The Bay Area’s Best Ice Cream

The Bay Area doesn’t exactly have the sort of summer weather that inspires eating ice cream. Despite that, it is #4 on Travel and Leisure’s list of, America’s Best Cities for Ice Cream. In celebration of that title, I’d like to share some of my favorite ice cream shops in the Bay Area:

Liquid nitrogen ice cream-making in action.

-       Smitten- This place is like ice cream, a show, and a science lesson all wrapped in one shipping container in the park. The ice cream at Smitten is made-to-order in 60 seconds with liquid nitrogen. You get to watch your ice cream being made and, because it is frozen at such a low temperature, it is the smoothest ice cream (and probably the best) you’ll ever eat. I tell everyone I know to go to this place.

p.s. They just announced that they will be opening two new locations so be on the lookout for those and their promised brioche ice cream sandwiches.

-       Humphry Slocombe- Humphry Slocombe is famous throughout the city for their unusual flavors. I’ll admit it, I was pretty apprehensive when I first tried their signature “Secret Breakfast” flavor at the Ferry Building farmer’s market. Bourbon flavored ice cream with cornflakes didn’t sound quirky, just weird. However, after just two bites, I was hooked. Their flavors are unusual and astoundingly delicious. I have since returned several times; I even once tried a foie gras ice cream sandwich.

butterbeer ice cream at Humphry Slocombe

butterbeer ice cream at Humphry Slocombe

Secret Breakfast ice cream and foie gras ice cream sandwich at Humphry Slocombe.

-       Bi-Rite- All of the raves you hear about it are true. Get the salted caramel.

-       Ici- Like Cheeseboard, this Berkeley shop always has a line down the block. The ice cream cones I have had there were good but not as mind-blowing as the previously listed place. They do deserve mention for their ice cream cakes. I purchased one for my boyfriend’s birthday and it was beautiful. The chocolate ice cream combined with a layer of chocolate chip ice cream on top of a chocolate cake was so classic and exceptionally delicious. I can’t wait to try one of their Baked Alaska cakes that you toast in the oven before eating.

Ici's chocolate swirl bombe

Ici’s chocolate swirl bombe

Eat Your Veggies!

Even though I now live 2000 miles away from her, I am finding it more urgent to listen to my Mom these days and eat my vegetables. With my college cafeteria days behind me and having just turned 27, I am beginning to become more concerned with the effects of age.  Therefore, I have become consistent with exercising on a regular basis, applying sunscreen every morning, eating healthier foods, and diligently plucking out any gray hair that dares show itself.  I plan on looking and feeling young for quite awhile.

The benefits of vegetables are vast: they are low in calories, contain little sugar, and they have heaps of vitamins and fiber. Obviously fruit is delicious, but vegetables are really where it’s at.  However, one of my biggest obstacles still is eating enough greens (or oranges, reds, purple…I don’t want to discriminate). Availability is not an issue for me living little more than a mile from Berkeley Bowl, which has the largest produce selection in the Northern half California. On the contrary, I am overwhelmed and am uncertain of how to cook or eat the produce I never had access to growing up in the Midwest.  So in the past couple of years I have made the effort to try a lot of new vegetables and some familiar vegetables in new ways.carrots at the Berkeley Bowl

Along the way I have developed some tips and tricks for getting in all of my servings of vegetables each day:

-       Fruit and vegetable smoothies- Naked, Bolthouse Farms, and Odwalla all make tasty smoothies that each contain a couple servings of your daily fruits and vegetables. You do have to be careful not to rely too heavily on these smoothies though; they often don’t contain as much of the beneficial fiber as the real thing.

-       The farmers’ market- This is a fantastic place to be adventurous and pick up an unfamiliar vegetable. Recently, I made a delicious soup with stinging nettles. A fantastic resource is the Happy Boy Farms website.  They have a section of recipes for all of their vegetables, which is useful even if Happy Boy Farms’ does not sell at your local farmer’s market. One of my favorites is the “Snap, Crackle, and Pop sauté.”

-       Eat your vegetables at breakfast- I went to Saul’s Delicatessen in Berkeley a couple of months ago and tried their morning salad. Since then I have been a breakfast salad convert. Breakfast salads are easy to make, satisfying for someone like me who likes savory breakfasts, and the runny egg yolk is sufficient in place of a high-fat salad dressing

Lately I have been thinking about one of Michael Pollan’s recommendations, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” and I feel a sense of responsibility to go eat a vegetable. While 5 year-old me would be disgusted, 27 year old me knows it’s a good thing.

