My Five Favorite Eats in 2020

December 31, 2020 § Leave a comment

I have been a hardcore social distancer since the shelter-in-place order went into effect back in March, which has meant eschewing restaurants’ outdoor dining options in favor of eating takeout at home and replacing my thrice-weekly grocery-store runs with pickup and delivery options. It’s been, well, weird—to say the least. 

So much of my work as a food writer has been based on getting out and experiencing our local food system in person: leisurely picking up seasonal produce and fresh fish from the San Mateo farmers’ market on a Saturday morning, grabbing a weekday lunch on the fly in downtown Redwood City, or settling in for a long dinner with an old friend at a new Peninsula must-try restaurant. 

And yet, while I miss those experiences, there are some aspects of the new normal that I’m digging—in particular, finding new (or new-to-me) food businesses to support. Ocean 2 Table’s weekly direct-to-my-front-door deliveries of freshly-caught local seafood—sablefish, California halibut, and yellowtail rockfish are just a few examples—have been a godsend. Maria Gregorio’s volunteer-run Giving Fruits not only provides grower-direct produce to Peninsula customers but also supports several charitable organizations. And on the restaurant side of things, new takeout options have meant being able to enjoy food from restaurants that usually have long waits for reservations, like Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshizumi in San Mateo (which I wrote about for the October issue of PUNCH Magazine) and Sushi Shin in Redwood City.  

Ultimately, food experiences in 2020 were more about taking joy where I found it, rather than seeking the newest, hottest, or best-of. Following are my “top five” eats of this year. 


Truth: boquerones will change your mind about anchovies. Cured in salt for preservation, then marinated in vinegar or lemon juice to balance the rich oiliness of the fish, these “white anchovies,” as they’re also known, are an excellent topper for toast, pasta, or salad. And the kicker: boquerones are super easy to make at home.

Boquerones with fennel, arugula, and gluten-free pasta

I ordered a pound of Monterey Bay sardines from Ocean 2 Table and used Hank Shaw’s recipe from his blog Hunter • Angler • Gardener • Cook to make my own boquerones in June, and I’ve been craving them ever since. Canned is just not the same.

Tomato and Burrata Salad (Oak+Violet)

Back in July, as the world tentatively opened up, I interviewed Oak+Violet’s Executive Chef, Simona Oliveri, for PUNCH Magazine’s August issue. Her passion for food and creating elegant plates for customers was inspiring—not to mention that she is one of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. The beautifully-plated Tomato and Burrata Salad, a highlight of the restaurant’s “Sicilian Summer Nights” menu, embodies Simona’s skill and style.

tomato and burrata salad
Chef Simona Oliveri’s Tomato and Burrata Salad

The combination of thick wedges of sweet heirloom tomatoes, generous portion of milky burrata, peppery olive oil, sweet-acidic balsamic vinegar, and herbaceous fresh basil was the epitome of summer on a plate for me. 

15-Piece Chef’s Choice Nigiri (Sushi Shin)

Tiny nine-seat Sushi Shin in Redwood City was on my must-try list earlier this year (before you-know-what), although with limited seating and excellent early reviews, reservations were hard to come by. When the restaurant pivoted to Tock takeout, I jumped at the chance to treat myself and splurge on Chef Jason’s 15-piece edomae-style sushi box. To heighten the at-home omakase experience, the restaurant sent a text explaining the order in which to eat each piece.

Sushi Shin 15-piece box
Sushi Shin’s 15-piece nigiri

Careful preparation techniques highlight the flavor of every item in the box. Tasmanian trout, for example, is lightly smoked, but has an undertone of sweetness. Salty Kamasu (Chiba) is lightly torched; searing the outside adds a grilled flavor while maintaining the fish’s soft interior. And what to say about the Toro other than: pure indulgence! It needed nothing more than a smidge of soy sauce and Chef Jason’s lightly seasoned sushi rice to make a perfect bite. Tofu pudding with black sesame syrup was a light and satisfying ending to the meal. Currently Sushi Shin is on hiatus, but I am looking forward to their return.

Pluerry Compote

When pluerries turned up on Giving Fruit’s list of offerings at the end of summer, I couldn’t pass them up. Curious about this cross between a sweet cherry and plum, I placed my order for the smallest amount available: 10 pounds. (Pros and cons on this farm-to-table ordering thing.)

pluerries in box
Ten pounds of organic pluerries from Kashiwase Farms

If nothing else, I figured I’d knock out a few batches of jam, but I also wanted some sweet options for immediate gratification. Plum cake? Sure, but what else? Fortunately, I landed on this recipe for Santa Rosa Plum compote, substituting pluerries for plums and reducing the amount of sugar. With a touch of sweetness from the vanilla and a bit of tartness from the skins, there’s something elegant about this compote. I can confirm that it’s just as enjoyable eaten cold, straight from the fridge, as it is served warm over rice pudding. 

Spiced Persimmon and Ginger Muffins

Fall brought persimmons, and this year I was determined to work them into my baking repertoire. Having zero experience with Hachiya persimmons, this was another case of “buy now, figure it out later,” which had become part of my 2020 cooking philosophy. Fortunately, Hachiyas give you time: they need to be completely, smooshingly ripe before use, which can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. While the fruit (all 10 pounds of it) sat on my counter, I discovered Andrea Nguyen’s excellent ginger and persimmon adaptation of Alice Medrich’s gluten-free Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Muffins.

spicy ginger and persimmon muffins
Spiced persimmon and ginger muffins

With a soft, cake-like texture, bits of persimmons, chunks of sultanas and spicy candied ginger, these muffins are a breakfast treat or perfect afternoon snack with black tea and honey. For Christmas morning, I dressed them up with a dairy-free cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of freshly-grated nutmeg. It was basically cake for breakfast. With several pounds of Hachiya purée in the freezer, I’ll be enjoying these muffins at least into spring 2021. 

And that’s a wrap for me! What are your top eats for 2020?

Waste-Less Wednesday: Whole Lemon Bars

February 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

If you live in The 650, then you know that citrus does very well here. Lemons, limes, grapefruits, all kinds of oranges… you see them in front yards, back yards, side yards, and along driveways throughout my neighborhood. The high point for the citrus harvest is usually December through February. However, with the “weird weather” (as my father calls it) we’ve had lately, my little back yard lemon tree has been producing non-stop since November. You know what that means: I’m up to my ass in lemons. To date I’ve probably harvested about 40 pounds of fruit.

In past years I’ve experimented with a variety of lemon-based recipes, here are just a few of my favorites:

However, with all of the travelling I’ve been doing, I haven’t had time for much cooking or food preservation projects, so I’ve been limited to juicing and zesting. Upside is that I can freeze both (juice and zest) for use later. I have a Cambro container in my freezer, filled with lemon juice cubes that I can just grab whenever I need lemon juice on the fly. A quick turn in the microwave on “Melt,” et voila!


Running low on frozen lemon juice cubes

As for the zest, I make little parchment-paper packets of approximately a teaspoon of zest, wrap them in plastic wrap, then store in a freezer bag. Again, when I need zest, all I have to do is reach into the freezer. The guts that are left over after juicing and zesting are destined for the compost bin, but it would be nice if I had another option for using the whole fruit.

I’m always on the lookout for “root-to-stem” recipes when it comes to produce, and recently I came across a keeper for Whole Lemon Bars from one of my favorite pastry chef/cookbook authors, David Lebovitz. Lebovitz earned his chops at Chez Panisse and other Bay Area restaurants before relocating to France to focus on writing cookbooks. I’ve been a fan since purchasing his first two books — Room for Dessert and Ripe for Dessert — both of which are still favorites in my collection. His techniques are easy to follow, and the recipes just work.

