Momo Gelato dishes out the darkest chocolate ice cream in Rio

Last month, K and I stuck to tradition and headed down to Rio de Janeiro for a long weekend of sunshine and beach time. This was a special year, however, since my little sister Carolyn and her boyfriend joined us. The two of them spent a full week in Brazil, spending several days in Búzios before driving to Rio to meet up with us. This was a special occasion – the first-time Carolyn and I have been together outside of the United States!

While our trip only lasted three days, we packed in a whole lot of fun! Since the weather was fantastic, we spent many hours lying in beach chairs on Copacabana Beach, enjoying the array of snacks carried by the many beach vendors and sipping coconut water and caipirinhas. Carolyn and I share a love of swimming, and it felt very special to splash around in the waves together like little kids. Vacation heaven.

We also discovered some new places and activities with Carolyn and her boyfriend. Thanks to Carolyn’s cravings for nutritious lunches, we discovered the deliciously hip, gluten-free fast food shop Jaeé (shout-out Fred, the owner, who was very hospitable). And on Saturday, the four of us rented bicycles from the Sheraton and rode along the beach all the way to Leme and back. Rio is known for being one of the best cities in the world for biking, so I’m not sure why K and I waited so long to try it!

On our last night in Rio, we enjoyed a special dinner at Zuka in Leblon. We agreed that while Zuka is a bit expensive, the staff was incredible (despite a language barrier) and the food was fresh and flavorful. Nothing on the dessert menu spoke to us, however. Lucky for me, one of Rio’s most popular gelaterias is located just a few doors down from Zuka…

Momo Gelato Artesanal is a well-known gelato shop in Rio de Janeiro, churning out Italian-style gelatos and sorbettos in dozens of flavors. They have two locations, but the Leblon one seems to be the original. Momo was very busy on this Saturday evening, with its storefront open to the street and people milling around with cones and cups of delicious-looking ice cream. Momo also offers sweet waffle sundaes. Not waffle cones, but actual waffles!

I thought Momo’s yellow and brown color scheme was surprisingly attractive. Like any uber-popular artisan ice cream shop, Momo sells a variety of shirts, hats, bags and other branded paraphernalia. But the focus of the store is clearly on the long cases of gelato pans. I counted at least two dozen different flavors, including nearly 10 sorbetto flavors. The flavors were posted in Portuguese, but a major advantage of gelaterias is that the gelatos are often are covered in toppings or decorations that identify the flavors. For example, you’ll see hazelnuts and chocolate over Gianduia, crushed pistachio nuts over Pistacchio Siciliano, and coffee beans over Cappuccino. While Momo serves these usual Italian staples among others (like Stracciatella, Pear, and Limoncello), the local flavors that jumped out to me were Caramelo com Flor de Sal (salted caramel), Banana com Canela (banana with cinnamon), and Pão com Nutella (bread with Nutella).

Momo’s serving sizes didn’t look very large, so I decided to order a three-scoop cup. I was immediately drawn to a black-looking chocolate, Neromomo, which the signage noted was 73% cocoa. The color was just so dark and interesting that I had to give it a shot! To cut the chocolate, I also ordered a scoop of simple Cremomo (sweet cream). And in the spirit of “When in Rome Rio,” I rounded out my cup with a Amazônia (açai + tapioca). I call this “Grace’s antioxidant special.” This cup set me back around R $15.00, or around five U.S. dollars, which is quite expensive for Rio!

Top left: Amazônia, Right: Cremomo, Bottom: Neromomo

The verdict? I may have finally met my chocolate limit! The Neromomo, Momo’s dark chocolate gelato was incredibly rich and powerful, and not very sweet. I can’t remember ever having a chocolate ice cream quite this dark. While I enjoyed it, this flavor was a bit much for me. It was a good thing that the sweet, milky Cremomo helped cut the overwhelming dark chocolate taste. Sadly, the Amazônia wasn’t as yummy as the açai bowls we had on the beach. The gelato was a bit icy and the flavor of açai wasn’t very pronounced, but I did like the little bits of granola! While I wasn’t “wowed” by these three flavors, I enjoyed the ambiance of Momo Gelato and would happily give it another try!

