Sunday, October 26, 2008

I Scream You Scream, Jeni's is the Most Splendid Ice Cream, Ever!

On a recent trip to Columbus, Ohio, a fellow food scientist and friend, Kirsten, took me and another food scientist friend, Teresa, to possibly the best ice cream I have ever Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a local Columbus ice cream maker.

Jeni Britton Bauer worked at a patisserie for many years. She applies French pastry making techniques to American ice creams resulting in a culinary craftsmanship that I have never tasted in ice cream. She has learned from dairy scientists, chefs and gelato makers around the globe. Read a nice biography here.

What was so incredible about this ice cream? The flavors- hands down. Jeni's had the widest array of blissfully blended, carefully curated flavor creations (click on the photos for a closer look). I've had a lot of ice cream and usually there are one or two flavors that are outstanding or have unique pairing but Jeni's flavors were each created with many complex elements that came together in a delicious marriage in your mouth. Kirsten thinks Jeni has an amazing palate and after tasting, I am inclined to agree.

So how did we pick? Well another thing that I have fallen in love with at ice cream parlors is the ability to have many small tastes. My second favorite ice cream shop, Izzy's in St. Paul, Minnesota also does this by adding an "izzy" or small taste to the top of every cone. Jeni's offers 50/50s and trios. So of course, we ordered two trios and one 50/50 to sample eight flavors and everyone was willing to share.

Lauren's Trio- Cherry Lambic, Gravel Road and Goat Cheese with Cognac Fig Almond

Cherry Lambic Sorbet: This recently one a Gallo Family Gold Medal Award, which honors culinary craftsmanship in artisan foods and I could taste why. This light and foamy sorbet effervesces in your mouth. It is the older, more sophisticated culinary cousin of a cherry ICEE and it completely captured the flavor of Belgian Cherry Lambic. Absolutely delicious!! And one of my must-try recommendations.

Gravel Road: I admit that I am a bit salted caramel out. I have had it in confections and in many different ice creams and if not for Kirsten's recommendation and that fact that they were out of my other choice, I would have skipped it and missed out on an absolutely lovely iteration that takes salted caramel ice cream to new level. The large pieces of smoked almonds added a marvelous texture and noticeable flavor. They were neither small nor stale and frankly, it was outstanding.

Goat Cheese with Cognac Fig Almond: I love goat cheese. I've had fig goat's milk ice cream and fresh goat cheese with fig and I did love this ice cream version. The fig is not spread throughout so you do get a burst of fig flavor- possibly a little bit too intense in some bites if you aren't careful to spread it around. Nevertheless, it was delicious.

Kirsten's 50/50- Ugandan Vanilla, Ohio Heirloom Pumpkin & Mascarpone

Ohio Heirloom Pumpkin & Mascarpone: Yum. Yum, yum, yum! This was my second must-try. Not only does it have heirloom pumpkin, but also kabocha and other squashes as well. You could taste the delicate flavors that you can imagine could be in the best pumpkin/ squash pie ever- but I have never had that perfect sounding pie. Instead I had this amazing ice cream. As far as pumpkin ice cream, Double Rainbow Perfectly Pumpkin used to be my favorite but even it cannot compare to this. Dreyers/Edy's need not even apply.

Ugandan Vanilla: This was also very good but I must confess that I was seduced by the other more flavorful choices. I am not particularly a vanilla fan but this was very delicious.

Teresa's 50/50- Creme Fraiche with Amarena Cherries, Apple Cider Sorbet

Apple Cider Sorbet: This was a delightful fall sorbet with nutmeg and five spice complementing the apple cider. Again, it was almost effervescing in your mouth as the bright, crisp flavors danced on your tongue.

Creme Fraiche with Amarena Cherries: This creamy deliciousness had an amazing ribbon of cherries with barely a tease of lemon. These Italian candied cherries shamed the cones of cherries jubilee ice cream or maraschino cherries I have ever eaten. I didn't know cherries in ice cream could taste like this. Again, make sure every bite has this succulent swirl in it.