Why Yes, Those Are Fries in My Baguette

A few months ago I went to a local gourmet takeout restaurant and ordered a merguez frite sandwich. From the first bite, I adored and craved more of it. There were so many things to love: the unusual crimson color of the sausage, its sweet and savory scents, and the crunch of the fries. Unfortunately, the restaurant changed the menu as they do every month and soon my beloved sandwich was gone. However, I was not just going to say goodbye to my sandwich that easily.

First I did a little research. Turns out merguez frites are quite common in France; a takeout sandwich. They get their name from merguez, a North African lamb sausage that gets it red color from the harissa sauce inside. The sausage is grilled and placed in fresh baguette, which is then stuffed full of French fries (or frites as the French would call them).

I decided I had to have this sandwich again and so I set out to cook it myself. With just a simple internet search, I was able to find heaps of merguez sausage recipes. I ended up selecting this one from the New York Times from its list of ingredients and simplicity with a couple of changes. All of my scholarly research (Google) indicated that merguez should have cinnamon; it is both a spicy and sweet sausage. Therefore, I addmerguez frite sanwich a dash of cinnamon. Also, merguez is known for its red color, but this recipe did not call for harissa. Instead of the red pepper flakes it calls for, I use about 1-2 teaspoons of harissa (the more the spicier, but you can always spread some harissa on the finished sandwich).

If you aren’t into making your own sausage you can usually just buy some, but its much more adventurous to make your own and often easier than the trip. Some specialty butchers, like the Fatted Calf in San Francisco, do carry merguez sausage. I’ve tried this as well and find it to be different, but just as good as my homemade merguez. However, the benefit to making your own is that you can form it into patties, which better fit into the baguette.

Once you have the sausage made, grilled, and put in the baguette all that’s left to do is stuff it full of frites. I personally like to make and bake my own with olive oil in the oven. This makes for a really fresh French fry that, if you like them crunchy as I do, you can get very crisp. However, I make a very simple French fry just seasoned with salt and a little pepper; all of the spices in the meguez provide enough flavor. A little Dijon mustard completes the sandwich.

C’est si bon!

Breaking the Rules

There are some things that are just more enjoyable because they seem transgressive like that extra piece of candy you snuck as a kid when your parents weren’t looking. For me, I often can’t resist toeing the line a bit when it comes to eating. When I’m stuffed full of delicious food at an amazing restaurant, seldom do I turn down a chance to end the meal with something sweet. I mean everyone knows by now about the separate dessert stomach, right?

That’s way when one of my friends posted online pictures of the oreo-stuffed cookies she’d made, I knew had to try them. I didn’t even wait a full 24 hours to mix up those honnies and pop them in my oven. The appeal of them was how decadently sinful they sounded. Our mothers surely wouldn’t approve of us eating a cookie enveloped in another cookie .

The cookies are very easy to make and unbelievably tasty. You simply must eat one warm out of the oven when the chocolate chips are all gooey, a nice balance to the crunch of the oreo. Don’t forget your glass of milk, mom wouldn’t want you to neglect that.

An Unorthodox Summer Drink

Admittedly it is a little unorthodox and taboo considering the timing. However, this is my first summer in the bay area. It is my first summer where I have worn wool sweaters August and missed the fireworks on the fourth because it was too foggy to see. I always carry a scarf and coat around for the same reason I carried an umbrella around when I lived in England: just in case. Well it’s finally happened, the weather has driven me to drink. Hot chocolate that is.

The summer, or lack thereof, has left me craving hot chocolate, but I wanted something different. I am not a fan of those prepackaged too-sweet hot chocolate powders. My lactose intolerance makes these instant mixes even more lackluster since I can only use water. So I decided to look for another recipe. Unfortunately, I am not equipped with that kind of culinary cool where I can just strut into my kitchen and MacGyver the best new hot chocolate from the ingredients in my sparse cabinet. I needed a recipe.