The Stats:
Momo Gelato Artesanal (multiple locations)
Rua Dias Ferreira, 147
Leblon, Rio de Janiero 22431-050
http://momogelato.com.br

Sister Time at Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream in Brooklyn

Two weeks ago, my two sisters and I met up in New York City for a 30-hour sisterly adventure. We did this last year and enjoyed ourselves so much that we simply had to do it again! The Big Apple is a good central meeting place for the three of us, coming from DC, Boston, and Connecticut. K was kind enough to find us a room at the Hyatt hotel near Times Square, and we used that as a home base. We packed in a lot of fun between Saturday lunchtime and Sunday evening: shopping at Rituals and Eataly, dinner at the veggie-forward Dirty Candy, petting dogs at Madison Square Park, and a yoga class at MangOh. I find that spending “special time” with my sisters, especially overnight, is very therapeutic.

On Saturday afternoon, the three of us jumped in an Uber to head to Brooklyn for a bite of lunch and to visit my dear girlfriend Elysia and some of her friends at a going-away party. While we only spent a couple hours in Brooklyn, my sisters and I agreed that it was VERY hip and eccentric. Luckily, we happened to walk by one of Brooklyn’s hottest joints: Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream‘s Williamsburg location. While I can’t remembering hearing anything about the company, Ava first learned about Van Leeuwen’s ice cream when the company catered one of her friend’s dog’s birthday party (I can’t wrap my head around that). She told us that they were known for innovative vegan flavors, and we were sold!

Source: Van Leeuwen’s website

Van Leeuwen started as an artisan ice-cream truck in 2008, serving ice cream across the city. They built up quite a fan base and now have eight (8!) locations, scattered across the NYC area and Los Angeles. But, staying true their roots, Van Leeuwen still operates several ice-cream trucks seasonally and for private events.

The store was fairly busy for a late winter afternoon, with families and groups of friends sharing cones and cups of ice cream. The shop itself was a mix of modern and old-fashioned, with plenty of seating for guests. My only disappointment was that you can’t see the ice creams… they are hidden behind the counter in big metal tubs.

Van Leeuwen’s menu looks clean and simple, but there are MANY flavors to choose from. There are about a dozen “classic” ice cream flavors that are staples on the menu, along with 8 vegan versions and a selection of “special” flavors. Some of the “classic” flavors are quite traditional like Vanilla, Chocolate, Mint Chip, and Cookies + Cream, but several are unique, like Earl Grey Tea, Passionfruit Layer Cake, and Honeycomb.  The vegan offerings include Salted Chocolate, Matcha Green Tea, and Caramelized Banana Nut. And the “specials”? They were special indeed: Pumpkin Pie, Salted Caramel Rocky Road, Sour Cream Apple Cider Doughnut, and more.

But when I saw Honeycomb on the menu, I had no choice but pick it! Honeycomb candy is very popular in Australia, where our dad grew up, and is the star of one my favorite chocolate bars of all time: Violet Crumble.  Sadly, honeycomb desserts aren’t easy to find here in the U.S.! I ordered a single-scoop in a cone. Carolyn went with a cone of Vegan Dark Chocolate, and Ava ordered a cup of Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch. At $5.50 a pop, these single scoops were pricey. But, boy, were they pretty…

Left to right: Honeycomb, Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch, Vegan Chocolate

The verdict? Overall, we were impressed with Van Leeuwen’s ice cream! The Honeycomb was the color of caramel, with thick swirls of softened, chewy honeycomb. The sweet-cream ice cream base was rich and milky, and served at the perfect temperature (cold but not rock-hard). Carolyn’s Vegan Dark Chocolate scoop was a chocolate-lover’s dream, with an intense cocoa taste that masked that ubiquitous flavor of coconut milk. You could have thought it was full-dairy ice cream! While Ava enjoyed her Peanut Butter Marshmallow Crunch, she thought it was a tad too icy and could have used some more marshmallow to counter-act the rich peanut-butter flavor. We all agreed that the serving sizes were perfect — just big enough to be satisfying but not spoil your dinner! I can’t wait to return to Van Leeuwen to sample some more of their other flavors!

The Stats:
Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream (multiple locations in New York and Los Angeles)
204 Wythe Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11249
(929) 337-6907
www.vanleeuwenicecream.com

Hudson Valley Foie Gras PB&J Ice Cream

My husband loves foie gras. And I mean really loves it. So much so that he insisted we serve it to our guests at our wedding. Me? Not so much. Foie gras is rich, fatty and melts in your mouth. It’s a unique flavor that people tend to love or hate.

