Crowd-Pleasing Nutella Gelato

What’s your signature recipe? You know – that crowd-pleaser that your friends and family (not-so-secretly) hope you’re bringing to the next potluck or party? For my sister, it’s her amazing chili. For my mom, it’s her lemon meringue pie. Just last night, my dear friends Anna and Meg came over for dinner. And you better believe I was thinking of Anna’s Special K bars when I put her in charge of dessert. Despite her grueling schedule as a first-year resident, Anna somehow found time to whip up a batch of her signature baked goods. She even left the extra ones with me. These bars are like crack. Seriously. I may or may not have downed one before 8:00 AM this morning…

Speaking of crack, let’s discuss Nutella. Specifically, Nutella gelato.

I was late to the Nutella craze. Growing up, we had peanut butter, Fluff, and Vegemite in the pantry – but no Nutella. I don’t think I’d ever tasted it until my senior year of high school, on a week-long trip to Spain with my AP Spanish class. My usual peanut butter was absent from the hotel’s breakfast buffet, so I had to “settle” and spread Nutella on my toast. It was love at first bite, and the rest is history.

Today, Nutella gelato is my signature recipe. It was the first thing I created in my Cuisinart ice cream maker. I consulted a variety of Nutella ice cream and gelato recipes but ultimately decided to create my own version. After reading an article about how dark coffee enhances the flavor of chocolate, I decided to incorporate the Starbucks VIA we always have on hand into the recipe. It was a risky move, but I’ve come back to this recipe time and time again. It’s the quintessential crowd-pleaser. It keeps my family and friends (even the normal chocolate-haters) licking their bowls and asking for more. When my college roommate invited me to a dinner party this weekend, she “jokingly” hinted that I was required to bring Nutella gelato. She laughed, but I could almost hear a threat being implied. The claws come out around this stuff, my friends.

Bring this gelato to a dinner party, and it will become your signature dish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉

Nutella Gelato 
{Makes 1.5 quarts}

Ingredients

  • 2 cups milk (2% or whole)
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1/2 cup white cane sugar
  • 1 packet Starbucks VIA (Italian Roast/Colombia) OR 3 tsp. instant coffee
  • 1 jar of Nutella (13oz.)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Directions

  • Combine the milk, cream, sugar and VIA in a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, whisking from time to time, until it almost reaches a simmer.
  • Turn off heat, remove saucepan from heat and whisk in the salt, vanilla extract and Nutella. Continue to whisk until Nutella is completely melted.
  • Transfer mixture to large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  • Pour chilled mixture into your 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. The consistency should be firm but not icy.
  • Serve immediately or transfer to an airtight container and freeze until firm (about 2 hours in my case, but a taxi drive and too much time on the counter left our gelato a bit too soft).

Didn’t let it freeze long enough, but this was delicious gelato soup 😉

The verdict?  Nutella gelato never disappoints. Even when someone waits until 4PM to start making it for a 7:30PM dinner (who could that be?), this gelato is heavenly. The recipe uses a full jar of Nutella, and the flavor is wonderfully intense. But it’s not as sugary-sweet as one may expect; the bold Starbucks VIA brew adds depth to the Nutella flavor without adding an overt coffee taste. The gelato never gets quite firm enough in the Cuisinart for me, so I normally pop it into freezer for a couple hours before serving. But this gelato is ah-mazing in any form – even melted from the cab drive over to a friend’s house. The only problem is that there’s never any leftovers…

Living the “Dulce” Life in Buenos Aires

The month of January might not scream “ouce cream” to those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, but it certainly does in the Southern Hemisphere. While I normally spend New Year’s Eve and Day huddled inside wearing sweaters and sipping hot cocoa, this year I was eating ice cream in sundresses. When my boyfriend asked me where we should spend New Years this year, I told him that Boston or Seattle would be great… but someplace warm would be even better! Here I was, thinking about visiting family in Arizona or friends in Florida. But the boyfriend had grander plans and suggested we use airline miles to fly to Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Now, Argentina was never at the top of my travel wish list (Alaska and Sub-Saharan Africa are!). But my college roommate studied abroad in Buenos Aires, and she still raves about the city. And when my boyfriend reminded me that it would be warm in Argentina during January, I figured that this was the perfect opportunity to see the city while catching some rays. Plus, I needed to practice my Spanish – which has become dismal since my own study abroad time in Madrid, Spain. But it wasn’t until I started reading more about Buenos Aires that I got very excited.

Tango. Wine. Steak. Gelato. What more can you ask for?

Wait… Gelato?

