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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I did…

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

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups full-fat coconut milk (1 can)
  • 1/3 cup sugar (or more to taste)
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-7 drops of pure peppermint oil
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free mini chocolate chips

Directions

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


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

Made in Detroit: Treat Dreams

One of the best parts about my job is that it requires me to travel to random cities across the country. Without it, would I be able to say I’ve seen cities like St. Louis, Fresno, and Cleveland? Probably not. And the same goes for Detroit, Michigan – my latest destination. Detroit was never high on my travel list, and I don’t have family or friends in the area to draw me in. 
I’ll be the first to admit that I harbored some less-than-glamorous visions of Detroit. I’ve heard so much about the collapse of the U.S. auto capital and rampant violence in recent years. But the true Detroit didn’t match up with my vision whatsoever. First of all, the airport is gorgeous. Clean, airy terminals with high ceilings and massive windows. Seriously, Detroit’s airport is now in my domestic “Top 5”, after Denver, San Francisco and Portland, Oregon. I stayed at the Westin in the airport (early-morning flight back to DC), which has a TSA check-point in the hotel lobby. Just five minutes from check-out to my terminal. Cool, right?
There is a Detroit outside the airport, however, and I was equally impressed with the glimpses of the city I caught on my brief trip. To me, Detroit seemed like the quintessential Midwest American city – all the American-made cars on the road spoke volumes of the Midwestern American pride people feel here. I loved it. 
As it turns out, Detroit is also home to one of the most American ice-cream shops I’ve ever found. While researching before my trip, it was quite apparent that Treat Dreams in Ferndale was the “must try” ice cream.
Despite being just three-years old, Treat Dreams is considered one of the best ice-cream shops in the area… and definitely the most unique! Only an American ice-cream maker would dare serve up flavors like Hot Jalapeño, Lobster Bisque, Pistachio Wasabi or Sunday Breakfast (with bacon!). Owner Scott Maloney, who calls himself “a mad scientist of ice cream”, was formally a banker with no formal ice-cream-making training before opening his shop. But Scott certainly has a knack for thinking outside the proverbial box! Treat Dreams has created hundreds of flavors in-house, and they offer at least a dozen daily on their constantly-changing menu. 
Apparently, the best time to come to Treat Dreams is on a workday during the late afternoon. There were only a couple people in the gigantic shop, and I had the undivided attention of the lady behind the counter. I was surprised to see a couple vegan offerings; I hadn’t expected a Detroit ice-cream shop to cater to the vegan crowd! After I asked her a couple questions about the flavors, I was encouraged to try a sample. Who could turn that offer down? I requested a bite of Raspberry Jalapeño. The raspberry flavor was creamy and sweet at first, but the jalapeño kicked in quickly, coating my tongue with a low heat. K would have loved it, but I was in the mood for something a tad more traditional. Although I’m not a cheesecake fan, the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Walnut stood out. ‘Tis the season! I also was intrigued by the vegan flavors made with rice milk… particularly the Banana Split, which was described as “banana ice cream with chocolate sauce and strawberry sauce.” Without sampling either beforehand, I ordered a single-scoop cup of each. The grand total was $5… not too shabby!
Banana Split on bottom; Pumpkin Cream Cheese Walnut on top
The verdict? One of these ice creams was not like the other. This was one of those occasions when one flavor far outshone the other. I was disappointed with the Banana Split, which was very icy because of the high water content in rice milk. The banana flavor was too subtle, and even the chocolate and strawberry swirls lacked the intense flavors I was hoping for. Feeling deflated, I turned to the Pumpkin Cream Cheese Walnut and — wow — it BLEW my mind. The pumpkin ice cream was laced with thick, gooey swirls of frosting-like cream cheese and studded with walnut pieces. I’m usually not a big fan of cream cheese, but its characteristic flavor accented the spiced pumpkin ice cream. The contrast in textures between the firm ice cream and the cool, soft swirls was irresistible. I couldn’t help but polish off the entire scoop, and it was SO worth it. Please, please stop by Treat Dreams next time you’re in Detroit… and stick with the traditional ice cream if you’re not vegan. I promise you’ll thank me 🙂