If you’re a fan of foie, do I have an ice cream recipe for you! On a recent cold Sunday, K and I found ourselves with no plans. I haven’t made homemade ice cream in a while, so I started getting ready to go grocery shopping to pick up some supplies. But what flavor should I make? K was feeling creative. “How about foie gras ice cream?” he asked. We had tried foie gras ice cream in Hong Kong once, and K wanted me to try it at home. Not one to back down from a cooking challenge, I hit up Google for some inspiration.

K always keeps a big supply of foie gras in our freezer, which he buys directly from Hudson Valley Foie Gras. When you see foie gras on the menu at any of the top restaurants in the U.S., there is a good chance it comes from Hudson Valley. Foie gras itself can be controversial, but Hudson Valley is committed to careful and transparent processes. You can even schedule a visit to their farm in Upstate New York — and take photos!

Foie gras is often served with fruit, or fruit preserves, so that got me thinking about peanut butter and jelly. There are many great recipes for peanut butter ice cream out there, so I used some for inspiration and took plenty of creative license!

This recipe is egg-less, but it still isn’t the easiest of recipes. First, you heat the milk and cream with the sugar until it’s dissolved. You cook the foie gras, then use a blender to blend it completely with the ice cream base.

Once the ice cream is ready, you layer it with swirls of jam. I would recommend high-quality jam here. Homemade would be ideal! While I love dear old Smuckers, I just don’t think gelatinous jelly would do well here.

Foie Gras PB & J Ice Cream
{Makes 1 pint}

Ingredients

  • One slice of frozen Hudson Valley foie gras (2 oz.)
  • 1.5 cups light cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup peanut butte
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup runny jam (if it’s too thick to pour, heat with tablespoon or two of water and a pinch of sugar)

Directions

  • In a medium saucepan, combine the cream, milk, and sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, and cook until sugar dissolves.
  • Remove from heat and mix in the peanut butter,  vanilla, and salt. Chill the mixture in the fridge for 1 hour or until cool.
  • Meanwhile, cook the foie gras. You could grill it, but I had K sear it on the stove and finish in the oven.
  • Pour the ice cream mixture and foie gras into a blender and blend until completely smooth and frothy. 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.
  • In an airtight container, layer the ice cream with thin layers or drizzles of jam. When you’re done, you can take a wooden skewer or think knife and make a couple swirls. You can find more tips about making swirls (plus photos!) in this article. Freeze for at least an hour before serving.

The verdict? This was some rich, fancy ice cream! While the foie gras flavor wasn’t as prominent as I’d expected, it did seem to deepen the taste of the peanut butter. We could taste the foie gras when we thought about it, but we’re not convinced that we could have named the flavor if we didn’t know what it was. The ice cream base wasn’t very sweet, but the jam swirl brought a sugary punch. I’m glad that I sprung for the fancier, expensive mixed berry jam, as it brought another level of sophistication to the dish. Look at that red color! Overall, this ice cream was smooth, thick, and complex. If you have a foie-gras fan in the family, you should make this ice cream for a special occasion!

Terminal Treats – Green Tea Soft-Serve @ Narita Airport

To celebrate the New Year, I joined K and his family on a trip to Japan! More specifically, to the island of Hokkaido, a quick flight north from Tokyo. K, his parents, and brother are all avid (and talented) skiers, and they’ve talked for years about skiing in Japan together. Hokkaido has several world-renowned ski areas and is loved for its “powder.” While my future sister-in-law and I don’t really ski, we’re big fans of snow and sushi so couldn’t miss out. Our group of six spent a couple days in both  Kiroro and Rusutsu, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in both places. Both ski areas were covered in several feet of snow, although locals told us that there is usually even more snow.

While I visited Tokyo several years ago, I didn’t know what to expect when we arrived in Hokkaido. I soon fell in love with the less populated countryside, with its rolling hills and Japanese pine trees. The hospitality we encountered at the Sheraton Kiroro and Sheraton Rusutsu was great, and I’d highly recommend either resort. It’s hard to pick my favorite memories of the trip, as there were so many special highlights: “skiing” two mornings with my mother-in-law (who is an amazing teacher, and calmed this little scaredy cat down on the slopes), sharing an epic sushi lunch with the family, going snow-shoeing with the girls, and even trying my hand at dog sledding! I went to bed every night feeling so darn lucky to be in Japan.