I’m reluctant to use the term “genius recipe,” for anything, but I think Lebovitz has nailed it with the Whole Lemon Bars. What’s so genius? You use a whole lemon, plus some added juice, minimizing waste. Using a whole lemon results in a sweet-tart bar that is very lemony. I made a minor modification to the crust (described below), but nothing that warrants an “adapted from” version here, so just follow the link above to view the recipe on David Lebovitz’ site.


From this…


…to this

If you’re following a gluten-free diet, you can easily make the crust gluten-free by substituting a “cup-for-cup,” gluten-free flour. I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour, but feel free to use whatever works for you. I also baked the crust for 27 minutes (longer than Lebovitz’ suggestion of 25 minutes), but that might just be my oven. The result was a golden-brown, crispy crust that had the same taste and texture as the wheat-flour version.

A few additional observations and suggestions that I’d like to share:

  • For same-size squares, use a ruler to measure and a long, thin-blade knife to cut. I keep a metal ruler in my kitchen for just this sort of thing. knife-and-ruler
  • Store the cut bars in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature for service. Lebovitz says you can store the bars in an at room temperature in an airtight container for up to three days, but I found that they got a bit weepy on the second day (maybe my kitchen is too warm).
  • You can freeze these bars without worrying about texture change. Thaw frozen bars in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before serving.
  • Too much pith will add a bitter note to the bars, so use a lemon that has moderate rind (less than 1/2″).

Have you made Whole Lemon Bars? bar-hero-shot

Eat Local: American Pie

January 24, 2015 § Leave a comment

Happy Pie Day! (No, not Pi Day — that’s in March, natch.) If you didn’t know, January 23 is the official day to indulge in that comforting, flavorful, make-me-feel-like-a-kid-again combination of flaky, tender crust and your favorite filling. Whether you like fruity, creamy, nutty, crunchy, hot, cold, room-temperature, you name it, there’s a pie for you.

So...THIS happened.

So…THIS happened.

I’ve yet to meet anyone (any American, that is) who doesn’t like pie. Some people are iffy about ice cream, marshmallows, chocolate, certain kinds of cake. But not pie. Seems like everyone likes pie. Apple is still the favorite of most Americans, but cherry, blueberry, pumpkin, and lemon meringue have plenty of fans too, according to the National Pie Council.

Good pie means something different to everyone, but it really comes down to the execution of — and balance between — the crust and the filling. Texture and flavor must play well together for a good pie, but that means something different for every pie lover. Do you prefer flaky crust or crumbly? Slightly undercooked and golden or brownish and crispy? And what about the filling? Sweet? Tart? And how much? What about that filling-to-crust ratio? Does your favorite pie have just enough crust to barely hold in a mound of filling, or is the crust substantial enough to stand up to the filling and play an equal part?

The best pies are homemade, but what if you’re baking-challenged or just plain don’t have time to knock out some homemade-pie lusciousness? Where in the 650 can you go to get your local pie fix — beyond the obvious options of chain grocery stores and Costco? Well, turns out that there’s no easy answer to that question. Unlike San Francisco, which seems to be experiencing a handcrafted pie renaissance (Mission Pie, Three Babes Bakeshop, Tartine… need I go on?), the Peninsula isn’t experiencing the same kind of pie love. Sure, we’ve got some fine bakeries and a growing number of European-influenced patisseries with tarts, galettes, and cakes, but when it comes to good ol’ American pie…hmmm, not so much. You need to do some sleuthing to find a reasonable variety of fresh, locally baked pies here in the 650.

If you’ve got some time on your hands, and the weather is fine, you could take a drive over to Highway 1 and down the coast to Duarte’s Tavern, whose ollalieberry pie was anointed one of the country’s best pies by Life Magazine in 2005. Or, keep heading south on Highway 1 to Davenport and pick up a fresh-baked berry pie at Swanton Berry Farm’s Farm Stand. If you can plan ahead or schedule your pie cravings, there are some talented small-batch bakers who sell their treats at weekend farmers’ markets, when the markets are in season (sigh, how I miss iPie!). But where can you go to pick up a freshly baked pie (or even a slice!) any day of the week? After some sleuthing and taste testing, here are three options to try.

Palo Alto Creamery (Palo Alto)
If filling is your favorite part of pie, then Palo Alto Creamery’s pies are for you! The Creamery’s crust is flaky, but thin, which means that the filling is definitely the star. Note that fillings tend to be on the sweet side, so if you like sweeter pies, The Creamery’s got you covered. The apple pie has a double crust (pie shell with top crust to encase the filling), with a mound of chunky-applesauce-like filling. Blueberry is also a double-crust pie, while cherry has a butter-crumb topping.

Palo Alto Creamery's bakery case

Palo Alto Creamery’s bakery case

Eat in or Take Out: Both. Their whole pies are big, resulting in generous, thick slices.
Good to Know: When ordering to go, head to the bakery case at the back of the restaurant. Fruit pies are kept in the bakery case, but cream pies are kept in a refrigerator behind the counter. Be sure to ask the counter staff for a full list of the daily pies.
Flavors: Half a dozen or so classics, including apple, blueberry, cherry, chocolate cream, banana cream, key lime.
Price: $4.95/slice or $24/whole pie, plus pie plate deposit
Eat This: Key lime has a sturdy (not soft or soggy) graham cracker crust and creamy, balanced sweet-lime filling that wasn’t too sweet or too tart. I couldn’t stop eating it.

The Creamery's Key Lime Pie: Yes, please.

The Creamery’s Key Lime Pie: Yes, please.

Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery & Donut Shop (Belmont)
This pink and green shop sits right on El Camino Real in mid-Belmont. While they’re known for their donuts, they have some of the best homemade pies I’ve tasted.

Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery & Donut Shop in Belmont

Pilgrim Kitchen Bakery & Donut Shop in Belmont

Pilgrim Kitchen gives equal billing to both the crust and the filling. Crusts are golden brown, flakey, and fork-tender. Fruit pies are double-crusted, and the fillings are balanced perfectly with the thickness of the crust. It’s not all about one or the other, so filling and crust lovers would both be happy with Pilgrim Kitchen’s pies. The apple pie contains fresh, al dente pieces of tart apple. If you like a firmer apple pie, this one’s for you.

Eat in or Take Out: Both. The shop has indoor and outdoor seating; order and pay at the counter, then find a place to sit. Whole pies are standard 9″, and slices are about 1/6th of a pie.
Good to Know: Whole pies are in the case to your left and in front of you as you enter the shop. Ask which flavors are available by the slice.
Flavors: A dozen or so classics: apple, berry, cherry, coconut cream, pecan, lemon meringue. Call ahead for a full list.
Price: $3.50/slice or $12.95 – $14.95/whole pie, depending on the flavor
Eat This: The lemon meringue pie is heavenly. A flaky crust provides the base for a layer of creamy, pale-yellow, tart lemon custard, topped with an airy, melt-in-your mouth cap of meringue.

Pilgrim Kitchen's Lemon Meringue Pie: A little slice of pie heaven

Pilgrim Kitchen’s Lemon Meringue Pie: A little slice of pie heaven

Whole Foods Market (Redwood City, plus three other locations)
With a commitment to healthy ingredients and fresh food, Whole Foods fills that niche between neighborhood bakery (which seem to be few and far between in the 650) and the everything-to-everyone grocery store chains. What you might not know? Whole Foods makes their own pies in-house — from scratch.