Wow. It's all I can say. I love ice cream and these were crafted in such a way that you could taste each of the flavors without overwhelming your palate. I loved the handwritten descriptions as well which explained the compositions. Perhaps I have had an ice cream like this before, in a fine restaurant... but there were 30 of these and I didn't have to pay for a 75 dollar meal to have it for dessert. The decor of the shop is pleasantly modern and like the ice cream, not overwhelmingly or plain in the least. The shop used compostable bowls and spoons as well- which was great!

One last thing that I didn't have room to try (besides all of the flavors) were these ice cream sandwiches based on French time!

I have to thank Kirsten for steering us away from the classic and more well-known Graeter's, to this hidden gem. Kirsten and I are dairy queens as we studied whey proteins together at UC Davis. Thanks, Kirsten!

And Teresa, thanks for being willing to go on this spontaneous ice cream adventure.

We all scream for Jeni's Ice Cream!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Make the Pasta: Pumpkin Ravioli!

Our poll determined that pumpkin ravioli with brown butter and sage to be the dish we should make with our triple treat pumpkin. And so we did but not without learning a few things along the way!

First, we decided to use the Mario Batali recipe for Pumpkin Lune with sage and brown butter. It's posted on the Martha Stewart website here and it has a video of Martha and Mario making the pasta. Actually that's where we heard Mario suggest that we make maltagliati pasta with the scraps.

So, we gathered things in place and prepared to make the dough and filling.

Our favorite fresh egg pasta is a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. They don't share their recipes online so I don't have a link. We have their Italian cookbook and the recipe uses the food processor, which makes it so easy.

We used Full Belly Farm eggs in the dough and the dough was a beautiful yellow color from the rich egg yolks.

We cut the pumpkin and roasted it as Mario and Martha suggested. However, I was suspicious that it would take longer than 35 minutes. And it did. A lot longer and I think it could have gone longer. Also, we didn't get as much flesh from it once it was roasted which affected the seasoning proportions.

So, when I added the balsamic vinegar and nutmeg, I cut the amounts by half. It was still a bit too much though.We recommend adding the balsamic vinegar a little bit at the time.

My nonnie (that's how we said and spelled it although I know it isn't proper Italian grammer) had this pasta machine from Italy. I inherited it and it is in pristine condition because she never used it. She rolled everything by hand and in fact, we have her 28 ravioli rolling pin hanging on the wall. Since we don't have years of experience, we used the machine.

We forgot how a little dough goes a long way but it was pretty funny.

The amount of filling is critical. We accidentally put too much in some ravioli and they wouldn't seal properly. The seal is so important and it was harder than it looked.

We tried using two different cutters- one that has more of a sealer and cutter and makes larger ravioli (see above photo) from the Pampered Chef and one that makes smaller ravioli but doesn't have the separated sealer and cutter edges.

We realized that if the dough was too thin, the larger ravioli would tear- also too much filling weighed down the dough. We then adjusted the machine and made a slightly thicker pasta.

We boiled the pasta which was the easiest part. We didn't have any ravioli burst!

The sage and brown butter was delicious! The sage gets crispy and quite lovely. This was so easy to make that I am going to do it much more frequently. We grow sage in our yard so it was fresh and fragrant.

We finally plated our freshly made pasta with plenty of brown butter and sage and parmigiano reggiano. It was very good even at 1 AM when we finally finished it. When we make it again, we will be using less balsamic vinegar and perhaps using butternut squash instead of pumpkin.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Let's Talk Leftovers...Maltagliati Pasta

We're talking about the leftovers before we talk about the main course....We used our triple treat pumpkin and made our pumpkin ravioli a few weeks ago. That story is coming soon, but first let's talk about the leftovers! After we made our pumpkin ravioli, we saved the random scraps of pasta that were leftover in the fridge overnight.

The next day we boiled the pasta scraps...

and tossed them with melted butter, pepper, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.

Delicious!!! It was like the original macaroni and cheese- only infinitely better! And the name for this traditional dish that makes the most wonderful use of leftovers is: maltagliati pasta- which means badly cut pasta.