While researching things to do and see in Buenos Aires, I learned that more than one-third of Argentina’s population is of Italian descent. Most of the immigration took place before World War I, but the Italian culture is still alive and well in Buenos Aires. For example? Unlike in most Spainish-speaking countries, “gelaterias” (Spanish for “gelato shops”) far outnumber “heladerias” (“ice cream shops”) in Buenos Aires. I was beyond excited to experience this unique part of Argentine culture for myself.

We had a fabulous four days in Buenos Aires. The weather held up beautifully, and we spent our most of our time outdoors – taking in the sights, sounds, and tastes of Argentina’s capital. Some of the touristy highlights of our trip included visiting La Recoleta Cemetary (final resting place of Eva Peron), walking along Puerto Madero (popular waterfront area with great people-watching), and exploring Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (world-class art museum with no admission fee!). Perhaps the best decision we made during the trip was shelling out a couple hundred dollars for the New Years Eve package at Complejo Tango. There are many tango shows to choose from in Buenos Aires, but Complejo Tango provides a full-package experience for anyone who is interested in learning and watching tango. The NYE package included a 90-minute beginner’s tango class, three-course dinner, unlimited beer and wine, professional tango show, midnight champagne toast, and – finally – a dance party with a DJ. While the boyfriend and I agreed that neither of us have a future in professional tango, we had a blast learning some steps with other tourists from around the world. It was definitely the most unique New Years Eve I’ve ever had.

Food and wine was a whole other highlight of our trip. We had steak for dinner more often than not. The Malbec wines were fantastic cost less than they do in the States. You don’t have to go far for great food in Buenos Aires. There’s a great cafe or restaurant on every block, it seems. On our first night, we found a great spot just outside our hotel (the Sheraton Libertador Hotel). We had finished dinner early in the evening (especially when you consider that most Argentines don’t eat until 10pm or so) and were in the mood for a nightcap. Il Gran Caffe is a bustling full-service cafe with plenty of seating both indoors and outdoors, situated on a busy city corner. We sat outside to enjoy the summer weather and do some people-watching. The boyfriend ordered a sweet white wine, but had my eye on something else. Walking to our table, I passed several patrons enjoying goblets of gelato. Sure enough, Il Gran Caffe offers six flavors of gelato. In the mood for chocolate, I asked our waiter for a scoop of Gianduia — a Nutella-like combination of milk chocolate and hazelnut gelato. When he told me I could pick another flavor for the second scoop, I blurted out the first flavor I saw: Amarena. It was a risky move, but I’ve never met a gelato flavor I couldn’t stomach.

The verdict? This was not a great first-time Argentine gelato experience! Il Gran Caffe’s gelato is a bit on the firmer side, as I’m sure they purchase tubs of gelato from third-party vendors and store them in their deep freezer. This was more like American store-bought ice cream than premium Italian gelato. Still, the flavors were unique and satisfied my sweet tooth. Now – what was Amarena? I tasted a sweet cream base, and a tart fruity swirl. With the boyfriend’s help, I deciphered that the fruit was sour cherry. Later, I read online that Amarena is a traditional Italian gelato flavor – just one that I haven’t tried before. The Gianduja was good, but not the best I’ve had. The milk chocolate flavor overpowered the hazelnut, and the combination was a bit too sugary-sweet for me. I did like the thin chocolate flakes, though, which are not traditionally part of the flavor. After all, how can you go wrong adding chocolate to chocolate? Still, my first gelato experience in Buenos Aires didn’t blow me away…

Not one to be discouraged, I decided that to find the best gelato in Buenos Aires – I should rely on the locals’ knowledge. So on our second night, I brought up the subject with our friendly old cab driver while he drove us to the trendy Palermo neighborhood. My Spanish is pretty rusty, but the cab driver got the gist of my request: could he please drop us off at a good gelataria? I rattled off a list of ones in Palermo that I had pulled off the internet in the hotel room. The cab driver nodded with a smile and drove on. Finally, he pulled up to the curb outside of Persicco – considered to be one of the very best gelaterias in Buenos Aires. I know Persicco has multiple locations throughout the city, but I can’t imagine any are more busy than the Palermo shop! It was almost eleven-o-clock in the evening, but Persicco was hoppin’. Unlike at Il Gran Caffe, most of the clientle seemed to be Argentine. I didn’t hear any English conversations in the crowd outside or inside the shop. This had to be a good sign, right?

