Easy Salted Caramel Sauce

Sometimes, I just need ice cream for dinner. As a kid, I fantasized about all the ice cream breakfasts, lunches, and dinners I would enjoy as an adult. I imagined that I’d need to rotate in some “real” meals like pizza, macaroni and cheese and chicken pot pie, but I’d be eating ice cream for at least one meal per day from the moment I moved out. Right?

Like everyone else, I eventually learned the unfair truth that ice cream and other sweets can make one sick when consumed daily. What a bummer! But while it doesn’t happen as often as I’d once imagined it would, I do enjoy ice cream for dinner or lunch once in a while.

The perfect opportunity to eat ice cream for dinner came a couple Sundays ago. K and I had been in Vermont for my cousin’s wedding, and we ate a very late lunch at Legal Seafood in Boston’s Logan Airport while waiting for our flight. We knew we’d need a hearty snack at home to tide us over until bedtime. And what would be better than an ice cream sundae?

K doesn’t often get excited about ice cream, but he LOVES caramel topping. When we travel internationally on United Airlines, he’ll order a caramel sundae when I order my favorite strawberry sundae. He always asks for extra caramel — no whipped cream, no nuts, no cherries.  I’ve tasted his caramel and understand the hype — it’s super thick and sticky and nothing like the caramel topping I see in the grocery store next to the Hershey’s syrup. So for this special ice cream dinner, I set out to replicate United’s caramel as best I could.

After reading through a quite few different recipes online, I stumbled upon a recipe for “Oh-So-Easy Caramel Sauce” on AllRecipes.com (a Seattle-based company!) and decided to doctor it up a bit. I used cream instead of milk and added a full teaspoon of salt to make salted-caramel sauce.

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img_0532To build our sundaes, I drizzled the salted caramel sauce over store-bought vanilla ice cream and sprinkled a handful of chopped pecans on top.

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Easy Salted Caramel Sauce
{Makes about 2 cups}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter (4 tablespoons)
  • 1/2 cup light cream
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt (use good sea salt if you have some!)

Directions

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, butter and cream and mix. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, whisking almost constantly. Cook for 5 to 7 minutes.
  • If you like a thicker caramel sauce (like I do), reduce to low heat and whisk for another 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla and salt.
  • Serve immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.

The verdict? This sauce is everything that you love about salted caramel — sweet, salty, and sticky! It was easy to pour and paired perfectly with vanilla ice cream and pecans. K loved that this sauce was just as thick as his favorite caramel on United Airlines. The extra salt really does give this sauce “somethin’ special.” If you’re looking to impress your caramel-loving friends and family, give this easy recipe a try!

The leftover sauce gets quite thick in the fridge, and I enjoyed it with apple slices and even straight-up with a spoon. If you need to loosen it up a bit to pour over ice cream, simply microwave the sauce for 30 seconds.

 

Classic New England flavors at Quietside Café

The second half of my August trip to Acadia National Park was quite special because it was just me and my parents. I can’t tell you the last time I had my parents all to myself for more than a day. As the oldest of three sisters, I told my parents that it was a thro2wback to “the good old days, when I was an only child!” Just kidding! I absolutely adore my sisters 🙂

My parents and I made the most of our last days on Mount Desert Island. One morning, we fulfilled a lifetime ambition of mine: get up early enough to watch the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain, the first place to see the sunrise in the continental US. My mom sweetened up the awful experience of getting up at 4:30am by bringing a thermos of hot cocoa to share. And, man oh man, I’ll never forget this view.

After the sunrise, we took it slow for the rest of the day. After a relaxing afternoon swimming and reading at Echo Lake. After our last lobster dinner of the trip (I forget the restaurant’s name!), we headed back to our campsite. But we had to drive through downtown Southwest Harbor, and my parents agreed to make a pit stop at an ice cream shop I’d spotted earlier: Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop.

Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop epitomizes classic New England ice cream culture: family-owned business, a cluttered but quaint store covered with linoleum floors and wooden tables, strong smells of hot fudge and homemade waffle cones, and tubs of homemade hard ice cream in many different flavors. The only thing missing was an ice-cream window.

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img_0606At 8:30pm on a humid summer evening, the shop was crowded with big families, groups of teenagers, and couples of all ages. Quietside Café does not post its ice cream flavors, so you have to wait to read the labels on the freezer. This adds a lot of pressure to people like me who don’t take flavor decisions lightly! When we got to the head of the line, I quickly scanned the flavor signs taped to the ice cream freezer. All the traditional flavors were represented — Chocolate, Mint Chocolate Chip, Pistachio Nut, Coffee, French Vanilla — along with a few New England favorites like Moose Tracks (vanilla ice cream with fudge and peanut butter cups), Pink Peppermint Stick (which we New Englanders savor year round), and Grapenut (want some high-fiber cereal with your dessert?!).

