Strawberry-Swirl Ice Cream with Candied Jalapeños

It’s been quite a busy winter, and my ice-cream making has definitely suffered. But this week, I finally put my foot down and got creative in the kitchen. Ever since the surprising success of my Jalapeño-Chocolate Sorbet, K and I have been envisioning other ways to incorporate the pepper into desserts.

Have you ever tried candied jalapeños? I’ve had plenty of pickled jalapeños, but never candied ones. I spotted a recipe for Meyer lemon ice cream with candied jalapeños on Pinterest and decided to play around with idea. My mom makes an easy and delicious strawberry sauce for shortcakes, and that sounded like a good compliment to jalapeños.

IMG_6896The night before I wanted to serve the ice cream, I got to making the candied jalapeños. The process is pretty simple: let chopped jalapeños simmer in sugar water for a bit, and then pop the pieces of pepper onto parchment paper to cool overnight. Because I was making this for K, I tried to preserve as many seeds as possible. So much of the heat of jalapeños is trapped in those little white seeds.

IMG_6898As soon as I got home from work the next day, I quickly whipped up the strawberry sauce for a fruity swirl in the ice cream. Just sugar and slightly defrosted strawberries puréed in the blender. My mom usually mashes the strawberries by hand to preserve some pieces of strawberries, making for a rustic and comforting texture. But since I was freezing this, I figured a purée was better.

The ice-cream base is just a simple sweet cream recipe; no egg yolks or cornstarch. It does freeze a bit harder than recipes with yolk or cornstarch, but I knew I’d be letting this ice cream soften a bit before scooping to allow the strawberries and frozen bits of jalapeños to soften slightly.

Look at that snow-white color of the cream base offset with deep red strawberry swirls and festive green candied jalapeños! This is definitely one of the prettier ice creams I’ve made.

IMG_6938Strawberry-Swirl Ice Cream with Candied Jalapeños
{Makes 1 quart}
Inspired by this and this recipe

For Candied Jalapeños
• 3 jalapeños, de-seeded and chopped (for more heat, keep in some seeds)
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 cup water

For Strawberry Swirl
• 1.5 cups strawberries, fresh or frozen
• 1/3 – 1/4 cup sugar (I recommend using 1/4)

For Ice-Cream Base
• 2 cups heavy cream
• 1 cup milk (whole or 2%)
• 3/4 cup granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt (I used this, a gift from my mom)

To make candied jalapeños:
• Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and heat to a boil. Lower heat to medium-low, whisking until sugar has dissolved completely.
• Add jalapeños and simmer for about 10 minutes. Turn of heat and drain liquid.
• Spread jalapeños out on wax paper and cool completely (preferably overnight)

For strawberry swirl:
• If you’re using frozen strawberries, let them thaw a bit. Place strawberries and sugar in a blender or food processor and blend until puréed.
• Keep purée in fridge until you need it.

For ice-cream base:
• Combine the heavy cream, milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat, whisking from time to time until the sugar has dissolved completely and has barely reached a simmer.
• Turn off heat and pour mixture into a metal or glass bowl. Let it cool a bit and then place then refrigerate until cold, at least an hour. While you’re waiting, start the strawberry swirl.

Bringing it all together:
• Pour chilled ice-cream mixture into your ice cream maker and freeze per your mixer’s instructions. For my Cuisinart ice-cream maker, this means 1) turn on machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing alone for at least 15 minutes.
• When the ice cream is done, scoop out enough to fill the bottom of an airtight container about an inch high. Then, sprinkle some candied jalapeños and drizzle some strawberry sauce onto the ice cream. Add another layer of ice cream. Repeat the process until you’re all out of ice cream. I had some leftover candied jalapeños and strawberry sauce, which I used later for serving!
• While you can serve the ice cream immediately, my preference is to pop the container into the freezer until firm. When frozen to your liking (2 hours for me), simply scoop into a dish and garnish with some of the reserved candied jalapenos.

IMG_6895The verdict? Those candied jalapeños have a kick to them! Of course, leaving the seeds in definitely cranked up the heat. Regardless, I wouldn’t serve this ice cream to those with sensitive taste buds. But spice lovers will rejoice. The contrast between the sweet, milky ice cream and the hot bits of candied jalapeño kept my taste buds. The jalapeños were nice and soft even straight from the freezer, thanks to the candying. The smooth and refreshing strawberry swirl was a bit icy and hard (thus my recommendation above to add more sugar), but it provided cool relief to the heat. K polished off his cup with ease, and commented on how this ice cream would be perfect on a warm August afternoon. And I’d just have to agree.