Whole Foods In-House Pies: Make sure you get the orange box

Whole Foods In-House Pies: Make sure you get the orange box

Want to know when your pie was baked? Check the ingredient label. Whole Foods’ pies have a high filling-to-crust ratio, with a crust texture that falls between flaky and crumbly. The crust also has a nice, rich brown color, indicating that it’s been well-baked without being too crisp or having that slightly bitter edge of an over-baked crust.

Eat in or Take Out: Well, it’s a grocery store, so you’re likely to take out. But if you can’t wait, most WF’s have a seating area at the front of the store where you can tuck in to your pie.
Good to Know: Local, in-store-made pies are in the orange boxes. Pies in white boxes arrive frozen from the corporate bakery and are baked, but not made on-site. Locally made pies cost more.
Flavors: No cream pies. About half a dozen flavors, mostly fruit: apple, berry, cherry, pumpkin (seasonal), pecan.
Price: $10.99 for small (4″) or $19.99 for large (9″)
Eat This: Blackberry-Lime. A double-crusted pie with a jammy-blackberry filing that has a hint of lime and whole berries. No mushy filling here. Interesting blend of sweet and tart, with the filling in the starring role (although the crust is a good filling-delivery device).

Whole Foods Blackberry-Lime Pie: Half for me...

Whole Foods Blackberry-Lime Pie: Half for me…

Of the three, I’d say Pilgrim was a surprise favorite — and I’ll go back for more. Where do you go for pie in the 650? Share your favorites, and I’ll post an update!

Eat Local: Celebrating National Chocolate Day in the 650

October 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

Here at 650Food we’re keepin’ it local for National Chocolate Day. Looking for a  chocolate indulgence made right here in the 650 to celebrate this essential food holiday? We’ve gotcha covered! (And pssst: most of the treat-makers listed below use locally and regionally produced ingredients to craft their chocolate indulgences.)

Chocolate Confections

Her Coconess Confections (Belmont): Are you a caramel lover? Then award-winning, Belmont-based Her Coconess Confections are for you! Owner Shelly Seward handmakes her elegant caramels (infused with vanilla, espresso, or chipotle), enrobes them in dark chocolate, and finishes each one with a sprinkle of flavorful salt.

Trio of Her Coconess salted caramels (left to right: Vanilla, Chipotle, Espresso)

Trio of Her Coconess salted caramels (left to right: Vanilla, Chipotle, Espresso)

If an assortment of handmade, buttery caramels weren’t enough, she also makes a Bittersweet Nibby Rocky Road that nestles roasted almonds and cocoa nibs against handmade vanilla marshmallows and covers them in a blanket of Guittard chocolate. Indulge away!
Where to Buy:
You can find Her Coconess confections at the Downtown Palo Alto Farmer’s Market and the Menlo Park Farmer’s Market (November to May) or order through the website for pickup at the commercial kitchen in Belmont.

Neo Cocoa (Belmont): If rich, fudgy chocolate ganache is your thing, then try Neo Cocoa’s “Hearts of Chocolate Truffles.”

Neo Cocoa's "hearts of chocolate truffles";

Neo Cocoa’s “hearts of chocolate truffles” (shown: Crushed Cocoa Nib and Toasted Coconut)

Eliminating the truffle’s chocolate shell, owner/chocolatier Christine Doerr has opted to focus on the inside of the truffle, by creating smooth, flavorful ganaches infused with real coffee, spices, or citrus zest. With plenty of accolades behind her — including a slew of awards and outstanding reviews — Christine is definitely getting to the hearts of chocolate lovers! The Neo Cocoa line includes 10 different flavors of infused ganaches, and there’s something for everyone. Flavors to try: Zested Lime, Almond with Smoked Sea Salt, and Toasted Coconut. Like Her Coconess, Neo Cocoa keeps it local by using Guittard Chocolate, which is made right here in the 650 (in Burlingame).
Where to Buy: Various Bay Area retailers or online. See the website for more information.

Timothy Adams (Palo Alto): Timothy Adams Chocolates is a newcomer to the 650, taking over the Bryant Avenue spot previously occupied by Monique’s Chocolates. The shop’s name is a combination of the names of its two co-owners: Timothy Woods and Adams Holland. Timothy Adams relies on local and seasonal ingredients to make their fresh, hand-rolled truffles. Truffle flavors change often, so call ahead if you’re looking for something specific. Seasonal flavors you might want to try: Apple (white-chocolate, spiced-apple ganache), Quince (housemade quince marmalade) and Pecan (housemade dark-chocolate pecan praline); all are hand-coated in rich, dark chocolate.

Timothy Adams' handmade truffles (clockwise, from upper left: Pecan, Cinnamon, Quince, Apple)

Timothy Adams’ handmade truffles (clockwise, from upper left: Pecan, Cinnamon, Quince, Apple)

If you prefer your chocolate in liquid form, Timothy Adams offers Sipping Chocolate for all tastes, from the milkiest milk (31% cacao) to middle-of-the-road dark (58% cacao) to darkest-of-dark (99% cacao).

Chocolate Ice Cream

Gelataio (Palo Alto): Craving a less-fat, creamy, dark-chocolate indulgence? Then Gelataio has what you need! Their locally made, authentic-tasting gelato has a rich, dark, cocoa flavor that isn’t cloying or powdery.

Just some of the gelati at Gelataio in Palo Alto: Chocolate, Vanilla, Stracciatella (chocolate chip)

Gelati at Gelataio in Palo Alto: Chocolate, Vanilla, Stracciatella (chocolate chip)

Prefer the chocolate in your gelato to come in chip format? Then try the Stracciatella, a rich-tasting vanilla gelato studded with chocolate chips. Or, try the chocolate-hazelnut combination, Bacio (think: Nutella meets gelato). If you need to bump up your chocolate-gelato experience, then try the chocolate-dipped gelato “pops” on a stick.

Tin Pot Creamery (Palo Alto): I’ve written previously about Palo Alto’s small-batch ice creamery, Tin Pot. Not only do they make their own ice cream at their Town & Country location — using local, organic ingredients — they also make their own sauces, cookies, and brownies! Want to indulge in a pure rich, dark-chocolate ice cream? Then go for the Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards.

Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards (shown with Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl)

Rich Chocolate with TCHO Shards (shown with Sweet Cream with Honey Balsamic Swirl)

More of a milk chocolate fan? The Malted Milk with Milk Chocolate Pieces might be for you. Vegans aren’t left out either — there’s a dairy-free ChocoCoco ice cream made with coconut milk.

And if it’s baked goods you’re craving, try the Chocolate Chunk Cookies with Sea Salt, Gooey Brownies, or Chocolate Walnut Cookies (gluten- and diary-free).

Speaking of baked goods… I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my favorite chocolate addictions indulgences, even thought it’s actually made in San Francisco and transported down the peninsula.

Chantal Guillon Macarons (Palo Alto): Oooh, my little macaron, how I adore you! Crispy, chewy, creamy, and chocolately — what more could a girl want from a chocolate indulgence? What I love about well-made macarons, such as Chantal Guillon’s, is the combination of flavors and textures. Back on National Macaron Day, I wrote a detailed post about macarons and why I love them. If you haven’t tried these sweet babies yet — get on over to CG!

Chocolate macarons from Chantal Guillon in Palo Alto

Chocolate macarons from Chantal Guillon in Palo Alto

Phew! I’m gonna need a chocolate detox tomorrow. What’s your favorite local chocolate indulgence? Post it here in the replies or on our Facebook page.

Eat Local: Gelataio in Palo Alto

August 21, 2014 § 5 Comments

A dozen years ago, I spent a week in Tuscany with friends, exploring the hill towns around Siena. As far as vacations go, it remains one of my most memorable for so many reasons — time with good friends, the beauty of the countryside, the kindness of everyone we met, not to mention a now-funny (not so much at the time) adventure to the Prada outlet store.

