to Nashville would be complete without sampling some local ice cream? I'd heard a lot of hype around Jeni's, which has a local Nashville outpost. But I'm saving my first Jeni's experience for when I can visit the original store in Ohio. There are a couple awesome-sounding Nashville originals, but the one that caught my eye was The Pied Piper Creamery in East Nashville. So we headed over there after seeing the Grand Ole Opry and the Opryland Resort (which a sight to see!).

Our Uber driver (who coincidently happened to be an Aussie!) sang East Nashville's praises on the way over, telling us that it was the hippest place for young couples and families to live. And consistent with the artsy, almost-eccentric vibe of East Nashville, The Pied Piper Creamery ended up being one of the most adorable shops I've ever seen.

Cute, right?!?
The Pied Piper Creamery is a bit hard to find, located in a cute old Victorian house with the Fairytales Bookstore. But as soon as we walked up the steps and across the porch (where we ate our ice cream), I felt instantly at home and relaxed in the quirky and colorful house. It reminded me of something I'd see in Seattle or Portland -- not in the South!

The first thing I noticed when entering the house was a big whiteboard on an easel, where I found the menu of ice-cream flavors that Pied Piper was offering that day. I was a bit disappointed that none of the creamery's most-insane flavors were listed. I'd been spending the previous hour reading from the extensive flavor list posted online, and my sisters and I were hoping to try one of the savory ones (like Basil Tomatillo Overdrive, Wasabi, or Strawberry Balsamic). There were still about two-dozen options available today, but several of the cooler flavors that caught my eye contained gluten - including Shotgun Wedding Cake, Baby Got Baklava!, and Oatmeal Raisin In The Sun. I really wanted to try the flavor Ava chose - Pied Piper's famous Trailer Trash, vanilla ice cream with Oreo, Twix, Butterfinger, Nestle Crunch, Snickers, M&Ms, and Reese's Pieces. But again... gluten stood in the way. But Pied Piper does offer a couple options for the vegan and dairy-free crowd; today it was Watermelon and Cherry Limeade sorbet and Vegan Chocolate Coconut ice cream.

In the end, I went with a "single" scoop of The Professor (coconut-flavored ice cream with pecans, almonds and cashews) and Toffee Loaded Coffee (coffee ice cream with crushed Heath bar). I always appreciate when a place will split a "single scoop" into two different flavors for you.

After forking over $3.50, I gave my cup a quick dash of sprinkles from the little shakers full of sprinkles that Pied Piper keeps on the counter.
Can you tell which scoop was coffee-toffee and which was coconut?
The verdict? First of all, I was pleased with Pied Piper's generous serving sizes and felt I got my money's worth. But my ice cream was not frozen hard enough. It was so soft that even eating it extra quickly didn’t prevent ice cream soup from accumulating at the bottom of the cup. My sister’s vegan coconut ice cream was much more firm, so perhaps the firmness varies by flavor. Luckily, things were better in the flavor department. My favorite scoop was the Toffee Loaded Coffee; the coffee ice cream was right up my alley, with a rich but sweet coffee flavor that wasn't too potent or bitter. But the bits of Heath candy were too small in my opinion. I prefer bigger chunks in my ice cream, but I recognize this is a personal - not universal - opinion. The Professor was okay but didn’t impress me or my fellow taste-testers; the ice cream tasted like imitation coconut extract and didn't contain the meaty bits of shredded coconut that I adore in other versions. The variety of nuts was unique, though, as I’ve never had ice cream with more than one type of nut. But while the flavors I chose didn't blow me away, I'd gladly return to the Pied Piper Creamery just for the environment alone! The cozy store is a great place to meet friends and relax while enjoying homemade ice cream on the porch.

The Stats:
The Pied Piper Creamery
114 South 11th Street
Nashville, TN 37206
(615) 227-4114

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Powell's Sweet Shoppe in Bend, Oregon

One of the reasons I love ice cream is that it's fun. Plain and simple fun. No matter how busy or stressful my life gets, ice cream provides me a moment of escape. It's hard to be anxious while licking an ice-cream cone. Stress and ice cream just don't go together!

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling to Bend, Oregon for work. It was a quick 36-hour trip during an already-busy week, so I was a bit frazzled by the time the trip rolled around. But I was glad to get the chance to see Central Oregon for the first time. And I made sure to schedule a stress-reducing ice-cream adventure :)

Bend is a small city to the east of the Cascade Range, so it does not suffer from the same rainy, dreary winters that Portland and Seattle do. In fact, the locals boast about the "300 days of sunshine" here. So it's not surprising that Bend is a mecca for outdoors-sports enthusiasts. There's plenty of skiing, hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, and canoeing to enjoy (provided you're not here for work). But I got a bit unlucky; it snowed the entire day I spent in Bend!