I spotted something bright red in one of the tubs… it was a flavor I’d never heard of: Maine Lobster Tracks.  The young woman behind the counter told me it was vanilla ice cream with lobster shaped chocolate-covered caramel cups and a chocolate swirl. Since I was already in the mood for chocolate, I went ahead and ordered a scoop of the Lobster Tracks. My mom and dad shared a cup of Pink Peppermint Stick and Maine Black Bear (vanilla ice cream with a black raspberry swirl and chocolate raspberry truffles).

img_0607This ice cream ain’t cheap — $4.50 for a single scoop and $6.50 for a double scoop. Including tax, these two ice creams cost me about $12!

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From top: Maine Black Bear & Peppermint Stick, Lobster Tracks

The verdict? This ice cream fulfilled our cravings for dessert, but none of the flavors blew us away. I liked the generous amounts of lobster caramels in my scoop of Lobster Tracks, but the candies themselves tasted a bit fake and chalky, and I could barely taste the caramel in them. I did like the chocolate swirl, which was deliciously fudgy. My parents kindly allowed me take a nibble from their shared cup. I found the  Pink Peppermint Stick to be strong and refreshing, reminding me of my favorite store-bought version from Friendly’s. The Maine Black Bear was good but a bit too icy. The chocolate truffles were way better than the ones in the Lobster Tracks, and the black raspberry swirl was thick and fruity.

Overall, we thought the ice cream at Quietside Café was light and sweet, but not as creamy and rich as most high-quality homemade ice creams. And sure enough, after doing some online research, I discovered that Quietside Café doesn’t make their own ice cream… rather, they serve Gifford’s ice cream. Gifford’s is based in Maine and is available at stores and restaurants throughout New England. So while I appreciate that Quietside pays homage to New England ice-cream flavors and setting, I wouldn’t recommend that someone go out of their way to visit. Instead,  I think most ice-cream lovers would have a better luck at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream!

The Stats:
Quietside Café & Ice Cream Shop
360 Main Street
Southwest Harbor, ME 04679
(207) 244-9444

Family Trip to Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

Does your family have a special “vacation spot”? A place that holds memories from different stages of your life? For my family, it’s Acadia National Park in Maine. Growing up in Massachusetts, Acadia was the ideal family getaway: far enough to feel exotic, yet close enough to reach by car. We’d set up camp (literally) at Smuggler’s Den and spend the week exploring every bit of Mount Desert Island. Sadly, our trips became more infrequent as my sisters and I got older and took on summer jobs, etc. Its been a dream of mine to bring K to Maine (he’s never been), and to share the magic of Acadia with him. So when our family discussed a possible group vacation for Summer 2016, I voted enthusiastically for camping in Acadia.

Flying over Acadia

Flying over Acadia

So, a couple weeks ago, we all packed our bags and spent a wonderful weekend together in Acadia. My sisters and I successfully coerced our significant others to join in the fun and all eight of us camped at Smuggler’s Den on Mount Desert Island. We loved visiting our old haunts, including Echo Lake, Cadillac Mountain, Bar Harbor, the Cool As A Moose store, and Thunder Hole. While a contingent of the family (including K) flew back to Boston on Sunday afternoon, the rest of us made plans to visit our favorite pizza parlor in Bar Harbor (before you judge, we’d already eaten a LOT of lobster).

After dinner, we had dessert on the mind. And what pairs better with pizza than ice cream? We had one specific place in mind: Mount Desert Island Ice Cream. I’d read that President Obama had visited the shop during a trip to Acadia a few years ago. And Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream got on my radar again a few weeks ago, when my friend Annette handed me a Food & Wine article about the “best ice cream spots in America” (the list is online, too). Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream was listed as the top spot in all of Maine. How could I resist?

Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream has two locations in Bar Harbor, and they are quite close to one another. We chose to visit the flagship on Main Street, which is situated just beyond the busiest part of town. Street parking was a breeze, but we found a long line of people waiting to get inside the small quaint house that serves as the ice-cream shop. The line moved fairly quickly, perhaps due to the fact that Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream posts its flavors on a chalkboard outside so folks can decide what they want before even setting foot inside.