We finished our vacation with a quick 24-hours in Tokyo. We stayed at the new Andaz hotel, which was easily one of the fanciest hotels I’ve ever stayed at. (Thanks, K, for cashing in so many of your hotel points!) We also squeezed in a couple great meals and plenty of walking. But, sadly, we eventually had to get back to the “real world.” We packed up our bags, hopped on a bus, and headed to the airport.

Narita International Airport, Tokyo’s major airport, is large, clean, and busy. Terminal 1, which United Airlines uses, is modern and easy to navigate. We were at our gate with plenty of time to spare. I whined about being hungry, and K suggested that I find some ice cream! I didn’t expect to find anything exciting, but a quick search on Narita’s website pointed me to a café promising desserts and ice cream: FaSoLa Café. There was a location in Terminal 1, and another in Terminal 2. We left our bags with my parents-in-law and headed off in search of the café.

After a 10-minute walk, we finally found FaSoLa Café in the south wing of the terminal. It was a cute little walk-up counter with plenty of coffee, tea, juice, and snack options. I quickly spotted the ice cream offerings: cones of Vanilla soft serve or Green Tea soft serve.

The decision was easy: Green Tea! This generously-sized cone only set me back ¥400, or about $3.50.

The verdict? During a long day of travel, this was such a refreshing treat! The Green Tea flavor was strong but not at all bitter or too strong — perfect for a tea novice like me. The soft serve was thick and creamy, but it could have been served a bit colder since it melted really quickly. The waffle cone  was light, crunchy, and sweet. It all came together for a wonderful airport ice-cream experience.  If you find yourself (and your sweet tooth) at Narita Airport, I’d definitely recommend trying this local treat.

The Stats:
FaSoLa Café @ Narita International Airport (NRT)
2 locations  – Terminals 1 & 2
1-1 Furugome, Narita, Chiba Prefecture 282-0004, Japan
http://www.narita-airport.jp/en/shops/detail/t1sw03_t00019

 

The Best, Worst & Most Unique of 2016

Happy New Year! Politics aside, 2016 was a standout year for me. First and foremost, I’m grateful for my health and the health of my loved ones. Highlights of 2016 include my sisters and their sweethearts coming to visit us in DC for a long weekend, a safari with my in-laws in South Africa, finally returning to Acadia National Park with my family after many years, a trip to Barcelona with dear friends, learning to ski (which has always frightened me), and getting the chance to drive a dog sled in Japan! I also cherished watching my sister Carolyn find her dream job, my sister Ava developing a strong relationship with a wonderful man, and my parents finally taking their dream trip to Italy! With all the tragedies that occurred in 2016 — domestic and abroad — it’s more important than ever to savor the joys and achievements, big and small, in my life.

Looking back on my posts from 2016, I realized that this year also brought me some wonderful ice cream! I also shared many ice creams with family and friends, which makes any flavor taste a little bit sweeter.

All-Around Best Ice Cream:
Peach Cardamom at Glass Bottle Creamery (Vashon Island, WA)

Best New Recipe:
Easy Salted Caramel Sauce

Best Atmosphere:
Mount Desert Island Ice Cream (Bar Harbor, ME)
(the Sea Salt Caramel was my 2nd favorite flavor of 2016!)

Worst Ice Cream:
Quejo com Goiabada at Sorvetes Ally (Rio de Janiero, Brazil)

Most Unique Ice Cream:
Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries at Salt & Straw (Portland, OR)

I’d love to hear about your favorites from 2016!

 

 

Enjoying Italian Gelato in Barcelona @ Gelaaati! Di Marco

This post is long overdue! Earlier this fall, K and I had the pleasure of joining two of our dearest friends in Barcelona, Spain for a long weekend. Becca and Bryan were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary with a 10-day trip to Spain. They traveled all over the country and ended in Barcelona, where Becca studied abroad for a semester during college. Knowing that K had never been to Barcelona, Becca and Bryan kindly invited us to meet them there. I looked forward to the trip for months, and it did not disappoint.