This recipe (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/spiced-soy-hot-chocolate-recipe/index.html) is for spiced soy hot chocolate and you only need 3 ingredients (peanut butter, chocolate soy milk, and cinnamon), a whisk, and a pan. The soy milk is great because soy tends to be a little sweeter than milk and the chocolate is already mixed in although I am sure chocolate milk would work just as well. The best part is it is nearly as quick and easy as the powdered kind, yet I promise your friends will be impressed you whipped up your own hot chocolate. The peanut butter and cinnamon create a more intense flavor than regular hot chocolate. Whipped cream and marshmallows need not apply…

Sparkling Wine Seminar: Being a Nerd Was Never So Delicious

This year the Dry Creek Kitchen Restaurant in Healdsburg (owned by Charlie Palmer) is hosting a wine series through the fall where winemakers of local wineries come in, teach about their wine while the ‘students’ taste, and this is all followed by a meal in the restaurant. Now, I have always love school, but turn class into a wine tasting? Well I certainly could not miss out.

This past weekend’s seminar that I attended featured the sparkling wines of Iron Horse Vineyards, Gloria Ferrer Winery, and J Vineyards and Winery. Since moving to California I have been very lucky to have some family out here who have been very influential in the process of turning me into a proper foodie. My Aunt Ronie, who was my companion to this event, has been the biggest instigator. She has wined and dined me up and down wine country. Aunt Ronie loves champagne and sparkling wine. Needless to say, the pair of us had a blast.

At the event we tasted 6 Sparkling Wines:

Iron Horse Vineyards

2005 Classic Vintage Brut, Green Valley

1996 Blanc de Blanc, Green Valley, “Joy”

Gloria Ferrer Winery

2005 Blanc de Blanc, Carneros

1999 Carneros Cuvee, Carneros

J Vineyards and Winery

1998 Late Disgorged, Russian River Valley

NV Brut Rose, Russian River Valley

While I did enjoy each of the sparkling wines my favorites were they two from J Vineyards and the 1996 Blanc de Blanc from Iron Horse. The late disgorged sparkling wines really appealed to me with their very creamy, almost buttery, aroma and taste. I would drink the Blanc de Blanc with every meal were it possible.

Dinner was just as special as the tasting. It consisted of three courses we got to pick from a menu I chose:

SWEET WHITE CORN SOUP

BLACK TRUFFLE FLAN, SCALLION EMULSION, CRISPY SPECK HAM

PEPPERCORN CRUSTED PRIME NEW YORK STEAK

WHITE CORN TOMATO FONDUE, SMOKED BEEF ‘BACON’, GARLIC CONFIT AND COGNAC MERINGUE

VALRHONA CHOCOLATE MINT SEMIFREDDO

TOASTED MARSHMALLOW FLUFF, BROWNIES, COCOA SAUCE

I went home full of sparkling wine and delicious food a little more educated….

Cheese Board Pizza

Cheese Board PizzaThere are a few places you can go in Berkeley where there is a line out the door and down the street to get food.  Other than Ici Ice Cream on College avenue (I have waited here and it is not as good as the often line- free Tara’s Organic, but I digress), I only always ever see a line out of Cheese Board Pizza. Every afternoon I drive down Shattuck in that direction there is always a queue down the street for pizza with dozens of people sitting in the center median of the road eating their slices.

This business is not surprising simply because of its perpetually long line no matter the day or weather, but because they only make one type of pizza per day! Granted the varieties never contain meat so they appeal to Berkeley’s vegetarian masses, but  they are clearly doing something very right.

Cheese Board has been making Pizza since 1985 and the worker owned and operated Cheese Board Pizza Collective has existed since 1990.

The place definitely has a warm, welcoming, vibrant atmosphere. I waited outside in the warm California sunshine listening to the live jazz group play inside until I made my way into the brightly colored busy open- air restaurant.

The pizza is just my style too. I come from Chicago and am used to great pizza. However, any pizza place back home offers you about 3 different types of crusts, tomato sauce, and a wide variety of toppings. Don’t get me wrong I adore my deep dish done right. Nonetheless, I am a minimalist when it comes to sauce and prefer white or pesto to tomato sauce any day. Cheese Board Pizza makes a light, crispy crust from their own bakery and make their pizza of the day with whatever ingredients are in season now. And when you factor in that the pizza shop stemmed from the original Cheese Board Collective you can begin to understand why there is always such a long line.

My pizza ($2.50/slice, $10/ half, or $20/ whole) was made with Broccolini, onions, mozzarella and Fontina cheese, garlic olive oil, and gremolata (a mix of herbs and lemon juice).  Even though it took me 10 months to get to this Berkeley institution, I will definitely be going back soon.

Cafe Chez Panisse

In 1972 Alice Waters started Chez Panisse in Berkeley based on the concept of cooking only with locally grown or raised ingredients that are in season. That idea is stronger today and Chez Panisse has become not only an institution in Berkeley, but one of the world’s most famous restaurants.

