Archive for the 'ice cream' Category


Lemony delights, homemade and store-bought

Happy 2013! As the holidays come to a close and the dreary weather settles in, I’ve found myself gravitating toward citrus desserts lately–particularly lemon. Weird and fascinating fact: even though lemons are acidic, your body metabolizes them as alkaline. So you could argue that these desserts are compatible with your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier.

Lemon Ricotta Cookies with Lemon Glaze from Giada De Laurentiis

My New Year’s resolution: learn to hold the camera straight.

First off are these lemon-lime ricotta cookies, a slight modification of a Giada DL recipe. I added lime zest to the icing rather than just lemon zest. Simple enough to make, these don’t require any fancy equipment beyond a mixer. These eat like tart little cakes, nice with tea or coffee. As you mix the icing, feel free to add more lemon juice and zest than the recipe prescribes, but make sure to taste as you go. Also, stick with juicing your own lemons. The stuff from the bottle has a bite to it (probably from oxidation) that fresh lemon juice doesn’t.

Trader Joe's lemon bars

Rarely are commercially made lemon bars tart enough, but lemon juice is the first ingredient in these bite-sized ones from Trader Joe’s.

I don’t see a need to ever make lemon bars again after trying these little gems from Trader Joe’s. They’re not that high in sugar (5 grams each), wonderfully tart (making me wonder if TJ’s cheated by adding citric acid–nope, just lemon juice), and all you do is defrost them from the freezer. If you’re serving them to guests, you may want to re-dust them with powdered sugar right beforehand. That part didn’t survive the defrosting totally intact.

Trader Joe's lemon & triple gingersnap ice cream

Judging from the font on the carton, this lemon and triple ginger snap ice cream is Asian-inspired.

Lastly, Trader Joe’s lemon and triple ginger snap ice cream is the frozen treat equivalent of lemon-ginger tea. And it doesn’t shy away from that ginger bite. Spooning into a cluster of gingersnaps makes me feel like I’m hitting paydirt. While ice cream doesn’t rank as high up there for me as cakes, pies, or cookies, this stuff makes a worthy sugar fix. Especially if you toss the random chocolate chip cookie in there as a garnish.


Sweet streets of NY, Day 2: The Sugar Binge Continues

A rundown of the sweets we tried during our second day in NYC:
One of the things that made our stay at the Ace Hotel memorable (helping to make up for our jail cell-sized room) was the Stumptown Coffee in the lobby. For a habitual tea drinker, their brew’s perfect because it’s pretty mild, at least to my untrained coffee palate. Anyway, this Stumptown location offers an impressive case of sweet accompaniments: French macarons, fruit tarts, cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar, and these Doughnut Plant cake donuts.
Stumptown carries 4 flavors: the tres leches and blackout became our breakfast staples for the duration of our stay. The first time Mr. X-sXe bit into one, he actually paused to contemplate what had just happened to his taste buds. They’re that good. Each donut has a thread of filling running through it: condensed milk in the tres leches; bittersweet chocolate cream in the blackout. Sounds like overload, but it’s not because these aren’t nearly as sweet as your typical glazed Krispy Kreme—by comparison they taste healthy.
Though this place is tinier than a Manhattan studio apartment, there’s a constant stream of customers demanding their cereal milk soft serve—even on a windy 40-degree day. If I were Christina Tosi, I’d be applying for some kind of trademark protection. The soft serve tastes like what’s left in your cereal bowl after you’ve fished out the last soggy Frosted Flake. It’s served up with cereal crumbles, what tasted like corn flakes to me. The soft serve flavor was too reminiscent of milk from the jug for my liking, but I guess that’s the point.
Left to right: the compost, chocolate marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

Left to right: the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream cookies

The lady behind the counter at the Milk Bar explained that the compost, chocolate chip marshmallow, and blueberries & cream are their top-selling flavors. All are buttery, chewy cookies, but we enjoyed the chocolate marshmallow the most. The cookies held up nicely after a bus ride home and a couple days sitting on our kitchen counter. You can attempt the recipe for the compost cookies here or order all of the cookies flavors online here.
MomofukuMilkBar_CrackPieCrack pie
I’ve tried Momofuku’s towering cakes before, but this was my first time trying their pie. The funny thing about their pie slices is that they package them individually in cardboard sleeves. The crack pie reminds me of a cross between shoofly pie and crème brulee, with a strong molasses taste from the brown sugar.  Due to the ooey-gooey richness, it’s hard to enjoy more than a few bites of in one go, even for those of us with a fiendish sweet tooth. You’ll want a very bitter mug of coffee to go with this.
Related posts:
Day 3 preview: We make the holy pilgrimage to the actual Doughnut Plant store in Chelsea, then cap the night off at Empire Cake, where you can get homemade versions of those Hostess cakes that are on the brink of extinction.