Gelato Messina: Over-the-top ice cream Down Under

The morning after Christmas, K and I headed to Boston’s Logan International Airport to begin our long journey to Australia. Most of the Australian-side of my family could not attend our wedding last August, so we planned this trip to celebrate with them. When K’s parents heard about the plans, they offered to accompany us… After all, it’s summer in the Southern Hemisphere :)

Our trip began in my father’s hometown of Melbourne. The four of us spent several days visiting family and exploring the city itself. One of the highlights was wandering around the Royal Botanic Gardens. I can’t believe it took me so long to discover this urban oasis.

Botanical GardensOn Sunday, my Aunt Kathy put on a lovely afternoon barbeque for everyone who could make it. It was so special to introduce my in-laws to my extended family and family friends. As anticipated, everyone got along swimmingly!

IMG_6558Before we headed off to Sydney to experience their New Year’s Eve celebrations, I made sure to schedule some time with my dear friend Rangi. While she’d attended our wedding in Seattle and Kathy’s barbeque, I always try to soak up as much time with Rangi as humanly possible. We’ve been friends ever since my grandma introduced me to the “lovely gal” next door over 15 years ago. Rangi and I hit it off immediately and continued our friendship as pen pals. Remember when people used to have “pen pals” instead of “Facebook friends”? Oh, how I miss those glitter pens and stickers…

On our last night in Melbourne, Rangi picked the four of us up from our hotel and drove over to a popular new restaurant, Epocha, where we devoured an incredibly tasty (and gluten-free friendly) meal.

2014-12-29 22.57.32-1 copyAs we polished off dessert at Epocha, Rangi informed us that the night was not yet over. So we piled into her car and headed to the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy. Our destination? Gelato Messina. The wildly-popular chain started in Sydney (where it has six stores and a devoted following) and  opened its first Melbourne location in 2013. Gelato Messina focuses on all-natural ingredients, and the gelato is made in-house daily.

I apologize in advance for the less-than-stellar photographs. It was quite dark!IMG_6819 IMG_6820Gelato Messina eludes easy classifications. Its décor reminded me both of classy European cafés and trendy Manhattan nightclubs. On this warm evening, the lights were turned low and the music cranked loud. And the long lines after 10pm on a weeknight were impressive.

IMG_6822On any given night, Gelato Messina Fitzroy has over 40 flavors of gelato and sorbetto. In addition, there are 5 weekly specials — often the most wacky or seasonal flavors. Each gelato is displayed behind a lovely, curved glass gelati case. Several of the flavors were common — Vanilla, Choc Mint, Coffee, Gianduia, Mango, etc. –  but most were not. Some examples:

  • Coconut & Lychee – coconut milk gelato with lychee fruit
  • Banana Split – caramel and banana gelato with peanuts and whipped cream
  • Pear & Rhubarb – pear gelato with poached spiced rhubarb
  • Salted Coconut and Mango Salsa (vegan sorbet!)

I regret not taking photos of the stunning gelati cakes on display at Messina. There were many to choose from, and I thought the prices (most around 45 USD) were reasonable for such works of art. Here’s an example from their website:

cakes_mushroom
Source: Gelato Messina website

Understandably, we had a difficult time deciding what to order. The guys decided to opt out, claiming they were “full.” But we all know that I don’t have such willpower. I did, however, limit myself to one flavor, choosing a single-scoop of one of the weekly specials: Christmas Pudding. I’ve missed the classic Aussie treat since going gluten-free, but Messina’s version was clearly marked as not containing gluten. I couldn’t pass it up! My mother-in-law chose Caramelised White Chocolate while Rangi went with Apple Pie. (Side note: apple pie is highly unusual in Australia. Rangi first tried it at my parent’s house in MA just last last year!)

Our three single-scoops came to about $10 USD, which I thought was pretty good.

IMG_6823
L to R: Apple Pie, Caramelised White Chocolate, Christmas Pudding

The verdict? This is my type of gelato! All three scoops were thick and creamy, frozen to just the right temperature. My Christmas Pudding tasted exactly as it was advertised: “brandy, candied fruit, and brown sugar gelato.” First to hit my taste buds was the deep, molasses-like flavor of brown sugar, but the aftertaste was strong brandy. Not for the faint of heart! Unlike the classic dessert, the candied fruit in this gelato was shaved into tiny bits. This made for a smooth, yet slightly interesting, texture.  My mother-in-law  thoroughly enjoyed her Caramelised White Chocolate. I stole a bite, and it definitely had a more complex  flavor than traditional white chocolate ice cream. Rangi’s Apple Pie was the real show-stopper. It was all the goodness of homemade spiced apple pie à la mode in a single scoop of gelato. Gelato Messina’s apple gelato is mixed with real apple pie! I took a tiny bite, carefully avoiding the chunks of pie crust (which Rangi confirmed were buttery and crunchy, but not gluten-free!). The apple gelato was sweet and heavily spiked with cinnamon, and the bits of apple from the pie were soft and delicious.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Gelato Messina. In my opinion, this gelato is worth the hype!