After living in the Bay Area for nearly a year, I finally got  the chance to eat at Chez Panisse (well, the café) this week. I never had a doubt in my mind that is would be good, but I was doubtful that it would be anything truly special; something I had not had in the past 9 months from Berkeley which seems to thrive on the slow food movement Alice Waters propelled with Chez Panisse. Nonetheless, it was one of the best meals I have ever had.

I started with an a citrus avocado salad with the most perfectly soft, salty avocado I’ve ever had, grapefruit that I ate all of even though I don’t remember ever liking grapefruit, small bright orange cumquats and tangerines. My entrée was a chicken ala diavolo, thought surprisingly not the slightest bit spicy, with green beans and polenta with corn. The chicken was so moist and the polenta, a new obsession of mine, added the perfect texture complimenting it spectacularly. For dessert I had a strawberry and cherry shortcake with fresh creme The thing about my whole meal is that it was so simple with not a lot of ingredients, but each ingredient was so fresh and crucial to the dish. The crème was so fresh and the shortcake so crispy and just the right amount of sweet. And I could have bathed in the rich, tart and sweet cherry sauce.

This is one Berkeley experience I will definitely repeat.

I Say Tomato, You Say Krispy Kreme Burger?

Krispy Kreme Burger

My best friend Brett and i get along well. Really well. However, when it comes to food we’re pretty different. You know that guy on Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel? That’s pretty much how Brett eats minus the extremely spicy food challenges.  I eat a few chicken fingers and some fries at the airport and call him to pass the time at the Tucson back in November. Inevitably I ended up up clutching my stomach and dominating the conversation just complaining about how too much fried food doesn’t agree with me. Brett, on the other hand, is a fried food aficionado, a master of buffets, with astounding culinary adventures of the mediocre kind.

Today began with me waking up, deciding to go to the gym. Then, I ate some vanilla almond special K for breakfast, leftover vegan chili I’d made last night for lunch (a recipe from the aphrodisiac queen herself), and scrambled eggs with a little chorizo and cheese for dinner. I polished off the day with some chocolate soy ice cream mixed with peanut butter pretzel nuggets and strawberries mixed in for dessert. All in all, my new resolve to be healthier was a success today.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum (and country) I begin to receive texts from Brett about his food exploits at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Naturally (or perhaps unnaturally) not a single strawberry touched his lips. Instead I received a text on my phone with a picture of a hamburger topped with bacon sandwiched between two donuts. Officially its called the Krispy Kreme burger . He also told me he had deep fried oreos as a side. When I spoke to Brett later tonight I was (sort of) surprised to learn this was not all he ate at the fair. He’d had:

fried cheese on a stick

footlong italian sausage sub

fried chicken on a stick

fresh cut potato chips

krispy kreme donut burger

deep friend oreos

When I try to picture eating that amount of food all my mind comes up with is ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’ children’s book. And he still came back to his apartment and ate dinner!

As we continued talking he informed me he was, yet again, hungry. The conversation goes at follows:

Brett: some quaker chewy granola bars hit the spot

good -3 down

Me: something not artery clogging

Brett: well i put salt on them

Me: what?!

Brett?: haha im kidding!

I almost had a heart attack for him.

Anaba Winery

Living in California has its perks: no snow or ice, lots of sun, blooming trees in February, and wine tasting. This past weekend I went to Anaba winery in Sonoma, CA. I was first introduced to Anaba wines when one was paired with a course I was having at the Dry Creek Kitchen (an exceptional restaurant owned by Charlie Palmer in Healdsburg). It was a white Rhone blend (my Aunt had to explain to me what a Rhone varietal was because I’m still a newbie when it comes to wine. For my fellow newbies it is a wine made with different types of grapes, and while there is more than one type of grape in the varietal only specific types of grapes qualify.) and it was VERY good. So we both decided to go wine tasting at the Anaba winey.

Anaba is named for the Anabatic winds there in Sonoma, which allow them to grow certain delicate grapes that cannot grow in other regions. And the wines there are amazing. Like I said, I am still a bit of a newbie when it comes to wine and wine tasting, but I loved every single wine I tried both white and red. That has never happened to me before and it was hard to decide which wine to take home at the end of the day. I left with the exact same wine I had at Dry Creek Kitchen, the 2008 Coriol, but I will be back for more…