Once inside, I quickly learned that not only does Persicco have gelato-making down to an art, they also have gelato-ordering down to an art. To streamline the whole process and ensure proper payment, Persicco requires you to pay at the register before approaching the bins of gelato. You order and pay for a certain size (not flavor) and are given a numbered receipt. Then, you must patiently wait for your number to appear on an electronic sign (not unlike the ones at the deli) – at which point you may approach the gelato-scoopers, hand your receipt over, and list off the flavor(s) you’d like. The hardest part of this whole process is selecting your flavors. Since my boyfriend was interested in “tasting” the gelato, I ordered a 2-scoop bowl. Persicco’s menu boasts a wide variety of flavors that are conveniently organized into groups. You have your chocolate flavors, your fruity flavors, your dulce de leche flavors… Yes, Persicco has a whole group of dulce de leche flavors – one with chocolate chips, one with brownies, etc. While it was tempting to try two dulces, I opted for more variety and ordered a scoop of traditional Dulce de Leche and another of Coco a la Crema.

Two spoons… to share.

The verdict? Oh my goodness. This is what all the gelato hype is about. Persicco’s gelato is as good as any I’ve had in Italy. The texture is spot-on; thick, creamy and feels like silk as it melts in your mouth. The flavors are intensely luxurious. The Coco a la Crema lived up to its name, perfectly blending the flavor of coconut with a traditional sweet cream base. While this gelato lacked the chewy bits of toasted coconut that I usually crave, the coconut flavor was strong and natural-tasting. But it was the Dulce de Leche scoop that had me swooning. The boyfriend and I agreed that Persicco had perfectly captured the essence of the sticky, caramelized milk-and-sugar dessert found all over South America. The gelato’s flavor was similar to a rich, dark salted caramel with an almost-burnt aftertaste that is quite addicting. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it, and it’s just another reason to add Buenos Aires to the top of your travel wish list 😉

The Stats:

Il Gran Caffe
Calle Florida 700
Buenos Aires, Argentina 1054

Persicco
Multiple locations in Buenos Aires
http://www.persicco.com

Is it local? At Cool Moon Ice Cream, it is!

“Is it local?”

The city of Portland, Oregon is known for its focus on keeping things “local.” When it comes to food, Portland knows that “local” produce, dairy, meat and even beer are more likely to be organic, fresh, and tasty. Even the wildly-popular television show “Portlandia” pokes fun at this Portland stereotype (if you haven’t seen this clip, I highly recommend it). But there is definitely something behind this stereotype; and Portlanders aren’t afraid to admit it.

Last week, my job took me to Portland for a few days. Anyone who has lived in the Pacific Northwest knows that December is one of the worst months to visit Portland. Rain, rain, and more rain. But I’ll take a paid trip to Portland any day. Work meetings over organic, grass-fed dinners at The Farm Cafe? I guess I can manage. Networking happy hour at Deschutes Brewery? If I have to. Prepping for a presentation at Powell’s Books? Twist my arm.

But the best perk of my Portland trip was the chance to see my college roommate Jamie’s dad’s brand-new bike shop: West End Bikes. Jamie’s dad (like mine) is an engineer by trade, but his passion is biking. A couple years ago, he teamed up with a buddy to open their own bike shop right downtown. After all, Portland is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world. This was my first time visiting West End Bikes, and I was beyond impressed with the store and its inventory. The shop’s beautiful layout and impeccable decor is a testament to the owner’s engineering background. And the inventory is top-notch. While I don’t ride myself, my parents do – so I can appreciate the high-end bikes, helmets, shoes, and clothing that West End Bikes carries. If you are even remotely interested in biking, West End Bikes is a must-see in Portland. Plus, there’s no sales tax in Oregon!

Given Portland’s focus on all things “local,” I couldn’t resist trying some ice cream during my visit. After a quick Yelp search, I headed over to Cool Moon Ice Cream. This Portland favorite is located in the heart of the Pearl District – a funky neighborhood full of hippy coffee shops, local brew pubs, and one-of-a-kind clothing shops. I was drawn to Cool Moon Ice Cream after reading that they make all of their ice creams and sorbets right on the premises. You can’t get more “local” than that!