Luckily, the snow didn't impede my meetings or my ability to check out downtown Bend. In between work obligations, I drove through the quaint city streets. Downtown Bend is full of cute shops, unique coffee shops, family restaurants, and (of course) breweries! Bend does have a hippy/alternative vibe similar to that of Portland, but I appreciated just how clean and well laid out Bend is. In fact, the town reminded me a lot of Boulder, Colorado and Burlington, Vermont. (I just realized these three cities all start with "B"... Coincidence??)

I noticed a couple small ice-cream shops around town, but I had a particular pit stop in mind: Powell's Sweet Shoppe in downtown Bend.
View from across the snowy street
Oh, the colors! Powell's Sweet Shoppe is overwhelming in the best way possible. It's a small store, but every inch of the space is covered with brilliantly wrapped candies and whimsical displays. It's like a fun penny-candy store meets an old-fashioned soda fountain. Eying the huge array of treats in every size and color, I felt lighter and giddier, forgetting any work stress I was feeling just moments before. This place is every child's dream, and this big kid explored every inch of the store. I saw all the familiar candies (like M&Ms, Jelly Belly, PEZ, and Nerds) and nostalgic candy (Jujubes, Cow Tails, and Necco Wafers), but also lesser-known retro treats like Ice Cubes, and Sky Bars. Powell's website claims they carry 5,000 varieties of candy -- and after seeing the store, I could believe it!

One of my favorite details about Powell's Sweet Shoppe is the movie-viewing area in the back, where "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" plays on a loop. This must drive employees absolutely bonkers, but I loved how it brought such strong memories of my childhood back. That movie is just so timeless.

The fact that I meandered through the isles of candy instead of making a beeline to the gelato case is a testament to how fun this store is. The candy alone could have kept me occupied for an hour. But, alas, I was here for the gelato.

Much like the candy selection, Powell's gelato case included both classic and nostalgic flavors. I counted about 20 options. From Dark Chocolate, Mint Chip and Cookies & Cream to Salted Caramel, Cherry and Coconut Macadamia, there is something for everyone.

I ordered a "small" cup which cost less than $4 and allowed me to pick two flavors. I went with the Crème Brûlée and Almond Crunch. It wasn't until after ordering that I noticed that some of the flavors (including my Almond Crunch) were listed on Leo Leo Gelato signs while others (including Crème Brûlée and some of the more fun flavors) were posted on Powell's-branded signs. I inquired about the difference, and the lady behind the counter told me that only some of the flavors are Powell's own creations while others come from their favorite gelato company (Leo Leo).
The verdict? First of all, there is no real seating area in Powell's Sweet Shoppe, so I had to stand inside to eat this before venturing out into the snow. On a sunny day, it would be fun to eat your gelato while window shopping downtown. Now, onto the gelato... Both flavors were enjoyable, but the Crème Brûlée was hands-down my favorite. While both flavors were too soft (almost like soft serve) and too sugary-sweet for my tastes, I was impressed with the thick, dark-brown swirls of caramelized sugar in my scoop of Crème Brûlée. Although the base wasn't anything special; it was more like a sweet cream instead of the eggy custard I was hoping for. And the Almond Crunch wouldn't offend anyone, the almond flavor was pretty bland. I did like the texture of the bits of almond, though. Nuts can sometimes be soggy, but these held onto some of their bite. While the gelato at Powell's didn't quite knock my socks off, I would go back to try some other flavors. The prices are affordable, and the store is just so fun!

The Stats:
Powell's Sweet Shoppe
818 NW Wall Street
Bend, OR 97701
(multiple locations)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Jalapeño-Chocolate Sorbet

They say variety is the spice of life.

This old adage rings true to me. But sometimes I get a little too comfortable with my routine and habits. And that extends to ice cream. Eighty percent of the time, you'll find me eating mint-chocolate chip, caramel or vanilla (with sprinkles) ice cream at home. When I serve myself a bowl, I like knowing that I'll enjoy it. Nothing is worse than a disappointing ice-cream flavor. But nothing is more exciting than discovering a new flavor that I actually love. It's a balancing act that requires an open mind.

So in the spirit of variety, I listened when K requested that I develop an ice-cream recipe inspired by one of his favorite foods: jalapeños.