IMG_0524 IMG_0526There were nearly 20 flavors being offered that night, with something for everyone. I was looking out for Coconut, which the President chose during his visit, but it wasn’t listed. While I was tempted to try Nectarine Prosecco after chatting with a girl in front of me who waited every year for this seasonal flavor, I went with my craving: Sea Salt Caramel. My mom chose the Bay of Figs, dad went with both the Sea Salt Caramel and Chocolate, Ava chose Lemon Poppy with Jam Swirl, and Ava’s boyfriend Chanse appropriately chose The Dude (White Russian ice cream) in a waffle cone.

IMG_0346 IMG_0347Mt. Desert Island Ice Cream ain’t cheap (almost $4 for a single scoop, $5 for a double), but I  picked up our group’s tab since they’d agreed to join me on this ice cream excursion. Sadly, I didn’t get a shot of everyone’s ice cream. By the time I finished paying, my family was well into their cones and cups! I did manage a shot of my mom’s cone of Bay of Figs.

Bay of Figs

Bay of Figs

Sea Salt Caramel

Sea Salt Caramel

The verdict? Mount Desert Island Ice Cream made us five very happy campers! The Sea Salt Caramel was perhaps the best I’ve encountered — a perfect balance of sweetness and salt. It was not nearly as sweet or overpowering as other versions out there. My dad had the right idea, pairing his scoop of Sea Salt Caramel with Chocolate. It’s difficult to describe, but I swear it almost tasted like really good hot cocoa powder, even though the ice cream was smooth. So weird, but so good. My mom’s Bay of Figs did not disappoint either. My mom noted that she didn’t get any of the chunks of fig that were promised, but she did not have any other complaints. Ava’s Lemon Poppy with Jam Swirl stole the show in my opinion. A lemon poppy muffin in ice cream form, this scoop totally ‘wowed’ me. The lemon flavor was obviously natural, and the generous swirls of homemade raspberry jam cut the sourness. Chanse’s The Dude was sweet and creamy but a bit light on the liquor; it tasted very similar to plain vanilla ice cream.

Beyond the flavors themselves, we all agreed that the texture and quality of ice ream was top notch; smooth, rich, and served at an ideal temperature (not too hard, not too soft). This really is ice cream fit for a president!

IMG_0525The Stats:
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream
325 Main Street
Bar Harbor, ME 04609
http://www.mdiic.com/
(2 other locations: another in Bar Harbor and one in Portland)

Celebrating at DC’s Dolci Gelati

Here in the U.S., National Ice Cream Day is celebrated on the third Sunday in July. This year, the “holiday” happened to coincide with a heat wave in Washington, DC. Despite the heat, K and I ventured out to a new-to-me ice cream shop so I could celebrate my favorite food. I’d been meaning to try Dolci Gelati for months, ever since I spotted its store across the street from a Giant grocery store.

According to my research, the company has actually been around for about 10 years. Before opening Dolci Gelati, Italian owner Gianluigi Dellaccio was a pastry chef at fancy spots like the Ritz-Carlton. Initially, Gialuigi and his wife Anastasia focused on wholesale orders from DC restaurants and specialty grocery stores before selling at the zoo, Nationals Park, and farmers market. It wasn’t until April 2014 that the Dellaccios opened a retail store in Takoma Park, Maryland. The Maryland store must have been a success, as the Dellaccios opened a second store last January, this time in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C. And, finally, Dolci Gelati was on my radar!

IMG_0244 The interior of Dolci Gelati is pretty adorable, complete with chandeliers and bright green walls. There are a couple small tables inside and outside, and comfortable white stools along the window. I was surprised to find the café mostly empty on a hot afternoon — maybe it’s too far off the beaten path? Shaw isn’t as bustling as nearby Logan Circle or Dupont Circle.

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Dolci Gelati’s pastry selection was minimal, but it makes up for that with a well-rounded assortment of gelatos and sorbets. Some flavors that stuck out were Salted Caramel, Toasted Almond, Honey Mascarpone Fig, and Strawberry Lavender. Uncharacteristically, I found myself gravitating towards the sorbets rather than the gelatos. I blame the heat!

I went with a small cone of Mango sorbet and Birthday Cake gelato, since I was in a celebratory mood. This place ain’t cheap, though — this cone cost me over $5.

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The verdict? This was just what I needed on a hot summer day! The gelato and sorbetto were beautiful, although a bit too soft. The Mango sorbetto was sweet and refreshing, just like the real fruit. The Birthday Cake was less sugary and more natural-tasting than most other versions I’ve tasted. The base tasted like regular vanilla ice cream studded with sprinkles, but every lick found grainy bits of yellow cake. While the combination of these two flavors was a bit odd, this was one satisfying cone. I’ll be back, Dolci Gelati!