A well-lit and colorful storefront invites you into Cool Moon Ice Cream, brightening the dreariness of a rainy December day. Inside, the shop has an funky ice cream parlor vibe. During my visit, the store was fully decked-out in holiday cheer. Cool Moon has over 40 different flavors of ice cream and sorbet on its website, but there are about 15 flavors on its menu at any given time. While most of the flavors sound fairly common, I did see a few unique creations in the freezer. Four flavors stood out to me, but I couldn’t decide which I wanted to order. Luckily, the young man behind the counter was incredibly patient and happily gave me samples. The first flavor I tried was Salted Caramel. Personally, I don’t classify Salted Caramel as an exotic flavor anymore, as it’s cropping up on menus across the country. Heck, even Haagen-Dazs sells a salted caramel flavor! And, sadly, they do a better job than Cool Moon with it. I could certainly taste salt – but my hunch is that Cool Moon used table salt, as the saltiness lacked the pleasant mineral-y taste of kosher or sea salt. Also, the caramel lacked the buttery richness of the best Salted Caramel ice creams. But my impression of Cool Moon Ice Cream improved with the next sample:
Sicilian Spumoni. Cool Moon pays homage to the traditional Italian dessert with a pistachio ice cream base, which they blend orange and lemon peel, orange liquor, and cherries into. The specks of citrus and cherries were incredibly fine, so these components were overpowered by the pistachio flavor. Luckily, Cool Moon makes a mean pistachio ice cream – creamy and full of natural flavors. I was excited to see another pistachio-based flavor in the case: Kulfi. The young man behind the counter told me that kulfi is a popular dessert in India. Wikipedia says kulfi is similar to ice cream, but it’s denser because it’s not whipped. Kulfi comes in a variety of different flavors – including rose, cream, raspberry, mango, saffron, pistachio and cardamom. Cool Moon chose to blend three of their favorite kulfi flavors (pistachio, rose, and cardamom) into one yummy fusion. I can’t lie and say I really tasted the rosewater, but I’m sure it helped to temper the strong cardamom and added to the sweet creaminess of the ice cream.

After three samples, I knew it was time to commit to a real scoop. Little did I know, but I happened to have saved the best flavor for last. I learned that Cardinal Zin is made by infusing bittersweet chocolate ice cream with Zinfandel wine and sweet bing cherries (both from Oregon). Wine and chocolate? Sign me up! I happily forked over $3.90 for a “regular” cup… or should I say glass? When you order “for here,” Cool Moon serves your ice cream in a proper glass bowl and hands you a real silver spoon. How earth-friendly! Oh – and leave your AmEx at home. Cool Moon gives a 5% discount when you pay with cash. You gotta love Portland…

Christmas makes everything taste better.

The verdict? Cardinal Zin is definitely the best flavor I tried while at Cool Moon Ice Cream. The bittersweet chocolate base wasn’t anything to write home about; your average store-bought chocolate ice cream is just as good. But the bites of sweet cherry and the light Zinfandel aftertaste are what won me over. Unfortunately, the texture of Cardinal Zin isn’t as light and creamy as the Salted Caramel, Spumoni or Kulfi. Perhaps the Zinfandel is to blame for its ice-y texture? Overall, this ice cream was very enjoyable and the “normal” size satisfied my sweet tooth without ruining my appetite for dinner. While I would happily order Cardinal Zin again, it doesn’t make my “Top 10” list. Still, Cool Moon’s reasonable prices, friendly service and downtown location makes it a great family-friendly destination for tourists and locals alike.

The Stats:
Cool Moon Ice Cream
1105 NW Johnson Street
Portland, OR 97209
(503) 224-2021
www.coolmoonicecream.com

New Memories (and Cones) in Historic Gettysburg

This past weekend, I was in the mood to get outside of the city. And luckily for me, so was my good college girlfriend Becca. I proposed different activities (wine tasting in Virginia, perusing the Baltimore Harbor), but Becca had a better idea: Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  “Huh?” I thought, “Isn’t that super far away?” A quick glance at Google Maps confirmed that – yes, geography is still not my strong suit – and Gettysburg is a mere 1 hour 45 minute drive from Washington, DC. I guess you do learn something new every day.


Bright and early on Saturday, we dragged our boyfriends out of bed and piled into the car. It was a perfect late-summer day, and the drive to Gettysburg was picturesque. Just 30 minutes outside of DC, I was reminded just how beautiful the Mid-Atlantic landscape can be – full of beautiful, rolling hills and lush, green foliage. The clean, crisp air is refreshing after a week in the office.


Welcome to PA!

Just before noon, we found ourselves in the historic town of Gettysburg. The boys were hungry (shocker!), so we strolled down one of the major streets, Steinwehr Avenue, in search of some lunch brunch. Before settling on Lincoln’s Diner (greasy-but-tasty food at low prices), we passed by several cute, touristy ice cream spots. While ice cream sounded like a fine meal to me, the rest of the group wanted omelets and pancakes. In the spirit of American history, we compromised: lunch now, ice cream later in the afternoon.