The Stats:
Treat Dreams
22965 Woodland Ave
Ferndale, MI 48220

Keeping Flavors “Weird” at Full Tilt

Seattle is “weird” in the best possible ways. The city is eccentric and dynamic – filled with adventurous people living by the “work hard, play hard” mentality. During the two years I lived in Seattle (between undergrad and grad school), I learned to embrace the weirdness. While I never wore grunge clothes or grew dreadlocks, I dove head-first into the art, music, outdoor adventures, and – of course – the ice cream.

 Full Tilt Ice Cream embodies the quirky, playful and adventurous vibe of Seattle. The popular chain of eccentric ice cream parlors, which originated in South Seattle, is well-known for its “weird” flavors of homemade ice cream. And how often can you drink microbrews and play a variety of old-school arcade games in a local ice cream joint? Well, at Full Tilt, you can do just that. I first visited a Full Tilt a few years back, and I remember being shocked by the neon walls and loud 80s music. The setting offsets the sophisticated flavors in a truly “Seattle” way.

After a fun-filled weekend on Vashon Island with my boyfriend and his parents, I begrudgedly packed for the Sunday night red-eye back to Washington, DC. Sensing my dread, the boyfriend suggested swinging by Full Tilt en route to SeaTac. Luckily, it didn’t take much of a detour to visit the White Center parlor. Located in a “drab” part of South Seattle, the Full Tilt parlor is a beacon of neon lights, loud music, and excited Seattleites. When I opened the door, the scent of made-to-order waffle cones welcomed me. The line was long (to be expected on any warm evening in the usually-rainy city), but that gives you more time to read the day’s flavors.

Waiting in line at Full Tilt
While Full Tilt offers traditional flavors like Cherry Vanilla and Maple Walnut, you may never have heard of some of the options (or at least, I hadn’t). Vanilla and chocolate may be the nation’s top sellers, but Full Tilt customers prefer two “weird” ones: Mexican Chocolate and Ube. I ordered Mexican Chocolate on my first visit – which I expected to be spicy. Not so! Full Tilt creates a warm, complex flavor by combining chocolate, cinnamon, and raw cocoa beans. I enjoyed the flavor, but this time I had my eye on Ube…
“Ube” = Philippine purple yam
After overhearing a teenage girl in line call the Ube “freaking AH-mazing,” my decision was made. Well, half of my decision. At Full Tilt, a Single cup or cone costs $2.50 (love it!) and can be split into two flavors. What should I try alongside the Ube? I considered Salted Caramel, Thai Tea, and Pineapple. But my experience making Choco-Coconut ice cream has piqued my interest in vegan coconut milk concoctions – and Full Tilt offered two: Mint Chocolate and Chunky Peanut Butter. In the end, the peanut butter-loving gal in me just couldn’t resist. (The boyfriend called that one…)
“Single” Cup of Ube and (vegan) Chunky Peanut Butter
The verdict? The quality of Full Tilt’s ice cream is top-notch, and their freezers keep the ice cream nice and firm (a pet peeve of mine: already-melting ice cream). The Ube was, indeed, pretty “freaking AH-mazing.” I’ve never tried the vegetable, but the purple yam flavor was complex, sweet, and reminded me more of butterscotch than a potato. Plus, you can’t beat that purple color. The vegan Chunky Peanut Butter was good, not great. The coconut flavor overwhelmed the peanut butter, and the only real hint of it’s flavor were chunks of peanuts. I’m beginning to wonder if all coconut milk ice creams have this issue? Regardless, these two “weird” flavors melded well and sweetened my departure from Seattle.
What did the boyfriend order? Nothing. He was too distracted.
Weird.

The Stats:
Full Tilt Ice Cream
Multiple locations in and around Seattle, WA
http://fulltilticecream.com

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!