The Stats:
Dolci Gelati
1420 8th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
http://www.dolcigelati.net/
(other locations in Takoma Park, MD & Old Town Alexandria, VA)

Creativity reigns at Taiwan’s Snow King

This blog post is long overdue! It’s been several weeks since K and I returned from a fabulous long weekend in Asia. While Taipei, Taiwan has never been at the top of my travel destination wish list, K was looking for an opportunity to brush up on his Mandarin and also see Taiwan for the first time. And we both ended up having a blast! Plus, the trip included overnight stays in Hong Kong on the way to and from Taipei, and it was fun to revisit after our amazing honeymoon stop there.

Taipei is a great city for foodies. The night markets were just as exciting as I’d imagined after watching this clip of Anthony Bourdain exploring one! We didn’t eat in a formal restaurant during our whole time there; we would eat brunch at our hotel, snack our way through the afternoon, and then eat dinner at the street markets. Our favorite was the Raohe Night Market, mostly because it was home to the best soup dumplings ever (as proclaimed by K). While the famous Maokong Gondola was closed for renovations, we did get to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the city from the observation deck of Taipei 101 (once the tallest building in the world!).

Despite feeling perpetually full from all the fantastic food we were eating, I made a point of finding some ice cream in Taipei. A brief internet search pointed to Snow King, which earned great reviews for their interesting flavors. The shop was quite far from our hotel, but UberX made it easy and affordable to get there.

IMG_0126Open since 1947,  Snow King is apparently legendary in Taipei. It is oddly located on the second floor of a commercial building. We actually initially thought it was closed (see the grate above?). Inside, Snow King was bright, cheer, and thankfully air-conditioned 🙂

IMG_0127 IMG_0129The staff was friendly and even though they didn’t speak English, we all spoke the language of ice cream! I enjoyed looking at the colorful tubs in the display case and reading over the menu – which thankfully did have English translations.

IMG_0128 IMG_0130If you can manage to read the small text above, you will see some strange flavors listed! Tomato, Kidney Bean, Pig Knuckles, Soybean Curd, Beer, Carrot, Curry? Yes, those are all ice creams! There were plenty of more traditional, yummy flavors like Mango, Chocolate, Sesame, Red Bean, Ginger, Coffee, and Mint. K and I decided to try three different flavors: yummy-sounding Sticky Rice, intriguing Jasmine, and out-there Chili Pepper.

The biggest drawback of Snow King is that it’s cash only. But the ice cream is cheap; from memory, our bill was around USD $4.

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front to back: Jasmine, Sticky Rice, Chili Pepper

The verdict? This is good ice cream. I tend to be skeptical of places with such long menus, as I oftentimes find that these places are more concerned with developing wacky flavors than they are with the quality of the ice cream. At Snow King, each ice cream we tasted was full-bodied and creamy. We both agreed that the Jasmine was the standout, floral and lightly sweetened. It was lighter in texture than the other two — somewhere between sorbetto and ice cream? Given that neither K nor I drink tea, we were quite impressed! The Sticky Rice was satisfying — thick with a chewy bite from the ice. The light, sweet soy aftertaste was oddly addictive. This ice cream stands on its own, and I don’t think it would pair well with many other flavors or desserts. Next up was the Chili Pepper, which I made K taste first. He liked it but warned me that it did pack some heat. I tentatively took a small bite, and I liked the bright flavor when it first hit my taste buds. But it only took a few milliseconds for my mouth to feel the heat from the chili pepper. I hurried to get water! While I’m a wimp, I bet any lover of spice would like this flavor.

Overall, Snow King impressed me with its dedication to both good-quality ice cream and boundary-pushing flavors.

The Stats:
Snow King
No. 65, Wuchang Road
Section 1, Jhong Jheng District, Taipei City
+886 2 2331 8415

Feeling Tipsy at Mexico City’s Helado Obscuro

The other week, K and I took a quick weekend trip to Mexico City. I’m still surprised how close Mexico City is to D.C. If you disregard having to go through customs and immigration, flying to Mexico City is easier than flying to Las Vegas! After falling in love with the city over a year ago, K and I talked often about going back. Mexico City is bursting with energy, music, good food, and culture, and I can always use more Spanish practice.