K wants jalapeños on anything and everything. Eggs in the morning. Sandwiches at lunchtime. With a side of jalapeño chips from Tim's Cascade. And don't even get me started on dinner! When we make pizza at home, he seriously covers every square inch with jalapeño slices. It's a wonder the guy doesn't have an ulcer.

Me? I'm a cautious jalapeño connoisseur. When applied in the right amount, jalapeños can instantly add oomph to salsa, chili, stir-fry, or a quesadilla. But there's a fine line between "yum" and "my mouth is on fire" when dealing with these little buggers. And jalapeños in ice cream? Um... not sure about that. They're not exactly a traditional dessert mix-in. But perhaps that's the point?

Last weekend, we invited two of our closest friends over for dinner. I wanted to make some ice cream (these guests  appreciate a good dessert), so I finally decided to entertain K's request.

I decided to use jalapeños with chocolate when I remembered the Mexican Chocolate I enjoyed at Little Man in Denver, Colorado. The heat from that ice cream came from cayenne powder and a hint of cinnamon. Could jalapeños work, too?
The base of this ice cream was inspired by a David Lebovitz recipe for chocolate sorbet. I'd saved it on my Pinterest page and was happy for an excuse to try it. And because it doesn't use any milk or cream, this recipe could be suitable for those avoiding lactose.

So this recipe meshes two new elements. Hot peppers and a dairy-free chocolate sorbet. Who knew how it would turn out?

Jalapeño-Chocolate Sorbet (Nearly Dairy-Free)
{Makes 1 quart}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 6 ounces of semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 jalapeños, sliced (de-seed 1 jalapeño for medium heat; de-seed both for mild heat)
  • In a medium saucepan, whisk 1 1/2 cups of the water, the sugar, cocoa powder and salt together. Bring to a boil whisking frequently. Let it boil for 45 seconds or so, whisking continuously. the milk, cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  • Remove saucepan from heat. Whisk in chocolate until melted, then stir in vanilla extract, the remaining 3/4 cup water, and the sliced jalapeños. Pour the mixture into the blender and blend on a low setting for 30 seconds and then for 15 seconds on a high setting. Chill the mixture in the fridge (should take 2-4 hours).
  • Pour chilled mixture into ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer's directions. If you're using a Cuisinart, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing churn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Serve immediately or if a firmer consistency is desired, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

The verdict? K is convinced that this sorbet is the best ice cream or sorbet I've ever made - or will ever make. And I, too, was surprised by just how creamy, rich and interesting this concoction was. The cool, refined sweetness of the cocoa and dark chocolate was perfectly balanced with the deep, spicy heat of the jalapeños. And even though this recipe contains no cream, milk or eggs, it was rich, creamy and voluminous. The texture was closer to frozen chocolate mousse than to a traditional sorbet. This recipe got rave reviews from everyone around the table (they practically licked their bowls clean). It will definitely be part of the normal rotation around here. Heck, it might become another routine. And if you're looking for an easy ice-cream recipe that's sure to impress, this one's for you.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dozens of Brazilian Flavors at Mil Frutas

Winter in DC has been rough. Not so much for me (I'd take extreme cold over extreme heat any day) but for K. He's an avid runner but loathes the treadmill with passion. Thus, he continues to run outside when he's in DC -- coming back with a ruby-red nose and shirts frozen with sweat. Needless to say, K was eagerly awaiting our Presidents Day trip to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

Like last time, K and I stayed at the Sheraton Rio Hotel & Resort (thank you, hotel points!). And once again, we spent our days lounging by the hotel pool or down along the popular beaches of Leblón and Ipanema. We both drank more than our fair share of fresh coconut water and cold caipirinhas -- two of my favorite Brazilian specialties.

While it can be difficult to eat healthily on vacation, the entire city of Rio de Janeiro seems to focus on healthy eating and active lifestyles. You don't see much fried food around, but it's easy to spot fresh fruits and vegetables on restaurant menus and in little corner markets. Thus, K and I are able to balance fun vacation indulgences with some fresh produce and super-foods. On Saturday, for example, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at Zazá Bistrõ Tropical in the Ipanema neighborhood. Seated on the restaurant's romantic outside patio, we savored crunchy cassava chips with wasabi mousse, grilled fish, smoked steak and plenty of grilled vegetables. So needless to say, we didn’t leave feeling hungry. But that didn’t stop K from suggesting an ice-cream stop.

Just another reason I love the guy ;)

In my ice-cream research before Rio, Mil Frutas popped up time and time again. Mil Frutas has many locations around the city, and the ice cream receives some glowing reviews on TripAdvisor. K checked his iPhone and lo and behold, there was a shop several blocks away from us!