The Stats:
Gelato Messina
Multiple locations – 6 in Sydney, and 1 in Melbourne
(I visited the Melbourne store in Fitzroy)
http://www.gelatomessina.com/

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2014

Welcome to 2015!

On this first day of this new year, I want to take a moment to reminisce about the many adventures and ice creams of 2014. It was quite a year, from getting married(!!) to exploring new places and spending quality time with friends and family.

While I enjoyed countless ice creams in 2014, below is a recap of the best, the worst, and the weirdest ones. I hope you enjoy!

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
final
Best New Recipe:
Best Atmosphere:
IMG_6456
Worst Ice Cream:
Most Unique Ice Cream:
What was your favorite ice cream of 2014?

Liks Ice Cream – Denver’s Neighborhood Gem

I cannot believe it’s the middle of December already. Wasn’t Halloween last week?

Several weeks ago (but feels like two days ago), I made my annual pilgrimage to Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF). It was my sixth year in a row attending the festival, and I swear it gets better every year. The GABF brings beer lovers from around the world to sample over 2,000 different American brews. And for those who are gluten-sensitive like me, there’s plenty of gluten-free brews to try.

K and I stayed with our close friend Elysia, who lives with her Great Dane pup in a charming apartment in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. On Sunday morning, K jumped in a cab  to catch an early flight back to Seattle. My DC-bound plane didn’t take off until the evening, giving me Elysia and me a full afternoon of “girl time.” We decided to take the pup on a long walk around the neighborhood. Plenty of people had the same idea, as it was an unseasonably-warm fall afternoon. IMG_6454After walking around the neighborhood, a girl gets hungry. Luckily, Elysia knew just the place for a quick sugar fix: Liks Ice Cream.

A neighborhood institution since 1976, Liks Ice Cream appears to have quite the fan base. I was shocked to see so many people enjoying ice cream on the outside patio in the middle of fall. And I was likely one of the few tourists around, as Liks is a bit off the beaten tourist tracks of Denver. Plenty of families and dog-owners were relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying delicious-looking homemade ice creams.

IMG_6455IMG_6456Inside, Liks Ice Cream continues its neighborhood-y vibe, with colorful decor, laminate tabletops and a no-frills counter.  Featured prominently on the wall was a chalkboard listing the available ice cream flavors.

IMG_6493 IMG_6457Like any great neighborhood ice-cream joint, Liks’ flavors run the gamut from the “safe” (i.e. Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry) to the kid-approved (i.e. Cotton Candy and Yellow Cake), to the trendy (i.e. Salty Butter Caramel or Maple Bacon Fudge). There are even a couple options for the vegan or lactose-intolerant crowd, like the Pomegranate Sorbet. And once you’ve decided on your flavors, you can order a cup, regular cone, homemade waffle cone, homemade dipped waffle cone, sundae, milkshake, malt or a float. Phew, that’s a LOT of options!

After quite a bit of deliberation, I ordered a double scoop of Cinnamon and Coconut Peanut Brittle. Elysia went with a cup of S’Mores and Salty Butter Caramel. I thought the prices (little over $4 for a double) were fairly reasonable for a city.

IMG_6458
Coconut Peanut Brittle (L) and Cinnamon (R)
IMG_6459
Salty Butter Caramel (L) and S’Mores (R)

The verdict? Liks’ ice cream is just what good old-fashioned ice cream should be: thick, creamy, and flavorful. The Cinnamon was fantastic; the perfect blend of vanilla and cinnamon made for a refreshing and addicting treat. I’d be happy eating the Cinnamon again and again… and it would pair perfectly with a slice of pumpkin or apple pie.  The Coconut Peanut Brittle wasn’t what I was expecting but it was nonetheless a delight to eat! I was expecting coconut ice cream with peanut brittle bits, but this tasted more like creamy vanilla with bits of toffee and peanuts inside. The bits weren’t very crunchy, but they had great flavor. I had no problem polishing off my cup. I also took a bite (or two!) of Elysia’s Salty Butter Caramel, which was creamy and buttery. Liks’ version is less salty than many versions I’ve tried — in a good way! The salt accentuated (not overpowered) the caramel flavor. While I didn’t try the S’Mores (due to my gluten intolerance), Elysia reported that while the graham flavor was too subtle, the marshmallows were “perfection.”