We arrived late on a Friday evening and left on Sunday morning, so we wanted to make the most of every minute. After checking into our hotel (I’d highly recommend the Hyatt Regency!) and dropping off our bags, we took an UberX to a bar I’d read about online. Jules Basement is an intimate speakeasy literally in the basement of a very casual taco restaurant. The juxtaposition is quite cool. We found an open spot along the bar and ordered fancy tequila (for me) and mezcal (for him) cocktails. Afterwards, we couldn’t help but grab a couple tacos upstairs before heading back to the hotel.

ojWe woke up to a beautiful Saturday, in the low 80s and sunny. We spent an hour wandering through Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere. Taking up more than 1,600 acres, it’s far bigger than Central Park. There are museums, fountains, a zoo, live performers, and more food and craft vendors than you could ever want. We only covered a tiny section of the park before we had to start making our way to Azul Condensa for lunch with K’s uncle, Gary, who currently lives in Mexico City. It was my first time meeting him, and we shared some great food and conversation.

IMG_9839After our leisurely lunch, Gary offered to walk us over to an ice cream spot I’ve been following on Instagram for a while now: Helado Obscuro. I forget where I originally read about it, but this place is bonkers: it’s focused solely on alcoholic ice creams. The branding and flavors looked wildly inventive and fun, and I couldn’t wait to try it out.

IMG_9840After a 20 minute walk, we arrived at Helado Obscuro feeling hot and thirsty. From the looks of the long line outside, we were far from the only people in the mood for some frozen refreshment. The actual shop is quite small, and most of the seating is outside. The crowd was primarily young adults; the vibe reminded me more of a hipster café in Seattle than an ice cream shop.

IMG_9841 IMG_9842When we got close to the top of the line, we could finally read the flavor options. This was when my Spanish  really came in handy! You wouldn’t really know what to expect from Helado Obscuro’s flavor names, as they are mostly characters that inspired the essence of the flavor combination. But Helado Obscuro does include a description of the flavor, including the type of alchohol(s) in it. For example, Frankenstein is a blend of mint, chocoretas (popular Mexican chocolate-mint candies), and absinthe. The Bloody Mary incorporates Clamato, salsa, celery pieces, and vodka.

IMG_9843I was drawn to two flavors: the Mariachi en Bikini, described as having guanábana (a local fruit), coconut milk, and smoky mezcal, and the Dirty Wonka, described as having Nerds candies, banana liquor, and white chocolate liquor. I’d seen the Dirty Wonka on Helado Obscuro’s Instagram page, and it looked colorful and fun! We got a single scoop of both flavors, which cost us around $6USD.

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Mariachi en Bikini

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Dirty Wonky

The verdict? Wowza. This ice cream is potent! All three of us were giggling because of the pure shock of how boozy this stuff was (or were they drunk giggles?). I’ll bet that a scoop of this ice cream is just as boozy as a strong cocktail. The Mariachi en Bikini tasted like creamy mezcal, and it overpowered any fruit flavor that might have been there. I preferred the Dirty Wonka, because the sweet and sour Nerds helped to cut the heavy liquor flavor of the rest of the ice cream. I also liked the slight banana aftertaste. In the end, we didn’t finish these scoops because we worried about getting too tipsy so early in the afternoon. But I’d love to return to Helado Obscuro next time I’m in Mexico City, when I’m in the mood for a fun cocktail in frozen form.

The Stats:
Helado Obscuro
Calle Córdoba No. 223
Cuauhtémoc, Roma Norte
Ciudad de México, D.F. Mexico 06700
+52 55 4444 4878
http://www.heladoobscuro.com

Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream

I was a pretty good eater as a kid. There were few foods that I disliked. Funny enough, it was some of these foods (namely avocados, sweet potatoes, sushi, and chunky tomato sauce) that became my absolute favorites as an adult.

Rice pudding is a newfound love of mine. I wouldn’t say that I hated it as a child, but I certainly wouldn’t have chosen it over simple chocolate pudding. Same thing goes for tapioca pudding. Why pick lumpy and chewy pudding over the velvety-smooth creaminess of a Kozy Shack chocolate pudding cup?

It wasn’t until I went off to college and started frequenting Thai restaurants that I fell in love with rice pudding, specifically coconut sticky rice with mango. When I went gluten-free eight years ago, rice pudding quickly became a safe dessert for me.  And it wasn’t hard to find once I started looking. Many cultures and cuisines have their own take on rice-based desserts. My friend Anna makes a lovely Lebanese version with rose water, and I adore arroz con leche at Mexican restaurants and kheer at Indian restaurants.

Eating tapioca ice cream in Rio de Janeiro gave me an idea: if tapioca pudding can become ice cream, why can’t rice pudding do the same?

This weekend, I pulled together the ingredients for coconut rice pudding and added a couple more essential ice cream ingredients (namely egg yolk and more milk).