K and I took a red-eye from Washington, D.C. to Barcelona and arrived on Saturday morning. We met Becca and Bryan at our hotel, the W Barcelona, which is right on the beach. We were too excited to be tired, and so we almost immediately headed out to Park Guëll. I remembered the enchanting and eclectic park from my brief excursion to Barcelona during my semester in Madrid many, many years ago, and I was thrilled to go back. The park, designed by Antoni Gaudí, was just as lively and inspiring as I’d remembered, and we enjoyed strolling around together for an hour or two. We kept up a swift pace for the entire weekend, and I can’t believe how much we fit into just two days. Other highlights of the weekend include swimming in the Mediterranean Ocean (it was chilly but fun), wandering around the Boqueria market, walking up the towers of La Sagrada Familia (a basilica also designed by Gaudí), and enjoying delicious paella by the beach.

On our second day in Barcelona, I made sure to find time to sample the local frozen dessert of choice: gelato. We saw countless gelato shops throughout the city, so I did some quick research to help us choose a good spot. According to TripAdvisor, Gelaaati! Di Marco in the Gothic Quarter is not only one of the best gelato shops in the city, but it also has the greatest variety of flavors. Becca and Bryan are just as adventurous as I am when it comes to wacky ice cream flavors, so I knew we had to try it out.

We arrived at Gelaaati! Di Marco in the late afternoon, after sightseeing all morning and afternoon. While none of us were starving (thanks to our fun lunch of tapas), we were more than ready for a little pick-me-up. The shop is located in a beautiful old part of town, nestled among cute stores and restaurants along a cobblestone street. While there was a small crowd in the shop, the friendly folks working behind the counter ensured that the line moved quickly. It took us a few minutes to decide what to order — there are probably 30 flavors to choose from!

There’s something for everyone at Gelaaati! Di Marco, from traditional gelato flavors like Vanilla, Stracciatella, and Pistachio to more interesting ones like Chai Tea, Tiramasú, and Cioccolato Piccante (Spicy Chocolate). There are also plenty of non-dairy / vegan options, too, including Coco, Mango and Mojito. Interestingly, Gelaaati! Di Marco also offers six premium flavors for a small extra charge. These flavors, classified as “Gold Line” were incredibly decadent. Bryan had his eye on the Zolaus (cream-flavored gelato with gorganzola and fig marmalade) and Milanès (fresh ricotta gelato with saffron and pistachio cookies). Many flavors had traditional Italian or English names, but some (like Canela, or Cinnamon) were in Spanish.

In the end, I decided to go with a medium-sized cup of three flavors: Caffe (for some caffeine!), Dulce de Leche, and Extra Dark (vegan chocolate sorbet). My cup cost me about $4 Euros. Bryan’s cup was more expensive because of the two premium flavors he chose.

The verdict? This gelato was smooth, thick, and almost sticky (in a good way). The Caffe was strong and not very sweet. While it fit my preferences, folks who don’t drink coffee might find it too potent. The Extra Dark Cocoa was my favorite of the three flavors; very chocolatey, delicious, and creamy – I couldn’t believe there was no dairy in it! I’d order this time and time again. The Dulce de Leche was yummy but not life changing. It’s burnt-sugar undertones were a bit too harsh. Becca’s favorite was the Pistachio, which she thought was crisp and refreshing.  Bryan let me taste both of his flavors. I thought the Milanès was quite delicious, and liked the subtle saffron taste paired with the sweet pistachio brittle. But neither of us enjoyed the Zolaus; the gorganzola flavor was really strong. But I had no problem polishing off my cup before we continued off for more sightseeing!

The Stats:
Gelaaati Di Marco
Carrer de la Llibreteria, 7
Barcelona, Spain 08002
http://gelaaati.com/en/

Glass Bottle Creamery: New Kid on the Island

Vashon Island is my home away from home. Since my first visit in 2008, Vashon has occupied a special place in my heart. My in-laws own a small house overlooking Puget Sound, and K grew up spending weekends, holidays, and big chunks of summer vacation on the island. It usually takes about an hour to travel from downtown Seattle to the island, but you’re ultimately at the mercy of the ferry schedule. It can be a hassle getting here, but I promise you that your blood pressure will drop the moment you arrive on the island. Vashon feels like another world; a bit rural, with its plentiful livestock and very few chain stores (not even a Starbucks!). Vashon has a reputation for being quite hippie and alternative, but with an old-fashioned sense of community and hospitality.

vashon-map
K’s friend recently got married in Seattle, and we decided to spend the night before the wedding on Vashon. We headed there straight from the airport and made pretty good time. Hungry after our cross-country travels, we stopped for a late brunch of chilaquiles and salad at The Hardware Store Restaurant. The restaurant is located “downtown”, which is where the grocery store, pharmacy, and other restaurants are located. We ran a few errands before heading to the house, although the last errand wasn’t an errand at all: swinging by the Glass Bottle Creamery.