While Liks Ice Cream might not be the fanciest or trendiest, its friendly vibe and good old-fashioned ice cream makes it a real neighborhood gem.

The Stats:
Liks Ice Cream
2039 East 13th Avenue
Denver, CO 80206
http://www.liksicecream.com/

Mexican Flavors at Santa Clara

This fall, I had an opportunity to spend a weekend with K in Mexico City. K had to spend a week there for work, so I accompanied him for the first couple days. I’d never been to Mexico before and wasn’t sure what to expect. While I’d heard that Mexico City has a reputation for being hot, crowded and polluted, I found the city to be vibrant, beautiful, and – yes- crowded!

K and I stayed at the W Hotel, which is located in a quieter residential neighborhood called Polanco. We didn’t mind being further away from the downtown action, as UberX rides were incredibly cheap and easy. We fit a lot into my day-and-a-half in Mexico City; we visited the Frida Kahlo Museum, drank horchatas and wandered the stalls of the Mercado de Coyoacán, and wandered around the Zócalo. We also had one of the best meals of my life at Pujol. In fact, nearly everything we ate in Mexico City blew me away. It was not only cheap, but everything was fresh and flavorful. Gosh, what I wouldn’t give for a street taco right now…

El Madero
El Madero

On Saturday afternoon, K and I were walking along the pedestrian-only Francisco I. Madero Avenue when I spotted yet another Santa Clara ice cream and dairy shop. I’d begun to notice the chain earlier in the day, when I saw someone exiting a shop in a different part of town with a cone of colorful ice cream. I later learned that Santa Clara has around 160 ice cream stores around Mexico, making it one of the country’s most popular and historic (opened in 1924!) dairy companies. With our dinner reservation still hours away, I figured a bit of local ice cream was in order.

Entrance of Santa Clara
Entrance of Santa Clara

Santa Clara shops are bright and playful-looking (that cute cow logo!), and the Mexico City locations seemed to be popular at all times of day. This location’s storefront was entirely open to the pedestrians street, and it was the long, colorful ice-cream case that ultimately drew me in. Made with domestic Mexican dairy products, Santa Clara churns out dozens of flavors — from the favorites you can find around the globe, like Napolítano, Tiramisú and Fresa (strawberry), to some  local ones like Piñón (pine nut) and Chamoy (based on the popular Chamoy condiment made from pickled fruit).

IMG_6383In the end, I decided to get a double-scoop cup filled with Tequila and Queso con Cereza (cheese and cherry). Both sounded refreshing and interesting. My cup ended up costing the equivalent of $5 USD.

IMG_6384 IMG_6385 IMG_6390The verdict? While I had high expectations for this ice cream (particularly the boozy one), I was a bit underwhelmed. While the Tequila  had an alcohol-tasting aftertaste, the cream and sugar overpowered it. But its flavor was better than the Queso con Cervesa, which sadly tasted entirely artificial and sugary — like those little cups of strawberry ice cream you can get in 12 packs at the grocery store.  And the ice cream base tasted like plain vanilla ice cream — not like the cheesecake advertised on the flavor’s label. What was most interesting about this ice cream was the fluffy and light texture, which reminded me of frozen mousse… So I bet the chocolate flavors would be good! I think Santa Clara is worth another shot, if not for the fun atmosphere and the ice cream’s interesting texture. I just have to find an excuse to get back to Mexico City!

IMG_6393
Tequila on top, Queso con Cereza

The Stats:
Santa Clara
Paseo Francisco I. Madero #56
Cuauhtémoc
06000 Mexico, D.F.
https://www.santaclara.com.mx/principal.asp

Pozzetto: Italian Gelato in the Heart of Paris

The last stop of our honeymoon brought us to the City of Lights. K and I had been to Paris before, but not with each other. When I visited during my semester abroad (which I spent in Madrid), I was struck by the old-world beauty and charm of Paris.  Of course, my girlfriends and I were staying in a cheap hostel room of questionable cleanliness and eating cheap meals at McDonalds (I still shudder to think of that). So it was such a treat to return to Paris with a bit more money in my pocket and my new husband at my side.

We had a lovely couple days in Paris. We took a great boat tour down the Seine River, relaxed by the Eiffel Towel, strolled along the Champs Élysées, and explored just a corner of the Louvre (I forgot how massive that museum is!). And we spent a LOT of time eating and drinking. Macaroons, foie gras, and fries, oh my!