Gelato display at Gelataio

Molto bene: Gelato

And then there was the culinary experience: the food, the wine, and places we experienced them. Before you start thinking that it was all fancy — oh, a Tuscan villa! oh the Michelin-starred restaurants! — it was nothing like that. Not at all. What has stuck with me all of these years was the delicious simplicity of the food, created and served by small, family-run businesses. Pasta? Sure, but also grilled fish, salads served family-style, roasted meats, rustic jam tarts, and acqua pazza (a vegetable soup topped with a soft-cooked egg). Most of the places we ate were selected by nothing more than a group agreement of “that looks good, let’s try it” — well, that and whether the place could seat a group of eight on short notice.

Each day, we loaded ourselves into our economy-style rented van (hard seats, bumpy ride, hot and stuffy for those sitting in the back, and just a whisper of air conditioning) for an adventure to a different hill town: Montalcino, Montepulciano, San Gimignano. We’d sightsee, have a leisurely lunch, and around mid-afternoon, someone would suggest gelato. By the end of the trip, it was a given: the afternoon gelato break. We’d find a little cafe or gelateria and, after several tastes, make our choices. I loved that you could combine two or three different flavors in a small cup — enough to enjoy every bite without feeling overwhelmed. A well-made, flavorful, small portion of gelato was more satisfying than a double-scoop of any chain-store ice cream I’d tried.

So, what’s the difference between gelato (the word for “ice cream” in Italian) and, well, ice cream? It comes down to fat, air, and temperature.

  • Fat: Gelato contains less butterfat (the fatty content of dairy products) than ice cream; for gelato the content is typically 3.5 – 8%. Ice cream, on the other hand, has a higher butterfat content, with a USDA minimum requirement of 10%. Most premium ice creams contain 14 – 18% fat.
  • Air: Gelato is churned more slowly than ice cream, thus incorporating less air, resulting in a denser product. Air adds volume, but not flavor or substance.
  • Temperature: Gelato is stored and served at a lower temperature — which is why it looks a bit like soft-serve, but tastes more flavorful. Ice cream is typically served frozen. Studies have shown that we have a harder time tasting colder foods. Ever notice that softer ice cream is more flavorful and sweeter than when frozen?

Fortunately, you don’t have to run off to Tuscany to have your own afternoon gelato break. Locally owned Gelataio, which makes small-batch, Italian-style gelato has just opened in Palo Alto! With a commitment to using locally sourced, organic, and seasonal ingredients, they’re creating some luscious gelato that reminded me of what I experienced in Italy.

For a shop that’s barely been open for three weeks, they’re off to a good start. The counter staff is friendly, knowledgeable about the flavors, and willing to answer questions about ingredients. The current flavor selection is small — 10 flavors of gelato and 3 flavors of sorbetto — but the selection is evolving and more flavors will be added in the future. (Coming soon: Daily flavor lists posted to their Facebook page.)

Just some of the gelati at Gelataio in Palo Alto: Chocolate, Vanilla, Stracciatella (chocolate chip)

Just some of the gelati at Gelataio in Palo Alto: Chocolate, Vanilla, Stracciatella (chocolate chip)

The flavor assortment includes classics such as Chocolate, Stracciatella, and Hazelnut, as well as more unique flavors like Earl Grey and Cajeta (caramel). Tastes are available, if you want to “try before you buy” or just can’t make up your mind.

Gelataio offers two sizes of cups and cones for gelato and sorbetto: small, which holds up two flavors and regular, which holds up to three flavors. I opted for the regular (hey, it was a late-lunch day) with Chocolate, Pistachio, and Cajeta.

"Regular" size with three flavors: Chocolate, Pistachio, and Cajeta

“Regular” size with three flavors: Chocolate, Pistachio, and Cajeta

Gelataio’s Chocolate gelato is a must for chocolate lovers. It has a rich, dark, cocoa flavor that isn’t cloying or powdery. The Pistachio was another wonderful surprise: the nutty, rich flavor was like eating a light, sweet, creamy pistachio butter. The Cajeta was one of the sweeter flavors I tried; it didn’t have as much of a true cajeta flavor as it did a sweet, light-caramel flavor. Flavor-wise, it’s milder than the Chocolate and Pistachio, so keep that in mind if you decide to pair it with another flavor.

I tasted, but didn’t order the Earl Grey — but it’s on my list for next time. This flavor reminded me of a favorite cup of tea with cream and sugar, without overdoing the bergamot. Another standout taste was the Green Tea sorbetto. Sorbettos are dairy-free, but with the same rich creaminess as the gelatos. They’re less icy and taste less syrup-y than American-style sorbets. Need a treat to go? Gelataio also sells chocolate-dipped gelato “pops” on a stick.

The shop has tables inside, as well as outside, where you can sit and enjoy your gelato. During my recent afternoon gelato break, two ladies came into the shop — one Italian, one American. The American lady, translating for her friend, placed their orders. When the staff asked if Gelataio’s gelato was authentic, the Italian lady gave a big smile and said — “Italian,” emphatically. I’d call that an endorsement.Regular cup of gelato with chocolate, pistachio, and cajeta

Have you tried Gelataio yet?

What: Gelataio
Where: 121 Lytton Ave, Palo Alto, California 94301 (between High and Alma)
Phone: 650-461-4334
Hours: 11:00am–10pm
Price: $3.99 for small cup or cone (up to 2 flavors); $4.50 for larger cup or cone (up to 3 flavors)
Parking: Street

I Scream, You Scream: Easy Apricot Honey Ice Cream

July 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you follow national food holidays, then you might know that yesterday was National Peach Ice Cream Day. Years ago, I came across a super-easy recipe for fresh peach ice cream in the New York Times Magazine.

Missed National Peach Ice Cream Day? Get some Apricot Honey instead!

Missed National Peach Ice Cream Day? Get some Apricot Honey instead!

It’s the kind of recipe that makes you want to make fresh ice cream as soon as possible: the ingredient list is short and seasonal, and the technique is simple. What could be more summery, more luscious than fresh juicy peaches (or any stone fruit, for that matter), rich cream, sugar, and lemon juice swirled together in your own ice cream machine? And better yet, there’s no custard to make, which cuts the ice-cream-making time in half! You read that right: no eggs to separate, no cooking, no straining, no “did I overcook the custard?” worries.

That NY Times Magazine recipe, which has become a summer standard in my house, was a timely find for me all those years ago. I’d learned to make ice cream using a classic custard base, but it’s a time-consuming process that takes about 12 hours when you factor in the “best practice” of chilling the custard overnight. Custard-based ice cream, while delicious and indulgent, definitely requires planning ahead to make at home. Finding a no-cooking version changed things for me — I could whip up a rich, fruity ice cream in a few hours! (It’s also inspired me to make ice creams with other stone fruit, which leads me to…)

This year I’ve used that simple recipe as the inspiration for homemade apricot ice cream. Why? you might ask. Why not stick to the tried-and-true, especially when peaches are so plentiful and still in season? Simple: because I don’t have peaches. But I do have apricots — lots of them. So much so that they’re taking up most of my freezer, and it’s time start using up some to make room for other food.

I love apricots, but the sad truth is that they have a short season and don’t keep long. Most of the fruit on my tree ripened within one week, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the harvest (not to mention trying to stay ahead of the greedy squirrels and birds in the process). Not wanting to waste any of the lovely fruit, I grabbed everything I could: the perfect, the bruised, the really soft, and the verging-on-overripe. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I opted to freeze most of what I harvested, especially the soft and overripe fruit. This “ugly fruit” is perfect for ice creams, sorbets, sauces — any recipe in which the appearance of the fruit doesn’t matter.