Baskin-Robbins done me wrong

When you’re taking out ads left and right for a new item like these waffle chip dippers, you’d better be pretty damn sure your stores are stocked with the ingredients.

Sloppy eater? Then waffle chip dippers make perfect sense. For the rest of us, they're a waste of time.

Here’s what they’re supposed to look like.

But when I went to the Rehoboth Beach Baskin-Robbins to try these “ice cream nachos” (forgoing The Ice Cream Store’s many creative flavors, I might add)  it didn’t take long for the remorse to set in. This particular store had run out of the brownie chips AND the Snickers/M&M toppings. Say whaaaa? Does McDonald’s ever run out of fries?

Getting the waffle chip dippers will make you feel like the most gullible person alive.

Here’s what they actually looked like.

In theory, I knew the chip dippers these were just a less messy way of eating a soft-serve waffle cone. But to say they were underwhelming would be flattery. Give me a 99-cent soft serve cone from a truck any day. Baskin-Robbins, take your hyphen and shove it. The only way you can make this up to me is to start selling your ice cream cake by the slice.


A trip to the Asian grocery store reveals a deficit of delicious desserts

Here’s why you usually don’t see anything beyond mango sticky rice,* green tea ice cream, and fried bananas on the dessert menu of your favorite Asian restaurant. Desserts are not our forte.

What follows are exhibits A, B, and C of the freezer case at Great Wall, an Asian grocery store in Falls Church, VA. A few observations below on what’s wrong with Asian desserts.

Taro root popsicles at the Asian grocery store.

(1) Fruit is not a dessert. Most Asians eat fruit for dessert. Which is a lot healthier, of course, but a few oranges wedges aren’t going to satisfy any craving for a cookie.

(2) Some Asian desserts are so bad, they border on the offensive. Mochi doesn’t taste like anything and it’s a digestion/choking hazard. No, I don’t want fibrous taro root in my cake. Please keep your durian out of my ice cream. There’s a reason some Asian countries ban that fruit from being taken on public transportation (it’s that pungent).

Durian frozen desserts at the Asian grocery store.

(3) Care for a side of the toots with your sweets? Because many Asian desserts (mochi, red bean buns, moon cakes, shaved ice) come with beans as a topping or filling. Confusing and not delicious, right?

Beans do not belong in desserts.

*One of the lone beacons of light among Asian desserts is mango sticky rice (thank you, Thailand), which done properly can be divine. As can anything made with coconut milk. As long as it doesn’t also have taro root, beans, and/or durian in it.


Funky-flavored shakes: coffee and donuts, Vietnamese coffee

The donuts-and-coffee custard from Shake Shack. Nice concept, poor execution.

One of the rare Krispy Kreme pieces in this coffee-and-donuts custard.

This coffee-and-donuts custard from Shake Shack–ok, not technically a shake–is a total tease. Excited at the prospect of Krispy Kreme pieces in this custard (brought down fresh from the Dupont Circle Krispy Kreme), we bought the largest size and dug into it. But as you can see, it took a lot of squinting to locate the sparse pieces of donut. The coffee flavor was extremely muted. Not sure I would’ve identified it as coffee if you hadn’t told me.

Also, I’m not sure that cold donuts are all that. They get hard and greasy. What works for fried chicken, doesn’t for donuts.

The Vietnamese-coffee shake from Good Stuff Eatery.

This Vietnamese coffee shake is a vanilla-based shake with ground coffee and condensed milk. The grittiness of the coffee detracts from the experience. Stick with the tried-and-true toasted marshmallow shake!

The thing to get at Good Stuff (even more essential than the burgers or rosemary fries) is the toasted marshmallow shake. This time we branched out and tried the Vietnamese coffee. Good flavor, gross texture. Unless you like sand with your shakes. You may need a good flossing afterwards.


We take on Chef Spike’s toasted marshmallow shake–during the power outage

Toasting marshmallows with a blowtorch in 95-degree heat.

We don’t recommend trying this, but if you must, have a fire extinguisher nearby.

Day 3 of the Derecho power outage. It’s about 95 degrees outside. Mr. X-sXe and I are bored, hot, and getting really testy with one another.

Ever since Good Stuff opened in Crystal City, Mr. X-sXe’s been obsessed with getting their toasted marshmallow milkshake–the gold standard of milkshakes. He’s been finding ways to schedule meetings down there just to have an excuse to stop by.

Toasting coconut with a blowtorch isn't the smartest idea, but the power was out.

If your power is working, you’ll get better results browning your coconut flakes in the oven.