In the spirit of exploring the tastes of Paris, I went in search of some local ice cream. Like in many European cities, ice cream in Paris is actually Italian-style gelato. And while an internet search will yield a dozen different gelaterías, it was a slightly lesser-known shop that caught my attention: Pozzetto. Why? For the simple fact that one of my favorite food bloggers of all time, David Lebovitz called it “the best gelato in Paris.”

Located on an idyllic street in the Marais historic district, Pozzetto is an adorable shop with a service window where pedestrians can grab an ice cream or cappuccino to go. I read that you can expect a long line during the summer, but it was pretty quiet on this weekday afternoon.

IMG_6332 IMG_6335 IMG_6331After walking around the Eiffel Tower and the Marais neighborhood, K and I were more than ready to rest our feet at one of the tables inside. Pozzetta has very limited seating indoors, but the vibe is so romantic and Parisian that it would be worth a wait on a busier day. (And for you coffee-lovers out there, Pozzetto is well-known for their espressos. Several Parisians were lingering over cups when K and I were there.)

Pozzetta offers about a dozen flavors of gelato and sorbetto. The inside menu features a couple sundae (“coppa”) options. Everything is made in small batches daily, so there’s no need to worry about freezer burns here.

IMG_6336My French abilities are laughable, so I couldn’t understand half of the flavor names. I saw several chocolate options, including Gianduia di Pottezzo (hazelnut-chocolate) and Stracciatella. But Cioccolato Fondente (dark chocolate) sounded too good to pass up.

I wanted to try a second flavor; Pistacchio del re di Sicilia is what Pozzetto is known for, but I was drawn towards a more refreshing sorbetto (which is made with real fruit). Of the three options, Fragola (strawberry) seemed like it would go best with dark chocolate.

We paid about 7 euros for a double scoop with table service. A bit pricey, since the same serving size cost about 5 euros at the take-out window. But I was in need of a respite from the hot afternoon sun, and the table was definitely worth a 2 euro premium.

IMG_6334
How cute is this bowl?

The verdict? Wow. Pozzetto is the real deal. Their gelato was thick, sticky and very flavorful. The Cioccolato Fondente was the real star of the show; rich but not too filling or sweet. It was almost like frozen dark-chocolate mousse.  I could eat this every day. The Fragola was also delicious. Strawberry ice cream or sorbet can often be artificial-tasting and icey, but Pozzetto’s creamy version is made with fresh ingredients and it shows. These two flavors complemented each other beautifully — it was even better than a dark-chocolate covered strawberry. If you’re in Paris, I’d highly recommend swinging by Pozzetto for an afternoon pick-me-up. Their gelato is as good as any of the famous gelatarías in Italy, but the experience is uniquely Parisian.

The Stats:
Pozzetto
39 rue du roi de Sicile
Paris, France 75004
(2nd location: 16 Rue Vieille du Temple)
www.pozzetto.biz/

andBeyond Ngala Tented Camp’s Amarula Milkshake

For me, the absolute highlight of our honeymoon was a safari in South Africa’s Kruger National Park. One of the largest game reserves in Africa, Kruger boasts 147 species of mammals, including the famous “Big 5″ — the African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. And while the safari concept was born in East Africa (where the Great Migration happens), South Africa is known for its luxury safari experience. Which means Kruger is an ideal place for safari novices like myself.

K and I spent three blissful days at the andBeyond Ngala Tented Camp, which a colleague of K’s had recommended. Set on its own private reserve, the Ngala Tented Camp is a magical place. From the moment you arrive, the staff welcomes you and seemingly anticipates your every need. All it took was one mention of my gluten intolerance, and Chef Stephie sent out slices of homemade gluten-free bread with every one of my meals. And the private “tented” accommodations were incredibly comfortable. My favorite features were the secluded outdoor shower and our private deck.

(source)

K and I would join four other guests for two game drives each day — one at 5:45am and another around 4:15pm. Each drive lasts over three hours, which sounds like a lot but always flew by too fast. Our guide and driver, Lee-Anne, was insanely knowledgeable about the animals, fauna, and history of the park. Her “tracker”, Richard, had eyes like a hawk and appeared to be one of the most successful trackers at Ngala. Lee-Anne would be casually driving our open-air vehicle and chatting with us, and suddenly Richard would point out elephant tracks or motion that he’d heard a lioness’ growl (which nobody else heard). And, lo and behold, he’d direct Lee-Anne to wherever the animals were.