After an enjoyable stroll down the street, we spotted the well-lit storefront.
I was excited to see just how long the menu is at Mil Frutas. In fact, they might offer more ice-cream flavors than any other place I've been to?

Mil Frutas loosely divides their ice creams into several categories, including “sabores de frutas” (fruit flavors) and “sabores cremosos” (creamy flavors). There are also several "sabores light", but who cares about the diet ice cream flavors? Not me!

I tested K's patience by studying the menu for far longer than necessary. Not only was I trying to loosely translate the flavors from Portuguese to English, but I wasn't sure what I was in the mood for...

Some of the local Brazilian flavors such as Coco, Açaí, and Tapioca sounded delicious. And while I nearly picked Tapioca, I was worried it wouldn't live up to the amazing version I had at Sorvete Itália during my last trip. Other flavors that caught my eye included After Eight (like the chocolate mints), Figo Verde com Marscapone (i.e. Green Fig and Mascarpone) and Banana Caramelada. And I'm sure there were even more delicious flavors that I missed because the Portuguese words didn’t resemble either English or Spanish words.
In the end, I decided on Figo com Água de Coco (i.e. Fig and Coconut Water) and Chocolate Branco com Amêndoas (i.e. White Chocolate with Almonds). I figured the flavors might clash, but both  sounded refreshing and light for a warm evening. 
Top half: Chocolate Branco con Amêndoas
Bottom half: Figo com Água de Coco
The verdict? Surprisingly, this this ice cream was just okay. Neither flavor made me swoon, but both were unlike anything I've experienced in the United States. It took me a while to warm to the  Chocolate Branco... it tasted artificial to me at first, but I grew accustomed to it and ended up polishing it off. The almond chunks were soft but retained some of their bite. While I'm not sure what I expected Figo con Água de Coco to taste like, it surprised me! The actual base was icy from the coconut water, and it reminded me more of a creamy take on Italian ice than of traditional ice cream. The best part was the bits of fig seeds in every bite. While neither flavor was memorable, they were light and refreshing. I'd like to give Mil Frutas a second chance next time I'm in Rio; there are so many other flavors to try, and I'm sure some of them are stellar.

The Stats:
Mil Frutas
Multiple locations in Rio de Janeiro

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Pitango Gelato... Best Gelato in DC?

Last Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling a bit under the weather. Kevan already had a nasty cold, and I was afraid I'd catch it if I didn't nip it in the bud with plenty of rest and fluids. So I decided it was a work-from-bed day.

When lunchtime rolled around, nothing much in my fridge looked appealing. But I know that food is the best medicine. Growing up, the pinnacle of any good sick day was when my Dad would bring me a de-carbonized ginger ale and the blandest crackers he could find for my lunch. Since he worked from home, our Dad would play the "Doctor Dad" role, catering to us while we'd read on the couch (If we actually had a fever, he'd let us watch TV!). But, alas, Dad isn't in DC, so I was forced to fend for myself. And rather than venturing to the grocery store to find some gluten-free crackers, I opted for a quicker fix: gelato.

There is healthy competition in the Washington, DC gelato market, and one of the crowd favorites - Pitango Gelato - has a storefront just 100 yards from my apartment. And in full disclosure, I'd already been a couple times before I stumbled over there last week. But my first visit occurred long before I started this blog, and the steep prices (over $5 for a small cup) have largely kept me away. But on this particular winter sick-day, I was more than willing to fork over big bucks for some homemade gelato.
Pitango Gelato was actually started in Baltimore back in 2007, but the small chain has really blossomed in DC. And while the original Fells Point storefront remains open in Baltimore, there is a lot of buzz about the four DC locations. The one in my neighborhood of Logan Circle is nearly always open and busy. In the morning, most patrons leave the store not with gelato but with cups of Italian-style espressos and lattes. Pitango is known to make a mean espresso. But, of course, the real focus here is on the gelato (and sorbet).
Pitango Gelato focuses on local, high-quality and often organic ingredients for their gelatos and sorbets. They get all the organic milk and eggs from a family farm in Pennsylvania. Using these fresh ingredients, Pitango makes their homemade gelatos and sorbets in small batches.

On any given day, Pitango offers around 20 flavors in each shop. While some traditional Italian flavors are constant fixtures on the menu (like Stracciatella and Chocolate-Hazelnut gelato or Strawberry and Lemon sorbet), the more-interesting ones rotate on and off. But you won't find anything reminiscent of cotton candy or cake batter here :) The flavors are all refined; the ones that caught my eye today included Walnut and Cinnamon gelato and Quince and Bosch Pear sorbet.

