Cake or Death?

On our outing to Seattle Center today, Gloria noticed the signs for Seattle Children’s Theater and asked if she could see Stellaluna. I told her that we had tickets to see it two days before my birthday, which led to the following conversation:

GLORIA: What kind of dessert do you want for your birthday daddy? Do you want cupcakes or ice cream or cake or cookies or donuts?

KENNY: I hadn’t really thought about it. Those all sound pretty good.

GLORIA: But which one is your favorite. Cake? Ice cream?

KENNY: You know, I do really like ice cream cake.

GLORIA: Well daddy, you can’t have ice cream cake. It has too much sugar. After the frosting and the ice cream there’s too much sugar. You should just have the ice cream, I know how much you love ice cream.

If Gloria remembered the D’Ambrosio gelato cake we ordered for my 37th birthday maybe she’d change her mind. Smile

Shave Ice

All over Kauai, restaurants, storefronts, and free-standing carts offer “Shave Ice” – a large domed cup of finely shaved ice, with your choice of flavored syrups and optionally served over a scoop of ice cream. With the exception of the ice cream, I know this sounds like a snow cone, but the guidebooks all insist that’s an unfair comparison (snow cones are “crushed ice” and shave ice is “an infinitely fine powder”).

As it was a treat “everyone should try” (and we were craving a ice cold snack as a respite from the heat), we put aside our skepticism and picked up a shave ice in Hanalei this afternoon. Wishing Well, the top-recommended truck for shave ice, was closed, so we journeyed across the street to Shave Ice Paradise, another highly-rated stand.

Lauren ordering a shave ice

Our guidebook author swears by rainbow shave ice over macadamia nut ice cream, and we went with a small variation using one of Shave Ice Paradise’s recipies: Bali Hai Sunset (mango, liliko’i, li hing mui) over macadamia nut ice cream. The verdict: indeed, the shave ice is fluffier than your typical snow cone (no real “crunch” to be had). However, the syrups were still sickly sweet, and next time I will just opt for the scoop of macadamia nut ice cream!

Bali Hai Sunset
Hawaiians take their shave ice designs as seriously as Seattlites do their latte leaves

Syrups

P.S. For those that are curious, it looks like each liter of syrup contains about 1.25 pounds of sugar; who knows how that actually translates into shave ice servings though!

Vanilla Extract

When Kenny and I were in Zanzibar last August, we enjoyed a spice tour and made a trip to the market the following day to purchase fresh spices, including vanilla beans. Since then, we’ve enjoyed using the vanilla beans in cooking projects at home, my favorite of which has been our homemade cinnamon vanilla bean ice cream (to die for – good thing we ditched the leftovers of our last batch at a friend’s house, otherwise I’d probably be gorging on it right now).

But the beans won’t last forever, so we decided that it would be a good idea to use a few of our remaining beans for homemade vanilla extract. Recipes and instructional videos abound on the interwebs; I ended up choosing this one because I liked the easy-to-follow steps with illustrative photos.                 

Of course, Kenny and I can’t do anything without creating photo documentation of our own, so here are my versions of the instructional photos – strikingly similar to those in the recipe, but featuring my kitchen!

Materials
Step 1 – Collect ingredients: vodka, vanilla beans, and a jar to store them in

Cutting the beans lengthwise
Step 2 – Cut the beans lengthwise, leaving them attached by an inch at one end

Vodka
Step 3 – Measure 1 cup of vodka into the jar

Adding the beans
Step 4 – Submerge the beans as well as possible – I wasn’t able to get them fully covered immediately because they were a bit firm

Ready for storage
Step 5 – Cover

Two weeks later
Step 6 – Wait. Here’s my concoction after 2 weeks of rest time. Supposedly 8 weeks of infusion is best, so ours should be ready by mid-May.

Vanilla-Cinnamon Ice Cream

How to make delicious ice cream:

  1. Go to Zanzibar and purchase fresh spices, including vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks
  2. Return to Seattle and unpack your ice cream maker
  3. Simmer 3/4 cup milk mixed with one farmer’s market egg, a little sugar, a cinnamon stick, and a vanilla bean (spliced and scraped)
  4. Chill, add 3/4 cup cream
  5. Put in ice cream maker, and grate part of the cinnamon stick

cinnamon-vanilla ice cream
Dairy hangover: we finished all of this ice cream tonight (since of course it’s best fresh :) )

Toscanini’s (Cambridge, MA)

Rating:

The last time Lauren and I visited Boston, Julie took us on a tour of Boston’s ice cream parlors. Over the span of two days, we tasted the flavors on offer at J.P. Licks, Christina’s, and Herrell’s, but we were unable to fit in a trip to Toscanini’s, Boston’s most famous ice cream shoppe.