Towards the end of each game drive, Lee-Anne would stop the vehicle in a safe clearing, giving us a chance to stretch our legs and enjoy some coffee (in the morning) or “adult” beverages (in the evening). You could count on one thing making an appearance in the morning and evening: Amarula Cream Liqueur.  I hadn’t heard about this liqueur before, but I quickly fell in love with it. Made from the fruit of the African marula tree, it has a uniquely silky and complex taste. I’d put it in the same family as Bailey’s Irish Cream, but I’d take the rich flavor of Amarula over Bailey’s any day. In the morning, I’d drink my coffee or hot cocoa with a splash of Amarula. And in the evenings, I’d drink a bit over ice.
Even with all that Amarula drinking during game drives, I still was excited to see an “Amarula Milkshake” listed as the dessert option one day during lunchtime.
I’m not the world’s biggest milkshake fan (I’d rather eat my ice cream than drink it), but the cold concoction sounded great on a warm African afternoon. And boy, oh, boy, does Amarula make a great milkshake. It added a caramel-like depth to the traditional vanilla ice cream, and I had no problems slurping up the sweet and creamy treat.

Since coming home, I haven’t been able to get Amarula out of my head. Luckily, a growing number of alcohol store in the U.S. are carrying the South African liqueur — including my neighborhood shop. While I cannot add a splash to my coffee every morning (darn you, real-life responsibilities!), I can enjoy an Amarula milkshake after dinner. So I recently set out to recreate andBeyond’s famous milkshake in my own kitchen. Here’s what I came up with…

Amarula Milkshake 
{Makes 2 milkshakes}

Ingredients

  • 1 cup vanilla ice cream (I’m sure chocolate would be great, too)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 shots (3 oz., or to taste) Amarula Cream Liqueur
  • Handful of ice

Directions

  • Place all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth and frothy!

The verdict? This is a near replica of the Amarula milkshake I enjoyed at andBeyond’s Ngala Tented Camp. I’m pretty sure the original version didn’t involve ice cubes, but I like the extra body that the ice gives this drink. The taste of Amarula easily shines through the milk and ice cream, giving this milkshake a yummy “adult” flavor. I’d highly recommend that anyone who adores milkshakes – or cream liqueur – give Amarula a try!

Gelato with a View — Gelato Mania in Cape Town, SA

One of my favorite stops of the honeymoon was Cape Town, South Africa. When we were planning our honeymoon, I told K that a safari was at the top of my list. Several people had recommended Kruger National Park in South Africa, telling us that it was a great location for “safari beginners” (which we certainly are!). And it seemed silly to K to go all the way to South Africa without seeing Cape Town.

While people rave about the coastal city of Cape Town, K and I were still blown away by the spectacular natural beauty surrounding the city. When I think of Cape Town now, the word that comes to mind is “dazzling.” There is so much to do and see here. Some of the highlights for me included riding the rotating cable car up the steep sandstone and granite slopes of Table Mountain and the day-long tour of the Cape Peninsula and Constantia Winelands that we took through Luhambo Tours. I’d highly recommend both experiences!

View of Cape Town from the top of Table Mountain
Wine tasting at Steenberg Vineyards

Between our planned activities, K and I enjoyed exploring different neighborhoods of Cape Town. We both agreed that if we ever moved to Cape Town, we’d love to live in Camps Bay. The coastal suburb is a mere 15-minute drive from downtown Cape Town, but it seems like a world away. K said it reminded him a lot of Malibu or Manley Beach, with its white sandy beaches, open patio restaurants, and volleyball parks.

Like any good beach town, Camps Bay has its fair of ice cream and gelato shops. Many of Camp Bay’s good restaurants and shops are found in the Promenade shopping center. With its stunning views of the beach, its easy to see why the spot is so popular.

Panorama from the Promenade (photo cred: K)

I quickly zeroed in on Gelato Mania, a shop advertising “artisan gelato.” It was late afternoon, and I was a bit hungry. A snack was in order to tide us over until our dinner reservation at the Woodlands Eatery.

Gelato Mania has a bold and lively decor, and the gelato flavors and toppings match the fun vibe. We discovered that there are five outposts of the small South African gelato chain, and that they all share the same cheerful decor and gelato. There had to be more than two dozen flavors — all of which looked like crowd-pleasers. While none of the flavors sounded too outlandish or unique, everything sounded yummy. I was told that the most-popular flavors included After 8 Mint, Angelo Blu (bubble gum!), Tiramisu and Chocolate Hazelnut. There were even several sorbets; the Mango looked particularly good! But I was sold on the Cherry Bomb and Quello (described as having “loads of caramel”). And while the numerous topping options looked enticing, I figured these flavors would be fun enough on their own.