With full bellies, we drove over to Gettysburg National Military Park. Per the website instructions, we began our visit at the Park Museum and Visitor Center. For over two hours, we soaked up information about Gettysburg and the Civil War (I re-remembered a lot from high school U.S. History class). Personally, I could have spent another two hours in the gift shop – it’s massive and filled with interesting trinkets. My companions were not so enthused (out-voted again), so we grabbed a free battlefield map and headed to the car. There are several ways to experience the battlefields. You could take a guided bus tour, hire a professional guide to ride in your car (weird?), or take a self-guided tour. The driving map (found here) hits 16 official tour spots and numerous other sites. My favorite stops included Oak Ridge, the High Water Mark, Little Round Top, and Devil’s Den. It was hard to believe that over fifty thousand men died here in just three days – making it the bloodiest battle of the Civil War. Remembering these men made me so grateful that the Union Army was able to change the tide of the Civil War here – successfully ending General Lee’s invasion of the North. Had the outcome been different at Gettysburg, who knows where we’d all be today?
Soaking up so much U.S. history certainly worked up my appetite. Before heading back to DC, we returned to one of the cute ice cream shops in downtown Gettysburg: Sunset Ice Cream Parlor. Honestly, I chose this spot over the others simply because it was so colorful and inviting-looking…
Inside, Sunset was bustling with a late-afternoon crowd. Despite the unique decor, Sunset’s numerous flavor options were extremely traditional. Rum Raisin and Cherry Vanilla were about as “weird” as they got. What is original about Sunset Ice Cream Parlor is their focus on the classic soda-fountain drink known as the “malted” – a mixture of ice cream, milk, and malted-milk powder. One of my best friend’s grandma was crazy about malteds, and I have early childhood memories of her ordering them at Friendly’s restaurants in MA. I’ve never been a fan of malteds, but I was in luck – I heard the man ahead of me order something interesting: a pretzel cone. Sure enough, his ice cream was served up in a cone-shaped hard pretzel. These are the times that I curse my gluten intolerance. But being the nice girlfriend I sometimes am, I decided to order the cone so my boyfriend (a pretzel connoseuir) could try it out. A chocolate-based ice cream sounded like the best compliment to a pretzel cone, so I picked the most interesting one at Sunset: Chocolate Marshmallow. After forking over more than $5 for a small cone (the special cone was a $1.50 upgrade), I was presented with a pretty-looking cone.
Now that’s something you don’t see every day!

The verdict? For the first time, I was more impressed with the cone than what was in it. And I couldn’t even eat the cone! My boyfriend’s review was generally positive, but he thought the cone was a tad too thick. We both loved the little plastic sleeve that the cone comes in – it keeps the pretzel salt intact until you’re ready to eat it. Now the Chocolate Marshmallow ice cream? That was a different story. The ice cream had a freezer burn aftertaste, and the chocolate flavoring was weak. I’d hoped for thick swirls of marshmallow, but I didn’t see (or taste) any. Perhaps a marshmallow extract is to blame for the weak chocolate flavor? All in all, I have to say this place is a “skip” – unless you are craving a malt. After all, there are other ice cream spots to choose from in Gettysburg.

The Stats:
Sunset Ice Cream Parlor
33 Steinwehr Avenue
Gettysburg, PA 17325
(717) 337-3125

Free-for-all at the 2012 DC Scoop Competition

Who says “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”?  

Not me.

This Sunday afternoon, I feasted on some of the best ice cream in the greater Washington, DC area at the Second Annual “DC Scoop” Competition. And everything was free. The DC Scoop is an outdoor ice cream sampling event and competition where the area’s artisan ice cream vendors serve their prized ice cream, frozen yogurt, and other frozen treats in hopes of being crowned that year’s “DC Scoop Winner.”

This year’s competition was held at Union Market – a highly-anticipated food market that opened this week in Northeast DC. I constantly find myself missing and fantasizing about Pike Place Market in Seattle – so I was excited to hear that an artisanal, curated, year-round food market was coming to the District. But I broke into the “Hallelujah” chorus (literally) when I read online that that Union Market would host the DC Scoop event during its opening weekend.

Like a kid on Christmas morning, I woke up early on Sunday eager to get the party started. While the boyfriend had to work, my B.F.F. (best foodie friend) Andrew agreed to accompany me to Northeast DC. After a 10-minute cab ride, we found ourselves surrounded by old warehouses and rundown wholesale markets. But straight ahead – the bright “UNION MARKET” sign stood out like friendly beacon.