There are a couple spots to grab ice cream on Vashon, but no shops specifically dedicated to ice cream. There’s an ice cream counter at the front of the grocery store and at the back of the Vashon Island Coffee Roastery. While the ice cream is good, it just doesn’t feel super special. But a couple years ago, the talented Samantha Weigand moved from Washington, DC to Vashon Island to open a bakery. That next summer, K and I asked Samantha to bake our wedding cakes. She outdid herself, producing two amazing cakes. One vanilla cake with passion-fruit curd and buttercream and one gluten-free chocolate cake with coconut frosting. Both were surprisingly delicious, and the cakes were completely demolished by the end of our wedding night.

View More: http://sarahbradshaw.pass.us/kevan-grace-weddingAfter slowly building quite a following through her bakery, Samantha decided to expand and bought a small storefront downtown. She opened Glass Bottle Creamery, selling high-quality, local dairy products and homemade ice cream! While it’s been open for about a year, I had yet to try the ice cream. The lines were always long, or I was too full after lunch or dinner downtown, so the stars never aligned for me. But on this rainy Saturday afternoon, the shop looked warm and inviting and I had room in my tummy for dessert.

img_0732 picture2Like the bakery, Glass Bottle Creamery is decorated in soft baby blues, whites, and pops of pink. There’s two big glass refrigerators — one stocked with ice cream sandwiches, cakes, and pints, and the other with milk, yogurts and cheeses.

picture3 Keeping with its minimalist vibe, there are just a few flavors posted on the wall — but they all sounded lovely. There were even a couple dairy-free options for the vegan and lactose-intolerant crowd. While the Toasted Coconut and Peanut Butter Cup definitely piqued my interest, I decided to keep things interesting with Peach Cardamom.

bluebottle1As someone who avoids gluten, I’ve always appreciated the diverse and delicious gluten-free options at Samantha’s bakery. She continues this tradition at Glass Bottle Creamery, noting gluten-free flavors and also offering gluten-free cones for a small $0.50 surcharge. I asked for one scoop of Peach Cardamom in a gluten-free cone, and the friendly young woman behind the counter asked me if I wanted a cake cone or a waffle cone. I can’t remember the last time I had a GF cone that wasn’t a cake one, so I was incredibly excited for this waffle cone. It set me back around five dollars.

img_0739The verdict? This ice cream fulfilled a craving I didn’t even know I had — a craving for sweet, creamy ice cream in a crisp homemade waffle cone. The ice cream was served at the perfect temperature for me, frozen solid and just soft enough to get a good lick. I was glad that the Peach Cardamom was light on the cardamom spice (which I often find overpowering). The peach flavor was delicate yet distinct, and there was no weird fake aftertaste. What really took this ice cream over the top was the CONE. Oh my goodness, it was delicious enough to eat on its own. It was crisp, textured, and a bit sugary… almost like those Italian “pizzelle” cookies.  I have high expectations for anything Samantha makes, and she appears to really have outdone herself with Glass Bottle Creamery.

The Stats:
Glass Bottle Creamery
17637 Vashon Highway SW
Vashon, WA 98070
www.glassbottlecreamery.com

I finally made it to Salt & Straw!

There are many “Best Ice Cream Shops in America” lists out there, but there’s only a couple shops that you’ll see time and time again. One of these is Salt & Straw in Portland, Oregon. Run by two cousins, Kim & Tyler Malek, Salt & Straw started as a tiny food cart operation. Today, it’s a massively-popular chain (with shops in Portland and Los Angeles) and is a towering figure on the national ice-cream scene. Salt & Straw was one of the first shops in the country to churn out totally wacky and unconventional ice-cream flavors using ingredients like black pepper and blue cheese. But it’s the high quality ice cream & attention to local ingredients that continues to earn Salt & Straw accolades from publications like The New York Times, Saveur, Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and even The Oprah Magazine!