So, if you find yourself with a bounty of apricots and have exhausted your jam and tart recipes, try this Apricot Honey Ice Cream.

Recipe: Apricot Honey Ice Cream
I love the honeyed flavor of very ripe apricots balanced with a bit of tartness. The addition of mild-flavored honey and lemon juice play up the sweet-tart components of the fruit and provide some contrast to the richness of the cream.

Yield: Slightly less than 1 quart of ice cream
Adapted from “Frozen Assets,” by Julia Reed, NY Times Magazine, June 29, 2003

What you need:

Ice cream maker
1-quart container with lid
Fine-mesh strainer
Small bowl
Large bowl
Small saucepan
Large spoon
Rubber spatula


1¼ pounds very ripe fresh or frozen apricots (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 – 1½ tablespoons light-colored, mild honey (such as orange blossom)

How to:

  1. Place the fruit in a large bowl (or, if frozen, in a flat dish to thaw).
    If frozen, let the fruit thaw at room temperature, which should take about an hour.

    Frozen apricots thawing

    Frozen apricots thawing

  2. Sprinkle fruit with sugar and lemon juice, mixing well. Let the fruit macerate for about 30 minutes.
    Using the back of a rubber spatula or large spoon, press on the fruit, breaking it up as much as possible. We’re going for a “rustic” ice cream with some chunks of apricots, not a fine purée.

    Apricots combined with sugar and lemon juice... waiting for the cream and honey

    Apricots combined with sugar and lemon juice…
    waiting for the cream and honey

  3. Optional: Slip the skins from the fruit and press them against a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl to extract any remaining juice and flesh. Add the extracted juice/flesh back into the fruit. Discard the skins.

    Skins removed from apricots and pressed against a fine-mesh strainer

    Skins removed from apricots and pressed against a fine-mesh strainer

    It’s up to you whether you want to keep the skins on the fruit or remove them. I found that once the fruit thawed, the skins easily came away, so I just removed them. Plus, it’s a texture thing. If you’re ok with the skins, keep ’em and skip this step.

  4. Combine the cream and honey in a small saucepan, place on the stove top, and bring to a simmer.
    I prefer the honey flavor to complement the apricot, so I used 1 tablespoon. If you prefer a more dominant honey flavor in your ice cream, use up to 1½ tablespoons.
  5. Once the cream has reached a simmer (lots of tiny, frothy bubbles around the edge of the saucepan), remove the saucepan from the heat and let the cream cool on the stove top.
  6. Combine the cream and fruit mixture and taste for sweetness and acidity.
    Here’s your chance to make any adjustments to mix. If you prefer a sweeter ice cream, add a bit more sugar. If you want to add some brightness, add a bit more lemon juice.
  7. Cover the mixture and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours — or, if you can wait, overnight — so that the flavors combine and the mixture thickens.
  8. After the mixture has chilled, process it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.

    Churning apricot honey ice cream in the ice cream maker

    Churning apricot honey ice cream in the ice cream maker

  9. While the mixture is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container  in the freezer.
    You want to transfer your churned ice cream (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
  10. Transfer the ice cream to the prepared container and freeze for 2 — 4 hours before serving.

    Packing ice cream into chilled container for freezing

    Ready for freezing — or eating, if you don’t want to wait!

    After about 2 hours, the ice cream will have a softer consistency, so if you prefer a texture that’s more soft-serve-like, then don’t freeze it as long. For a harder texture, freeze for 3 — 4 hours.


Field Trip: Celebrating Summer with CUESA

July 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

It’s summer! Just writing those words brings a smile to my face. (Could you tell that it’s my favorite time of year?) rusty-blade-flowers

How did you mark the official arrival of summer? Did you barbecue at home with the family and neighbors? Take your kids to the park for a picnic? Pass a leisurely afternoon day drinking with friends on the patio of your favorite restaurant? Whatever you did, I’ll bet it included friends or family and food!

I get a little giddy when I think of all the wonderful, fresh food that’s available from our gardens and local farms this time of year — which you could probably figure out from my recent posts about local stone fruit and coastal strawberries. We’re so fortunate to have fine weather and a long growing season here, but also a culture that values growing, making, and  sharing good food.

So how did I mark the official start of summer? With some delicious food and fine cocktails, of course! CUESA’s Summer Celebration at the Ferry Building on June 22 was the perfect summer kickoff party. The event, which benefits CUESA’s educational program, celebrated the bounty of summer produce with small plates and handcrafted cocktails created by some of the city’s best chefs and bartenders. (There were also fresh nonalcoholic libations: juice blends and shrubs.) Each plate or beverage was inspired by one of six categories of summer produce  — or “culinary families,” as CUESA calls them:

  • Alliums
  • Berries
  • Cucurbits
  • Grains and legumes
  • Leaves and flowers
  • Stone fruit

Most of these food families are probably familiar to you — especially berries and stone fruit. Alliums and cucurbits might be less-familiar names, but you’ll recognize their family members. Allium, the latin name for garlic, includes all varieties of garlic and onions, including shallots, leeks, and scallions. But what the heck are cucurbits? (Ok, am I the only person who hears Bill Cosby’s voice saying “Riiiiight. What’s a cucurbit?”). The cucurbit family includes vine-growing produce, which are botanically classified as fruits: squashes, melons, and cucumbers.

More than just a tasting event, CUESA’s Summer Celebration brought together farmers, chefs, beverage crafters, and food lovers of all kinds from around the Bay Area to taste, savor, and learn. While you might know CUESA as the people who put on the Ferry Building farmers’ markets, much of what CUESA does involves educating consumers about sustainable agriculture and local food systems. (Want to know more about their mission? Check out their site.) The Summer Celebration included a variety of fun and creative educational games to teach attendees more about each culinary family. (An added bonus for food geeks!)

Santa Cruz’s Dirty Girl Produce had a gorgeous display of alliums and challenged attendees to an allium “sniff test.” Could you tell the difference between onions, leeks, shallots, and scallions with just your sense of smell? Not as easy as you might think! I had a chance to test my berry knowledge by spinning the Wheel of Berries to answer a berry trivia question. My prize? Yum — a tasting of fresh berries! However, one of my favorite games of the evening was “What’s Your Stone Fruit Name?” (I won’t tell you how it works, but there’s not much skill involved).  For the rest of the evening I was “Flavor King,” and my date? “Golden Blaze.” We wrapped up our game-playing at Grains & Legumes Jeopardy, rocking the Grains category, but stumbling on the Legumes. Looks like I need to brush up on my legume facts, but it was fun all the same.

The event was also an opportunity to connect one-on-one with food growers, such as Frog Hollow Farm, Sierra Cascade Organic Blueberry Farm, Star Route Farms, and Dirty Girl Produce. I learned some “Fruity Facts” and talked food waste solutions with the Frog Hollow folks, who grow some of sweetest, most flavorful peaches and apricots in the area. I got the lowdown on how Sierra Cascade’s farmer, John Carlon, created a sustainable farm by understanding and working with the synergy between the blueberries, bumblebees, and gophers. And I experienced edible blossoms and leaves (oh my — Meyer lemon blossoms! Floral, perfumey, sweet, and citrusy, with a bit of crunch.) at Star Route Farms’ beautiful display.

There were so many delicious creations to try, but here’s the short list of favorite tastes from the event.

The Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham flatbread from Il Cane Rosso doesn’t look fancy, but it’s so flavorful and craveable. To me it was like a next-level nacho plate. The flavors paired well, as did the contrast between the crispy flatbread and the tasso ham. Even thinking about it now is making me hungry.

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Most of the handcrafted cocktails showcased locally produced spirits — and gin seemed to the spirit of choice. I’m not a gin fan, but this cocktail of raspberry, lemon, bitters, and No. 29 gin was a favorite. Plus, it had a super-cool (pardon the pun), large ice cube.

Logan's Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Logan’s Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Everyone I talked with listed “the pork belly” as one of their top tastes of the evening. 1760’s tasting spoon paired rich pork belly with a sweet berry compote. A bit of bad planning on my part, as I tasted this one later in the evening, not leaving enough time to round back for seconds… or thirds…

Pork Belly with Berry Composte, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Pork Belly with Berry Compote, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

And this is why I love tasting events: being surprised by something unexpected! I was thinking “yeah, yeah, stuffed squash,” when I saw this plate, but this stuffed squash from Bluestem Brasserie was delicious!

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

I was holding off tasting most of the desserts until later in the evening, which meant that I missed out on a few — and maybe that worked out for the best. Yigit Pura’s Panna Cotta was worth it, and he has restored my faith that there is well-made, creamy panna cotta in the world. Perfect summer dessert: light, balanced, fruity. Trust me, if I weren’t so full, I would have eaten two more.

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Tout Sweet)

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Yugit Pura: Tout Sweet)

Grains & Legumes
Andrew Court’s Ancient Grains & Seaweed Salad was another surprise of the evening, which is why there’s no photo of the plated dish. (Sorry, you’ll have to make do with this fancy copper baby bathtub full of the grains and legumes used in the salad.) I pretty much inhaled it once I tasted it. The grains were perfectly cooked, the seaweed added a bit of umami flavor and crunch, and the dressing brought it all together. Deliciously healthy, and yet indulgent at the same time.

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Leaves & Flowers
Here we have the first gin cocktail of the evening, and it might have changed my opinion about gin! This one, made with the 650’s own Rusty Blades Gin, was probably my all-around favorite. Again, not a gin fan, but Rusty Blades reminded me more of an aged whiskey and was really tasty with a bit of sweetness. The cocktail was summery, citrusy, and floral, and garnished with a pretty flower. Loved it!

Rusty Blade Gin's summer celebration cocktail

Rusty Blade Gin’s summer celebration cocktail

Smoked salmon? Yes, please! I thought Gaspar’s English pea and chive blini would be nothing more than a delivery device for the salmon, but I was so wrong! This bite pulled together the sweet flavor and soft, creamy texture of the blini with the smokiness of the fish and the herbal accent of the chives. So good!

Gaspar's English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Gaspar’s English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Stone Fruit
If you’ve read past posts, you know that Campo de Ecanto Pisco is regular in my home-bar lineup. Pair that with Frog Hollow Farms apricots for Rye on the Road’s Pisco Apricot Tropical, and wow! Yes, I’ll be doing some major “research” to reverse engineer this one at home.

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Last, but in no way least, was A16’s Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad. The beets and fruit played perfectly together, while the yogurt and nuts added texture and flavor. The kind of salad you could eat all summer long!

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep's Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Did you attend CUESA’s Summer Celebration? What was your favorite drink or small plate?

Grow Local: Got Stone Fruit?

June 19, 2014 § 5 Comments

The recent hot, hot days have kicked off the ripening process for stone fruit trees here in the 650. The 75-year-old apricot tree in my backyard is heavy with pale-orange, blush-kissed fruit. Every morning for the past week, I’ve stood under that tree, looking up and pondering which small treasures to pick for the day. Which will be fragrant and ripe, and which should stay put for a few more days?

Apricots on the tree

Which beauty to pick now?

And if that weren’t happiness enough, my neighbor’s front-yard plum tree is dropping warm, juicy red-purple fruit right onto the sidewalk. Other neighbors stop by late in the day to pick up a few with their kids or while taking the evening constitutional with their dogs. The calendar might say that it’s still spring, but it feels like midsummer already.

Santa Rosa plums, ripe on the tree

Santa Rosa plums in the 650

Why do a couple of old fruit trees give me such a thrill? Maybe it’s the history — the fact that these trees have been part of the neighborhood since, well, since the houses were built 75 years ago. It’s nice to see a little of the peninsula’s past still in place here and there. I’m not exactly the tree-hugging type, but I can’t help but be impressed by the hardiness of these trees, whose branches are laden with fruit every year! They thrive without much more help from us than an annual pruning and some water. (Or in my case, almost no water, as the drip system in my yard is on the fritz.) Local and organic? Oh yeah.

I think, more than anything, it’s the sensory experience of summer fruit that I love. The colors are so beautiful and vibrant! Apricots range from yellow with pale green (unripe) to orange-pink, some with a freckling or blush of red (ripe).

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Plums are deep red when less ripe, becoming red-purple with a bloom of blue when ripe.

Santa Rosa Plums

Plums: reds aren’t quite ripe, while the purples are just about ready

Then there’s the scent of ripe fruit, which is like perfume: honeyed, floral, complex. (Smelling the stem end of an apricot or plum with get your mouth watering, if the fruit is ripe.) And the flavor is equally complex — sweet and slightly tart at the same time.

Apricots and plums have a short season, which is another reason that they’re so special. Unlike berries, which we’re seeing almost year-round, apricots and plums are best in summer when they’re sun-ripened and ready for harvest. If you have the good fortune to have an apricot or plum tree in your yard, then you know that these fruits are best when harvested fresh from the tree and eaten, canned, or frozen within a couple of days. Unripe fruit can be kept at room temperature and will soften, but won’t get sweeter (it needs heat and sun for that). I don’t recommend storing apricots or plums in the refrigerator, as they tend to get “mealy.” My best advice for tree-ripened apricots and plums: use ’em or lose ’em.

Need some ideas?

  • Slice apricots or plums into salads: Fresh greens, local goat cheese, and toasted almonds for a tasty lunch; add grilled chicken or tofu if you need a protein
  • Add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup infused with lemon verbena to one cup of diced apricots for a quick dessert or snack
  • Mix two teaspoons of simple syrup with 1 cup of sliced plums, and serve with vanilla ice cream or almond-milk sherbet for a simple, elegant dessert

One of my favorite summer desserts is fruit crisp; it’s a homey and not-fancy-at-all dish that I can eat for days. (What’s a fruit crisp? It’s a dessert of baked fruit with a crispy topping made from flour, butter, and sugar. Topping variations can include oatmeal and/or nuts.) It’s also oh-so-simple to make! About a dozen years ago, Fine Cooking magazine published their “formula” for fruit crisps. I’ve hung on to that issue (#51); it’s provided me with inspiration for creative summer-fruit crisps, year after year.

I don’t typically make crisps with fall fruit; fruit crisps are mostly a summer dessert in my house. The first crisp of the summer is kind of a thing around here — it’s the kick off to summer dessert making. My first crisp of the summer this year is an Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping. (Yep, plums would have been fabulous in this crisp, but pluots arrived in my CSA box last week, and, well, I needed to use ’em or … you know.)

The fruit filling for the crisp is a combination of:

  • 2 pounds of sliced fruit
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • The seeds of 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 tablespoon of cornstarch combined with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to thicken the fruit juices as the crisp bakes

Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp

Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp: Fruit, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and vanilla bean seeds

The crisp topping is the “marzipan” from Apricot and Marzipan Tart in Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz. The topping mixture combines almond paste, flour, brown sugar, and sliced almonds.