Buon Appetito!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Salted Caramel For All

It’s official….salted caramel is now for the masses. As I was walking through the food desert of the L gates in Chicago O’Hare airport, I stumbled upon an unexpected oasis of deliciousness: the Starbucks kiosk offering salted caramel hot chocolate. Yum yum yum! My palate perked up at the thought of that salty goodness swirled in creamy chocolate and caramel- a taste that I had experienced in other niche food products: Bi-Rite Creamery salted caramel ice cream, Recchiutti fleur de sel caramels, and more recently Haagen-Daaz Reserve fleur de sel caramel ice cream- all highly recommended. So of course I eagerly plunked down my $4.24 for the opportunity to experience this complex tango of salt and sweetness.

And to my delight, as I took the lid off to get a better look, the very kind Starbucks barista added an extra sprinkle of sea salt to the top of my whipped cream dolloped hot chocolate. Thank you, kind Starbucks barista at Chicago O’Hare, for greatly enhancing my beverage experience! The first sip was such a treat as the whipped cream, salt crystals, caramel syrup and hot chocolate did a little happy dance in my mouth. I admit it went downhill from here as this concoction was a little conservative on the salt and tasted mostly like standard hot chocolate after the whipped cream, caramel and salt dissolved into homogeneity. But still, it was a welcome diversion from the alternatives in terminal L which included McDonalds, TCBY, and a suspicious hot dog stand. Now if only there was a In-N-Out and Pinkberry…

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Celebrating Five Years...With A Special Cake

This October, Justin and I are celebrating our five year wedding anniversary.

Since we're again living in the Bay Area, we decided to have our wedding cake remade by our cake baker, Nora Del Chamberlin of Custom Cakes. She is a wonderful cake baker and decorator in Berkeley, CA. She makes her cakes from scratch in her home and we not only loved the way her cakes looked but also how delicious they were. She surprisingly does not have a website but we highly recommend her.

We were married in my home town in California at the church where I was baptized and grew up. We had such a lovely wedding with friends and family and it was truly a special day for us to share.

Our wedding cake was a frangipane and butter cake filled with ganache, fresh raspberries and cream. The frosting was buttercream and the design on the cake was inspired by the design of the beading on my dress. Our monogram was on the front of the cake as well. I had seen the idea for a monogram on a cake in Martha Stewart's magazines. I also liked the shape of the square-tiered cake.

During the reception, the bridesmaids put their bouquets around the cake. It was a lovely and unexpected addition!

Justin and I were a proper bridal couple and there was no smooshing of cake! We also chose not to freeze our remaining tier of cake. Instead, when we returned from our immediate honeymoon to Hawaii, we shared the cake with my parents and savored it. As food scientists, we didn't think that cake frozen for a year sounded very palatable.

This is the beautiful recreation that Nora made for us. She asked for the exact date of our wedding and looked up the recipe in her files. She added a few decorative touches with the frosting and the flowers.

The cake was just as good as we remember. The raspberries were fresh and full of flavor, the ganache was creamy and rich and even though we are not usually a huge almond fan, the almond flavor from the frangipane was delicate enough to make the cake interesting and delightful.

It was a lovely way to remember our anniversary.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pumpkins Beyond Pie

Fall is finally here and with that comes pumpkins, squashes, apples and other delicious fall foods!

Today at the Capay Valley Growers FarmShop at my work, I bought a Triple Treat pumpkin! Not all pumpkins are created equal- some are better for carving and some are better for cooking. Triple Treat is a naked-seeded pumpkin that has seeds without hulls and is actually great for cooking, carving and pumpkin seed roasting! What will the fate of this pumpkin be??

Well, it's up to you! We'd like to take this pumpkin beyond pie so we've created three choices for you to vote on (see the poll in the corner of the page):

  • handmade pumpkin sage ravioli with brown butter
  • savory pumpkin ice cream with olive oil and sea salt
  • pumpkin pear soup
  • spiced pumpkin mousse (using our iSi chargers and some N2O)

So cast your vote today!

And as an extra bonus, just wanted to mention that Full Belly Farms, one of the Capay Valley Growers, is having the 21st Annual Hoes Down Festival this weekend, October 4th and 5th! The 21st Annual festival includes educational farm tours, a magical children's area, hands-on workshops, and delicious food! You can even camp overnight!