Gelato Mania’s prices seemed reasonable to me — R46.80 (about $4 USD) for my two scoops — but this must be pretty expensive by South African standards (cost of living is much lower there than in the States). But this view itself is worth something, right?


Gelato with a view

The verdict? Gelato Mania’s gelato lived up to my expectations. While it wasn’t the most dense or refined gelato ever, my scoops were sweet and flavorful. The texture was light, but the gelato melted fast in the warm afternoon heat. For any East Coasters or Midwesterners, the Cherry Bomb reminded me of the Black Cherry ice cream at Friendly’s. The cherry flavor was strong and sweet, and little bits of sweetened black cherries were found throughout the scoop. While it was good, it wasn’t exactly memorable. But the Quello was a different story; the gelato base had a rich custard-like flavor. But it was that caramel that took this gelato over the top. When the staff of Gelato Mania scooped the Quello out of its bin, they made sure to grab a healthy chunk of that caramel coating. The resulting caramel swirl was a showstopper; its buttery depth and sticky consistency was reminiscent of the center of a fancy caramel truffle. I don’t think I could return to Gelato Mania and not order the caramel again. And I have a feeling that this won’t be our last time in Cape Town… or our last time at Gelato Mania in Camps Bay ;-)

The Stats:
Gelato Mania
Shop 11, Ground Floor
The Promenade, Victoria Road
Camps Bay, Cape Town 8040
(Multiple locations in South Africa)
http://www.gelatomania.co.za/

Hong Kong’s Ice Cream Gallery — Foie Gras and Lobster, Oh My!

After a relaxing and luxurious few days in the Maldives, it felt strange to be in the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong. (I should mention that we visited before the major protests, which I’m watching on TV right now!)

Hong Kong is one of K’s favorite cities, but this was my first time visiting. And even after just 36-hours there, I can totally understand his infatuation. There is a magical quality to the city; it’s a densely populated with both people and skyscrapers, but the hilly and lush terrain gives it a Jurassic Park-like feel. And Hong Kong was an important British colony until 1997, when it was formally handed over to the People’s Republic of China. So it retains some of its British/western identity and has a huge expat community. So we were able to find a craft-beer bar for K and a gluten-free grocery store for me!

Hong Kong is well-known for its vibrant food scene. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants is growing, and world-renowned celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver have recently opened restaurants. K and I had one of the best meals of our honeymoon here, at Ho Lee Fook, where everything is spicy and addicting (I’m looking at you, shredded chicken salad with the mysterious “strange sauce”).

But the most memorable culinary experience I had in Hong Kong took place in the late afternoon, when I was on the hunt for some local ice cream. And while I’ve had tried some very interesting flavors (remember cheese gelato and yak soft serve?), nothing prepared me for our visit to the Ice Cream Gallery.

Tucked inside a shopping mall, the Ice Cream Gallery has dished up over 600 different ice-cream flavors since 1994. Owner Arron Liu is known for churning out some of the finest (and most expensive!) gourmet ice cream in Asia.

What the Ice Cream Gallery lacks in colors, it makes up for in creativity and. Much of the ice cream is created in the style of French crème glacée, made from full-fat imported French cream and eggs. Some of these flavors sound more like fine cuisine than ice cream! French White Truffle, French Lobster, King Crab (!), French Foie Gras… I could barely believe my eyes. And even the traditional, classic flavors receive the special treatment; Pure Vanilla features Madagascar vanilla bourbon and Philippine mangoes are brought in for the Mango ice cream. According to their website, the Ice Cream Gallery doesn’t use any artificial flavors or colors, stabilizers, gelatin, or preservatives. The lack of food coloring explained why the colors behind the glass ice-cream case were fairly muted.

The most interesting savory-sounding ice creams caught K’s attention, and neither of us could settle on just one flavor. But we finally settled on four flavors (hey, it was our honeymoon!), and we ordered small cups of the following flavors:

French Foie Gras – made with fresh Roujie foie gras
French Lobster - made with fresh lobster
French Rose Champagne Chocolate - made with organic French roses, champagne and French 80% dark chocolate
Japanese Sesame 

The insane creations at the Ice Cream Gallery don’t come cheap. We had to fork over the equivalent of $35 USD for our tasting smorgasbord.