This afternoon, Lauren, Vidya and I went on a mission to Central Square to see what all of the hype was about. It was a beautiful 75 degree day, and arrived in Central Square ready for a cool treat.

Toscanini’s ice cream factory, visible through street-side floor to ceiling windows, is adjacent to their cafe. It was fun to watch the large machinery, but we did not linger as there was an assortment of 30 flavors beckoning. The staff at Tosci’s are very friendly and are happy to let you try a number of flavors. So try we did, delighting in a variety of flavors that all shared a perfectly balanced, creamy texture.

Our plan was to get one scoop from the chocolate family, and one lighter flavor. Aztec Chocolate was a mix of chilies and dark chocolate, with a delicious start, but a surprisingly intense aftertaste that would likely have overwhelmed a companion scoop. Orange Chocolate was also yummy, but it was when we tried Black Bottom that we were sold. Black Bottom, based on a Southern pie, is a mix of dark chocolate rum ice cream and ginger snap cookies. We paired it with a scoop of B^3 (Brownie, Brown Sugar, Brown Butter). I liked B^3, but our consensus after we polished off the cup was that it would be better if they dropped the brownies and turned it into B^2 (or perhaps made the brownies less dense).

Overall, Tosci’s has their base ice cream formula down pat. It’s clear that they know their trade, and the result is the best ice cream I’ve had in the USA east of Mission-Dolores.

List of flavors
Creative flavors that change daily

Kenny and ice cream
The scoops don’t come cheap, but they are quite generous…

Lauren and Vid diving in
…and Lauren and Vid were both quite happy to help tackle the double scoop cup

Toscanini’s 
899 Main Street
Central Square
Cambridge, MA 02139
617-491-5877

Daily: 8:00AM-11:00PM

Romy’s Ice Cream and Coffee Bar

Rating:

We’ve been on the road for 3.5 weeks now and I have yet to find decent-looking ice cream. To be fair, there’s a Fanny’s in Hanoi, but the one day we were nearby we were hankering for a pear tart instead.

Our first night in Nha Trang, we stopped at Romy’s and checked out their ice cream case. Good visuals, so we had a sample of passion fruit and coconut. Both tastes were good, and we walked out with a scoop of coconut. It was very creamy, with fresh coconut and not too much sugar.

Ice cream case
Ice cream on display, just how I like it

Romy’s is named after the owner, Fridtjof Rommeley, a German chef who moved to Nha Trang after running a creamery in Germany for 16 years. He’s done a good job of bringing European skill to local flavors. There were amazing-looking sundaes filled with local tropical fruits and three scoops of ice cream. As we ate kilos of fruit on the beach, the most we indulged at Romy’s was a double scoop of mango and chocolate:

Enjoying a double scoop of mango and chocolate

Over the course of our five nights in Nha Trang we managed to at least get a free sample of just about every flavor in the case. My favorite two standouts were almond (I’d never had almond ice cream before but I’m definitely making some with almond milk when we’ve back in Seattle), and coconut. Make Romy’s a part of your Vietnam beach experience, the ice cream will make you happy. :)

Romy’s Ice Cream and Coffee Bar
1C Biet Thu St
Nha Trang, Vietnam
+84 (058) 3527-677

Daily: 9AM-11PM

Chocolate Room!

Last night we had a very entertaining Dalvi outing. After a fabulous home cooked dinner, we headed to The Chocolate Room for dessert. The Chocolate Room has 20 pages of desserts, from waffles to sundaes and cakes. Their house-made chocolate sauce is tasty, but what really made this excursion memorable was Tanvi and Vihan. Vivek casually mentioned “this new dessert place”, and all of a sudden Vihan jumped up and declared “CHOCOLATE ROOM!” This exclamation was then repeated every few minutes (I wish I had an audio recording, as text doesn’t describe how amusing this was). On the 20 minute drive over, Tanvi and Vihan were excitedly talking over each other with stories interrupted with the occasional “CHOCOLATE ROOM!” All of this at 10PM before the sugar rush. Surprisingly enough, they were more sedate after gorging on chocolate cake!

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Vihan showing off some of his dessert

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Tanvi enjoying her chocolate cake

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Chocolate pancake with chocolate ice cream topped with chocolate sauce (aka “Death by Chocolate”)