The DC Scoop event was held in a fenced-in space next to the market, but Andrew and I purposely arrived early to explore the indoor market. We were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quality of food vendors we found inside Union Market. Fresh cheeses, organic meats, local produce, artisan chocolates, homemade pasta, spices – Union Market has it all.

After perusing the aisles of Union Market, it was finally time to head over to DC Scoop! Entry was free to the public, and each attendee received three pink ‘sample’ tickets for tasting and one golden ‘judging’ ticket to vote for their favorite vendor. While a panel of judges (defined as “stirrers and shakers of the DC food scene”) determines the DC Scoop Winner, the crowd’s votes do carry some weight with the judges. Andrew and I were among the first twenty or so people in line when the doors opened. After receiving our tickets, Andrew suggested we take a “survey” lap around the grounds before deciding how to allocate our sample tickets. Brilliant guy, I tell you.


Andrew and I took our time surveying the types of ice cream, frozen yogurt, custard, and sorbet offered by the 13 different vendors at DC Scoop: Boss Ice Cream, Captain Cookie & the Milk Man, Carmen’s Italian Ice, Dolcezza Gelato, Gifford’s, Goodies Frozen Custard, Savvy Pops, Sinplicity, Sweet Cream, Sugar Magnolia, Sweet Freeze, Taharka Brothers, and Trickling Springs Creamery. I’d say more than half of the vendors were serving samples from food trucks. Some vendors were sampling all of their flavors, while others had limited menus. Andrew and I both gravitated towards the more unique-sounding offerings. After all, we didn’t make the trek to Northeast DC just to try chocolate chip or cookie dough!

You only get three ‘sample’ tickets at the DC Scoops Competition – so it’s important to choose wisely. The first concoction I deemed worthy of a ticket was found at Carmen’s Italian Ice. This Rockville, MD institution is famous for its 70+ flavors of homemade Italian ice. As a general rule, I’d choose ice cream over Italian ice. I prefer smooth and creamy frozen treats and find Italian ice too… well… icey! But the concept of “gelati” has long intrigued me. Frozen custard layered with Italian ice? Maybe I could choke that down. While I didn’t take a formal tally, it seemed that Carmen’s Italian Ice had one of the longer menus at DC Scoop. For a gelati sample, you get to choose two flavors – one for the Italian ice and one for the frozen custard. For my Italian ice, I already had my eye on the Chocolate Everything – chocolate ice with marshmallows, peanut butter, chocolate chips, and Reese’s Cups. The staff at Carmen’s insisted that the best complement to my Italian ice would be the Mokaccino (chocolate & coffee) frozen custard. I’m not one to turn down unsolicited ice cream advice.
Don’t let the size of this cup fool you. This small “gelati” was packed with flavors and textures. The Chocolate Everything Italian ice lived up to its name – and the creamy (yes, creamy!) chocolate ice was jam-packed with chocolate chips and bits of Reese’s Cups. Sadly, the marshmallows escaped my sample cup. The Mokaccino frozen custard flavor was so strong, I thought I felt a caffeine buzz. Ten years ago, I’d have hated it. But my adult coffee addict-self rejoiced.     


With just two tickets to go, the pressure was mounting. Spying a line forming at Sinplicity‘s truck, Andrew and I made a beeline towards last year’s DC Scoop Winner. I’m glad we jumped in line when we did – because it only grew. The Falls Church, VA-based ice cream truck (officially named the “Sinmobile”) certainly has a strong fan base in DC…

Just when Andrew and I were wondering whether any ice cream sample was worth this wait, I spotted a man walking along the line and passing out spoonfuls of ice cream from a pint he was carrying. Extra samples? I’d wait. And check out the shirt he was wearing – “Skinny people can’t be trusted.” That got a giggle from me when the Sinplicity man handed us each spoonfuls of Cappuccino Crunch, cappuccino ice cream with chocolate-covered almonds and amaretto. Delicious. The coffee flavor was weaker than in Carmen’s frozen custard, but this was much more family-friendly. The amaretto swirl provided richness, and chocolate-covered almonds gave a sweet crunch. If you can believe it, Sinplicity didn’t stop there! The next preview sample to make the rounds was the Lemon-Ginger sorbet with spiced Jamaican rum. This sorbet was made for my mother, who adores anything ginger-flavored. The sorbet was perfectly refreshing and sweet, with just enough ginger to compete with the lemon without overpowering it. As Andrew and I finally neared the Sinplicity truck, we met a celebrity!

The famous Emily!