L to R: Foie Gras, Rose Champagne Chocolate, Lobster, Sesame

The verdict? I don’t think my taste buds have ever been so disoriented! I tried the Sesame first and was thoroughly impressed. Sweet, toasty, and just slightly gritty, this ice cream was delightful. It wasn’t the creamiest ice cream, but I enjoyed the airier texture. Next up was the Rose Champagne Chocolate. This flavor was sweeter than the sesame, but it retained a deep chocolatey flavor. The champagne flavor hit later, as the ice cream melted on my tongue. I couldn’t detect rose at all and wondered if I’d misinterpreted the name. Was it rosé champagne? Nope… I confirmed that rose was indeed a separate ingredient before I left. And now was the time for the savory flavors. The Lobster ice cream immediately reminded me of a rich lobster bisque…. but frozen and a tad bit sweeter? I’m not sure if the sweetness was just left over on my palate, or if there was actually a bit of sugar involved. The Foie Gras definitely tasted sweet, but it lacked the distinct fatty and salty flavor of foie gras. K said that if it was a blind taste test, he wouldn’t have known it was foie gras (and the boy loves his duck liver). Neither of us wanted to finish the two savory ice creams, but we were both glad we’d tried them. The Sesame, on the other hand, I couldn’t let go to waste. All in all, I’d really only recommend the Ice Cream Gallery to adventurous eaters. If you’re a vanilla-or-chocolate kind of ice-cream eater, you may prefer to try Hong Kong’s other shops. But if your taste buds are up to a challenge, walk run on over to the Ice Cream Gallery for an unforgettable experience.

The Stats:
Ice Cream Gallery
Windsor House/ICG Shop (Ground Floor – G16)
311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
http://www.icecreamgallery.com.hk

Sweet Treats at the W Retreat & Spa – Maldives

After our brief stop in Singapore, K and I hopped aboard a Singapore Airlines flight to the Maldives. This second honeymoon destination was K’s choice (mine was South Africa), but I’m so glad that we were able to experience this beautiful part of the world. The W Retreat & Spa – Maldives is truly worthy of all the praise it receives online.

At the airport, about to board seaplane to the W’s island!

The Republic of the Maldives is an island nation just north of the Equator in the Indian Ocean. Most of the islands are teeny-tiny; of the nearly 1,200 islands that comprise the Maldives, just 200 are inhabited. And one of these islands is home to the W Retreat & Spa – Maldives.

As you can see from the photo above, the island itself is quite small… it took about 15 minutes to walk (at a leisurely pace) around the perimeter of the island. The island houses the hotel’s reception area, restaurants and shared pool areas, as well as a couple guest cottages. But the W owners built a long row of opulent over-water bungalows attached to the island by a long wooden walkway. K and I were lucky enough to score one of the bungalows towards the end of the walkway. This meant that we had a longer trek to get to the restaurants, but we woke up every morning to unobstructed water views that made us feel like we were the only two people in the world. Talk about a romantic honeymoon setting :)

But of all the special touches at the W Maldives, this was probably my favorite:

This hut may not look like much, but it brought out my inner “kid” every day. There were three of these special huts spread around the resort… one on the island and two along the wooden walkway out to the over-water bungalows.

A real island treasure chest

A selection of London Dairy ice cream cups (in Cookies and Cream and Double Chocolate flavors) and Natural Strawberry sundae cones, along with some Calippo ice lollies in Orange. My gluten intolerance meant I avoided the sundae cones and Cookies and Cream ice cream cups. K tried both during our stay, and he seemed to especially enjoy the cones (i.e. he ate multiple). The Double Chocolate ice cream was a great after-lunch or dinner dessert, with its rich dark chocolate base. But the “chocolate flakes” advertised on the package didn’t taste even remotely chocolaty to me… they tasted like pure wax! Luckily, the flakes were so thin and small that the overall taste of each spoonful was good. The Orange ice lollies ended up being my go-to treat… incredibly refreshing and intensely orange. While the packaging said the lollies contained 20% real orange juice, there was a lot of added sugar. These tasted more like frozen orange Slurpees than the orange juice popsicles my mom would make us during the summer (and sometimes allowed us to eat for breakfast!). So while I wouldn’t eat these every day at home, I ate one or two every day in the Maldives. Hey, they were complimentary!

These ice creams provided excellent (and convenient) fuel before our different activities, including snorkeling and deep-sea fishing.

I caught one! (But ultimately threw him back)

The W Retreat & Spa Maldives is an unforgettable place. If you’re looking for a romantic island getaway where the food, drinks and recreational experiences are only out-shined by the friendly and accommodating staff, the W Retreat & Spa – Maldives is for you. You can count on me returning one day… and not just for the free ice cream!

Oucecream.com