Maybe the heat had fried our brains, but we decided that the time was ripe for attempting to make a better shake than Chef Spike’s. We’d do that by adding ingredients to take the flavor over the top: toasted coconut, coconut milk, and vanilla extract, modifying the original recipe.

We couldn’t use the oven, but we had a giant blowtorch and one working outlet in the kitchen (a small generator was powering the fridge). The grocery stores near us were open. All the stars were aligned. So we set out on our quest.

Ingredients for the toasted marshmallow, toasted coconut milkshake.

What went inside.

What we learned:

  • Making a milkshake during a power outage is tricky. When the temperature inside the house is 90+ degrees, everything melts quickly. Your shake could become a casualty, ending up more like a soupy bowl of melted ice cream.
  • While blowtorching marshmallows works alright, it’s doesn’t work well on smaller ingredients like coconut flakes that can blow away and burn quickly. Plus it’s a fire hazard, so prepare accordingly.
  • Toasting ingredients makes everything taste better.
Thanks to our generator, we were able to use a hand blender to mix the shake ingredients.

Hand-blending the shake with the generator-powered outlet. In retrospect, we should’ve used regular, not jumbo marshmallows (more surface area for browning).

So, were we successful in topping Good Stuff’s milkshake masterpiece? It really depends on whether you like coconut. If you do, this milkshake is heaven. If you don’t, then stick with Good Stuff’s version.

Our toasted marshmallow, toasted coconut milkshakes.

Introducing the toasted marshmallow, toasted coconut milkshake. Born of a Derecho power outage. Made possible by a blowtorch and generator.

Recipe: Mr. X-sXe’s toasted marshmallow, toasted coconut milkshake

Serves 2. Measurements are approximated.

  • 4-6 scoops of vanilla ice cream
  • 2-3 tablespoons 2% or full-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup coconut flakes, toasted medium-brown in the oven
  • 6 jumbo marshmallows (or 8 regular marshmallows would probably work better). Reserve 1-2 for decorating the tops of your shakes.

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Use a hand blender to get the mix to the consistency you want, making sure the toasted marshmallows and coconut are incorporated (you should see brown specks throughout your shake). You could also use a regular blender. Pour into 2 glasses and top with the marshmallows. Enjoy while slipping into a sugar-dairy coma.


Maple Avenue’s sweet treats

Sometimes you gotta venture out of your comfort zone to try new things. For a belated birthday brunch, I recently took Mr. X-sXe to Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna, VA—that exotic state where you can still get plastic grocery bags for free.

The dining space is tiny, probably less than 10 tables with no separate foyer/entrance area. We went for the brunch tasting menu. The food was consistently good: a gooey mac and cheese with panko, a savory mushroom crepe, cauliflower with Thai sauce and a sprinkling of scallions. But there were a few hints that the menu needed more thought.

The feast launches with a charcuterie plate—something I don’t necessarily have an appetite for first thing in the morning. Also, my stomach was hoping for some respite from the parade of heavy dishes coming out back-to-back. I craved a salad or fruit dish to cut the fat in this meat-and-dairy show. (Mind you, the set menu does change regularly.)

And now we turn to the most important part of the meal: dessert.

Yuzu-lime tart (above photo)

Wow, right? This was beautiful—its marshmallow peaks perfectly torched, blanketing the citrusy filling on a thick graham crust. Perhaps this wasn’t the chef’s intent, but anytime I see “lime” on a dessert menu, I’m hoping for some mouth-puckering action. Here the sweetness of the marshmallow fluff actually overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the yuzu-lime filling. Note: we ordered this separately from the tasting menu.

Waffles with Nutella and vanilla bean ice cream (part of the brunch tasting menu)

Sure, this elevates the waffles you’d get at the breakfast bar of a Comfort Inn. But is it good enough to warrant being on the menu of a nice restaurant? I’m leaning towards no. I was curious whether the Nutella was from the jar or made in-house. The menu didn’t elaborate on this point, but it tasted like the jar stuff (which is NOT health food, despite what the ads claim. Hence the class-action lawsuit. #onlyinAmerica).


Los angeles dessert haikus

A bit of wisdom served up on Santa Monica Pier.

We’ve been on blog break because we were eating our way through LA, trying sweets from various restaurants and bakeries. While we had some good ones (the coconut bavarois from Red Medicine is now a fond memory), most were unspectacular. We also tried one patisserie (Jin in Venice) that made us all-the-more grateful for Bethesda’s Tout de Sweet. As much as I wanted to like Jin–Asian owner, picturesque outdoor seating, tempting selection of lunch options–the goods just didn’t deliver.

A rundown of the sugar tour:


Red Medicine:

Coconut dessert

In a tropical ant farm

Reluctant to share

Bitter chocolate

Ruined by string of butter

Pastry chef misstep



Famous pot de creme

JELL-O pudding on steroids

It’s salty! It’s sweet!