Turns out, the owner’s daughter Emily is the creator of one of Sinplicity’s best-sellers, which bears her name. Emily’s Peanut Butter Truffle is peanut butter ice cream mixed with chocolate truffles and swirled with dark chocolate. Emily was kind enough to let me try her concoction – and, boy, was it yummy. The peanut butter ice cream was one of the better versions I’ve tried – and her idea to use dark chocolate swirls – instead of the standard milk chocolate – was pure genius. Thanks, Emily!

For our full Sinplicity sample, Andrew and I just had to try the Blackberry & Cabernet sorbet with a “hint of lime.” I forked over a sample tickets and was rewarded with one heck of a sample. The presentation alone scored points with me. The rich, deep purple sorbet. The generous serving size. The crisp biscotti garnish. And Oh. My. Goodness… this sorbet made me swoon. While many sorbets can be icy and overly-sweet, Sinplicity’s sorbet was velvety in texture and complex in flavor. The deep blackberry and Cabernet flavors melded perfectly, and the lime gave the sorbet a refreshing aftertaste. This was so delicious that Andrew and I had to “take a moment” to enjoy our samples under the shade of the judging tent.

One ticket left…

I parted with my last ticket at Sugar Magnolia – a new ice cream shoppe in Cleveland Park. Sugar Magnolia was offering just two unique flavors at DC Scoop – and both Andrew and I had eyed their Peach Marscarpone earlier in the day. I wanted to pay tribute to the abundance of fresh peaches in DC this time of year, and I felt adventurous enough to try a cheese-flavored dessert. But I was sorely disappointed with the teeny-sized sample that was handed over. Not only was the cup about a third of the size of Sinplicity’s – it wasn’t close to being filled! In fact, the ice cream amounted to less than a spoonful – making it was difficult to really assess the flavor. Based on the bit of ice cream on my tongue, the marscarpone ice cream was full of flavor without being too rich or heavy. There was a hint of peach flavor, but it was pretty weak and overpowered by the cheese. All in all, an underwhelming finale to an otherwise fabulous tasting experience.
The verdict? I knew exactly who deserved my golden voting ticket: Sinplicity. Did I simply fall for their clever marketing schemes? Nah. The Blackberry & Cabernet sorbet was worthy of a King, and. If there had been silver tickets, I would’ve awarded mine to Carmen’s Italian Ice for proving once-and-for-all that Italian ice can be just as decadent as ice cream. I was a bit sad about the missing marshmallows in my Chocolate Everything gelati, but I’m sure it was just a fluke. Sugar Magnolia’s Peach Mascarpone ice cream was tasty, but their skimpy samples made it hard to really assess the flavor. I learned that at the DC Scoop, the best things don’t come in small packages. They come in big cups topped with biscotti 😉

The Stats:

Union Market
1309 5th St NE
Washington, DC 20002

Sweet finale at Adour

On Saturday night, I was treated to a special dinner at Adour in The St. Regis in Washington, DC. My boyfriend and I have been once before, and we were looking for an excuse to return. Realizing that we hadn’t been on a proper “date” in over a month seemed like a good enough excuse. Adour was ranked #5 best restaurant in the Washington, DC metro area by The Washingtonian Magazine last year, and I can see why. I’ve been dreaming about that first meal for months… And Saturday’s experience solidified Adour’s place in my heart.

Now this is an ice cream blog and, thus, my reviews focus on desserts. In this special case, however, I think it’s worth at least mentioning the prior courses. My boyfriend (i.e. funder of this extravagance) suggested that we go with the 4-course Tasting Menu. I agreed whole-heartedly after our waiter confirmed that the chef could accommodate my gluten intolerance (Please note: I do not have Celiac Disease). For our first course, the chef prepared Marinated Japanese Hamachi – a delicate, mild fish served raw on a fresh niçoise salad. The second course was my second-favorite (after the dessert, of course!)… Roasted Maine Lobster served on caponata (a traditional Italian dish of diced eggplant cooked with onions, garlic, tomato, capers and parsley). I appreciated that the chef did de-shelled the meat for us. Now I love using a lobster cracker, but not when I’m wearing a fancy dress and eating on a white carpet. After “oohing” and “aahing” over the lobster, I was surprised to enjoy the third course as much as I did – Roasted Rack of Colorado Lamb served in natural jus and with a side of sauteed spinach. I don’t particularly like lamb, but this meat was tender and flavorful.

Now comes the best course of all – the grand finale. Having remembered how amazing dessert was at Adour, we inquired about the fourth course before deciding on the tasting menu. Now, the scheduled dessert was their version of baba – a cake traditionally made with rum (Adour uses brandy). My boyfriend’s face fell when he heard this, as he was hoping for the Hazelnut Soufflé we had last time. When he expressed this disappointment, the waiter kindly offered to substitute the baba for the signature soufflé. For my gluten-free option, I asked for anything with ice cream 😉

Ask and you shall receive.