Almond crisp topping

Almond crisp topping added to fruit. This baby is ready for the oven!

Per Fine Cooking‘s tip for keeping the crisp, er, crispy, I sprinkle half of the crisp topping over the fruit and bake for 20 minutes, then add the remaining half and bake for another 15-20 minutes — et voila!

Apricot-Pluot Almond Crisp just out of the oven

Freshly baked fruit crisp, just out of the oven

Crisps are great for dinner parties, barbeques, even brunches. Serve the crisp warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or non-dairy frozen dessert flavored with almond or vanilla (think: sherbet or sorbet made with a plant-based milk). Should you happen to have leftover crisp, stash some for breakfast. Trust me on this one; you can thank me later. Eat it cold with a dollop of greek yogurt — although it’s really tasty just plain, too. Want to reheat your crisp? Do it in a 325ºF oven for about 10 minutes. Reheating in the microwave makes the topping soggy — you don’t want that.

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It's what for breakfast

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It’s what for breakfast

My favorite way to eat fresh fruit crisp? With a spoon, right out of the baking dish, of course! Have you made fruit crisps? What’s your go-to summer fruit dessert?

All I need is a spoon...

All I need is a spoon…

I Scream, You Scream: Rich Chocolate Sherbet and Rocky Road Redux

June 7, 2014 § Leave a comment

I hope you rested up after National Doughnut Day yesterday, because today is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day! Come to think of it, you better pace yourself because June is packed full of sweet food holidays. Oh, and in case you missed it, National Rocky Road Ice Cream Day was on June 2, but don’t worry, with the recipe below, you can still indulge.

Dark Chocolate Sherbet with Easter Rocky Road pieces

Dark Chocolate Sherbet with Easter Rocky Road pieces

After my adventures with orange sorbet last week, I was inspired to come up with a delicious, non-dairy treat for National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. Now, this is the kind of problem solving that I enjoy: What could I make that is dairy-free, but still creamy and indulgent with a rich chocolate flavor — and is as easy and fast to make as sorbet? The answer: Dark Chocolate Sherbet made with almond milk! Even better? Dress it up with chocolate chunks, marshmallows, or even pieces of Easter Rocky Road. Don’t get me wrong — ice cream is a delicious warm-weather treat (and I am a big fan of a certain Mission-based ice cream maker, but I digress…) But what if your diet excludes dairy? You shouldn’t have to miss out on all the fun!

So, what is sherbet exactly? In the world of frozen desserts, sherbet falls between sorbet and ice cream. It’s typically made with milk and sugar (and sometimes egg), and the milk in sherbet can be dairy or plant-based. If you read last week’s post on orange sorbet, then you know that sorbet is a frozen dessert that is a combination of fruit juice or purée and sugar syrup. It’s dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan (if you don’t use honey), and low-fat. Ice cream is a frozen dessert that has a sweetened cream or custard base. It isn’t dairy-free, vegan, or low-fat — and as for gluten-free, well that depends on the brand. (Of course, if you make your own, you can decide what goes in your ice cream!) However, flavor-wise it’s more versatile than sorbet in that you can create a wider variety of flavor profiles.

Sherbet gives you the best of both worlds. The addition of milk in sherbet, whether of the dairy or plant variety, adds fat, which gives sherbet a creamier mouthfeel than sorbet, but doesn’t have the all-out richness of ice cream. (Yes, you can choose a nonfat milk for sherbet, but I recommend using a milk with some fat in it for flavor and mouthfeel.) You can also get a little more creative with your sherbet flavors, and you can add “mix ins” — pieces of chocolate, fruit, or marshmallows. In terms of process, making sherbet takes about as much time as sorbet, and you don’t have to test the sugar density of the mixture, so no egg test or refractometer is required.

A couple of notes on ingredients for the recipe below:
I use a dark, rich cocoa powder for this recipe (Cacao Barry or Valrhona), but feel free to use what you have on hand. Also, I used lightly sweetened almond milk (about 5 grams of sugars per 8 ounce serving). If your almond milk is significantly sweeter, you might want to reduce the sugar a bit.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Sherbet
Yield: About 1 quart of sherbet

What you need:

Rubber spatula
2-quart saucepan
Fine-mesh strainer
1-quart container, preferably at least 6″ tall
Large bowl or 4-quart container for ice bath
Ice cream maker
Container for freezing sorbet, 1 quart or larger

Note that I’ve given the weight and volume measurements below, except for chocolate, which I always recommend weighing for your recipes.

18 ounces (2¼ cups) almond milk
5 ounces (½ cup + 2 tablespoons) sugar
1½ ounces glucose or light corn syrup
2 ounces (½ cup) cocoa powder
5 ounces dark chocolate, 61-70% cacao, chopped finely
1 teaspoon vanilla extractingredients

Optional: Want to dress up your sherbet?
Cut 4 pieces of Easter Rocky Road (2″ x 2″) into small pieces, approximately ¼ – ½ inch. Total: about 1 cup of small pieces.

How to:

  1. Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup in a 2-quart saucepan. Heat until glucose (or corn syrup) and sugar melt, stirring occasionally.

    Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup and bring to a simmer

    Combine almond milk, sugar, and glucose or corn syrup on stovetop

  2. When the almond milk is just coming to a simmer (tiny bubbles appearing around the edge of the pot), whisk in the cocoa powder.

    Whisking in the cocoa powder

    Whisking in the cocoa powder

  3. Bring to a low boil for one minute, then remove from heat and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.
    If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature of the hot cocoa mixture. You want it to cool to 150165°F.
  4. Meanwhile, place chopped chocolate in a medium-sized, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in the microwave on 50% power for 30-second increments, stirring each time, until chocolate has melted.
    You want the chocolate to be completely melted, but not too hot. If you have an instant-read thermometer, check the temperature. Ideally it should be about 110°F.
  5. Slowly and continuously pour the hot cocoa mixture from the saucepan into the center of the melted chocolate while stirring the chocolate continuously. Make sure that you’re stirring in the center of the bowl, not around the edges. You can put a wet towel or rubber jar opener under the bowl to keep it from moving.
    You’re slowly adjusting the temperature and viscosity of the melted chocolate so that it’s easier to incorporate the hot cocoa mixture. And yes, you’re essentially making a very thin ganache here. 

    Adding hot almond milk-cocoa mixure to melted chocolate

    Adding hot almond milk-cocoa mixture to melted chocolate

  6. Whisk in the vanilla extract.
  7. Strain the sherbet mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a 1-quart container.
    Straining makes sure that there are no unincorporated lumps of cocoa powder or solids from the almond milk.

    Straining the chocolate sherbet mixture

    Straining the chocolate sherbet mixture

  8. Prepare an ice bath for cooling the sherbet mixture by adding ice and water to a container large enough to hold the sherbet container.
  9. Place the sherbet mixture container into the ice bath and then chill the sherbet mixture (in the ice bath) in the refrigerator for 2-4 hours.
    The mixture will thicken as it cools. Your sherbet will churn and freeze more quickly if the mix has been chilled.

    Sherbet mix (in the metal container) in an ice bath

    Sherbet mix (in the metal container) in an ice bath

  10. After chilling the sherbet mix, prepare your ice cream maker. Pour the chocolate sherbet mixture into your ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer’s directions.
    Mine takes 25-30 minutes to churn. Your mileage may vary.