In the end, I decided to go with a "regular" (Pitango's smallest) size cup of Cinnamon gelato and Bosch Pear sorbet. But I was particularly excited by my choices when the lady behind the counter commented "That sounds like a great combo!" while she scooped out my serving. These are the best type of compliments an ouce-cream lover can receive!

Now remember, the prices are STEEP at Pitango; this little cup cost me over $5. But of course, higher-quality and local ingredients do come with higher price tags. And I'm always happy to support a local gelato-maker and family-run dairy farms.
Top half of cup: Bosch Pear sorbet
Bottom half: Cinnamon gelato 
The verdict? The gelato looked so enticingly cool and creamy that I couldn't help but start licking the top of my cup while crossing the street to my apartment building. Even in the freezing temperatures, the gelato was refreshing and soothing on my sore throat. I tried the Cinnamon gelato first; the spice wasn't overwhelming but simply softly accented the sweet cream. And it was a perfect complement to the sweet and sophisticated Bosh Pear sorbet. Pitango's version of this fruit sorbet was just as good as the versions I had in Italy a couple years ago. Both flavors were authentic and true-to-form, and neither was overly sweet. By the time I finished my last bite, I wanted more! And, sure, naysayers may say it was all in my head, but this cup of gelato DID make me feel better.

Now the question remains... Is Pitango Gelato the best gelato in DC? I plan to find out in 2014!

The Stats:
Pitango Gelato
Multiple locations in DC, Reston and Baltimore
(My spot is at 1451 P Street NW in DC)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Quick & Easy Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (Vegan, Dairy-Free)

2014 is shaping up to be a busy year. Between greater work responsibilities, more travel, and planning a wedding, I've found that cooking and baking have taken a back seat. Weeknight dinners these days tends to come from the freezer, a can, or (when I've planned ahead) the Whole Foods hot bar. It's only when K comes home for the weekends that I'll get my butt into the kitchen and whip up something special.

While I'm willing to sacrifice home-cooked meals to make room for more work and wedding-planning, I'm NOT about to let my ice cream cravings go unsatisfied! Last weekend, my sister (and co-Maid of Honor) Carolyn, accompanied K and I on a trip to Seattle to take care of some wedding-planning things. While the trip was productive and fun, I came back to DC exhausted and feeling unprepared to tackle a particularly-busy week at work.

Luckily for me, Carolyn had decided to spend a couple days in DC with me before heading back home to Boston. And with such a special guest staying with me, it was time to dust off the ol' Cuisinart and whip up something yummy. I wanted to play around more with coconut-milk ice cream, but I also didn't have much time to dedicate to ice-cream making on a weeknight. After perusing some different recipes online, I came up with my own creation using just a handful of common pantry items.

Making due with ingredients I had on hand, Carolyn and I managed to make this ice cream in about an hour. Not too bad, considering I heated the ice-cream mixture on the stove to dissolve the sugar.

Here's what I did...

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (Vegan, Dairy-Free)
{Makes 2 cups, or 2 Grace-sized servings}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

  • 1.5 cups full-fat coconut milk (1 can)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • 1.5 tablespoons cornstarch 
  • 1/4 tsp salt 
  • 5-7 drops of pure peppermint oil 
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free mini chocolate chips
  • In a medium saucepan, whisk the coconut milk, sugar and cornstarch over low heat until sugar melts (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and pour mixture into small mixing bowl. 
  • Add salt and peppermint oil and stir to mix evenly. Cover bowl and place in fridge for about 30 minutes or until slightly chilled (shouldn't take long since mixture was heated on low heat).
  • Pour mixture into ice cream maker and freeze per the manufacturer's directions. If you're using a Cuisinart, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing churn for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • A few minutes before the ice cream is finished churning, slowly pour the mini chocolate chips into machine.
  • Serve immediately or, if a firmer consistency is desired, transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm.

The Verdict? Cool, creamy and minty, this ice cream was the perfect refreshing evening treat. The pure mint extract masked the taste of coconut milk which, in my opinion, was a good thing (Carolyn agreed!). Compared to other vegan ice creams I've tried, this version is much more creamy and thick - which I attribute to using cornstarch instead of eggs here. I can't wait to try cornstarch in other recipes! Overall, this recipe is a triple threat: it's vegan/dairy-free, easy to make, and absolutely delicious to eat.