Strawberry rhubarb

A crisp more like a pot pie

Overly soupy

 Jin Patisserie:

Macarons and cake

A feast for the eyes, not mouth

Post-dessert remorse


Sesame-peanut cookies

Jin redeems itself?


Tender Greens:

Caramel cupcake

Like midget banana bread

Icing overload


Cake Monkey:

Two kinds of cookies

Both chocolatey sandwiches



Yonanas, a gadget worth the counter space

When we first got a huge box from my mother-in-law around the holidays, I approached it with trepidation. She likes buying us kitchenware. And we’re already so short on storage space that things pop out and attack us when we open our cabinets.

Turns out it was the Yonanas machine, a phallic-looking gadget that turns frozen bananas into something akin to soft serve. Yonanas isn’t a juicer, but it’s designed specifically for creating banana magic. (Shockingly, Yonanas did not sponsor this blog post, and Michelle Obama is not the national spokeswoman.)

On Pie V. Cake we’ve extolled the virtues of Annie’s Banannies before in this review. You may have come across something similar at Chicken Out, with their Going Bananas product.  Here’s the clincher: it’s just a frozen banana, but it tastes creamy like dairy.

The other cool part is the show. Watching the machine go to work is half the fun. At first, it spits out a few shards of frozen banana. That had us worried. But by the time the second banana’s in the machine, it’s at the soft-serve-texture stage.

The cool part of having your own machine is you can add other fruit into the mix. Here we tried frozen blueberries. We’ve also done pineapple. One thing to note is that you always need plenty of bananas for your base, because you don’t get the creamy texture from the other fruits. Another tip: give your bananas plenty of time to freeze. Put them in at least a day ahead. When you want to impress dinner guests, it kind of ruins things if they have to stick around a few hours waiting for flaccid bananas to harden.


Rehoboth series, part 3 of 3: Annie’s Banannies performs magic with frozen bananas

We hit 3 places at Rehoboth Beach last weekend to get a sampling of the sweets scene: Cake Break, The Ice Cream Store, and Annie’s Banannies. In case you’re wondering, the famed Candy Kitchen was not one of these, because (1) I’ve got way too many fillings to be eating stuff like taffy (2) fudge is one of the worst bastardizations of chocolate I’ve ever encountered, and (3) the place is a madhouse swarming with kids who could spontaneously combust from sugar overload at any moment.

It’s funny how much junk you can justify eating while on vacation. The boardwalk is filled with double-fried fries, ice cream, funnel cakes, pizza, you name it. We walked past one lone frozen yogurt place. Tellingly, there wasn’t a single person in there that wasn’t an employee.

Luckily, offering healthy options isn’t a death knell for every business on the boardwalk. Annie’s Banannies, which makes vegan “soft serve” out of frozen bananas, has been there 2 years and is going strong. You can’t miss it—the store is decorated to resemble a jungle.

The product is simply frozen bananas run through a juicer; nothing more. You can get the works thrown on top, or just get it plain ($3.75 for a small).

We were transfixed watching them make these. They push the frozen banana in one end of the juicer while ever-so-slowly, it painstakingly poops out a smooth, creamy treat with the consistency of soft serve. No added sugar, no nothing. We felt like this was some well-kept secret among the Coven of the Frozen Banana Juicers.  I learned from their website that Annie’s mom was the one who introduced her to the concept. Apparently Annie had been kicking around the idea of opening Annie’s Banannies for a while:

“One night while folding laundry my dad came in and said, “Annie, you have to do it, Annie!” I thought, do what? “Do you need me to do some laundry for you, dad?” He laughed and said, “No. Banannies! You need to do Annie’s Banannies!”  I told him that I would, “one of these days.” The next day when I got home from work I found that he had passed away. It was the last thing he said to me. (He died September 26, 2006.)

Three weeks after we laid dad to rest, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. After surgery followed by a long 9 months of rehabilitation, it seemed she was getting better and was finally cancer free!

One night while watching TV together, mom looked up and said, “Annie, you have to do it Annie.” I said, “Do you need something mom? What can I get you?” She replied, “No. Banannies; you need to do Annie’s Banannies!” I promised I would as soon as she got better. It was the last thing she said to me; 18 hours later I found myself holding her hand as we took her off of life support. (She died July 6, 2007.)”

Annie has another location opening soon in Baltimore; I hope she successfully grows it into a nationwide franchise. As long as you don’t go overboard with the toppings, it’s so much healthier than the custard and ice cream places dotting the boardwalk. We even went back the morning after we’d first tried it to get another one–and to gawk at the employees making them.