IMG_9587I began by cooking the rice in coconut milk, sugar, and salt on the stove top. This step takes about a  half hour and requires regular stirring. After that, everything else was a breeze.

IMG_9588Once the rice was nice and tender, I added some more milk, egg yolk, cinnamon and vanilla extract and chilled the mixture in the fridge for a while. Once it had cooled off, I simply dumped everything into the ice-cream maker and let it churn!

IMG_9589Unlike some ice creams, this one came out of the Cuisinart mixer hard enough to eat right then. But since I was on my way out to dinner, I put the ice cream into an airtight container and popped it into the fridge for a couple hours. As soon as I got home, I scooped out a couple bowls for K and me.

IMG_9592Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream
{Makes 1 pint}
Loosely adapted from this recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp milk (I used almond-coconut milk)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Directions

  • In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with 2 tablespoons of milk.
  • In a medium saucepan, combine the coconut milk, sugar, salt, and rice. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce to a simmer over low heat and stir occasionally until nearly all of the liquid has dissolved and the rice is tender. Remove from heat and mix in the rest of the milk, cinnamon, and vanilla. Then temper the egg yolk by adding a couple spoonfuls of the warm mixture, then adding the egg to the saucepan.
  • Chill the mixture in the fridge for 1 hour or until cool. 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 alone for 15 minutes or so.
  • Serve immediately, or transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer.

The verdict? K and I couldn’t get enough of this chewy, sweet, and comforting ice cream. The coconut milk adds a richness to the ice cream, while the cinnamon gives it additional depth. The rice remained quite soft and chewy; I think being cooked in coconut milk and sugar prevented it from freezing too hard. This is a fun treat for any rice-pudding lover. It’s an easy recipe, requiring no additional freezing time after the machine, so the payoff is big. I will note that this ice cream was quite chewy and full of rice. If you prefer a smoother texture, I’d recommend adding a bit more milk or coconut milk before freezing.

“Self-Service” Ice Cream in Rio de Janeiro

This Presidents’ Day weekend, K and I embarked on a quick trip to Rio de Janeiro. Between a pre-trip bout of food poisoning and the Zika situation in Brazil, I can’t say I was entirely thrilled to head down there this year. But K successfully ushered me onto the plane, armed with lemon-lime Gatorade and some potent bug spray.

IMG_9438Despite low expectations this year, we had a really nice weekend! We spent about 80% of our waking hours on the beach covered in 50 SPF. It was incredibly hot and sunny, so frozen treats and drinks were a must. While I ate plenty of frozen açaí (more on that in the next post) and drank, I couldn’t let a whole weekend pass without getting ice cream. So between the beach and heading back to our hotel to shower on Sunday, K called up an UberX (yes, Uber is available – and cheap – in Rio!) to bring me to Sorvetes Ally in the Copacabana neighborhood. We’d spotted the shop on Friday after dinner, when we were both too stuffed to consider eating anything more. This time, I brought my appetite!

IMG_9498Sorvetes Ally is the first self-serve ice cream shop I’ve stumbled across. Nearly every city in America has a self-serve frozen yogurt place or two, but the concept hasn’t extended to traditional ice cream or gelato shops. Perhaps hygiene has something to do with this? Hard ice cream and gelato requires scooping from tubs, and it must be fairly easy to spread germs via scoops and standing (or coughing/sneezing) over open tubs. Still, I wasn’t too horrified with the concept when I saw how relatively clean and well-staffed Sorvetes Ally was.

IMG_9499IMG_9500The secret must be out, because Sorvetes Ally was hopping on a Sunday afternoon. We had to stand in line for a minute or two, which gave me a chance to take in the surroundings and observe the self-serve experts ahead of me in action. But then the hard part: deciding what flavor to try! Sorvetes Ally has more than 20 options to choose from, and there is no menu. I had to scan all the little signs attached to the tubs.

IMG_9502 IMG_9503I must have looked a bit lost, because the young woman in front of me kindly pointed out Ovomaltine and gave me a smile and the universal “thumbs up” sign. I recognized it as the Swiss brand of malted chocolate. While I’m not the biggest fan of malted flavors, I had to try it after the recommendation! The only flavor that caught K’s eye was Queijo com Goiabada (Cheese & Guava Paste), so I scooped some of that into my cup, too. I was very skeptical, though, given my last experience with cheese ice cream. With room to spare, I added two other interesting-sounding flavors: Tapioca and Ameixa (Plum). When its executed well, I adore tapioca ice cream!