    Oh my... Rich chocolate sherbet churning away

    Oh my… Rich chocolate sherbet churning away

  11. While the sherbet is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container for the sherbet in the freezer.
    You want to transfer your churned sherbet (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
  12. Optional: During the last 5 minutes of processing, add Easter Rocky Road pieces to the churning chocolate sherbet.
    You might need to mix them in a bit more when you transfer the sherbet to the chilled container.
  13. Transfer the sherbet to the chilled container and freeze for 4 hours before serving.
  14. To serve, let the sherbet sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before scooping.
    The sherbet is best when it’s a bit soft and gooey. Enjoy!choc-sherbet-scoop

Hit the Road!

June 5, 2014 § 3 Comments

It’s been one of those weeks: delays, fixes, and do-overs. Nail in the tire of my car (amazingly, same time as last year’s nail in the tire — what’s up with that?!). Clogged drain. Leaking shower. Browser that keeps screeching to a halt, forcing reboots. You get the idea: one step forward, two steps back. If you subscribe to theories about the state of the Universe and all that, Mercury retrograde is already in effect. Yeah, it’s been a bit of a rocky road this week — especially with the nail in my tire. So, in the spirit of re-visits, re-do’s, and fixes, I’m fulfilling a reader request for the recipe for my Easter Rocky Road.

Easter Rocky Road: Passion fruit marshmallow pieces, dried sour cherries, roasted almonds, and 66% dark chocolate

Easter Rocky Road: Passion fruit marshmallow pieces, dried sour cherries, roasted almonds, and 66% dark chocolate

As I mentioned a couple of months ago, if you’ve got tempered chocolate, marshmallows, and roasted nuts on hand, you’re good to go. I like to add a little dried fruit to the mix for flavor and texture. You can buy or make the marshmallows, all you need to do is cut them into smaller pieces. You can also buy already-roasted nuts, or roast them yourself. The only real prep work you need for rocky road is to temper the chocolate. If you’ve tempered chocolate before and are comfortable with the process, then feel free to skip ahead to the recipe. If not, you can follow the tempering instructions on food writer Aleta Watson’s blog (adapted from a class I taught at Gamble Garden House).

The process of tempering chocolate could take up a post all unto itself (which is why I’ve referred you to Aleta’s), but if you’re new to tempering chocolate, have no fear! It’s something that you can easily learn to do with practice and patience. What is this thing called “tempering chocolate?” you might ask. In short, it’s the process of heating and melting chocolate to a specific temperature, then cooling it to a specific temperature while stirring, so that you can mold it or coat other ingredients with it. That’s it! You’re basically using time and temperature to change the structure of the chocolate so that you can shape it the way you want. (You gotta break it down to build it back up.)

Summary of the geeky, science version? When you melt chocolate, you change its crystalline structure and its physical properties. It becomes “unstable,” losing firmness, shine, and snap. Tempering is the process of re-establishing a stable crystalline structure that returns those properties of shelf-stable chocolate: crispness, shine, and snap. Want more details about the science of chocolate? Check out this article by my favorite food scientist, Shirley Corriher.

Ok, enough about tempering chocolate. Let’s hit the road!

Recipe: Easter Rocky Road
Yield: 16 pieces (2″ square) or 64 pieces (1″ square)

What you need:

Parchment paper
8 x 8 baking pan
Instant-read thermometer
Rubber spatula

Note: When it comes to working with chocolate, I really recommend using a kitchen scale to weigh your ingredients, rather than relying on volume measurements.

1¼ pounds of dark chocolate, 61 – 70% cacao
4.5 ounces (about 2 cups) dried sour cherries
4 ounces (about 1 cup) roasted almonds
4 ounces (about 2 cups) ½-inch marshmallow pieces (vanilla or passion fruit)

How to:

  1. Roughly chop the cherries and almonds. Cut the marshmallows into approximately ½-inch pieces.
    You’re not going for perfection here, just aim for ½-inch pieces or slightly smaller. Marshmallow pieces sticking together? Dip them in potato starch or corn starch, then shake off the excess powder in a sifter or sieve.

    Roasted almonds, dried sour cherries, passion fruit marshmallows

    Roasted almonds, dried sour cherries, passion fruit marshmallows

  2. Cut two (2) pieces of parchment paper: 8 inches wide by 12 inches long.
  3. Fit one piece of paper into the baking pan so that two sides are evenly covered.

    Pan lined with one piece of parchment paper

    Pan lined with one piece of parchment paper

  4. Turn the pan 90 degrees and fit the second piece of parchment paper into the baking pan, making sure that the sides are evenly covered.

    Pan lined with second piece of parchment paper (all sides are covered)

    Pan lined with second piece of parchment paper (all sides are covered)

  5. Temper the chocolate.
    Use your instant-read thermometer to make sure that your chocolate is at the correct working temperature (generally, 89-91ºF). If you need to, test that your chocolate is in temper by wiping a bit of liquid chocolate from the tip of your spatula onto a piece of parchment paper. The chocolate should set up firmly, with shine, within 3-5 minutes.

    Tempered chocolate at working temperature

    Tempered chocolate at working temperature, ready for the nuts, cherries, and marshmallow pieces

  6. Fold the nuts, dried fruit, and marshmallows into the chocolate with a rubber spatula, until combined.
    Keep in mind that the temperature of your ingredients — cherries, almonds, and marshmallow pieces — will be colder than the tempered chocolate. Once you add these ingredients to the chocolate, the chocolate’s temperature will drop, which means it will start to set up. Work somewhat quickly, but don’t rush. You need to combine the ingredients and transfer everything to your pan before the chocolate gets too fudgy, or you won’t be able to spread it evenly in the pan.
  7. Transfer rocky road mix to the prepared pan.
    You can see in the photo below that my mix is already starting to get fudgy along the edges — that’s the chocolate setting up (cooling and becoming firm).

    Rocky road mix in the pan

    Rocky road mix in the pan

  8. Holding both sides of the pan, bang the pan on your work surface to even out the mixture and release air bubbles.
    Seriously, pick up the pan and with a bit of force, tap the bottom of it on your work surface a couple of times, while holding onto the pan. Don’t drop it from four feet up, à la Emeril. Don’t get all medieval on its ass. Just hit it hard enough to help distribute the rocky road mixture evenly and remove any air bubbles.
  9. Put the pan in the refrigerator (top shelf) for about five minutes.
    You’re helping the chocolate set up to a point where it’s less liquid and more fudgy because you still need to cut the rocky road before it hardens.
  10. After about five minutes, remove the pan from your refrigerator.
    The rocky road should be firming up around the edges and fudgy in the middle.
  11. Using a sharp knife, cut the rocky road into either 16 pieces (4 x 4, or 2 inches square) or 64 pieces (8 x 8, or 1 inch square).
    The chocolate will continue to harden as you work, just keep that in mind as you cut, so don’t dawdle. Again, no need for perfection. Also, if you need to wipe down your knife in between cuts, make sure the blade is dry before making additional cuts. Getting water (even a small amount) in your chocolate can cause your chocolate to seize. You don’t want that.

    Cutting 2-inch squares of rocky road in the pan

    Cutting 2-inch squares of rocky road in the pan

  12. Once the chocolate seems firm (but not hard) in the center, remove the rocky road from the pan.
    Hold the sides of the parchment paper and pull the rocky road up and out of the pan. It should come out in one piece. out-of-pan-1
  13. Again, using a sharp knife, go over your cuts, making sure that the knife goes all the way through, and that you can separate the pieces.

    Almost finished and ready to eat!

    Almost finished and ready to eat!

  14. If your kitchen is on the warm side, put the pieces on a sheet pan (cookie sheet) and return the rocky road to the top shelf of the refrigerator for five minutes to help the chocolate finish hardening.
    Otherwise, let them continue to harden on your work surface. Or, you know, start enjoying them now. Just know that the chocolate will continue to harden.
  15. Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to four weeks.


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