The chef chose the Exotic Vacherin for my final course. The beauty to your right is a dainty tower of creamy, frozen, fruity heaven! The center was filled with homemade coconut and banana ice cream, topped with passion fruit sorbet. Delicate coconut meringue cookies surrounded the ice cream, and real whipped cream provided a cushion for slivers of fresh mango (lightly dusted with mint). Swirls of passion fruit purée spruced up the plate. The variety of textures won me over. The crunchy, airy meringues contrasted the cool, creamy ice cream/sorbet and the soft, pulpy mango. This dessert proves that, sometimes, “the sum is greater than its parts.”


The boyfriend was happy to report that his Hazelnut Soufflé was as amazing as he remembered. Made with hazelnut flour, this soufflé was naturally gluten-free. After sneaking a bite, I remembered why this dessert is worth coming back for. Adour has mastered the fine art of soufflé-making, which was cooked evenly throughout and melted on the tongue. The flavors of hazelnuts and brown sugar gave me that “cozy” feeling – the perfect comfort on a rainy DC night.

I was already on Cloud Nine with these fabulous desserts, but Adour had more up their sleeve. Turns out that after every meal, Adour serves a complimentary selection of homemade sweets. This sweet surprise included (from left to right) homemade Almond Madelines (gluten-free with almond flour), heavenly Almond Macaroons, and an assortment of Dark Chocolate Truffles. The truffles filled with dark chocolate ganache and cherry were excellent, but it was the last truffle that had my attention. A peanut butter and jelly truffle? After taking a nibble, I could barely believe it when I saw the distinct layer of peanut butter topped with strawberry gel. This peanut butter-loving gal was officially beyond Cloud Nine.

The Stats:
Adour
The St. Regis Washington, DC
923 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005

Choco-Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan, GF)

I can’t cook. Correction: I won’t cook. Most recipes test my patience. The chopping, dicing, sauteing, roasting – it’s not my cup of tea. Since I live alone during the week, it’s easy to skirt around meal-making responsibilities. I keep my dinners healthy but quick: salads, tacos, omelets, organic frozen meals, sandwiches, or (when I’m feeling ambitious) homemade pizza. Using pre-made dough, of course.

There is one exception to my general recipe aversion… Since I bought my first ice cream maker last fall, I’ve been whipping up a variety of interesting frozen concoctions. For the first time in my life, I’m loving the challenge of involved, multi-step recipes. Having to cook the ice cream base and chill it overnight(!) before churning anything? Not a problem. I’ve got endless patience when it comes to ice cream making. What’s behind this drastic surge of confidence in the kitchen? I’m not entirely sure, but it may have to do with how excited I get just thinking about a recipe’s final result. A good bowl of ice cream is worth some legwork.

This week, I invited my good friend Anna over for dinner. You better believe that dessert was planned before the dinner was. Since my mom recently developed a lactose intolerance, I’ve had my eye out for lactose-free ice cream. After reading a recipe using coconut milk in the latest O Magazine, I decided to give coconut milk ice cream a shot.

Like I often do, I modified the original recipe a bit. The result was what I call “Choco-Coconut Ice Cream” – a rich chocolaty, coconutty ice cream with vegan chocolate chips mixed in. I was happy with the fruits of my labor – and so was Anna!

Choco-Coconut Ice Cream (Vegan)
{Adapted from recipe in O, the Oprah Magazine}

Ingredients

  • 1 (13.5oz) can coconut milk
  • 1 (13.5oz) can light coconut milk
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup corn syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (optional)

Directions

  • Combine all ingredients (besides the optional chocolate chips) in a blender (or, if you’re blessed with adult kitchen tools, a large food processor). Blend until smooth.
  • Pour mixture into a container and cover. Refrigerate mixture until chilled through (minimum 1 hour, maximum overnight).
  • Freeze mixture in your ice cream maker, per the manufacturer’s directions. For Cuisnart folks like me, this means 1) turn on your machine, 2) slowly pour mixture in, and 3) leave the thing be for 15 minutes or so. The consistency should be like gelato or softserve – firm but not icy.
  • (Optional) Pull out ice cream mixer attachment, add chocolate chips, and gently fold chips into ice cream using a wooden or plastic spoon or spatula.
  • Serve immediately (if you’re cool with soft ice cream) or transfer to airtight container (i.e. Tupperware) and freeze until firm, about 3 hours.

    ENJOY!