IMG_9501Like self-serve froyo places in the U.S., Sorvetes Ally charges by weight. I forget how many ounces my cup was, but it cost me the equivalent of around $2 USD. Not bad!

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Clockwise from top: Tapioca, Ovomaltine, Amiexa (Hidden: Quejo com Goiabada)

The verdict? I had nearly as much fun trying all the different flavors as I did scooping them! We both enjoyed tasting multiple flavors and having control over the size of each scoop. The only downside was that we rushed to finish before the ice cream melted into mush. I don’t think the constant opening of the ice cream freezers — and the waits between scooping — did anything to maintain the ice cream’s temperature. The surprise standout was the Ameixa, which featured plenty of little soft plum pieces and a deep sophisticated flavor. I loved the dark color and subtle sweetness of this flavor. Sorvetes Ally’s Tapioca lived up to our high expectations; rich cream-flavored ice cream chock full of soft-yet-chewy tapioca pearls. I must figure out how to recreate this one at home! The Ovomaltine did indeed taste of malted chocolate, and the level of malt was pleasant. K was happy with the Queijo com Goiabada, which he thought was a nice blend of sweet and savory. I took one nibble and just couldn’t get over the actual chunks of cheese in my ice cream. I should probably just give up on cheese ice cream in Brazil. Who am I kidding? I’m sure K will talk me into it again next time 🙂

While the “self-service” ice cream concept is a bit gimmicky (and a germophobe’s nightmare), Sorvetes Ally executes it well with their wide variety of ice-cream flavors and toppings.

The Stats:
Sorvetes Ally
Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana, 435
Rio de Janeiro RJ 22020-002
+55 21 2236-3540
http://sorvetesally.com.br/

Staying Cool in Kauai – Dessert Edition

It’s only been a couple weeks, but my trip to Hawaii happened ages ago. I’m currently visiting Grandma Edie in Peoria, Illinois, where the warmest it will get today is 24 degrees. It feels weird uploading iPhone photos that were taken on 95-degree days in a tropical paradise. Did this trip even happen?

As my friends and family will tell you, I don’t like hot weather. But for this past New Years Eve holiday, K had his heart set on warmer weather. I was happy enough to go along, but I have to admit that I wasn’t giddy with excitement over his choice of Hawaii. I’d been to Honolulu once before and just remember the heat and crowded beaches. Well, this trip was different.  We spent four days on the island of Kauai, and I left totally in love with it. The island is far less populated than Honolulu (obviously), and the pace of life is slower and calmer. All in all, the ideal environment to relax in.

Surprisingly, there weren’t many standalone ice cream places in Kauai. There are several Lappert’s outposts, but I didn’t make a special effort to get to one since it’s not based on Kauai. Instead, I embraced the Kauaiian lifestyle and took a relaxed approach to satisfying my sweet tooth. Luckily, I had plenty of opportunities to enjoy frozen treats each day. Some were alcoholic, such as frozen margaritas and piña coladas. I wanted to share some of my favorites with you all….

We chose Brennecke’s Beach Broiler for our first dinner on Kauai. K had been there before with his family and thought it was a fun spot. After a long day of travel,  we dropped our bags in our room at the Sheraton Kauai Resort on Po’ipu Beach and took showers before heading out for dinner. After a fun walk on the beach, we arrived at the busy beachfront restaurant. Brennecke’s is colorful and lively,  an institution that’s popular with locals and tourists alike. After a relaxed and yummy dinner (I had fish tacos!), K encouraged me to take a look at the dessert menu. It was a short menu, and only one thing caught my eye: Bob’s Favorite Ice Cream Pie. The description sold me: “Coffee ice cream, macadamia nuts, chocolate fudge & coconut on a chocolate cookie crust.”

IMG_9315 IMG_9316The verdict? I was so glad that we ordered this! While the ice cream itself wasn’t life-changing, the combination of coffee, chocolate, and nuts was quite satisfying. I love macadamia nuts and don’t eat them often, so this was a nice warm cool welcome to Hawaii. Both K and I enjoyed the thick layer of fudge on top of the ice cream, while we ignored the whipped cream (not necessary here). While I ate around the chocolate cookie crust to avoid the gluten, K seemed to enjoy it. The slice was a great size for sharing among 2 or 3 people. Overall, I had a great time at Brennecke’s Beach Broiler and would recommend Bob’s Favorite Ice Cream Pie to those looking for a sweet nightcap.