Despite spending a lot of time in Washington State, I don’t seem to get down to Portland often enough. According to this blog, the last time I was here was 2012! While I knew of Salt & Straw back then, I failed to get myself to the shop during that short work trip. I did manage to sample the ice cream at Cool Moon, however, which I liked but didn’t love.

I finally had a chance to redeem myself last month, when I was in Portland to celebrate my college roommate’s wedding. It was a very busy weekend, full of wedding festivities and catching up with friends from college, so I had to make a point of getting to Salt & Straw…. it wouldn’t happen organically! Luckily, I was even able to round up a few friends to join me (thanks, Becca, Juan & Bryan!) on my Friday afternoon visit to the SE Division shop in Southeast Portland.

img_0688Having heard of hour-long waits, I was shocked to see no line outside of the shop! It was my lucky day. After a quick photo by the famous sign, our party of four headed inside. Salt & Straw’s SE Division shop is beautiful; it looks like a hipster’s take on a classic 1950s ice cream parlor. The interior is predominantly wood, but with bright accents of cherry red and chrome. Wafts of freshly-made waffle cones only adds to the atmosphere.

img_0689 Salt & Straw has developed hundreds of flavors, but their shops carry fewer than 20 flavors at any given time. About a dozen are “Classic Flavors” and are always available, and the remaining slots are dedicated to seasonal creations. Popular mainstays include Honey Lavender, Chocolate Gooey Brownie, Cinnamon Snickerdoodle, Arbequina Olive Oil, and Freckled Woodblock Chocolate. Today, the limited-edition “Late Summer Harvest Series” flavors sounded amazing: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J, White Toast & Apple Butter, Sour Cream Fig Pie, Oregon Honeyed Rocky Road, and Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries.

img_0690But the big question: What to order? The lovely and knowledgeable Ally patiently answered my questions and gave me a sample of the Freckled Woodblock Chocolate (her personal fave). I eventually settled on a double-scoop cup of two seasonal favors: the Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries and Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J. One crazy flavor, one safe bet. When hearing about the blog, Ally shared some inside info: the bone marrow is from cows and is slow roasted, clarified, and then blended with sugar and cream for the base (i.e. no weird clumps of bone marrow). And the PB&J involves two forms of peanut butter (liquid and cereal) and the jam is homemade using local grapes.

picturesaltstrawPrices were what I expected: high, but not offensively so. My double-scoop was $5.95.

Bottom: Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries; Top: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J

Bottom: Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries; Top: Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J

The verdict? Salt & Straw lives up to the hype. My friends and I were floored by the deliciousness of Salt & Straw’s ice cream, our eyes bulging in happy surprise as we took our first bites. This is ice cream made by people who deeply understand the science of ice cream. The ice cream was the ideal eating temperate, was rich but not too dense, and every mix-in retained its original state (not soggy but also not frozen solid). My flavors were sweet but not so sweet as to overwhelm the more subtle notes. I promise: the Bone Marrow & Smoked Cherries is good! Bone marrow may be a culinary trend, but I don’t go out of my way to eat it. The bone marrow just adds a bit of salt and umami flavor to the smooth ice cream, and the soft chunks of smoked Oregon Dark Sweet cherries add texture and familiarity. My other scoop – the Sauvie Island Grapes PB&J – was a dream; intense peanut-buttery flavor in light ice cream form. The homemade grape jam swirl brought me right back to childhood. The crunchy PB cereal bits were few and far between. These two scoops paired well with one another!

As I mentioned, my friends were equally as pleased with their order. Bryan’s Salted Stumptown Cold Brew Shake looked so creamy and inviting that I had to steal a couple sips. Oh-my-goodness was it yummy. I’m not one for shakes, but I would make an exception for this one. Smooth Stumptown cold brew blended with Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbon ice cream.

All in all, Salt & Straw totally lived up to my sky-high expectations. My only regret was not coming sooner!

The Stats:
Salt & Straw – SE Division
3345 SE Division Street
Portland, ME 92702
(multiple locations in Portland & Los Angeles)
www.saltandstraw.com

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