Our second day in Hawaii might have been my favorite. It was a great blend of relaxing beach time and fun island adventures. K rented us a red convertible, which made simply driving around the island a blast! That afternoon, we visited the Kauai Coffee Company‘s coffee estate (so fun!) before driving up to Waimea Canyon. At the base of the steep drive up to the canyon, we found one of the most famous shave ice stands on Kauai: JoJo’s Shave Ice.

IMG_9309I remember my first shave ice experience, in Honolulu a number of years ago. I’d expected it to be like the  snow cones my sisters and I adored from the neighborhood ice-cream truck. But I was shocked by how ice could be so fluffy and light! Hawaiian shave ice is very fine and absorbs flavors better than the crushed ice I’m used to in a snow cone. Needless to say, I am a fan and couldn’t wait to get my hands on a shave ice in Kauai. And JoJo’s did not disappoint. We visited the original location, but there is another shop on the northern coast of the island.

JoJo’s is a no-frills, authentic shave ice shop. They offer tons of flavors and variations. I must have spent a good 10 minutes reading through all of their signature combinations:

IMG_9311JoJo’s has nearly 60 different flavors, and they  make every syrup in-house. For the ultimate shave ice experience, you should get a scoop of vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream in the bottom of your cup. I was still pretty full from lunch, so I stuck with just ice. In the end, I customized my own shave ice using three of my and K’s favorite Hawaiian flavors: Pineapple, Coconut, and Guava. This 30-ounce cup cost me $4.75.

IMG_9312

From left to right: Pineapple, Coconut & Guava

The verdict? Oh goodness, this totally hit the spot. It’s been years, but this shave ice tasted like the best I’ve ever had! JoJo’s ice shavings are perfectly fine, and there were no big chunks of ice in my entire cup. The ice-to-syrup ratio was perfect, and the flavors did not taste artificial. My favorite was probably Guava, closely followed by Pineapple. The Coconut was yummy, but less pronounced than the other fruity flavors. Overall, this cup was heavenly on this warm Hawaiian afternoon.

Before heading to northeastern Kauai to spend New Year’s Eve at the St. Regis Princeville Resort (which was amazing), K and I enjoyed the most festive meal of the entire vacation at Keoki’s Paradise. This was another place K had already been to, but he knew that it was right down my alley. This place is so HAPPY. Despite being nestled in a shopping center, Keoki’s Paradise feels like another world! This massive open-air restaurant is fully decked-out in Polynesian-style garb — tiki torches everywhere, rustic wooden benches, tropical flowers and trees, and waterfalls. It’s like a grown-up Hawaiian version of the Rainforest Cafe (coming from me, this is a big compliment!).

Dinner was delicious; K and I both ordered the “Chef’s Fresh Catch Duo,” which is two of the day’s freshest fish prepared two ways. Today, it was Mahi-Mahi and Opah, both prepared in different ways, and served with steamed veggies and the most-rich coconut rice. It must have been the first or second time we’ve ever ordered the same meal at a restaurant (with the exception of burgers or steaks), so I got a kick out of it. I ate mindfully, as my mother-in-law (hi, Jan!) had tipped me off about a wonderful mint-chocolate ice cream dessert at Keoki’s.

When the dessert menu arrived, I quickly identified which one Jan had recommended: the Mint Chip Hula Pie. It was listed under Kimo’s Original Hula Pie, which sounded identical to the dessert we’d shared at Brennecke’s! But as it turns out, the “Hula Pie” ice-cream pie concept was originally developed nearly 40 years ago at TS Restaurants, which owns a bunch of restaurants including Keoki’s Paradise. If you’re interested, the Cooking Channel even did a video about it!

IMG_9313 IMG_9314The verdict? Mint chip is one of my favorite ice-cream flavors, so I couldn’t go wrong with this. The slice was massive – probably better for 3 or 4 people to share. I loved the extra fudge sauce, which was at room temperature and didn’t melt the ice cream. The mint-chip ice cream itself wasn’t anything special; it tasted like the typical stuff you get in tubs at the grocery store. But cover it in whipped cream, fudge, and a half-cup of mini chocolate chips, and you’ve got yourself a treat! Still, I have to admit that I preferred the knock-off version of Hula Pie at Brennecke’s. It tasted more “Hawaiian” with the toasted macadamia nuts and coffee flavors.

All in all, I got my fill of frozen treats in Kauai!

The Stats:

Brennecke’s Beach Broiler
2100 Hoone Road
Koloa, HI 96756
www.brenneckes.com

JoJo’s Shave Ice
9734 Kaumualii Highway
Waimea, HI 96796
www.jojosshaveice.com

Keoki’s Paradise
2360 Kiahuna Plantation Drive
Koloa, HI 96756
www.keokisparadise.com